Most educators want to leave the world a little better place. Most educators care about people. I do too.
We can research, understand, and change our world. What follows is what I think is up. I've been wrong before. There are important things I don't know. I hope to present an interesting opening analysis and to raise critical questions. Please understand that I have placed material here that I would write differently today, demonstrating that I've learned new things. I like the piece on Political Economy (1997) better than the one on Dialectical Materialism (from 1993). Some of this is work in progress. There are links to sites I enjoy and extensions on topics initiated here. Please write and offer your criticism--and your thoughts on what is to be done. Here goes. This will take between five and ten minutes to read.
While all of humanity is more and more united through our work and our technology, our social systems pit us against one another in ruthless struggle. Although resources exist to give everyone control over the methods and products of our labor, to see that everyone is fed and cared for, we witness work places ever more alien to workers, joblessness, idle time spent in hopeless apathy, mass hunger in bountiful nations, millions of people crushed by untreated epidemics. The New York Times, on 31 August 1997, reportedthat the U.S. government is paying hospitals NOT to train doctors. While our technology offers unbounded chances for a critically literate world, elites organize educational decay: nearly entire nations are kept in illiterate ignorance.
Profits are won from the promotion of irrationalism: racism and sexism. National leaders insist. "We are all in this together," when in every country wage gaps intensify, those who keep over those who work. National partnerships take on special meaning when poor youths are sent to war, to protect "their" rich. As inequality grows, so does mysticism, offered as an antidote to a clear analysis of our surroundings.
Although sexuality, obviously a human need, should be a source of great joy, for many people it is a fount of misery and anxiety. Schools in the U.S.must now preach abstinence to get federal money. Sexual oppression is inseperable from material and intellectual oppression. Abstinence education, organized fear of honest pleasure and desire, goes hand in hand with nationally regulated curricula and exams. The same week the U.S. congress moved to eradicate welfare, the president fired the Surgeon General for advocating masturbation.
While our planet could be more democratic, by being more egalitarian; it becomes more authoritarian because social control is used to preserve privilege.
Right now, most North Americans live relatively well, though most are one serious illness from poverty. The remainder of the world is in a deep economic and intellectual depression, Anger is literally turned inward. What some editors call chaos, their fearful description of an explosion of inequality and despair, sweeps the southern hemisphere. North American might is rooted in military technology, not industrial productivity or wisdom--or even mass popularity. The North American military cannot trust its own troops in prolonged fights, hence the turn toward technology and lightning war.
This will not long prevail. Our social systems are intimately connected. Privilege built on misery is fleeting. Most North Americans would be wise to act in solidarity with the mass of poor and working people in the world, not simply to be nice, but because our fate only trails theirs--rather like the young white Confederate soldiers who made bad choices and marched in Pickett's Charge, or the U.S. troops in Vietnam, urged to spray Agent Orange to cut off the food supply, wondering today why they get poor medical care.
For the first time in history, we have at hand the tools to make it possible for people to love one another. And for the first time, there is no outlet for this social system to expand. Capital is everywhere. There is nowhere to run. Our planet's environment is at its limits, strip mined, swath burned, heated, polluted; everywhere capital insists on more. Humanity's choice is getting clearer: love or death.
Experience tells millions of people that their society is rigged to serve a system that robs labor and rewards theft. Yet those same people are made cynical by the failures of socialism; failures which confused equality and democracy with national economic development, cadre leadership, and postponed sexual liberation. Most people simply choose the convenient route. They dissemble, actively try to ignore their unjust environment, duck into cultural diversions which often reconstruct inequality in ideology and in profits. Others go beyond submission. They volunteer to build their own scaffolds; from racist skinheads to organizers for chauvinist unions to religious activists paying dues to others who interpret God for them--and demand tax exemptions.
Some conspicuous academics promote the notion that this is a new era, so complex it cannot be understood, so new that only the deconstruction of subtleties in language can explain it. They wind up examining the only thing they can be sure of: their own minds. They paralyze social action, promote consumerism, and buy BMW's. In politics, they urge pluralism as a response to complexity. In history, they're the latest Mensheviks. In science, they're the new creationists. In psychology, they're depressed. In fact, they're old priests (In the Beginning was the Word) in Armani outfits.
Really, the turn to language, right-wing postmodernism, is a predictable result of their solely academic standpoint, on the fringes of privilege, full of fear for the future, full of pride in their intellect. But language is not life. Language does reflect, interpret, and recreate action. Still, the test of knowledge is its relationship with social practice.
The historical reality is that where there is domination, there is resistance. This is true today. People now risk their lives in struggles for change. The resistance is not a linguistic moment, but human sacrifice for the future. The hopelessness of the idealists (those who believe "I think, therefore I am; rather than, "I am , therefore I think) parallels the insoluable contradictions that face people whose questions can only be resolved by a call to faith--why religious warfare is not an oxymoron. Yet without ideas running ahead of social reality at some point, there is no significant social change.
At issue is how resistance can lead to justice, not recreations of hierarchy. How can ideas and words both reflect and thrust forward the fight for equality? How can we best discover and understand the seeds of the future in our depleted soil?
