Cosmos Café [12/4] - Subversive Pedagogy: The Intruder

… introducing a more modern, more fully human, model of learning will not be easy, because the new knowledge requires challenging not just our modes of learning, but also our modes of functioning as a socio-economic ensemble. In the face of the resistance to a more “human” approach to learning, subversive pedagogy may be a necessary tool. Like all subversive activities, it embraces its own paradoxes. Subversive pedagogy cannot be carried out from without - it must be done from within. One must engage in subversive pedagogy within our current learning environments, even though the ultimate goal of subversive pedagogy may be their complete overthrow. However, an argument can be made that the practices embraced by subversive pedagogy are natural components of true, full spectrum learning. The intruder role is fundamental to learning.

…so concludes our resident renegade @Geoffreyjen_Edwards in his energetic essay Subversive Pedagogy: The Intruder by Geoffrey Edwards. This essay will be the launching mechanism for our Café.

Reading / Watching / Listening

Subversive Pedagogy: The Intruder by Geoffrey Edwards
— Geoffrey Edwards. “Subversive Pedagogy: The Intruder”. Inflexions 8, “Radical Pedagogies” (April 2015). 162-184

Seed Questions

  • What, exactly, is teaching?`
  • How do we learn at our best?
  • What is “full specturm learning?” Can we “recover” full spectrum learning?
From the essay

…Learning, however, in its full spectrum, can be, indeed probably should be, noisy, messy, chaotic - it will involve as much peripheral attention as “spotlight” attention (Grossberg 1999), it will require attending to our bodies instead of trying to negate them (Stinson 2004), it will take place in social environments (Lave and Wengler 1991) and so forth. We have to rediscover what full spectrum learning really is. We have to deprogram ourselves, away from the brainwashed ideas we have about how learning occurs. And probably, we, ourselves, will never recover full spectrum learning - this will be reserved for individuals in several generations, once we humans have made a concerted, communal effort to divest ourselves of these harmful myths we have all acquired about how learning should occur.

Within such a renewed understanding of learning, the role of the teacher as “causing understanding” cannot be maintained. Humans learn spontaneously, all the time, in myriad ways. Movement is what leads to new understandings. Full spectrum learning happens best within communities, not in artificial settings such as a classroom - it is a profoundly ecological function. [3] Humans do not require a “person-with-any-qualifications-at-all” to help them do this. True, we have a long way to go to understand how to reorganize our communities and environments to enable full spectrum learning, and, in the mean time, some “teaching” may still be required. But let us be more prudent about how we allow this to happen. Accepting the necessity of a “teacher” goes hand-in-hand with giving up our access to full spectrum learning - by confining the environment in arbitrary ways, we limit the nature of the learning that can take place. To use a folk expression, we “shoot ourselves in the foot” - both feet at the same time.

…I propose to replace the teacher, that is, the person-who-causes-to-understand, with an entirely different individual/role, what I call the intruder, the person-who-listens/provokes/rebels, enabling the designated “students” to learn-by-doing-in-response. The intruder, furthermore, is not part of the teacher-student dyad, nor the teaching-learning institutional structures, that is why he or she “intrudes.” This is what I call subversive pedagogy.

Context, Backstory, and Related topics

excerpt from Chapter 2

“To the university I’ll steal, and there I’ll steal,” to borrow from Pistol at the end of Henry V, as he would surely borrow from us. This is the only possible relationship to the American university today. This may be true of universities everywhere. It may have to be true of the university in general. But certainly, this much is true in the United States: it cannot be denied that the university is a place of refuge, and it cannot be accepted that the university is a place of enlightenment. In the face of these conditions one can only sneak into the university and steal what one can. To abuse its hospitality, to spite its mission, to join its refugee colony, its gypsy encampment, to be in but not of – this is the path of the subversive intellectual in the modern university.

