New Census Bureau figures released September 2012 show that 15 to 17 percent of the U.S. population lived in poverty in 2011. Over 50 million Americans lived at or below the poverty threshold of a household income of $23,201 per year for a family of four. One in five of our children live in poverty and over one-third of black and Latino children are struggling through impoverishment.
Pathetic, really, that we’ve vaunted the one percent – the disgusting oligarchs and rip-off artists and welfare cheats called the US Corporations, Wall Street, Banks, military hardware purveyors, energy mafia, and we have failed to notice our own enslavement – and their trumpeters into every aspect of our pathetic 70 percent (no 99 Percent for me) lives.
Absolutely bizarre that now some of the most educated (college-wise) are slowly recognizing that they too are part of the proletariat; the largest group of debtors sliding; the white middle class kids and Baby Boomers now seeing and feeling a little bit of what blacks, Latinos and other people of the non-white race have faced since DAY one of the federation.
Faculty — have they really been the vanguard, or the first line of defense in stupidity and disconnect? Who knows, but the reality is that the new majority is part-time and contingent – at-will and flogged by a constant drumbeat of privatizers threatening cuts to programs, threatening to mess with education to such a point that delivery to customers might just be facilitated by a giant hissing ether net of canned and flashy correspondence courses piped into people’s PCs, iPads and phones.
Is the death of education here, near, inevitable? Is it worth it now to go to college? What’s the end game? Debt on top of more debt? See here what the student loan fraud is all about.
I started this analysis and critique with Part One, all tied to teaching and adjunctification, the so-called ad-cons of the precariat kind! We are the “other,” when, in fact, the full-time tenured faculty are the minority, the other. We are supposed to be invisible, victims, inferior. Bunk. Read here on one former tenured faculty’s emancipation from the elite highbrow narrative of self-imposed importance.
This series has been predicated on reading Keith Kroll’s piece, that posits, “As a result of neoliberalism, the ‘grand experiment’ of the community college, as that of ‘Democracy’s college,’ is coming to an end.” I’m really wondering if the new faculty majority has been facilitated to become as inept, unorganized, broken, disconnected and impotent as we are through the overt and covert plans of the masters of the academic universe – professional administrators who jump from college to college as parasitic bean counters and program cutters and tuition raisers and hobnobbers with the One Percent and their 29 percent armies of poverty creators?
We are poor, and yet, we have failed to garner allegiances with our students, their communities, their families, and the local business people who depend on our work, on the public physical, emotional, intellectual and symbolic spaces a good two-year state college and state university campus can provide.
We should have been blasting away at our stories four decades ago, when the majority in the teaching profession were permanent teachers with some semblance of tenure or vetting process. We are poor and deeply experienced in navigating that poverty, selling ourselves a load of crap, even with our advanced college degrees and publications and service in and out of the public sector.
We are poor, and we are about to become POORER.
Read the entire Kroll piece.1
I will be pugilistic with Kroll’s thesis and sub-points, but first a little tough love from Barbara Ehrenreich, who was asked by Amy Dean of Truthout why oh why have the mainstream media underreported and bastardized the truth of unemployment and poverty and the disconnect between worthy skills and education not having a snowball’s chance in hell of convincing a multinational corporation the value of our struggle. We stay at slave wage levels because we are afraid of the truth in our poverty. And that truth unfortunately has been occluded by a vapid and seriously psychologically in tune mass media and failing Press.
It’s always been something of a problem for two reasons. The first reason I discovered in my years as a freelance writer in the 1980s and 90s. That is: magazines and newspapers want to please their advertisers. Their advertisers want to think they are reaching wealthy people, people who will buy the products. They don’t want really depressing articles about misery and hardship near their ads.
The other reason is that typically the gatekeepers in these media outlets, the top editors and producers, have been from a social class quite far removed from what we are talking about. They have no clue. I found that this could be very, very dispiriting.
I remember pitching a story to an editor in the 1980s. It had something to do with working-class men. The editor said, ‘Well, can they talk?’
