Prefigurative Education: The Case of Two Early 20th Century Educational Experiments (by Yotam Ronen)

This post was originally presented at the 2023 EDST Research Day.

EDST students and faculty are invited to share their own reflections, presentations, or memories from Research Day (see below for further details).

During the early 20th century, radical educational experiments were founded in various parts of the world. In this paper, I will introduce two such experiments—the Overseas Chinese Workers’ School and the Mount Gilboa Children’s Society and will analyze their practices using prefigurative politics—a term that describes the practices of revolutionary, non-hierarchical social movements. This analysis, I will argue, presents prefigurative politics as a robust analytical framework for radical education.





Prefigurative politics, or prefiguration, was first suggested by Boggs (1977) and Breines (1980). Both authors saw prefiguration as an attempt to realize direct democracy and non-hierarchical structures within social movements themselves, yet Boggs critiqued this attempt, while Breines saw it as an admirable commitment.

Since then, many scholars have weighed in on prefiguration. Kinna (2019) argued that prefiguration is an anarchist practice that rejects Marxist inconsistent reliance on using dictatorial means for libertarian goals. Raekstad and Gardin (2020) defined prefigurative politics as the “deliberate experimental implementation of desired future social relations and practice in the here-and-now.”

Noterman and Pusey (2012) combined critical pedagogies with anarchist practices to transform academic spaces into prefigurative spaces. They relied on DeLeon’s (2006) assertion that anarchism can inform critical pedagogies due to its insistence on ground up organizing, mutual aid, and free association. While there are other examples of the contemporary concern with prefiguration in education, few scholars utilized prefiguration for historical analysis. This study  aims to do so, and argue for this framework’s robustness. And so, I will now introduce two educational experiments—the Overseas Chinese Workers’ School and the Mount Gilboa Children’s Society.

Between 1916-1918, approximately 140,000 Chinese workers were recruited in aid of the Allied cause in World War I. Upon their arrival to France, Li Shizeng (1881-1973), Cai Yuanpei (1868-1940) and a few other educators, founded the Overseas Chinese Workers’ School, where workers would be educated to participate in China’s modernization. After petitioning with his colleagues for the Chinese government to support this initiative, Cai established a teacher training program, gave lectures to workers, and wrote curriculum for the School.

The Workers’ School created a Chinese revolutionary enclave within its surroundings, and the presence of workers and intellectuals in France, as well as the political and educational theories used at this school, were shaped by migration, as this was a Chinese revolutionary experiment developed and executed overseas.




Another educational experiment spurred from a revolutionary movement with ties to migration. In the late 1920s, a radical educational experiment took place in Palestine under the banner of the Kibbutz movement—a voluntary, self-governing democratic community established by Jewish migrants to Palestine, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe. These migrants created communal experiments that were founded on shared property, direct democracy, and a desire for a classless society.

This movement’s first educational institution was the Mount Gilboa Children’s Society, which operated between 1926-1929, and was attended by 40-60 children and had 6-8 teachers. Its founders—David Idelson (1891-1954), Yehuda Ron-Polani, Eliyahu Rappaport (1889-1952), and a few other educators—decided to build a school where children could live in community with their peer group in preparation for life in adult communes. Children at the Society had almost complete autonomy, and educators relied on a combination of trial and error and a conviction in socialism in their educational practice.

Prefigurative politics appeared in both projects. In the Children’s Society, educators created a model of a future community, hoping that through it, children will create their own version of this type a life with the same ideological commitment. Participants’ writings show that they investigated what such a society could look like, and topics like personal property, discipline, and one’s place in a collective, were frequently discussed. These testimonies show that students and teachers were experimenting with community building while balancing ethical commitments, communal needs, and personal freedoms.

There was also prefiguration in the Overseas Chinese Workers’ School. Following a crisis in China that transformed the idea of education from an exclusive privilege to a mass project, educators at the Workers’ School saw education as a catalyst for China’s modernization. In their vision of a future society, workers possessed manual skills, an intellectual education, and a moral foundation. To realize this vision, educators supplemented training during the workday with intellectual and moral education after work, combining lessons on history, geography, and art, with moral subjects like treatment of animals, life in community, and similar topics, with some topics taking a revolutionary tone. Here, the future was embodied in the worker, who will build the nation as an educated individual who is ready to collaborate with others on the basis of mutual aid.

