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A Marxist Education: Learning to Change the World

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Arguing that dialectical materialism is at the heart of Marxist theory, Au uses dialectics not only to analyze the relationships between capitalism and schools, but also to understand teaching, learning, and curriculum. From back cover.


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Arguing that dialectical materialism is at the heart of Marxist theory, Au uses dialectics not only to analyze the relationships between capitalism and schools, but also to understand teaching, learning, and curriculum. From back cover.

30 review for A Marxist Education: Learning to Change the World

  1. 5 out of 5

    Juan

    I enjoyed this book because Professor Wayne Au introduces us to the struggles of being a Marxist Educator and Activist while juggling family. He gives ways of seeing the world and how he has come to understand it and how he struggles to make a better world through his reflections and personal and professional endeavors. He is very open and transparent which I commend him for allowing his humanity to show through the book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sam Whitehill

    “A Marxist Education” is a fitting double entendre for a book that focuses so much on the dialectic. Wayne Au addresses multiple meanings of this title: first, what his personal education in Marxism entailed; second, what Marxism can teach us about education theory; and lastly, what his personal experiences as a Marxist educator have been. This book has chapters on Vygotsky, Freire, neoliberal education reforms, standpoint theory, and is bookended by personal reflections.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    Helpful defense of dialectical materialism, Marxism and various theories about education. Au's a talented writer. Everything he said came so natural and filled with understanding/knowledge. He makes theory approachable. Helpful defense of dialectical materialism, Marxism and various theories about education. Au's a talented writer. Everything he said came so natural and filled with understanding/knowledge. He makes theory approachable.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    I appreciated the personal lens on this work and then the many practical examples of the praxis of Marxist education. Au is an accessible writer.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Daria

