Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Monday, March 19, 2012

Reclaiming The Luddites

I went to a discussion at the Left Forum on Saturday called The Luddites, Without Condescension. Peter Linebaugh and Ian Boal were the panelists. I had read Linebaugh's The London Hanged and have his Magna Carta Manifesto on my ebook ready to for my next read, so I was looking forward to hearing the discussion.

Linebaugh has a new pamphlet out on the Luddites called "Ned Ludd and Queen Mab: Machine-breaking, Romanticism, and the Several Commons of 1811-12," (PM Press: Retort Pamphlet Series #1) The pamphlet looks to take back the term Luddite from the slur which both left and right use to mean technophobes who are afraid of the future and instead place the Luddites in the context of, as Mike Davis puts it in a blurb on the back of the pamphlet, "the avant-garde of a planetary resistance movement against capitalist enclosures in the long struggle for a different future."

As a teacher who is being asked to use more and more technology in every single lesson - from "smart" boards to computers to social media to an online, real-time grade book that students are encouraged to check daily - I am feeling a slave to technological tools these days and can fully appreciate the Luddite movement's push to save their way of life from the encroaching industrialization that would ruin them, their families and their communities.

It's interesting, though, that any time I say something like this to people (including to somebody yesterday at the Left Forum who was not at the Luddite discussion), they automatically assume that if you identify with the Luddites in any way, you are some backward-looking technophobe putz.

I have no problem with new technologies. I have a problem with a preponderance of new technologies that allow the elite to exploit labor 24/7, that harm the physical, spiritual and emotional lives of individuals, that isolate communities, that allow for the increasing corporatization of the society and the culture.

Forcing teachers to use technology in a classroom just because the tools are available and Joel Klein, Rupert Murdoch, Bill Gates and Michael Bloomberg stand to make money off the techno game in some way is NOT a good enough reason to me.

I have long refrained from using all media - including TV and film - in my classroom unless those things were called for and would enhance the lesson in some way.

I prefer live, person-to-person communication - whether it be a class-wide discussion, group work or pair share - and reading, writing, speaking, and listening to watching something on the TV or computer, unless that's called for (recently I showed a Tennessee Williams play after the play was read and discussed - that use of electronic media was called for to enhance the lessons.)

Now that's just me. I don't push that stuff on others, just as I don't want them to push their teaching preferences on me.

But I will tell you, I resent these Common Core standards funded by some dehumanized computer monopolist with the socio-emotional skills of a three year old that push technology use as both a means and an end to themselves in the classroom.

We are real live beings in a real live world with real live thoughts and feelings. Promoting virtual worlds and virtual education as "the future" seems to me to be as destructive to the human soul as anything the industrialists pushed on the artisans back in the early 1800's.

So I found yesterday's discussion quite appropriate for my own experience in education these days.

Capital pushes "science" and "technology" as the "future," but the science and technology they push promote commodification of the individual, the exploitation of labor and the expropriation of the commons.

These are not outcomes I wish for myself, for my students or for my world and I see it as my job to at least offer an alternative view to my students of a future where after spending some time in their virtual worlds, they can turn the technology off, get their feet onto the actual ground and live in the real world.


  1. Thank you ! Every time I see an Ipad, and the rest, I think the same thoughts. I'm being forced to embrace this tech , and all I think of is the Chinese person who is working in nearly slave. How Apple, and other leading companies are more profitable than ever, and the average person is in the Poor House-and I mean internationally, not just here. How this tech revolution actually is imprisoning the masses, yet making the elites richer and more powerful than ever...horrible. If you mention this, you are considered "weird" or a "radical."