Prefigurative politics framed the approaches taken at both the Overseas Chinese Workers’ School and the Mount Gilboa Children’s Society, as each project created articulations of parts of its imagined future. However, differences between the two projects, as well as these projects’ shortcomings, are easily discernable. The Workers’ School did not create a model village of the future, and the Children’s Society did not emphasize technological training. Where students in one project were all adult workers in a foreign land during war, students in the latter were a heterogenous group of children and teenagers between wars and in an area that was comparatively calm. Furthermore, where educators at the workers’ school seemed comfortable supporting the interests of powers whose practices they resisted, educators at the Children’s Society argued for a liberated society while ignoring the Palestinian communities around them.

These differences and inconsistencies show that the implementation of prefigurative politics reflects the context in which education happens, and that this context is fraught and messy. It forces us to acknowledge that context influences one’s ability to understand their plight, and thereby imagine their future—two factors that are crucial for the prefigurative move. Lastly, inconsistencies force us to understand contradictions within each educational experiment’s own historical contingencies and recognize the humanity of those who attempt to create a better world.

*Full list of references below


EDST students, faculty, and staff are warmly invited to share reflections, photos, and other memories from Research Day 2023.

Present a paper, poster, performance, roundtable at research day?

Consider turning your presentation into a blog post like this one! Posts typically are 500-1,000 words long and may include links, images, links, audio, video, and other forms of multimedia.

Have a question about submissions? Photos to share from Research Day? Send an email to blog editor (Jessica Lussier) at

You can check out the blog’s full call for papers here.


Bailey, Paul. 2014. “Cultural Connections in a New Global Space: Li Shizeng and the Chinese Francophile Project in the Early Twentieth Century.” In Print, Profit, and Perception: Ideas, Information and Knowledge in Chinese Societies, 1895-1949, edited by Glen Dudbridge and Frank Pieke, 17–36. Leiden: Brill.

Breines, Wini. 1980. “Community and Organization: The New Left and Michels’ ‘Iron Law.’” Social Problems 27 (4): 419–29.

Cai, Yuanpei. 1920. “Huagong Xuexiao Jiangyi (Materials for Overseas Workers School).” In Cai Jiemin Xian Sheng Yan Xing Lu, edited by Xinchaoshe, 483–569. Beijing: Xinchaoshe.

———. 1984. Cai Yuanpei Quanji: Di Er Juan. Edited by Pingshu Gao. Beijing: Zhongguo Shuju Chu Ban.

Chen, Sanjing. 1986. “Huafa Jiaoyu Hui Sheli Huagong Xuexiao.” In Huagong Yu Ouzhan, 126–27.

DeLeon, Abraham P. 2006. “The Time for Action Is Now! Anarchist Theory, Critical Pedagogy, and Radical Possibilities.” Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies (JCEPS) 4 (2).

Dirlik, Arif. 1991. Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press.

Fitzgerald, John. 1995. “The Nationless State: The Search for a Nation in Modern Chinese Nationalism.” The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs 33: 56–86.

Gao, James Z. 2009. Historical Dictionary of Modern China (1800-1949). Lanham, Matyland: Scarecrow Press.

Kinna, Ruth. 2019. The Government of No One: The Theory and Practice of Anarchism. London: Penguin Random House UK.

Noterman, Elsa, and Andre Pusey. 2012. “Inside, Outside, and on the Edge of Academy: Experiments in Radical Pedagogies.” In Anarchist Pedagogies – Collective Actions, Theories, and Critical Reflections on Education, edited by Robert H. Haworth, 175–200. Oakland, CA: PM Press.

Raekstad, Paul, and Sofa Gradin. 2020. Prefigurative Politics: Building Tomorrow Today. Cambridge, UK; Medford, MA: Polity.

Ron-Polani, Yehuda. 1929. שיחות וישיבות של חברת-הילדים בבית-אלפא (Conversations and Meetings of the Beit-Alpha Childrens Society). Beit-Alpha.

Sheridan, James E.; 1975. China in Disintegration: The Republican Era in Chinese History, 1912-1949. New York: The Free Press: A Division of Macmillan, Inc.

Ta, Chen A.M. 1923. Chinese Migrations With Special Reference to Labor Conditions. Washington: Government Printing Office.

Ts’ai, Yuan-p’ei. 1972. “Ts’ai Yuan-Pe’i on the Aims of Education, 1912.” In Chinas Response to the West: A Documentary Survey 1839-1928, edited by Ssu-yu Teng and John K. Fairbank, 235–39. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cambridge University Press.