It’s almost otherworldly. The editors would use the word ‘articulate,’ as in, ‘Could you find someone articulate?’ Like the rest of the people are just going around grunting. Those are two long-standing structural forces against good coverage in the media.
So, basically, the overarching view that Kroll takes is that the community college – a true proletarian college of the people, for the people and by the people in many regards; a community centered experiment, for sure; a leaping place where all diversity and contexts meet and encamp; where the ideals of, say, the Clemente Course, run smoothly into the ideals of skills for the under-fed intellectually – is on its way out … Sayonara … hasta la vista, baby … don’t let the door slam you on your way out!
Remember the Clemente Course? What a magnificent experiment. I doubt the Obamas or Bidens or Gates or the rest of the captive capitalists have heard of it.
The humanities are a foundation for getting along in the world, for thinking, for learning to reflect on the world instead of just reacting to whatever force is turned against you. I think the humanities are one of the ways to become political…
— Earl Shorris, Clemente Course founder, Riches for the Poor
Remember, the humanities is everything Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos are against. They need programmers, warehouse workers, and technologists with their hearts in numbers and algorithms, not altruism. So no matter where I taught – medium security at La Tuna Federal Corrections Institute, Gonzaga University, on the fire line of Fairchild Air Force Base, at the Sergeants Major Academy, night school in Segundo Barrio, or day classes at the University of Texas — those ideals I sculpted as a community college teacher flourished, up against the demeaning and detritus-like admonitions of deans, VPs, department chairs and others who never-ever really took the mission of education seriously enough to empower themselves to be part of the change needed to stop neoliberal policies.
It was democracy school and Clemente Course all the way wherever I taught, and that pissed off a lot of people. Content, delivery, process, engagement, cross-pollination, end products, outreach, media publicity. How I did and the degree for which I conquered student apathy and ignorance, well, that’s what got me in trouble.
Here’s what Bard College says of the Clemente course, which has been replicated in other places, including one of my abodes, Spokane, at Gonzaga University:
The Clemente Course provides college level instruction in the humanities, with the award of college credits, to economically and educationally disadvantaged individuals at no cost and in an accessible and welcoming community setting. Participants study four disciplines: literature, art history, moral philosophy, and American history. Like their more affluent contemporaries, students explore great works of fiction, poetry, drama, painting, sculpture, architecture, and philosophy, while learning also about the events that define America as a nation. The course also offers instruction in writing and critical thinking, while the seminar style of the classes and dialectical investigation encourage an appreciation for reasoned dialogue.
Isn’t that the about-face of Cormac McCarthy’s vision of The Road or No Country for Old Men? Truly, the discourse and dialogue only come from that edge of seeing the light, that place that Kroll alludes to by offering up Edward Said’s look at what the role of intellectual (artist, activist, community organizer, civil society, and, yes, adjunct freeway flyer) has IN SOCIETY and in COMMUNITY:
Edward Said argued that the public intellectual must function within institutions, in part, as an exile, as someone whose ‘place it is publicly to raise embarrassing questions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma, to be someone who cannot easily be co-opted by governments or corporations.’ From this perspective, the educator as public intellectual becomes responsible for linking the diverse experiences that produce knowledge, identities, and social values in the university to the quality of moral and political life in the wider society; and he or she does so by entering into public conversations unafraid of controversy or of taking a critical stand (Giroux 140).
Embarrassing, confrontational, against orthodoxy, skeptical and against dogma, government and business defying. Wow, is it possible most adjuncts and full-timers never even crossed one of those Rubicons?
Here’s what Cormac McCarthy, who I knew when I taught and worked and rabble-roused in El Paso, has to say about the coming age of apocalypse and the technocrats working for the MBAs on their project of final economies of scale obsolescence of the general human species as conveyor of life. McCarthy was there, on the fringes, landed in El Paso just because he thought it would be a place where he wouldn’t be harangued by his celebrity.
