The School of Improper Education is a long-term collective learning process initiated in 2016 by KUNCI Study Forum & Collective. When KUNCI envisaged the School of Improper Education, originally called the School of Invisible Economies, the intention was to create a program that would also allow us to reflect on our existence as a collective. The initiation of KUNCI in 1999 was part of the wave of civil society organizations that bloomed after thirty-two years of living under military dictatorship.
When we began to work on the idea of building a school, we felt that we had made some inroads through our past projects. At the same time, however, we felt that what we had done was not sufficient. Over the course of Indonesia's experiment with the process of democratization, we were faced with ongoing political polarization, religious radicalization, gender- and sexuality-based oppression, and the informal censorship of the media in post-1998 Reformasi Indonesia. Against this backdrop, we located a new political challenge that required us as a collective to practice thinking and living together in a sustainable way. On reflection, it seems more apt to refer to the school as our lifeline, rather than treating it as a mere project. The School of Improper Education emerged as a means to embrace the unknown and precariousness, to unlearn the productivity regime of schooling, and to expand our vernacular vocabularies for studying. We perceive the school as a means to survive ongoing uncertainties in the contemporary social and political situation through the act of studying together.
The school reflects the trajectory of our thinking about research in action and our intention to learn about studying together. The School of Improper Education works by exploring the historical remnants of various practices of study, in order to carve out “an alternative.” As the starting point for this endeavor, we experimented with four pedagogical practices: (1) the Jacotot method (reconceptualized in Jacques Rancière's The Ignorant Schoolmaster), which we set up to demand the recognition of universal intellectual equality and to propose possibilities for creating a learning environment in a situation where the students and the teacher do not know anything about a certain subject; (2) the Turba method, whose name is an acronym formed from turun ke bawah (literally “going below”), an approach to art, research, and activism formulated by the LEKRA (Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat, Institute of People's Culture) in the 1950s and 1960s—Turba encourages artists and intellectuals to seek knowledge by generating dialectical practices that work the wisdom of the masses; (3) nyantrik, an ascetic studying practice that evolved from pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) and is now often used in the “traditional” performing arts community—nyantrik undoes the boundaries between life and study, and the process of acquiring knowledge in nyantrik is premised on students’ ability to become more sensitive to their surroundings; and (4) Taman Siswa (literally the “Garden of Students”) taken from Soewardi Soeryaningrat's teaching principles, formulated in 1922 in an effort to counter the infantilizing nature of Dutch education in the colony.
The following materials are selections from the school's archives that we revisited for our contribution to Critical Times. We divide the following sections into three parts. The Past Call for Participants attests to our desire to begin a school from a place of curiosity and uncertainty. The second section presents a series of photographs that were taken during different events held in the school. We sought to create a dialogue using the existing photo documentation, our modest way of recollecting and making sense of what the school has done so far. The third section, “The School Tools Series,” is a selection of tools that we have used in organizing the school. They are selected from our book Sekolah Salah Didik: Uji Coba 1. These tools resulted from the collective process that took place at the end of the school's Turba phase.
The School of Improper Education: Past Call for Participants (2016)
We are building a new school. The school is an experiment in sustainable economies (both material and immaterial) of organization. We want to test out the idea of school as a garden of ideas, a laboratory of affects, and a space where new ideas clash and coalesce. We are not yet sure about what can be learned in this school. But we are obviously sure that we do not want to start from premises that specify what needs to be learned and not learned. We want to study together, while interrogating the meaning of togetherness.
Our bodies are entrenched in histories and memories shaped by formal educational institutions—school buildings, respectable teachers, uniforms, flag ceremonies, wooden benches, libraries, high fences, narrow hallways, too many things to memorize, exams, grades, ranks, report cards, and strict school regulations.
We start from the question: what does an improper education mean? We want to interrogate the hierarchical relations between teacher and student and the homogenizing effects of pedagogical principles on the body and mind. We would like to vitiate the curricular emphasis on use value. Is it enough to describe a practice as an alternative education? How to operate an environment for study that doesn't turn knowledge into a commodity?
We seek to recreate the notion of the classroom, and we invite those who have been improperly educated to engage in this space as well as disrupt it. At the School of Improper Education, the meaning of authority in knowledge reproduction will be scrutinized. We are looking for those who are eager to perform experiments in learning and teaching—to become students and teachers at the same time as they oscillate between different educational models. This invitation is also addressed to those who are keen to blur the boundaries between formal education and everyday realities.
At the School of Improper Education, you can stay within and at the same time think outside of it. As a platform built on the principles of uncertainty and curiosity, the school's purpose is to study the meanings of studying and to develop ways to study these meanings.
Kami sedang membangun sekolah baru. Sekolah ini adalah suatu eksperimen soal keberlanjutan ekonomi suatu organisasi, baik yang material maupun non-material. Kami ingin menguji sekolah sebagai taman gagasan, laboratorium afeksi, arena konflik, dan ruang persekutuan ide-ide baru. Di sekolah ini, kami belum tahu apa yang akan dipelajari, dan tidak ingin membangun asumsi tentang apa yang harus dan tidak harus dipelajari. Kami ingin belajar bersama, sembari menginterogasi arti kebersamaan itu sendiri.
Di tubuh kami tertanam sejarah dan kenangan yang dibentuk oleh pendidikan formal–gedung sekolah, guru yang mulia, seragam, upacara bendera, bangku-bangku kayu, perpustakaan, pagar yang tinggi, lorong-lorong sempit menuju ruang kelas, hapalan-hapalan, ujian-ujian, nilai-nilai, peringkat buku rapor, dan hukuman yang datang sesekali.
Sekolah kami sengaja berangkat dari pertanyaan: apa yang dimaksud dengan salah didik?
Hubungan guru-siswa yang hirarkis, kami persoalkan. Pedagogi yang menyeragamkan tubuh dan pikiran, kami pertanyakan. Kurikulum yang mengedepankan nilai guna, kami imajinasikan ulang. Apakah cukup untuk menyebut diri sebagai “alternatif” dari lembaga pendidikan formal? Bagaimana cara mengoperasikan sistem belajar di luar sekolah tanpa mereproduksi bentuk-bentuk konsumsi pengetahuan khas pendidikan formal?
Kami ingin menata ulang apa yang dimaksud sebagai ruang kelas dan mengundang orang-orang salah didik untuk mengisi dan mengacaukannya. Di Sekolah Salah Didik, makna otoritas dalam pengetahuan akan diperiksa ulang. Yang kami cari adalah orang-orang yang berhasrat melakukan percobaan belajar-mengajar–menjadi guru dan murid sekaligus, berulang-alik dari satu model pendidikan ke model lainnya, serta mereka yang tertarik untuk menghapus batasan antara pendidikan dengan realitas sehari-hari.
Di ruang kelas Sekolah Salah Didik, Anda bisa berada di dalamnya, dan berpikir bahwa bisa saja Anda tidak berada di dalamnya. Sebagai prinsip-prinsip dasar, ruang ini menawarkan ketidakpastian dan keingintahuan. Dengan demikian kita bisa belajar apa makna belajar.