Where should we begin when we talk about alternative education? Historically speaking, we can follow several routes for example focusing on artist led initiatives.  One could start in the 1930s with Black Mountain College, founded in North Carolina that lasted for 24 years. Then connect it to the 1970s The Free International University (FIU), founded in Düsseldorf by Joseph Beuys together with Klaus Staeck and Georg Meistermann, that lasted  approximately 15 years, existing as a non-profit and registered association.  Following on from the FIU  a more recent example which began in 2000s Cátedra Arte de Conducta by Tania Bruguera,  is the first performance and time based art studies program in Cuba, hosted by the Instituto Superior de Arte that lasted for 7 years.

Silent University lecture

Or we could begin by looking at periods where there were shifts in political and social life. Focusing on 1870s, Anna Eliot Ticknor’s the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, that lasted for 24 years, followed by the 1960s The London Anti-University founded by David Cooper and Alan Krebs that lasted a year and 2000’s The Public School initiated by Sean Dockray, still ongoing. These are only a few of the many influential examples. Instead of naming them all here, I would encourage you to visit The Silent University Resource Room in November (in the Welcome Room, Level 0) at Tate Modern and in December at the Delfina Foundation. As part of the resource room we have collated a number of different references, texts and publications that begin to map the different examples of alternative models of learning as well as a wide body of material that reference the themes which include silence, migration and alternative economies . When undertaking a period of research for the resource room, thanks to Sean Dockray, I was introduced to a very important working catalogue “The Teachable File” by Carson Salter.  It includes a list of ongoing, finished and discontinued alternative art schools and a pre-pedagogical reference on experimental education. We have a lot to learn from previous experiences. However the crucial question always remains the same; what does alternative education mean and why do we need it? Especially when there is no curriculum.

In his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) Paulo Friere argues that traditional pedagogy uses the “banking” concept of education, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. He disagrees with traditional pedagogical ideas of knowledge as a gift bestowed by those who consider themselves knowledgeable, upon those whom they consider to know nothing. Especially in the case of refugees who have  professional qualifications  that are recognised  in their  native countries, the bureaucratic system demands the same “banking” concept by asking them to re-study as if they know nothing. However, Paulo Friere believes that pedagogy should treat the learner as a co-creator of knowledge. According to him the oppressed are not “marginals,” and are not living “outside” society. They have always been “inside” the bureaucratic system, which made them “beings for others.” He says the solution is not to ‘integrate” them into the structure of oppression, but to transform that structure so that they can become “beings for themselves.” Moving a step forward with Friere’s anticipation, The Silent University’s biggest challenge is to find a way to replace bureaucracy with adhocracy. It should figure out how to operate outside of bureaucracy and still be functional and get results for it’s knowledge producers and be pedagogical for it’s public. Ideally this effort will build an organization in which all members have the authority within their areas of qualifications, and make decisions in coordination with other members, affecting the future of the Silent University.