He is the epitome of the dispossessed, acerbic, and contingent spiritually and nationally – here, an excerpt from a NYT article 21 years ago:
Since 1976 he has lived mainly in El Paso, which sprawls along the concrete-lined Rio Grande, across the border from Juarez, Mexico. A gregarious recluse, McCarthy has lots of friends who know that he likes to be left alone. A few years ago The El Paso Herald-Post held a dinner in his honor. He politely warned them that he wouldn’t attend, and didn’t. The plaque now hangs in the office of his lawyer.
For many years he had no walls to hang anything on. When he heard the news about his MacArthur, he was living in a motel in Knoxville, Tenn. Such accommodations have been his home so routinely that he has learned to travel with a high-watt light bulb in a lens case to assure better illumination for reading and writing. In 1982 he bought a tiny, whitewashed stone cottage behind a shopping center in El Paso. But he wouldn’t take me inside. Renovation, which began a few years ago, has stopped for lack of funds. “It’s barely habitable,’ he says. He cuts his own hair, eats his meals off a hot plate or in cafeterias and does his wash at the Laundromat.
McCarthy estimates that he owns about 7,000 books, nearly all of them in storage lockers. ‘He has more intellectual interests than anyone I’ve ever met,’ says the director Richard Pearce, who tracked down McCarthy in 1974 and remains one of his few ‘artistic’ friends. Pearce asked him to write the screenplay for ‘The Gardener’s Son,’ a television drama about the murder of a South Carolina mill owner in the 1870′s by a disturbed boy with a wooden leg. In typical McCarthy style, the amputation of the boy’s leg and his slow execution by hanging are the moments from the show that linger in the mind.
McCarthy has never shown interest in a steady job, a trait that seems to have annoyed both his ex-wives. ‘We lived in total poverty,’ says the second, Annie DeLisle, now a restaurateur in Florida. For nearly eight years they lived in a dairy barn outside Knoxville. ‘We were bathing in the lake,’ she says with some nostalgia. ‘Someone would call up and offer him $2,000 to come speak at a university about his books. And he would tell them that everything he had to say was there on the page. So we would eat beans for another week.’
McCarthy would rather talk about rattlesnakes, molecular computers, country music, Wittgenstein — anything — than himself or his books. ‘Of all the subjects I’m interested in, it would be extremely difficult to find one I wasn’t,’ he growls. ‘Writing is way, way down at the bottom of the list.’
His hostility to the literary world seems both genuine (“teaching writing is a hustle”) and a tactic to screen out distractions. At the MacArthur reunions he spends his time with scientists, like the physicist Murray Gell-Mann and the whale biologist Roger Payne, rather than other writers. One of the few he acknowledges having known at all was the novelist and ecological crusader Edward Abbey. Shortly before Abbey’s death in 1989, they discussed a covert operation to reintroduce the wolf to southern Arizona.
Discontented, disconnected, drawn-away from the very thing that now has made McCarthy a multi-millionaire. Pure asshole stuff, separating himself from anyone interested in taking a stab at his work. No interest in budding writers. Just a tragic guy with money, fame and an open ticket to Oprah’s show. But his books have things to say about us, this fragmented and earth eating and weather changing culture of fossil fuel gobbling … about our future … about the wicked side of those who declare there will be blood on every business deal imaginable!
McCarthy used to regularly eat at a cafeteria in El Paso. A few times I spoke with him about the so-called drug war – drug tunnels, bodies dumped outside Juarez, Ollie North and contras. A discreet and inconsequential guy. No fanfare. Not much of a community player. Never would talk to my students at UT-El Paso’s creative writing program. But, in that solitude, McCarthy gets what Kroll might be crawling toward in his piece about the oblivion of future community colleges – the seppuku inherent in schooling, teaching as a profession. McCarthy is a product of nihilism promoted by our neo-cons and neo-liberals.