    This book is what is promises to be: a Marxist interpretation of school systems as institutions replicating and perpetuating the capitalist dominance of those in power, yet simultaneously functioning as grounds for resistance, as well as an interpretation of education/teaching as a dialectical process. It is a clean argument built from the ground up. Au isn't shifty about where the assumptions lie, and if you wanted to challenge the arguments made here you'd probably do best to challenge the cor This book is what is promises to be: a Marxist interpretation of school systems as institutions replicating and perpetuating the capitalist dominance of those in power, yet simultaneously functioning as grounds for resistance, as well as an interpretation of education/teaching as a dialectical process. It is a clean argument built from the ground up. Au isn't shifty about where the assumptions lie, and if you wanted to challenge the arguments made here you'd probably do best to challenge the core tenets of Marxist (-Leninist) dialectical materialism - for instance, "we can know things as integrated totalities," "making use of summation and generalization as forms of abstraction for what is happening in the world," and, notably, "we are our relations." Au moves from Marx to Lenin to Vygotsky (it was interesting to learn about him) to Freire, and it feels like a neat edifice. It is an interpretation that makes sense. Well, I personally can agree with dialectical materialism as a way of interpreting the world, so Au's progression felt natural. It was interesting and a slightly sad, in fact, to see Au label himself as a radical and admit he is labelled by others as such: part of what he's working towards in the real world (on the institutional level) is an end to high-stakes testing and charter schools - not exactly extremism. I perhaps expected there to be more extensive coverage of the shittiness of charters and all that, but there isn't much in this book beyond what you might already know about neoliberalism having a heyday with the education sector in the United States. It was interesting to read about how Au believes standpoint theory (which might also be called "identity politics,” albeit very carefully) to be a curriculum vehicle in classrooms, a tool for moving students towards arriving at critical consciousness and understanding themselves within the complex web of their relations. Standpoint flows so naturally out of dialectics that I think you'd be hard-pressed to disagree with Au. Also, the descriptions of Au's real-world teaching methods, the applied part of his theorizing, just read like examples of good teaching. Debates on subjects, making students role-play various positions across the spectrum, then letting them come to their own conclusions? Permitting students to bring their personal experience into the classroom to foster curiosity, engagement, and further their comprehension of their network of relationships? It’s what educators should be doing (or so I say from my own ideological corner, for, as the Marxists say, "no way of thinking is non-ideological"). Overall, a good, clean read that equipped me with some new vocabulary, but I didn’t feel like I had my mind blown. I would be interested to read more on Marxist ethics, though, because I think that’s one of the particularly shadowy spots in modern Marxist discourse (insofar as I can tell from this book and a few loose articles). Au and his fellow Marxist scholars seem to be having it both ways: alluding to the “pure” Marxist vision of morality as a completely relative force that has nothing to do with the principle of contradiction, which drives all things, and yet suggesting that individuals have a capacity for making an ethical decision that is not beholden to their position in the world. Once an individual reaches critical consciousness, they have the option to either take action against present conditions, or do nothing and perpetuate conditions. Although this fact itself doesn’t contradict the Marxist principle of contradiction, throughout Au’s book (and the work of all Marxists historically, I would think) there is the assumption that one option is right, and the other is wrong. When Au quotes Hartsock (1983) as saying, “The view from the margins (defined in more heterogeneous terms) is clearer and better,” an ethical decision has been made. And even if I agree with this claim, I don’t deny that it is an assumption upon which Au’s work and the work of contemporary Marxist scholars rest. I would like to hear more on this matter: I think Marxists quietly read a certain morality in Marx, but they don’t always explicitly state it when they list all the things that Marxist dialectical materialism is, or how it can be tested in the current state of affairs. So that when I read, “how to put a politics of justice into classroom curriculum” (Au 201), I wonder if I should be interpreting this call to action in a “pure” Marxist sense (such an action is the inevitable action of a group of people whose natural state is to struggle for their liberation while existing in contradiction to the rest of the world) or in a rather “2020” Marxist sense (such an action is the collective result of individuals possessed of independent capacities to decide between what they think is right and what they think is wrong)? **Extra note: this book mentions the Zinn Education Project a few times. This is interesting, because I've been tip-toeing around Howard Zinn lately, him and all his problems, apparently. I haven't read A People's History. It was never used in my classrooms, probably because by the time I was in school a more nuanced version of American history was the norm (not a profound version, sure, but never, from what I can recall, an overly rosy one). I do remember it being mentioned a few times, like a cult object. The Zinn Education Project was launched in 2008 with the intention of distributing Zinn's history to schools and encouraging its use as a resource, funded by an anonymous donor (say what). Now, Au briefly mentions the Zinn Ed Project as a resource, seemingly positively, despite the fact that many would argue that Zinn's History is only a negative of dominant propaganda (and the setup of the Project seems to confirm this). I would, however, like to give Au the benefit of the doubt - in his descriptions of his own teaching approaches, I did not find him biased towards teaching a "history of the oppressed," omitting the dominant narrative, and convincing his students that they were all victims. (I think this would be a shallow application of Marxist dialectical materialism, and not one Au espouses.) If anything, as per dialectical materialism, there is the emphasis on encouraging students to understand their own positions in a complex, ever-changing socio-economic web. Au's book also emphasizes the meta approach to knowledge - one must arrive at "consciousness of consciousness," which means understanding the forces and power relations that deliver the knowledge to us and the process by which we absorb knowledge. Still, you can fault Au for giving an example of how the coal industry was funding Scholastic magazine to suggest to young, impressionable minds that there is nothing wrong with coal, but avoiding any mention of the fact that the school distribution of Zinn's book is as equally questionable.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ansel

