Archive for October, 2011

By James Davis

What do radical educators think about the charge that the #OWS movement is ignoring race?  Does it comport with your experience?  With the accounts of others you know?  Does the homogenizing rhetoric of “the 99%” obscure the disproportionate burden placed on African Americans and Latinos since the 2008 crash?  Does such a strongly class-inflected movement inevitably turn race into a subordinate, epiphenomenal issue?  How does the fact that the President is a Black man who polls very well among African Americans affect the way we approach these questions?  Below you’ll find some links I copied from the ColorofChange email I just received.

“Occupy Wall Street’s Race Problem,” The American Prospect, 10-24-11
“Is black America sitting out “Occupy Wall Street”?,” The Grio, 10-6-11
“Reflections on #OccupyWallStreet,” Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, 9-28-11
http://act.colorofchange.org/go/998?akid=2250.3176.IpDJHO&t=27 Huffington Post, 10-14-11
“Call Out to People of Color,” Racialicious, 10-6-11

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By James Davis

It’s hard not to feel moved by the sheer enormity of the encampment at Occupy Wall Street.  I went with my family on “Columbus day” and was inspired by it despite (and maybe because of) its messiness, its unruliness, and the irreducibility of its many messages to a unified political position, much less a policy proposal.  But even though I find the criticism of the occupiers misplaced (“What do they even want?” “Why don’t they offer solutions?”), I’m no anarchist and my enthusiasm was tempered by the sobering realization that what the occupiers actually spend a lot of time doing is defining their own internal procedures.  Admittedly I’m saying this based on limited exposure to one General Meeting.  But even as the occupation has taken on broader symbolic significance over the past two weeks, prompting unions, community groups, and even the Democratic party to gamble on affiliation or endorsement of various kinds, its participants have been compelled to turn their attention inward toward Zucotti Park as much as outward toward Wall Street, the media, and their fellow travelers on the Left.  In this respect I left feeling like Occupy Wall Street has a lot to tell us about radical teaching and radical learning but maybe not in the obvious ways.

Never mind (for the moment) the substantive claims the occupiers make about the depredations of the financial system, I’m talking about how a community that’s as closely scrutinized and as committed to egalitarian principles as this one even functions and sustains itself.  The group was caught up with issues that, on one hand, seem exceedingly mundane given the vast political energy they’ve tapped into: proper vs. improper ways to get “on stack” to publicly address the group, what kinds of body language constitute “violent” behavior toward others, etc.  On the other hand, it was also caught up with some fairly urgent internal procedural matters: what to do about the fact that some people are doing drugs in the park at night, the fact that some occupiers aren’t even necessarily aware of the political dimension of the demo, or the fact that the commitment to non-violence has not been practiced consistently among the demonstrators.  These are difficult issues to resolve for a fluid group keen on inclusivity and the decentralization of authority.  They were trying hard, however, and it struck me (and I guess this is an implicit question to readers) that in addition to teaching about radical ideas themselves, perhaps a bigger challenge to radical educators is to create spaces and institutions in which people can practice alternative procedures to those that prevail in most of the contexts in which we operate: that is, extremely hierarchical ones with clearly centralized authority.  Whatever happens to Occupy Wall Street, its fate seems tied to the occupants’ ability to manage the tension between its ethic of decentralization and its burden (if it can be put that way) to channel the discontent and the imagination of the political Left.  What are the radical spaces and institutions that prepare people to perform a task this challenging and complicated?  A person doesn’t just step into that park knowing how to navigate it and articulate that knowledge to others.  How might radical educators teach the procedural skills of radical movements in the process of teaching what we might call content?

Finally, in terms of teaching ABOUT Occupy Wall Street, I wonder whether people are using amateur video footage in (or out of) their classrooms?  Here is a clip that I found very interesting, amateur in one sense, though the videographer is actually a professional filmmaker (“The Battle for Brooklyn,” on abuse of eminent domain to create The Atlantic Yards, is his latest).

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By Paul Lauter

I read regularly a kind of groan about the current economic and political situation of the United States.  “Don’t the millionaires and billionaires,” it says, “understand that by resisting the need for them to pay their fair share of taxes, and the consequent defunding of education from pre-school to the University of California, they are undermining America’s future?  We need to call this error in their ways to the attention of the rich.”