If you think about some of the things that are being talked about by thoughtful, intelligent scientists, you realize that in 100 years the human race won’t even be recognizable. We may indeed be part machine and we may have computers implanted. It’s more than theoretically possible to implant a chip in the brain that would contain all the information in all the libraries in the world. As people who have talked about this say, it’s just a matter of figuring out the wiring.2
Yes, of course, the wiring is being figured out every day, and each gigabyte of information scrambling in those digital clouds and ether nets and IT Guantanamo’s will be the next new Reich of Education as Propaganda – MOOCs, or, Massive Open Online Courses. Who needs community colleges indeed? Or teachers?
Yes, the McDonaldization of higher education, thank you very much: See
You think maybe some of us already woke up to that calamity, that possibility, years ago? Here’s the opening of McCarthy’s The Road:
When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he’d wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.
Truly, the struggle with adjuncts-contingents-temporary-at-will faculty is that we have not been able to collectively embrace poverty and collectively act against the defamation of our humanity. Yes, defamation by some Full-timers, by dumb-downing deans, VPs and provosts, the CFOs and presidents, all those folk who perpetuate a class system, some would call apartheid lite for academics. Some giant “cold glaucoma dimming away the world” ?
Kroll advances a clarion call to us all:
In other words, we must act beyond the walls of our classrooms—in our colleges, in our local communities, in our states, and at the national level—and resist the neoliberal dismantling of education that directly threatens the academic function of the community college. We have to model for our students the very same values and beliefs that we teach in the classroom. We need to stand up and fight for faculty rights and resist any political and administrative actions that threaten our ability to teach. We need to fight for more full-time faculty, while at the same time fighting the exploitation of part-time faculty. We need to work to strengthen our unions and to fight for more faculty inclusion in college governance.
Indeed, we must fight to stop poverty, the huge wage imbalance, injustice in our communities, foreclosures on futures, disenfranchisement, and the money-lenders and wealthy class of folk who are hell bent on collapsing communities within the community wherever their stench follows them. Maybe a little revolution, MLK, Jr. style?
King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a reevaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens. — Cornel West
Tavis Smiley and Cornel West, amongst a crew of folk traveling in a week 3,000 miles to record the poverty, education, struggle in America – thanks to the republicrats – came up with these five installments in October 2011.3
The precariat class of working professional teachers at the country’s colleges and universities may now exceed 1.5 million contingents – the New Faculty Majority – and even more teachers who muck about with personal training, in corporations as coaches and teachers, and throughout our society where “teaching skills and thinking and fluency in things” is necessary to the bottom line of the bottom feeders of humanity – the privatizers.
But the world is perma-temp or at least a large chunk of it is, and “community of place” is being quickly replaced by a thinking that is global in reach – “community of purpose.” That is, for instance, working as a part-time or full-time employee for, say, the Bank of America or Walmart model – as a worker in these transnational and multi-national companies, you end up paying allegiance to the purpose of the company: profit and all actions motivated to please shareholders. Those potential economic blessings of the transnational corporation while living in those respective physical communities like Spokane, WA, or Cleveland or Tucson, where there are huge chunks of the cities that are flagging and deteriorating because no mom and pop or middle-sized market venture can compete with the economies of scale the McDonalds wield. There is no real multiplier effect from Bank of America in Salem, Oregon, nor is there a commitment to growing families and communities within the community. What’s the value added of BoA when it pulls up stakes? When it, in fact, is a perpetrator in the community it functions in?
Take a look at what this economic hardship looks like.
Note the organization’s founding mother, someone not invited on the mainstream media or in any administration, red or blue or yellow striped.
Founding Editor: Barbara Ehrenreich, acclaimed journalist, author and Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, has worked with her IPS colleagues to synthesize and catalyze a broad consensus among working journalists, community organizers, service providers and policy analysts: the U.S. public and its policymakers need help confronting and addressing the scope and depth of economic hardship in the wake of the economic collapse of 2008 and its continuing reverberations. Her leadership role in EHRP is twofold. She is writing big picture analytic pieces that remind us of the basics that the national conversation often ignores. Barbara is also working closely with other Project contributors as they develop and research their stories.