Worry about the university. This is the injunction today in the United States, one with a long history. Call for its restoration like Harold Bloom or Stanley Fish or Gerald Graff. Call for its reform like Derek Bok or Bill Readings or Cary Nelson. Call out to it as it calls to you. But for the subversive intellectual, all of this goes on upstairs, in polite company, among the rational men. After all, the subversive intellectual came under false pretenses, with bad documents, out of love. Her labor is as necessary as it is unwelcome. The university needs what she bears but cannot bear what she brings. And on top of all that, she disappears. She disappears into the underground, the downlow lowdown maroon community of the university, into the undercommons of enlightenment, where the work gets done, where the work gets subverted, where the revolution is still black, still strong.

What is that work and what is its social capacity for both reproducing the university and producing fugitivity? If one were to say teaching, one would be performing the work of the university. Teaching is merely a profession and an operation of that onto-/auto-encyclopedic circle of the state” that Jacques Derrida calls the Universitas. But it is useful to invoke this operation to glimpse the hole in the fence where labor enters, to glimpse its hiring hall, its night quarters. The university needs teaching labor, despite itself, or as itself, self-identical with and thereby erased by it. It is not teaching that holds this social capacity, but something that produces the not visible other side of teaching, a thinking through the skin of teaching toward a collective orientation to the knowledge object as future project, and a commitment to what we want to call the prophetic organization. But it is teaching that brings us in. Before there are grants, research, conferences, books, and journals there is the experience of being taught and of teaching. Before the research post with no teaching, before the graduate students to mark the exams, before the string of sabbaticals, before the permanent reduction in teaching load, the appointment to run the Center, the consignment of pedagogy to a discipline called education, before the course designed to be a new book, teaching happened.

Agenda items


Gee, did I write this? I’m impressed with my own work!


As well you should be … though, you realize, expectations are rising. :wink:


Related topic:

@care_save’s question “If, as a community and functionally as a platform co-op, we want to encourage mutual skill development in the realm of creativity, how would we accomplish that?” is a worthy question. What type of education are we cultivating here? The full spectrum will include reflection, refraction and diffraction.

Also, keeping in mind the intruder aspect of @Geoffreyjen_Edwards’s piece, I like to imagine Reggie Watts as a TED intruder (surprised this talk wasn’t banned), as a creative example of what it means to be disruptive without dismantling the structure, what it means to do it from within:

I’d also like to imagine a broader definition of subversive pedagogy and “learning environments” … isn’t any situation a chance to be the intruder? Isn’t any environment a space for subversive pedagogy? Can we intrude upon ourselves, reach beyond our daily set-up structures and create a learning environment “done from within?”

In tomorrow’s discussion, if I may intrude, I’d like to bring this perspective. 1: I am outside of academia and have no say so as to how one ought to teach in a university setting. I hear what others have stated but lack the experience. I will be coming into this as an outsider. 2: We have heard the complaints, the reasons for complaints and the reasons for change. I would like to know how to go beyond talking about the issue and have direct effect. 3: That, whether inside or outside, qualified or not, we each carry a personal prismatic perspective that adds to the full spectrum learning. How do we best harness individual refractions and bring this into new light?


It is your HUMILITY, Geoffrey, that maintains my attraction to you. Geesh, Buddy! Give someone else a chance to declare how AMAZING your work is! For Pete’s sake! :wink:

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Thanks, Doug for the heads up about the Gidley ZoomCast. I’ve been waiting and watching for this topic to pop up again. Although, I’ll be online working, I will have to screen moonlight to attend this one.


Cute, creative and humorous presentation, to be sure.

Curious: what is (even potentially) censurable about it?

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(Internal thoughts (at time of posting), presented here as context):

Recently watched “banned TED Talks” (Sheldrake, Graham Hancock, others). I began wondering why these would be banned. Censorship by TED seems beyond their ethos, so I thought. TED produces great talks. They provide a model of the “how-to” creatively present an influential speech. But these talks lose credibility when an organization cannot receive alternative perspectives. TEDs statement that Sheldrakes talk ‘strays well beyond the realms of reasonable science’ seems unreasonable to me.