Xu, Guoqi. 2011. Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers in the Great War. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.


How to Write Research Differently: Examples from a Comic Poetic Inquiry

This presentation was originally given at the EDST 2023 Research Day.

EDST students and faculty are invited to share their own reflections, presentations, or memories from Research Day (see below for further details).

How to Write Research Differently: Examples from a Comic Poetic Inquiry

A Research Day Workshop by Gabriella Maestrini

Location and Length: The Multipurpose room was configured with tables so that everyone could sit around and face each other. The group of 10 was split into two groups of 5. The activity lasted about 1 hour.

The idea for the workshop on research day came from how I had approached writing my dissertation on humor in life, disaster, and pedagogy. In writing this dissertation I wanted the content reflected in the form which brought me to write in a rather fragmented comic poetic form with cartoons, poetry, reflections, stories, conversations, and analysis.

Taking a comic worldview approach, researching humor needed to be reflected in the voices that I created throughout the dissertation. I provided an example of how I had written a short piece on copyright acknowledgement in the dissertation where I demonstrated that it is possible to step outside of the conventional approaches to writing while maintaining academic rigor.

This comic poetic approach combined with the many voices, was then the basis for this workshop. Academically I drew on Faulkner, Ulysse, Richardson and Prendergast for my theoretical frames, which I briefly introduced through PowerPoint slides. Creating found poetry or stories can come from observations, field notes, interviews, photographs, doodles, books, and articles.

It is paying attention to the unexpected twists and turns in stories and the multiple voices that became the idea of a multitude of comic and poetic voices that I wanted to have the participants of the workshop experience. This led me to create an experimental and collaborative approach. Here is the slide with the workshop instructions:

For a longer piece I’ve published on comic vulnerability, click here.

There were ten people in the workshop that were divided into two groups each armed with flipchart paper, markers, and seated around tables. The instructions were to think of multiple voices while each participant was to write down words randomly on the paper. Above you can see the possible prompts.

Group 1’s first chart paper

After about ten minutes, I asked them to start thinking of patterns within the words, and how they could set up an opening line to their piece. Starting from there, the two groups diverged in their outcomes. The first one setting it up as a concise poem that started out with the one word that had coincidentally appeared twice on the page ‘nostalgia’:

Group 1’s second chart paper

While the second group wrote an opening line to a story where the participants tried to incorporate as many words as they could from their page. On a second piece of flipchart paper, the creative expressions took shape.

Group 2’s first chart paper

Group 2’s second chart paper

At times, I guided asking questions about whose voice they wanted to show, where they wanted their story to go and how they could use the context (the main story) to set up an unexpected comic ‘punchline’. The above pictures show the process and the results.

The two groups came to very different results: one was more poetic in nature, the other more narrative. What both had in common was that everyone had a great time doing the exercise, letting the creative juices flow and not editing or censoring the process. Laughter was a common occurrence.

In the debriefing, after sharing the results with the others reading them out loud, we spoke about the workshop experience. The most common comment was that although they initially did not know where the random words would lead them, the participants were surprised that cohesive stories emerged. Some were going to use this brainstorming/writing approach in their classes or use it in their own dissertation writing as a creative outlet.



EDST students, faculty, and staff are warmly invited to share reflections, photos, and other memories from Research Day 2023. Reflections may take on the form of short narratives (such as this one on CSSE 2021 from EDST’s Yotam Ronen), summations of panel sessions, or other takeaways from the conference day.

Present a paper, poster, performance, roundtable, or other type of presentation?

Consider making your presentation into a blog post like this one! Posts typically are 500-1,000 words long and may include links, images, links, audio, video, and other forms of multimedia.

Have a question about submissions? Photos to share from Research Day? Send an email to blog editor (Jessica Lussier) at

You can check out the blog’s full call for papers here.

“All Flourishing is Mutual”: Reciprocity, Education, and Braiding Sweetgrass

This presentation was originally given at the 2021 EDST Research Day.

EDST students and faculty are invited to share their own reflections, presentations, or memories from Research Day 2023.

EDST Research Day 2023

(See below for further details)

Amidst the pandemic in 2021, EDST students, faculty, and staff gathered on Zoom one Saturday in April.

The conference opened with introductory remarks from Dr. Margaret Kovach who powerfully discussed the university’s relationship with Indigenous ways of knowing and research methodologies.