    I think I was right in the target audience for this book (college teacher, early career, radical leftist leanings but not well versed in Marxism), and it worked well for me. It provided a clear and readable introduction to dialectical materialism, and an overview of the position of Marxism in educational theory, including typical arguments against it and rebuttals of those arguments. This relatively abstract discussion is interspersed with relevant connections to the state of education in the US I think I was right in the target audience for this book (college teacher, early career, radical leftist leanings but not well versed in Marxism), and it worked well for me. It provided a clear and readable introduction to dialectical materialism, and an overview of the position of Marxism in educational theory, including typical arguments against it and rebuttals of those arguments. This relatively abstract discussion is interspersed with relevant connections to the state of education in the US (particularly around charter schools) and the author's personal experiences as a student and a teacher. Primary take-aways These are the main ideas which stuck with me after I read (they may not represent the main ideas the author was trying to convey). 1. Marxism offers a framework for understanding complex social and historical processes in terms of material reality, tensions and transformations. (It is also more broadly applicable, but this was the focus of the book.) 2. Marxism offers a framework for understanding individuals in terms of their relations, and for understanding learning in terms of movement from intuitive to structured/structural understanding (paraphrasing here). 3. Several authors who have deeply influenced modern educational theory and practice are actually part of a Marxist theoretical tradition, but the Marxist aspects of their work are erased within mainstream academia due to a general anti-Marxist sentiment. This distorts and limits applications of their work. 4. Marxism provides tools for liberatory analysis and practices in education, as well as other avenues of life. Reading experience I read this book pretty fast. The writing was conversational and non-technical, but also packed with ideas which kept me interested. It delved into academic debates on occasion, but did so by concisely describing the arguments and linking them to the author's points, so it never felt dry or dragging. Unsurprisingly, Dr. Au is a good teacher, even in text form. :) Miscellaneous notes and context 1. The book is divided up into several sections, so if you are (for example) already familiar with Marxism, you can jump straight to the parts about education. 2. I picked this book up in part because I work at the same school as the author (I think we may even have met each other in person once, although we've never had a long conversation). As an early-career teacher, it was a bit of a revelation to me that you *can* write a book about Marxism without screwing up your academic career, and I appreciate Dr. Au for being a role model in that regard. 3. My continual problem with education-related books is that I teach physics. These books typically originate in non-STEM disciplines, and despite the general "education" label, are largely targeted toward educators in the same fields where they originated (i.e.: educators whose official job is to discuss social & political issues in the classroom, and whose field norms are friendly to that general project). I think it would take some work to apply Dr. Au's ideas in a field like biology, and it will take a great deal of work for me to apply them in physics. This is not a criticism, just a note.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Victor

    A very illuminating book from a recent Haymarket book club shipment. Picked it at random and I'm glad I did! Dr. Au is well-versed in the subjects he covers here. He also has a fantastic way of explaining (with examples) of some of the more important tenets of Marxism, and even interprets other philosophers such as Lev Vygotsky and Paolo Freire in a way that makes them quite understandable and relevant. All of it centers on the idea of dialectical materialism. Which sounds like one of those term A very illuminating book from a recent Haymarket book club shipment. Picked it at random and I'm glad I did! Dr. Au is well-versed in the subjects he covers here. He also has a fantastic way of explaining (with examples) of some of the more important tenets of Marxism, and even interprets other philosophers such as Lev Vygotsky and Paolo Freire in a way that makes them quite understandable and relevant. All of it centers on the idea of dialectical materialism. Which sounds like one of those terms that is just leaden with obtuse meaning and subject to numerous interpretations. Dr. Au's detail of dialectical materialism as the defining aspect of Marxism really landed with me. It's kind of how I perceive the world already; something physical and existing and I myself am part of it, along with everyone else. And progress is a constant conversation, facilitated by holding two opposites and moving forward from there. My summary does the book a disservice. The chapter on dialectical materialism really helped me get it, even if I can't convey it properly here. Dr. Au is a professor, teaching education. His research and readings lead him to use some of the ideas from Marxism and others and seeing how they apply to schools and learning. There was a lot of interesting stuff here on the subject. I particularly enjoyed the section detailing the many disastrous failings of charter schools, including a very entertaining section about Bill Gates Jr.'s role in expanding charter schools and high stakes testing, to the detriment of many. While his own children were of course schooled in expensive private schools (with none of the high stakes tests). I had always known vaguely why charter schools were enemies of knowledge, but having Dr. Au detail exactly how they function as money makers under capitalism (with their proponents baldly admitting as much) really brought it home for me. I also appreciated the chapters regarding how Dr. Au's Marxist ideologies look in his day to day as a professor and parent and partner. This guy is very genuine. It's not really his fault that dialectical materialism sounds like such philosophical nonsense. A great read if you're looking to brush up on some Marxist thought and/or want to read about a radical left view of public schooling in the United States.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Julesreads

