Post 230.

Over the past fifteen years, there’s been a trend of cutbacks at universities. Faculty and students are told that governments can’t fund higher education as before. Universities are critiqued as being elitist because they focus on critical thought for its own end, faculty are considered too secure in their jobs so permanent positions are slashed and workloads are increased, and students are pressed into marketable disciplinary areas or seen as wasting taxpayers’ time. Universities that run profits, are re-oriented around industry priorities and needs, and which produce disciplined workers, like a trade school, are considered exemplary.

There are changes that universities should undergo to make them serve student needs better, and create a new generation that can skilfully access a decent standard of living, and be kind and conscientious citizens. But, this is not what neoliberal changes seek.

Rather, they aim to run the university by the operations model of a firm, bringing output and impact metrics to evaluate its relevance. The governing question becomes, how well is the university serving the global capitalist market? Students become ever more focused on a job, rather than also deciding the fate of the future, and they emerge with some basic value, like sheep to be sheared, without any engaged opinion about their place in the overall chain of consumption, production and command.

This model prioritizes individual economic advancement, so they become Animal Farm’s pigs eating with knives and forks while sending Boxer the horse to the glue factory when he becomes expendable. It eliminates urgent requirements for a strong police state, for students stop investing in dismantling the status quo. It re-packages student as ‘clients’ consuming education services, disconnecting them from the centuries old tradition of student radicalism.

For students in the Caribbean, already distracted by the escapism of social media, there is no Room 101, no torture and no war, so they don’t demand an education system that teaches them to collectively end these.

There’s a Room 101 in the Caribbean though, called Guantanamo Bay. There’s a war against drugs, led by the DEA, that is fueling hundreds of unexplained assassinations, and preventing us from making billions from a medical marijuana industry. Doesn’t matter, students are already unwilling or fearful of challenging unjust laws, class inequalities, corporate corruption, political party hierarchies, homophobia and sexism, preferring to focus on their step on the ladder.

I’m not blaming students. They see Petrotrin destroying marine life while big boys collect fat paycheques. They travel to the US and shop at Walmart, which pays its employees so little, they all rely on welfare to live. They see both PNM and UNC’s massive levels of misspending without a single politician or financier ever being convicted. They live in a world where 62 individuals own as much as the bottom 3 billion, and have never been to a class that teaches them how to take down and replace that global economic and political system with one built around justice: where no one goes hungry, where no one is desperately poor, where no industry is allowed to profit while killing life on the planet.

The economic model the world is built on is costing us more than it provides, even if we account for jobs, a growing middle class, and revenue for social services. 6.5 million people died of air pollution in 2012. Calculate that socialization of losses and understand that students need to know how to end corporate dominance and its privatization of gains. Air, water and food will be our number one issues in another generation. The planet’s future ecology has to define students’ vision. Political elites need to be held accountable, for they have us in this situation. UWI and our students must thus be a political force governments cannot ignore.

Beware of the language of cutbacks. There’s enough money in the world for students and workers, for species to no longer go extinct and for innovations that benefit society. Caribbean universities’ home-grown mandate is to challenge the economic and political systems established here in 1492, to produce the leaders and masses that took on and ended those global orders, to protect their dreams of humanity, sustenance and freedom, and to advance a world where we can survive and thrive without exploitation and inequity.

We are compelled to train students to become workers in the current capitalist order, but we resist its colonization of their minds. Our vision is for more than their exchange value. Industry alignment, profit logic and cutbacks will not compromise our intellectual independence, or theirs. We teach to transgress, for who else will? Universities are spaces of freedom. Universities are not for sale.

The university’s Business (model):

A) research and teaching on the basis of total intellectual independence

B) trans-disciplinary critical challenge of the inequitable and destructive global status quo

C) mobilization of upcoming generations’ collective consciousness regarding impunity of elite and corporate power and corruption

D) well-informed and fearless re-envisioning that follows a homegrown radical tradition of emancipation and humanity

E) empowerment as more than individual advancement, but as the capacity for citizens to hold power accountable

F) innovations in arts, sciences, economics and politics to make a just and sustainable world possible for all.

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Post 213.

Is your child’s homework sparking greater creativity? Is it igniting her imagination? Is it encouraging her to ask and follow her own questions about the world? Is it teaching fearlessness as well as compassion and cooperativeness? Will it make her more passionate about learning? Is her homework fun?

I reflected on these questions while on a boat to Nelson Island this Saturday, thinking about how much learning should happen outside of classrooms, promising myself to create my own curriculum of subjects like math, geography, history, science and languages by roaming as much of the country as I can with Zi.

For example, she learned about her indentured Indian ancestors’ confinement on the island, Butler’s six year incarceration, the words “workers’ rights” and “capitalism”, and saw the prison cells where the grandfather of a boy she knows was held in the 1970s. She counted islands and observed ocean garbage. I know many parents who value just this approach, involving their children in cooking, growing food, stargazing, and know-your-country-trips to highlight the relevance of knowledge and skills to their lives.

I know fewer parents as opposed as I am to early induction into stress-producing test preparation, free-time-eliminating extra lessons, and strictness as the key to academic success. I also don’t believe that children, especially five year olds, should get homework. Nor do I think children’s other activities should be determined by how much homework they have.

