When the Punks and Pundits and Purveyors of Propaganda Face Off the School Yard Thinker

One thousand ways to frame the education beat, one deadbeat at a time

Wow –

This first of a first – The premiere of a new DV column space:

Drum roll please — New Column Subtitle:

School Yard Fights: Education Beat Down but Not for the Count

denken_DVWell, something to that effect. But, in reality, Angie, Kim, and the others at DV have given me the green light to keep DV supporters up-to-date on the entire thing called “Education.” I am certainly not opposed to the school of hard knocks in this column, or the Shop Class and Soul Work kind of thing. Sure, when we find one of those drop-outs – Tarantino or Bill Gates – we try and discover what dropping out of high school and Harvard respectively has really done for the world.

In this column, education will be part of the quintet of the e’s – E for Ecology; E for Equity; E for Energy; E for Economy ; and, of course, E for Education. The old triple-bottom line of the new green, this thing called sustainability or sustainable development, well, it has to be expanded. My work around sustainability, climate change, ecology, restorative conservation, urban planning and such, well, expect this column space to include that.

It’s not just about me, however, and I expect to solicit guest columns, poems, in-your-face harangues, or anything creative and informative that fits DV space.

One of the first things I want to do is thank DV for the confidence in me, in my mad-mad-mad world of writing. It’s no small matter to get something going like DV and have it going on what — a decade or more?

So Many Versions of What-Why-Where-For Whom-When-How an Education is …

Now, education is framed by literally hundreds of professional journals for educators, education planners, educational policy, educational theory, and every level of education and subject under the sun. Literally hundreds of education-linked/related journals.

I might be gleaning from one of them. And, from Inside Higher Education, an on-line venue, and, The Chronicle of Higher Education, both hard copy newspaper thing and on-line. These are higher education journals, so to speak – here, here.

There is also Academe Blog

Then there is Rethinking Schools

Then you have someone like Marion Brady talking shop,  Or Diane Ravitch of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education fame — among others, like The Great School Wars: New York City, 1805-1973

It’s so much to muddle through, the education scene, since it takes up so much of nation’s coffers and so much of our lives, from food to culture to medicine to literature and law, and just about all things worth discussing, it comes from what schools are doing – teaching us to think outside the boxes that the vanguard and vaunted have constructed with their barbed wire mentality.

Then, try Henry out for size – his books, including: Higher Education Without Democracy?

by Henry Giroux and Chronis Polychroniou. We’ll be looking at his work-words on this beat:

If you just survey some of his work – Truthout is one venue – you get the picture where I might be going:

The War Against Teachers as Public Intellectuals,” | Henry A. Giroux | Philosophers for Change | December 20, 2012

The War Against Teachers as Public Intellectuals in Dark Times,” | Henry A. Giroux | Truthout | Op-Ed | December 17, 2012

Neoliberal Terror and the Age of Disposability,” | Henry A. Giroux | Philosophers for Change | December 13, 2012

Losing Time or Doing Time: Drowning Public Education in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy,”| Henry A. Giroux and Jacqueline Edmondson | Truthout |Op-Ed | December 7, 2012

“Can Democratic Education Survive in a Neoliberal Society?” | Henry A. Giroux | Truthout | Op-Ed | October 16, 2012

The Disappearance of Public Intellectuals,” | Henry A. Giroux | CounterPunch | October 8, 2012

From Penn State to JPMorgan Chase and Barclays: Destroying Higher Education, Savaging Children and Extinguishing Democracy,” | Henry A. Giroux | Truthout | Op-Ed | July 13, 2012

Beyond the Politics of the Big Lie: The Education Deficit and the New Authoritarianism,” | Henry A. Giroux, | Truthout | Op-Ed | June 19, 2012

Henry A. Giroux: The Occupy Movement and the Politics of Educated Hope,” | Henry A. Giroux, | Truthout | Op-Ed | May 18, 2012

Why Teaching People to Think for Themselves Is Repugnant to Religious Zealots and Rick Santorum,” | Henry A. Giroux | Truthout | Op-Ed | February 22, 2012

Book Burning in Arizona,” | Henry A. Giroux | Truthout | News Analysis | February 8, 2012

“Remembering Etta James,” | Henry A. Giroux | Truthout | Op-Ed and Video | January 21, 2012