Bullshit.  Most of the rich know quite well what they’re doing.  What they see that the Dimocrats seem not to see is that the United States is heading down the tubes.  Seeing that, it follows like cramps after spoiled hamburger, that you would get as big a piece of the action as you can . . . while the action lasts.  Why put good money into education—or other social services, for that matter—if the payoff for doing so, a) won’t occur until long after American society, as we know it, has hit the iceberg and, b) will provide life-jackets for others rather than for you and yours?

Are they right?  Well, it does not take a cynic to wonder whether the Disunited States, like the Soviet Union before it, will survive as an entity.  To be sure, the USSR faced the problem of disparate nationalities preferring not to continue to fetch and carry for Moscow.  They spoke different languages in different churches, mosques, and markets.  Whereas here, there are plenty of birthers even in the Peoples’ Republic of Vermont and plenty of agitating foreigners even in Corporative Arizona.  We’re much more mixed.  Or are we?  And will we stay that way?

More and more I hear of parents moving because they do not want to bring their children up in a state in which a main concern is flying the Confederate flag, or building a Berlin wall against infiltrators from the south.  There were, and are, many Russians in Estonia, for example, which has not prevented the government from pursuing a nationalist, and often Russophobic line.  What degree of lunatic fundamentalism—market or Christian—in a state will begin to alter its population significantly, drawing some, exiling others?  Are we so sure that “it can’t happen here”?

However that might be—and perhaps this is more of a fantasy for graphic novelists than politicians—the behavior of those with a superabundance of wealth and power cannot be changed with the hope that the truth will make them, and us, free.  Let’s start from the idea that the rich know what they are doing, that there is a method—traitorous to the future of the United States—to the apparent madness.  What then?  How does one deal with traitors to the polis?


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By Richard Ohmann
“Devote one hour each semester in every course to discussing the status and character of campus labor.  These issues are relevant to every discipline and every subject, no matter what the catalog course description says or what conservative polemicists claim.  The AAUP’s 2007 statement Freedom in the Classroom helps define your rights as a teacher.”
–Cary Nelson, “A Faculty Agenda for Hard Times,” Academe Online
This is #17 of Nelson’s 30 suggestions for improving our weakened profession.  (He is President of the AAUP.)  Good idea.  The condition of campus labor has a legitimate place in class discussion, whether the subject of the course is Intermediate Italian or Intro to Macroeconomics.  If I were still teaching, I’d try to pick up on Nelson’s suggestion.  But how would I use that hour, in my imagined literature class at Wesleyan?  Gwendolyn Bradley asks a similar question in a note on the Academe blog, “Talking to Students About Working Conditions”:  “Readers, do you find that your students are aware of the facts of faculty employment and working conditions–including poverty wages and lack of academic freedom protections for many faculty?”
Many of my students were on their way to professional careers.  Almost all of them thought their intelligence and creativity should be allowed to flourish–and of course be well compensated–in jobs granting them freedom to conceptualize tasks, not just execute orders from bosses.  If I had a group of those students today, and if they did not know that 70% of university teachers are now pieceworkers on “poverty wages,” did not know how the labor of those teachers is being broken up into scientifically managed fragments, did not know that adjuncts have little control over their work, did not know that those teachers could be fired any time for stepping out of line or offending a student–such revelations would be shocking and also personally discouraging.
But if I were adjuncting at a community college or a for-profit, would revelations like these stir a similar reaction among my students? Can we expect students who have suffered “the hidden injuries of class,” but never glimpsed professional futures for themselves (as did the subjects of Richard Sennett’s book by that title), to identify with highly educated teachers suffering the degradation of a profession?  The commercializing of higher education may seem an outrage to people in or entering the professional-managerial class, but plenty of other people see this shift as promoting access to college and efficiency in matching curriculum to future work–not to mention as a suitable rebuke to privileged elites like me and many of you.  How would you set up your hour of talk on campus labor, with those students?  I think I’d ready myself for some serious disagreements about work, education, and class.  I like Cary Nelson’s proposal, but wouldn’t expect instant solidarity–much less rage at capital–to come out of that hour.

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