EDUCATION AND THE DEBT CRISIS: Austerity in the Mind Factory

Published on Global Research.ca (first on Socialist Project), by Alan Sears, March 29, 2012.

Educational struggles are breaking out all over. In March 2012, over 200,000 Quebec students are waging a general strike against tuition increases and have faced brutal police repression. British Columbia teachers just finished a three-day strike against an austerity budget and are set to engage in further strike action. Teacher collective bargaining seems to be headed toward an impasse in Ontario. Faculty members at Dalhousie University in Halifax were on the verge of a strike to resist concessions demanded by their university administration, though a last-minute agreement kept them from the picket lines … //

… Fighting for a Better System:  

The relentless assault we face puts a premium on preparing the fightback, and finding new ways to build activist student-staff-faculty alliances capable of resisting the austerity agenda and fighting for accessible, democratic and decolonized education. Our movements are going to have to learn a lot to resist this agenda, and that learning will not take place in classrooms.

The education fights currently underway are merely a taste of what is to come. The relentless assault we face puts a premium on preparing the fightback, and finding new ways to build activist student-staff-faculty alliances capable of resisting the austerity agenda and fighting for accessible, democratic and decolonized education. Our movements are going to have to learn a lot to resist this agenda, and that learning will not take place in classrooms.

This is an important time to learn from the Occupy Movement, to take over spaces to be used for a different kind of collective learning processes. Instead of mounting a purely defensive campaign, we need to use these freer spaces of learning to discuss a range of issues and concerns. To begin, the university is a workplace, employing a wide range of workers in a variety of positions. Full-time faculty do labour-intensive work that relies on a specific skills base, and in some ways can be compared to craft workers in the skilled trades who were once able to bargain and resist even when other employees did not feel confident because of their control over a skills base. Like the assembly line, on-line learning will undercut this bargaining position and provide a basis for employing cheaper forms of labour, a process already underway on our campuses where underpaid sessional instructors with virtually no job security do more and more of the teaching, as do teaching assistants who find their tutorials and marking loads growing out of control. The relationship between faculty bargaining and other forces on campus needs to be discussed bluntly to build genuine spaces of solidarity oriented around the needs of the most vulnerable.

Secondly, we need serious discussion of democratic learning, where it takes place and what it means. Students are too often the objects in discussions of university learning and teaching, the things that are acted upon with more or less efficacy. It is time to imagine what spaces of education might look like that were organized around genuine democratic learning grounded in student power.

Finally we need to understand the basis of the current education system in colonial rule of Indigenous peoples and Eurocentric perspectives in which the particular experiences of certain people of European ancestry (disproportionately male and wealthier) are treated as the universal history of humankind. In pretty much any discipline you choose, the core knowledge base is seen as a European heritage, and other ways of knowing are marginalized. Similarly, there are gender-normative, heterosexual and ableist commitments buried deep in the ways of knowing now on offer.

When governments and employers come swinging axes to destroy the prevailing apparatus, it will not be sufficient to defend the way things are. That will not offer the inspiration or radical strategies required to genuinely defeat the age of austerity by mobilizing a truly anti-capitalist movement. The spaces of movement education, including campus spaces taken over and used for “free” learning outside of the structures of the system, not only provide an opportunity to explore new ways of mobilizing, but can also provide a model for free, democratic and decolonized learning. We face the challenge of building those spaces if we want to defeat the austerity agenda.
(full text).

(Alan Sears teaches at Ryerson University and is a member of the Toronto New Socialists. This article first appeared on the New Socialist Webzine).

Links:

Alchemists with state authority: Political leaders of EU member states proclaim the state’s annulment of law, on Current Concerns, by Karl Mueller, March 26, 2012;

Against all expertise: Green-red government of Baden-Wuerttemberg wants to introduce “Gemeinschaftsschule” (comprehensive school) as regular school by law amendment, on Current Concerns, March 26, 2012.

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