We can have a better world. We must change this one. Educators are centrally positioned in every society to contribute to change for the common good, or to prop up and disguise inequality and authoritarianism. Schools, not industrial work places, are now the center of life in North America. Every level of school, from the curricula to funding, is ever more segregated by race and class. Educators cannot step outside the struggle of the many against social systems designed to only serve a very few.
Educators take sides. We create terrific value. What we do counts. The methods we use and the content we urge both influence our students view of their own agency, and their impact on the future. We have reason to want to exercise greater control over our labor. Justice demands organization.
Teachers change people. We should have some idea of what kind of student, and society, we hope to create, understanding that our work is necessarily collective, no single teacher creates a student's personality, and our best plans often don't work. We learn from practice and criticism., We build on errors.
I'm involved in education for democracy, equality, and social justice. This means I am active in movements concerned with Critical Pedagogy, Anti-fascism and Anti-racism, Political Economy, Sexual Economics, Dialectical Materialism , and Community-building.
I'm concerned about how educators treat the central issues of life: work, sexuality, and the construction of reason. I am curious about why it is that some people are so easily made into instruments of their own oppression, and what motivates those who choose resistance and revolution. I try to figure out what creates normalcy, whiteness seen as the universal mean for example (and as a disguise for harsh treatment), and what moves people like John Brown, or Vietnam's Giap, who discover that they are superior to their circumstances, and act on their new vision. What makes good teachers struggle every day to swim upstream against school systems that rarely reward them?
We need to fight to to integrate our education systems, now carefully split by class, race, geography, ability, and sex. We must rethink what rationale decides who is alike, and who is diferent. Why is disability linked to abnormality? How is it that difference does not begin with class? What are the lines of difference, and who do they serve? Who gains? The multiculturalist celebration of difference appears to be a not-so-new way to market nationalism. Those of us who are naturally united by the fact that we do not own need each others' experience and knowledge.
How can a democratic and egalitarian movement, seeking to create self-regulating human beings, overcome powerful organized authoritarian opposition? How can we envision a better world? How can we lead in new ways, at one with each other--rather than one above the others? How can we best teach for freedom, equality, democracy, and change? If the future must be forged by people who make newer errors, what do they need to know to be immune to today's aging lies, to be innoculated against submissiveness and passivity?
I study education systems in deeply exploited nations like Grenada, as well as in schools in the U.S., especially in the Detroit metropolitan area. I spent 1996 and part of 1997 in Grenada, meeting with the jailed former leadership of the New Jewel Movement, investigating the relationship of the failures of socialism and their education system, designed by Paulo Freire. They have been unjustly imprisoned for 14 years in a 17th century jail. Social change, educational change, is serious business: life and death. Ironically, the last prisoners of the cold war are black.
I battle the standardization or regulation of what is to be taught, and how teachers will teach it--particularly in the social studies. What is the reality of teacher empowerment when our time is driven by nationally regulated standards and state exams? What national curriculum can match the meeting of a very unique student with a very particular teacher, both with their own passions, in a special community? How can critical thinking rupture the false horizon of a state exam? Why should school serve business?
School is a place where we should be able to struggle for what is true, in a relatively free atmosphere. People send their kids to school full of hope, believing education will better their lives. Schools are also huge markets (for apple juice, bus contracts, Prozac, test services, consultants, union bureaucrats, Twinkies, architects; the Detroit school budget is bigger than the Detroit City budget). And schools are also sources of false hope ("Education will move me up"---actually it probably won't, odds are you'll move slightly down from the class you were born in) and deception ("You cannot understand the world, it's too complex", and, "If you act on your world, it will act harshly on you"). Finally, schools teach ideas which boomerang on the real needs of students: individualism, elitism, sexism, racism, nationalism, etc., usually using textbook-driven methods designed to teach most people that they have no potential for power--often using the language of empowerment. Still, teaching is the best job in the world--and the most pivotal in the U.S.. Few working people enjoy a teacher's freedom. So, the question seems to be: How to gain enough power to utilize and expand our freedom in order to best engage the struggle for the truth? How do we keep our ideals and still teach? How can we build on the legitmate hope people locate in school?
I am also concerned about the current state of the international working class, the unions of the AFL, the American Federation of Teachers, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and the National Education Association. What makes the new boss the same as the old boss? Is there hope for social change? Why? How? Toward what end? Through what vehicle?
Genius is the impudent assumption of power. Whether you exercise it over an idea or a closet makes little difference. Usually, the opposition, often what is seen as second nature itself, is so surprised, it proves a relatively modest obstacle. But the North American industrial working class, aging white men wrapped comfortably in business unions of their choice, committed to protection of American capital, now hold very modest potential for the genius of change.
Youth are usually the ones with the courage of genius. Youth are in the schools. They are today's real rebels, inheritor's of traditions going back past Tom Paine, Babeuf, and W.E.B. Dubois. The Los Angeles Rebellion, propelled by young people of all nation's and races, carried greater potential, and realized more significant lessons, than the carefully orchestrated charade of the Teamster's strike with UPS
In the struggle of competing interests between those who own and those who work, those who love and want to love versus those who want only to possess; I believe we can think, act, and win. Up the rebels. Join us.