The New School is a test of organisational possibility as much as an experiment in pedagogy. We subscribe to the principle that the fostering of a critical understanding of ideas, artefacts and events through education is a public right, and that the function of an educational institution is to teach students.
This is why we have stripped-down the bloated and decorative ‘university experience,’ which is used to justify huge fees and turn students into customers. We believe that students are best placed to organise their own extra-curricular activities.
We also have no aspiration to simulate the mystique of the business world and incorporate its wasteful practices. Neither are we encumbered by the burdens of the conventional over-regulated educational institution: namely, self-referential administration, rank, tenure, appraisal, endowment, development office or grading systems.
The New School has no president nor CEO, and no energy is wasted in data churning and surveillance. Responsibility for educational policy sits wholly with the teachers and the students.
The New School’s teachers contribute to an open-ended Ensemble rather than belonging to an exclusive faculty, wherein free-wheeling encounters, long-term collaborations and gracious departures might be valued equally. Our gathering extends to more than one hundred teachers attached to universities across the country and the world. All of us are otherwise active in the world as parents, children, carers, grandparents, knitters, gardeners and petitioners; and ever wary of what Edward Said identified as the dangers of professionalism.
We aim to explore how a group of people in their work might recover a condition of trust, conviviality and mutual aid, both among and between teachers and students, without falling into the retrograde traps of the institution. In our decision-making we seek to learn from and emulate the improvisational risk, tactical acuity and collaborative grace that characterises the jazz quintet, the dance troupe, the letter-cutter’s workshop and the Occupy movement.
Several of our participants have been involved in the Learning Together programme which has brought together University of Cambridge teachers, students and prisoners in workshops to explore democratic ways of working. The New School also draws upon the feminist orientation of the Cambridge Tactics and Praxis seminar series, which strives to reinstate the creativity, pleasure, exploration, discovery and curiosity in higher education; to respond to political and environmental crisis in the midst of relentless pressures; and to determine the possibilities for collectivity: a means of standing with, and working for, those who have less in the face of institutionally-entrenched forms of privilege.
These collaborative lessons have been built into the intellectual adventure, local independence and personal responsibility within the New School’s teaching pattern. Our aim is to prepare students to make radical interventions and find urgent solutions to social and ecological crisis as a civic responsibility.
The particular threat to the intellectual today, whether in the West or the non-Western world, is not the academy, nor the suburbs, nor the appalling commercialism of journalism and publishing houses. Rather the danger comes from an attitude that I shall be calling professionalism; that is, thinking of your work as an intellectual as something you do for a living, between the hours of nine and five with one eye on the clock, and another cocked at what is considered to be proper, professional behaviour - not rocking the boat, not straying outside the accepted paradigms or limits, making yourself marketable and above all presentable, hence uncontroversial and unpolitical and “objective.”’
Edward Said, Reith Lectures (1993)