This Watts performance seems to be dismantling the core of TED; lifting the veil on what is considered a genuine platform for a successful individual presenting worthy ideas. Yes, I understand his is a creative performance from a comedian-musician. But I believe there is more to what he actually is saying in the talk. He is talking about a topic similar to the banned presentations. He is giving us an alternate reality. He presents a new science, like ones we are exploring here. Quantum Poetics has a science to it . We have entered into a new era of Science. Can TED? :

(timestamp @5:22)

“That’s something you live inside of every day. Now with the allocation and the understanding of the lack of understanding, we enter into a new era of science in which we feel nothing more than so much so as to say that those within themselves, comporary or non-comporary, will figuratively figure into the folding of our non-understanding and our partial understanding to the networks of which we all draw our source and conclusions from.”

I would deduce from the laughter, that the crowd did not fully gather that it went beyond the performance, that the disorientation is the type of behavior that TED doesn’t support, unless maybe as a modern jester (Watts) entertaining the king…the audience is included in the process, of buying tickets (maybe), supporting TED (perhaps)…but this is going way out there now!

In my thoughts: this talk should be banned because it dismantles the TED talk with an undercover agent’s valiant attempt to get the message out. The message? That reality is not always as it seems. TED needs to know.


Well, I never will learn how to keep things short… but, as agreed, for those interested here you can download the pdf which attempts to make a sort of synopsis of the free progress education concept.
Feel free to ask or comment.

PS: I’m sorry for the lacking bibliography, this was only a quick copy and paste, not an academic paper, but can furnish it, if interested.


I watched the cafe, then read @Geoffreyjen_Edwards’s paper. The paper was great! A+, i.e., meets all current standards of academia, i.e. systematic and structured, verbose, well cited, well argued, thoughtful, contentious with an open-ended conclusion, i.e., more research is needed.

Some thoughts: What you’ve laid out is basically a therapeutic model of learning, yes? Where the teacher/therapist uses all manner of interpersonal communication skills (training/instinct/personality/feedback, all within the confines of ethical, professional guidelines/rules) to goad/prod/provoke the student/patient/client into “learning” new behaviors/skills; and when effective the client leaves more confident in their ability to engage the world successfully.

I don’t think that method is transmutable to generalized, institutional schooling, which has a different goal - one of preparing qualified students (how is that determined?) for the purpose of, naturally, maintaining the status quo/power structure that does, in fact, sustain the population. To say that the system has failed is just not accurate. If one looks at the human population as a species, a part of the natural world (ecosystem), the human species dominates. Indeed, it may well be that the educational system has been too successful in that “we” have exceeded the carrying capacity of the earth, or soon will if the population keeps increasing. The natural world (ecosystem) is amoral and doesn’t give a hoot about individuals, nor populations for that matter, i.e., who or what dominates.

The schooling of “students” was designed and structured in a past era (sans modern technology) that does not resemble the modern era of a mass, globally connected, population wherein everyone (almost) has, in the palm of their hand, more computing power and knowledge than entire faculties (of learning institutions) and rooms of super IBM computer machines! … which has the consequence of increasing individual anxiety and fear, which varies widely among individuals and is sometimes a motivational prod, or the “chip on the shoulder” - thus the need for what you called “full spectrum learning”. That is not the state’s job, but the parents’s, and also the local community’s so as to reduce the probability of harm to others, one’s neighbors. There is no substitute for a strong family (mother and father), and moral guidance, from perhaps a religious institution, or mentor/coach/teacher etc…

I, like you, don’t have an answer other than choose your mate well so as the pair bond remains strong and faithful during the child’s formative years - preparing him/her for a harsh, cruel world, i.e., Mother Nature is not your friend, nor is, necessarily “the teacher”, who is also struggling to keep his head above water.

Further readings … ha!


