Calarts History of Radical Education

CalArts’ pedagogical history is based on challenging expectations of what education means; it helped to create much of the process based, experience led models of arts education today. CalArts has a long history of radical pedagogy, pedagogy that questioned hierarchies in the classroom, embraced experimentation and interdisciplinarity and pushed against formal limits and definitions. Today, it is critical to contemplate this anarchistic past within an embracing of the multiplicity of identities, experiences and histories our students bring to campus today, in the context of the political and social realities of the United States and the larger world. Central to the work we do in evaluating and reevaluating our work in the classroom is bringing a sense of radical empathy to the experience of everyone within it. Our students and colleagues each experience the classroom through the lens of their own experiences of the world; creating truly equitable and inclusive communities means being able to be willing to understand and have empathy for the complexities of those experiences.

The recent experience of the COVID pandemic and the world wide reminders of the violence of inequities based in gender, race and identity; the awareness of the impact of racist systems and police and state brutality have made it clear that many of our community live with experiences of trauma and histories of survival. As educators, artists and administrators it is a priority for us to construct a campus and classrooms that lead with empathy and a respect for all member’s existence, realities and experiences.

An awareness of the politics and hierarchies of the classroom and of educational institutions hearkens back to the foundations of teaching at CalArts. It examines not only what is taught but also the foundational structures of teaching itself.

 View a full contemplation of the history of teaching at CalArts. Core ideas from that history include:

  • Project-based teaching
  • A questioning of hierarchies between students, teachers and administration
  • A belief in the development of highly individualized artistic process and voices
  • A questioning of the definitions and limitations of disciplines and metiers
  • A valuing of process over product, an emphasis on the value on developing a sustainable artistic process
  • A de-emphasis on grades and an emphasis on dialogue and critique
  • A highly multi- and interdisciplinary approach
  • A value on the many arts taught in one building, in dialogue with each other

Critical Pedagogy

From Critical art education – Engelbert:  "Critical pedagogy assumes that education is never neutral. We are all the product of our environment. Insight into one’s own position and that of others is the first step in awareness. The contradiction of oppressor-oppressed is vital here. Investigating and ultimately overcoming this contradiction is a fundamental principle in the critical pedagogical approach. A simple exchange of the position of oppressor-oppressed is expressly out of the question. It is about freedom based on reciprocity and cooperation. The situation includes own and shared responsibility."

Foundational writers here include both bell hooks and Paulo Friere: