Radical Pedagogy and the Jefferson School

By on March 6th, 2018 in Black Listed Authors, Blog Posts


This post will be brief:  following our conversations, I’m writing now to point out the ways in which the Jefferson School regularly appears in the details of our readings.   This time, Claudia Jones mentions that it is the site where  more than 600 women and men learned about Marxism and the Woman Question, her understanding of the ways in which patriarchal capitalism exploits women, rendering them dependent on men; and, particularly how the triply oppressed status of black women is a barometer for the status of all women.

This mention not only signals a critical need to scholarly excavations of the work of the Jefferson School–which features so prominently in the careers of so many blacklisted authors, artists, and activists, but also in the ways in which it points to a long, obscured history of the radical pedagogy in the service of social justice. The Jefferson School was a school–an important location for education and social change.  In this regard, its fascinating to know that the ways in which the mainstream (vis a vis the logics of the Brown decision) and the left (vis a vis Jones and Alice Childress) understood that education is absolutely crucial to social engagement.  Thinking inspires action; the battle for “hearts and minds” was in full swing.

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  1. HI Shelly, I’m so interested in this Jefferson School of Social Science in NYC. At first, I thought you were talking about the Historically Black Jefferson School in Charlottesville that became a site of contestation after Brown V. Board of Education because it was not “desegregated” but specifically for African Americans. Conservatives had it shut down almost vindictively even though it was a famously great (and famous) school–an alternative to Booker T. Washington’s trade schools– through which many African American intellectuals passed.

    But, no—-the Jefferson School of Social Science in NYC is an entirely different entity and focused on adult education, I see, and specifically Marxist adult education. I’m interested, among many other things, in this:
    “Among the faculty were a number of leftist academics dismissed from the City University of New York, including the school’s director, Howard Selsam.”

    It’s important for students today to be aware of such vulnerabilities. At past historical moments, writers, activists, and professors were all in serious jeopardy (or fired) for their beliefs and their activism. It’s not just “all words” but serious consequences. Salutary to remember this!

    A lot of the Jefferson School Archive appears to be on line: lib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/tamwag/tam_005/scopecontent.html Fascinating research for someone. I hope someone in class takes it up.

  2. Agreed! I plan to visit the archive in the coming weeks, not only because of the CUNY connection, but also because so many of our black listed authors taught at its Harlem location. More soon!

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