    A great book and a double meaning. It is a Marxist education—Au covers dialectical materialism, for example, and does so with the ease of a high school teacher with tenure; he gives us a thoughtful, fair-minded debunking of the pesky criticisms of Marx and classic Marxism; and Au provides a background of neo-Marxism and its hold on leftist educational theory—and it recalls the experiences of a Marxist educator and teaching in a school system living and breathing within capitalism. Hint: ain’t no A great book and a double meaning. It is a Marxist education—Au covers dialectical materialism, for example, and does so with the ease of a high school teacher with tenure; he gives us a thoughtful, fair-minded debunking of the pesky criticisms of Marx and classic Marxism; and Au provides a background of neo-Marxism and its hold on leftist educational theory—and it recalls the experiences of a Marxist educator and teaching in a school system living and breathing within capitalism. Hint: ain’t none of it is easy. But Au makes it clear that schools can be breeding grounds for radical dissent and for fostering radical leftists. Sharing experiences from his own career, Au has a very conversational tone to his informative writing. I really dug the sections on the destructiveness of state testing and the racist, classist, suffocating profiteering of privatized education and charter schools. He lambasts Bill Gates for his billionaire-may-care Common Core curriculum that has swept the nation for all its worth. Fuck Bill and Melinda Gates, I might add. A really great book for modern times. And, Au, so easy to read!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Fulton

    Wayne Au has written a remarkable book. I appreciate that he is clear about his presuppositions. A great many philosophy of education books simply leave the readers in the dark about the author's ultimate presuppositions and that forces the book and philosophy to become a bit generic. Thankfully Au does not do this. He is a Marxist dialectical materialist and therefore, he aims to have his philosophy of education cohere with his worldview. In this, I think he is largely successful. In addition to Wayne Au has written a remarkable book. I appreciate that he is clear about his presuppositions. A great many philosophy of education books simply leave the readers in the dark about the author's ultimate presuppositions and that forces the book and philosophy to become a bit generic. Thankfully Au does not do this. He is a Marxist dialectical materialist and therefore, he aims to have his philosophy of education cohere with his worldview. In this, I think he is largely successful. In addition to having a well thought out philosophy that is in line with his worldview (no small task!) he is able to clearly explain what Marxist dialectical materialism is. He also helps explain how Vygotsky's approach to education was inspired by dialectical materialism and how Freire also operates out of a Marxist framework. However, there is some odd historical revisionism in regards to Lenin in particular. You don't need to agree with the author's presuppositions or all of his applications in order to benefit from this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Doni

    An excellent book for those unfamiliar with the concepts; a good update for those who are. The ideas that stood out to me the most are that: *Marxism is not inherently racist. *Dialectical materialism is necessarily bi-directional, and thus does not merely focus on material as the cause for systems of oppression. *Bill Gates does not subject his son the schools he is funding that are supposedly intended to level the playing field. *Critiques of Freire tend to be not particularly cogent, particularly An excellent book for those unfamiliar with the concepts; a good update for those who are. The ideas that stood out to me the most are that: *Marxism is not inherently racist. *Dialectical materialism is necessarily bi-directional, and thus does not merely focus on material as the cause for systems of oppression. *Bill Gates does not subject his son the schools he is funding that are supposedly intended to level the playing field. *Critiques of Freire tend to be not particularly cogent, particularly Ellsworth's description of his strategies reinscribing oppression. *Introduction to standpoint theory.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Katie Nelson

  12. 5 out of 5

    Cailin

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jodie

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Luna

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alex Egan

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ben

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joseph

  18. 5 out of 5

    John Clark

  19. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  20. 4 out of 5

    Billypal

  21. 4 out of 5

    Aditi

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jophin Mathai

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nattyc30

  24. 5 out of 5

    JJ Jesus

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michael McIntyre

  26. 4 out of 5

    Robert Moreno

  27. 4 out of 5

    Grace Kristine

  28. 5 out of 5

    N. Nelson

  29. 5 out of 5

    CBSD Library

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sean

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