With test culture and standardization, teachers are doing their best, and schools can’t do or be everything. I’m not against revision, but feel that homework should either include or leave evenings and weekends free for other possibilities for dreaming, making-believe, and making unique and unexpected meanings. Mostly it does neither, and is more likely to be associated with boredom and drudgery than inspire delight and curiosity.

I have my own philosophy about the purpose of education, and my own take on schooling’s approach to learning as well as its weight on how learning is experienced in and out of school. I’m open to the benefits of school, and the genuine love and efforts of teachers, but after the bell rings, other ways and kinds of learning should be given fair chance. When can that happen when children spend so much time on homework so many evenings each week, even on weekends? Is more time spent sitting still, being stressed by pressuring parents, and being taught to complete work to avoid trouble the best lessons we can provide?

Other activities, like music or gymnastics, where the body moves as part of learning, even if it’s just hands beating pan or fingers tapping piano keys, are necessary for growing minds to map themselves and for different learning styles to find their space in ways that P.E. classes cannot substitute. After-school play helps children’s brains to develop capacities and connections which schools may be able to give neither time nor priority. Self-directed time is crucial for cognitive and emotional development, which are inseparable. For me, adventure, beyond habitual routes and routines, is key for continually opening those boxes that my university students eventually think from within, without even noticing their passivity to the status quo.

Imagine asking children to do whatever makes them super-excited about the subject for homework. What would they choose? And, if we tried that, what might we discover about how children wish to learn and actually do? Perhaps then, there might be less quarreling about not staying focused or taking responsibility, not wanting to do well or taking an interest in school work, and not trying hard enough at an almost everyday activity which, let’s be real, isn’t meant to be interesting or likable. We would instead ask ourselves about our own responsibility, as adults, for reproducing a national system where a good portion of students opt out of learning or forget it’s something that they were hard-wired to pursue and enjoy.

Wise parents warn me about homework burdens in years just ahead, the pleasures it infrequently offers, and its narrowing rather than expanding of independent reasoning. I’m not sure how I’m going to negotiate it then, but there’s a good chance I’ll decide while Zi and I are somewhere on land or sea, dreevaying.

Post 162.

Feminism is getting hotter. Sparking a global spring, girls and women are taking on the world political-economic order on the ground and through technology. More power to this movement for equality, equity, and transformation of all forms of domination. Welcome to a moment that tireless struggle has again born.

Once the dilemma was about the ‘I’m not feminist, but…’ kind of feminism, the belief in and practice of its politics that nonetheless ran from the backlash stereotypes associated with its identity and community.

However, going more mainstream has attached feminism to wider practices and representations, raising questions about the relationship between feeling powerful and undoing powerful hierarchies, as well as making us look harder at feminisms mix with capitalism, its long-marketed racist and sexist ordering of women, and its containment of the broadest goals of empowerment.

Take bootylicious feminism, also seen in Nicki Minaj’s dancehall queen version. Beyonce’s brand champions women as flawless and sexy, smart and powerful, economically in control and unanswerable to the politics of respectability. It also sells sex as it sells feminism. Indeed, here, sex sells feminism, potentially popularizing a narrower project than dismantling the beauty myths still packaging the meanings of female sexuality. What do hypersexual feminisms do for kinds that are not or refuse to be sexy?

I’ve wondered about this when my friend Nicole was shamed for playing Jouvay topless but for nipple coverings, and in an old shortpants, making explicit just how little pretty mas nakedness has opened a space for women’s non-prettied bodies on the road, on their own terms, even on Carnival days. I’ve thought about this when women face censure for shamelessly breast-feeding their babies. I’ve reflected on this as I envision the postcolonial feminisms I want for my little brown girl.

There’s feminist struggle for sex positivity. Existing double standards shame women in ways that men, even those who are molesters, rapists or adulterers, don’t face, and strippers, sex workers and ‘skettels’’ usually scorned behaviour means they are least protected by the law, unions, immigration officials and health institutions. This must change.

The question isn’t whether women have a right to make the choices they do. Instead our attention should be on the choices available, and the ones still determining women’s greatest rewards, pleasures and value. It’s no coincidence that just as girls have been ‘taking over’ education, media and labour markets, they have been increasingly pressured to still embody specific femininities and stilettoed super-sexiness. What does this mean for feminisms’ trenchant critique of women as objects for consumption, and for black and brown women’s refusal to reproduce reduction to their bodies at the expense of their humanity?

Freedom from sexual and other forms of  violence. Choice regarding marriage, children, and same sex desire. Access to reproductive justice, including safe and legal abortion. Transformation of the colonial gender stereotyping still pervasive in contemporary pop culture, advertising, nationalism and tourism. Value not for how we look nor for the femininities we do, but simply because we are. The kinds of economic rights that mean we neither gain greater wealth nor greater vulnerability from the exploitation of our bodies in public and private life. For me, this is what feminist goals of sexual liberation mean.

All women know there is no pure place for resistance. This is more rather than less reason for thinking critically about diverse instances named feminist. It’s reason for differentiating between the gender consciousness we now have of rights and inequalities, and feminist consciousness that aims at more than women’s individual wealth, choice or leveling of power to a radical re-imagining beyond current terms and boundaries.