Great post @Mark_Jabbour…hope to hear Geoffrey’s response on the therapy comparison.

I would like to think that you do have the answer thrown in there, in order for us to reach “full spectrum learning;” the local community is the key, and the answer for local community is more of it. I have a vision of how this would work. We just do it. We simply recognize there is the community and it is already here. We could converse about changes to the rules, changes in systems, but once we recognize the community is already here, we can go out into the harsh world with a healthy dose of continual understanding that our “educational” needs (for ourselves and our children) will be met. I have absolute certainty that my children and those that I am involved with will benefit from the little-bit-o-local that we provide through basic allowances of time/presence and demonstrations of effort. They will be prepared for the world though our guidance, etc. I hardly know what I am doing, but I know this fact for sure.

I am highly interested in @MarcoMasi asi’s work with Free Progress Education and would like to have a chance to incorporate Marco’s proposal with some of the philosophies and ideas we have tossed about in the air during Cafes and Readers Underground sessions.

one idea that fits the Cafe template is the “barcamp” practice, which M. Masi lists as a potential educational tool:

The ‘barcamp’ or ‘un-conference’ modality might play a role in a future higher education environment also. A barcamp might be defined as an alternative way with which people could communicate their ideas, projects, studies, and even dreams. It works as follows. In the beginning, all the people convene in a hall, and everyone is allowed to present in a minute or two his or her session. And ‘everyone’ means just that: everyone. There is no hierarchy of sages, teachers, or professors. Also a perfectly unknown person could rush in and present a speech. ‘Mister nobody’ can propose for instance to discuss with those who like to attend ‘The future of humanity on Mars’, or instead of presenting his own project he/she might ask for solutions to questions such as how to find funds to publish a book on hand surgery, or discuss how far didactical and pedagogical optimism is justified, and so on. Once the session has been briefly presented, and if among those present some raise their hands to show interest, a room and a time segment for a discussion are assigned. The same procedure repeats itself for all the others who present a topic. In this fashion, several sessions will have been programmed, without any previous intervention or approval by a commission. On a board, in less than a half an hour, a huge programme of sessions is set. Then everyone attends those which are considered the most interesting. What follows is not a talk by the proponent of the session, but only a brief introduction, after which an informal discussion is opened to all those present. The idea is that the classical seminar format might be occasionally replaced also by ‘un-seminars’. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the traditional seminar is going to die. However, in several situations a barcamp-style seminar might be a better solution because seminars are used primarily to convey information. Instead, an un-seminar can function as a platform to ask for information. For example, one might have an idea for a research project, and might want to hear what other students and faculty members might think of it. Another might want to set up a research group, and to look for members wishing to join in. Yet another might wish to share opinions and impressions about a new discovery, and so on. The barcamp, un-conference, and un-seminar formats might prove to be a great tool for communicating among students and university members ideas, projects, findings, news, etc. That would also foster a real socialization and new forms of group work, which are not forced and imposed from above, as they are at the present time.

I see this as a great method for stating what we want to have happen beyond a single Cafe. This could branch out into various other projects outside of the Cafe…into group projects, reading groups, intensive studies, etc.
Where does education fit within Cosmos Coop? I have personally experienced more than just a few insightful chats and believe in the value of a full-bodied, full-spectrum education which I have experienced here. I have set up an open frame for next weeks Cafe. Please add in your own thoughts on that thread as you see fit.

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Well maybe, hopefully, doubtfully - being able to have an open conversation (online or otherwise) w/r/t the human condition, i.e., teaching and learning. It is, in my opinion, that this is just so complex and misunderstood, or, underdetermined (see Daniel L. Everett) as to be unresolvable, leading to a catastrophic situation, i.e., war (which is happening all the time – interpersonal, inter ‘community’ international, cold or hot). Nevertheless, I may, or may not, engage in the next cafe.
Dare I say, Merry Christmas? Happy holidays?
Cheers, y’all ,