The day began with an acknowledgement that UBC resides on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territory of the Musqueam people. I extend this land acknowledgement and acknowledge that I live and work upon the unceded lands of the Chinook people, who (for over 120 years) have been seeking formal federal recognition. The process has involved decades of litigation, petitions, congressional legislation and appeals to presidents — yet the tribe is still unrecognized. I share this history to mark my place as a settler on this land, and to bring attention to the ongoing struggles of Indigenous peoples, recognizing that land acknowledgements do not exist in the past tense, but are part of an ongoing process of decolonization.

Following Dr.Kovach’s opening session, I presented the below presentation in a session entitled “Place based education and engaging with our environment.” The presentation draws heavily upon Robin Wall Kimmerer’s bookBraiding Sweetgrass.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. I came to read Robin’s book on the recommendation of a friend, and immediately fell in love with the way she speaks and views the world.

As a settler scholar engaging with Indigenous knowledges, I recognize (as the great, late Michael Marker has stated) that the academy has acted as a space of colonial erasure of Indigenous worldviews. In my engagement with these ideas, I aim to enact the sense of reciprocity and respect that Kimmerer describes, while supporting the many movements towards decolonizing university spaces.

The photos

The slides in this presentation are black and white film photographs that I took in 2020 amidst the pandemic. The photos began as a series of shots of spider webs on my front porch, but grew into a collection of snapshots capturing a number of “more than human” others.

I share these images to highlight that interaction with the physical world is a social relationship, and that these interactions bind us into the reciprocal relationships that Kimmerer describes. The photos are by no means perfect or professional, but they help me share how I view the world in an added layer that I can’t seem to capture in words alone. The process of taking the photos amidst the scariest parts of the pandemic also allowed me to retreat to the “safety” of my local ecology, building new relations with the land and its history.

With some of the slides you will hear some audio recordings of birds in my yard. In her book Kimmerer writes, “Listening in wild places, we are audience to conversations in a language not our own.” I often find myself wondering what birds are saying to one another, between the caaws and screeches and songs sent out, wondering if they can all understand one another and I’m the only one out of the loop. Within the back and forth I hear patterns and rhythms, as if the birds are composing a collective song. I take inspiration from this song into my presentation, which somewhat takes a form of call and response between Kimmerer’s words and my own.

“All Flourishing is Mutual”: Reciprocity, Education, and Braiding Sweetgrass

To watch video in full screen, click here

The above presentation was created using “Canva” (a free design tool).

Attending Research Day 2023?

Write something for the blog!

EDST students, faculty, and staff are warmly invited to share reflections, photos, and other memories from the conference. Reflections may take on the form of short narratives (such as this one on CSSE 2021 from EDST’s Yotam Ronen), summations of panel sessions, or other takeaways from the conference day.

Presenting a paper, poster, performance, roundtable, or other type of presentation?

Consider making your presentation into a blog post like this one! Posts typically are 500-1,000 words long and may include links, images, links, audio, video, and other forms of multimedia.

Have a question about submissions? Interested in creating presentations with Canva? Photos to share from Research Day?

Send an email to me (Jessica Lussier) at

You can check out the blog’s full call for papers here.

EDST Blog: Call for Papers (and Introduction to Editorial Board)

The EDST blog editorial board is pleased to invite EDST students, staff, and faculty to submit contributions to the EDST blog.


Department head André Mazawi described EDST as our “common home,” “in the sense of a space we all share in the pursuit of our work, studies, and contributions.”

The EDST blog serves as an extension of this shared space, where authors can:

  • Start conversations and raise questions
  • Reflect on university life and student issues
  • Discuss others subjects within education

Watch the video below for more details, then scroll to the bottom to this post to find the full call, and introduction to the blog’s new editorial board!

Questions about submissions can be directed to Jessica Lussier at

Call For Papers


Introducing the Editorial Board

Many thanks to previous GAAs and EDST students who volunteered as the blog’s editorial team. The blog warmly welcomes Silas Krabbe and Yotam Ronen as new members of the editorial board.


Silas Krabbe is a PhD student in EDST working within the philosophy of education. His research attempts to understand unintended cognitive violence between the educator and educatee, through the lenses of race, phenomenology, and theology. When off campus, you probably won’t find him; he’ll be out skiing or sailing with his wife and daughter.


Yotam Ronen is a PhD candidate at EDST. His research focuses on how radical educators during the early 20th century used education to realize their ideology of a free, egalitarian, and cooperative utopian society. He is also a bass player, currently playing live all over Vancouver with the Sam Rocha Trio, and bakes way too much bread.


Questions around Community

  • How are communities formed?
  • What does it mean to live, work, learn, or educate in community?
  • What goals might educative communities hold in common?
  • How does the research you are currently doing shape how you understand community


EDST students, faculty and staff are invited to share further questions they’d like to pose around the theme of “community” below in a shared Padlet.
Instructions to post: You can click on the plus sign to add a message, your name and a visual if you wish. 


“On Public Facing Scholarship” by Itamar Manoff

Have you written a paper you are proud of?

Are there aspects of your research you are excited to share with others?

Do you want to learn how to communicate your work to a broader audience?

This blog post will offer some tips and ideas on how to get your work out there and how to translate your research into prose that is public-facing and accessible. Included at the end are some opportunities to get support for public scholarship projects.

-Itamar Manoff

“Research” in education is a complex matter.
Educational Studies as a field is unique in its multi-disciplinary and multi-perspective approach, which derives from the very heart of educational practice as a meeting place for people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and lived experiences.
On the level of research and scholarship, this is apparent in the broad array of disciplines and theoretical perspectives that come into conversation in educational research: education involves research in sociology, history, philosophy, Indigenous studies, gender studies, queer theory, psychology, ecology, and more.
So, how do you go about showcasing your work in different settings and to different audiences? What are the nuts and bolts of public facing scholarship?
Here are some practical tips and resources that can help you move your project, idea, or research into the public domain:


First Steps: Knowledge Translation

One good way to start is by trying to communicate your work to people outside your field of research. This can be as simple as having a conversation with a friend or a relative, or someone in the community who might be interested in your work (e.g. students, teachers, administrators), in which you explain your basic ideas, the research questions or arguments that you have thought about, and their significance.


It might be a good ideaimage portrays five people, engaging in conversations with one another. to record your conversation and take notes of questions, responses and ideas your interlocutor has. These can help you “translate” your work into public-facing, accessible, and relevant language. For some more ideas on how to effectively tell your research story, check out this article from the University Affairs website.


Dip your toes in some public-facing writing or speaking

Now that you have some sense of how to communicate your ideas to a broader audience, it’s time to get out there and share your ideas! Here are some ideas for engaging in some public facing work:

1. Submit an entry to the EDST blog!

The EDST blog is a supportive and friendly space to showcase your work, create connections with other EDST students and faculty, and get some feedback on your public-facing writing.
Check out blog editor Jessica Lussier’s blog post on academic blogging for more information and keep an eye out for a call for submissions coming soon!


2. TAships

TAships can be a great opportunity to practice presenting in front of an audience. If you are working as a TA (or planning to), it might be a good idea to consult with the professor to see if there are any opportunities to make a short presentation about your work, research, or topics you are passionate about.


3. UBC’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition

If you are working on your thesis or dissertation, and are looking for an opportunity to communicate your research to a broader audience, try applying to UBC’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, which is a fun and exciting chance to practice your public presentation skills, and gain experience engaging with a non-expert audience.
Click here to view this year’s 3MT presenters.


Explore public-facing scholarship

Now that you’ve engaged in knowledge translation and polished your presentation and public writing skills, it’s time to explore some exciting opportunities to take your public-facing scholarship to the next levels. Here are some possible avenues to explore:
    • Explore the world of public scholarship! In recent years, there has been an explosion in research on public scholarship, its significance, and the ways in which to successfully engage in it. Check out this resource list to explore current research on public scholarship.
    • The Conversation Canada is a platform that brings in academic researchers from across the country to contribute public-facing, engaging and accessible writing, based on academic research. The site is free and open-source, and encourages high-quality writing and journalism from academic writers on issues relevant to the wider public. Check out this Atlantic article on similar initiatives to make academic research accessible to the public.
    • Apply to the UBC Public Scholars Initiative (PSI). This initiative brings together doctoral students from different faculties in UBC to foster and support them in becoming public scholars. The program provides students with a network of students and faculty members who work collaboratively on public scholarship initiatives, provides academic support to students in the program, and offers up to $20,000 in funding to support members’ innovative projects. For more information on the program, application procedures and information about current PSI scholars and their work, check out this link.