“Community” has never been a foundation to the very notion of “community college,” and that has been facilitated by the dog-eat-dog mentality of North Americans, saddled with the curse of genocide in its project of empire, manifest destiny and colonizing.
Maybe the Kroll essay was never meant to look at the prescient commentators who knew what the writing on the ledgers pointed to decades ago – those neo-imperial cum liberal policies set down by the Chicago Boys, the World Bank, IMF, hell, the United Fruit Company and Coca Cola Inc.
I’m thinking of Jane Jacobs, Chris Hedges, Eduardo Galeano’s trilogy, Memory of Fire or historian Fritz Stern and his The Politics of Cultural Despair. Hedges points out how powerful Cultural Despair is a: “… book on the rise of fascism in Germany, warns repeatedly of the danger of a bankrupt liberalism. Stern, who sees the same dark, irrational forces at work today that he watched as a boy in Nazi Germany, argues that the spiritually and politically alienated are the prime recruits for a politics centered around cultural hatreds and personal resentments.”
They attacked liberalism [fascists gaining power in 1930s Germany] because it seemed to them the principal premise of modern society; everything they dreaded seemed to spring from it; the bourgeois life, Manchesterism, materialism, parliament and the parties, the lack of political leadership. Even more, they sense in liberalism the source of all their inner sufferings. Theirs was a resentment of loneliness; their one desire was for a new faith, a new community of believers, a world with fixed standards and no doubts, a new national religion that would bind all Germans together. All this, liberalism denied. Hence, they hated liberalism, blamed it for making outcasts of them, for uprooting them from their imaginary past, and from their faith.
— Fritz Stern
I’d say the very idea that community colleges ever held strong sway over the case for activist faculty, interested community partners, functional participatory democracy, smart leadership and a holistic approach to community development through engaged citizens, caring and supporting businesses, and keen and far-thinking policy makers and politicians is a bit thin at most, mythological at best.
Sure, some of us worked hard – AGAINST the corporate systems, the unending agnotology and amnesia of the middle road of academe, and even against the somewhat working class vestiges of a community college experience, say, in places like El Paso or Spokane.
In the end, in my 30 years teaching, from military installations, to federal penitentiaries, to community colleges, maquiladoras, four-year state Research 1 universities and a small private Jesuit non-profit college, I’ve faced off with despicable deans, disastrous department chairs, obscene administrators, balloon-brained boards, repugnant regents and, unfortunately, back-stabbing and anti-education/anti-student educators.
Fortunately, my experiences were not limited to this negative caricature, but rather full of exciting, dynamic and community-inspiring teachers, deans, students and active community supporters of the colleges I’ve worked for.
In the end, though, I’ve found faculty not capable enough to be the people they want students to be, to be those people they vaunt as they impart knowledge and critical thinking to a variety of folk encompassing some of the most diverse populations one will ever encounter on a daily basis in the United States. That is the fabric of old time community colleges!
We’ve unfortunately become the zits on the rear-end of capitalism, stripped of humanity as we colonize minds, cultures and entire ecosystems with our ennui and endless shopping cart nightmare.
“Twin totalitarianisms plague the world — the dictatorships of consumer society and obligatory injustice,” Eduardo Galeano writes lamentably in Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World, a poetic, turbulent and clear survey of political and economic systems of control around the world.
“Consumer culture, a culture of disconnectedness, trains us to believe things just happen. Incapable of recalling its origins, the present paints the future as a repetition of itself; tomorrow is just another name for today. The unequal organization of the world, which beggars the human condition, is part of eternity, and injustice is a fact of life we have no choice but to accept.”
It’s a much defined role American consumer culture has had on faculty, on administrators, on the grand schemers of higher education as this panoply of tools for completing that business model of buy, buy, need, need, seek, seek, want, want the soon to be obsolete and the viciously vain and unnecessary crap that defines not only a Walmartization of communities but of academe.
That’s the failure of education, whether we call it a community college or top rank Ivy League University. This consumer culture tied to empire and resource hording, the constant need to be something more than imagined history, that is what is breeding fascism of the soul.
I’ll wrap up Part Two of this screed with a connection to another DV voice, a piece published January 2, 2013 along with my “I am an English Teacher and I Don’t Need Not Stinking Badge … And I’m not going to take it anymore” piece, or whatever morphing title I find appropriate hours or days later.
It’s the academic freedom and banging your head against the wall as a teacher “thing.” Read it.
“How to Not Teach Physics” by Denis Rancourt. Just a little grist for that mill called higher education. Or K12. That administrator class of species. Those deans and department heads. Those purveyors of sneaking behind backs, derailing real education, culling the brain stems of students.
Note Rancourt’s battle when you hit the blog he’s set up fighting the black-booted smear his University of Ottawa leadership unleashed like the scum of the McCarthy era, or the Screen Actors Guild Ronald Reagan and his tattle-telling of lies against fellow actors and directors.
How is it then, tenured and in the trenches for twenty years, Rancourt gets libeled, smeared and little Eichmann-ed into persona non grata? SO much for the myth of academic freedom. Tenure for life.
Now multiply Rancourt’s pain and dismissal by a factor of 1.5 million. Or more. Part-time, at will, contracted for a year, maybe on three-year contracts, contingent faculty indeed will be the University of Ottawa’s dream team of subservient, submissive, schizophrenic teachers who fear the very shadow lurking in the hallways because alas making $2000 a class, or even $4500, at three or four classes allowable a year ($6-8K or $13500 to $18000 with PhD or Master’s) means always having to say Sir, Yes, Sir. Mama, of course, si, Senora!
Ya think innovation will happen under those conditions? Paradigm shift? Solution-based thinking? Just seeing Rancourt’s physics conundrum certainly brings up all sorts of examples I have as journalism, creative writing, literature, composition, research writing teacher. Certainly, I know science teachers at colleges in the US who have to give alternative assignments to students in biology classes or geology, WHEN those students come at them with fundamentalist fictions about the un-Holy Bible trumping all science.
Colleges that have young earth geology courses. Colleges that accept creationism AKA intelligent design as a valid form of scientific inquiry. I kid you not.
Is it any wonder that we are in a brave new world of work, a brave new world of double think and magical thinking and blighted critical thinking skills? Is it any wonder we have K12 teachers ending careers because they can’t TEACH?
So, what do we get when Juan or Jane or Kim Sung come to class? A deep and worthy k12 education under their belts … where teachers and community and students explore the systems of human-cultural-environmental-political-artistic ecologies? Nope.
So, yes, having my classes hit the ground running since 1983, with all sorts of varying narratives and propositions when these kids and adults would write persuasive papers, you bet I was the thorn in their asses, in their daddies’ asses, in the asses of the marketing spin doctors of religion, consumption, and war, in the asses of two-bit fornicating ministers and priests, or the laughable bosses who always wanted to run roughshod over their young employees’ college careers.
One big thorn in the administrative class of people who are a tribe of little Eichmann’s all to themselves.
Next stop – Part Three:
“Why Naomi Wolf Gasped When One Meat-head Tried Muscling an Adjunct Faculty Who Decided to Arm Lock Him to the Back of the Line” (Is it always this violent in Spokane? she asks).
- Read Part One.
- “The End of the Community College English Profession,” TETYC, Dec 2012. [↩]
- Cormac McCarthy, Wall Street Journal, November 20, 2009. [↩]
- Watch Part 1 – “Suffering to Speak”
“I Had Everything”
Part 2 of the series puts the spotlight on the new poor. Tavis also talks with Vicki B. Escarra, CEO of Feeding America.
“No Room at the Inn”
Part 3 focuses on the housing crisis. The conversation continues with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
“Nothing Moves Without Us”
Part 4 examines jobs and the unemployment crisis. Tavis also talks with the director of Columbia’s Earth Institute and co-founder of Millennium Promise Alliance Jeffrey Sachs.