Universities Gone Wild: Big Money, Big Sports and Scandalous Abuse at Penn State,” | Henry A. Giroux & Susan Searls Giroux | Truthout | Op-Ed | January 5, 2011

Rejecting Academic Labor as a Subaltern Class: Learning from Paulo Freire and the Politics of Critical Pedagogy,” | Henry A. Giroux | Fast Capitalism | August 2, 2011

Why Faculty Should Join Occupy Movement Protesters on College Campuses,” | Henry A. Giroux | Truthout | Op-Ed | December 19, 2011

Higher education under siege: challenging casino capitalism’s culture of cruelty,” | Henry A. Giroux | OpenDemocracy | November 27, 2011

Occupy Colleges Now: Students as the New Public Intellectuals,” | Henry A. Giroux | Truthout | News Analysis | November 21, 2011

Beyond the Limits of Neoliberal Higher Education: Global Youth Resistance and the American/British Divide,” | Posted by Campaign for the Public University | November 7, 2011

The Politics of Ignorance: Casino Capitalism and Higher Education,” | Henry A. Giroux | CounterPunch | October 31, 2011

 Teachers Hated in a Society of haters – The War Against Us

Here is an important paragraph introducing one of his recent essays –

Depicted as the new “welfare queens,” their labor and their care has been instrumentalized and infantilized; they have been fired en masse under calls for austerity; they have seen rollbacks in their pensions, and have been derided because they teach in so-called “government schools.” Public school teachers too readily and far too pervasively have been relegated to zones of humiliation and denigration. The importance of what teachers actually do, the crucial and highly differentiated nature of the work they perform and their value as guardians, role models and trustees only appears in the midst of such a tragic event. If the United States is to prevent its slide into a deeply violent and anti-democratic state, it will, among other things, be required fundamentally to rethink not merely the relationship between education and democracy, but also the very nature of teaching, the role of teachers as engaged citizens and public intellectuals and the relationship between teaching and social responsibility. This essay makes one small contribution to that effort.

So, this war against me, against my own mettle to go at it alone in the classroom and to guide students away from the status quo, to give them some hope for their own understanding of what it means to be human, part of the animal kingdom, in this awe-inspiring world without us (a great book, The World Without Us by Alan Weisman give a look at the world if in some magical rapture, all Homo Sapiens are lifted from mother ship earth and vaporized somewhere in the thermosphere) … so, this war is not just played out with those of us in teaching and those outside of teaching, but unfortunately, a few of my brethren are Judas types, total whack jobs when it comes to the very idea of fairness, of what education can do for humanity, and the very idea that making money – capital – is not the salvation of man and woman kind. Like the great David Suzuki says, economic theories and mumbo jumbo – the stuff that is killing the planet – is mutable, easily disassembled with no damage to the planet or the species –

Now there are some things in the world we can’t change – gravity, entropy, the speed of light, the first and second Laws of Thermodynamics, and our biological nature that requires clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity for our health and well being. Protecting the biosphere should be our highest priority or else we sicken and die. Other things, like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them. They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the biosphere, for example.

Teaching people how to make a living rather than how to make a life is another holistic idea from someone like David Suzuki, who I brought to Spokane as part of my duty as an educator, a member of the community, lowly paid and in many ways, unpaid for service to the community. Like working for Get Lit!, a literary festival bringing authors like Suzuki to give the public – not just students in school – a chance to learn.

Reframing the Narrative

So who knows what will be the next item-column-aggression around education in this continuing column, but for now, let’s try our hand at that famous newish frame called the comments section of the multitudes of on-line blogs and ‘zines and traditional periodicals.

That freewheeling, loud-mouthed, sometimes foul-mouthed Type A personality, wanting to make himself or herself famous for twelve nanoseconds on the worldwide web. Are they just trolls?

It is an exercise in testing blood pressure, but also a way to put the thumb on part of the pulse of a society, even a rarified one, that might go to x, y or z on-line rag. Here’s how it goes:

Part of what I do is check out articles and then the comments on those articles around education, climate change, ecology, sustainability, etc., etc. Not that I am interested in going toe-to-toe with some faceless drone out there. I like the first strike, going into a story that I agree with to ramify some points, or one that I disagree with to militate why it’s flawed, or the writer’s thinking is flummoxed.

We don’t have that capability or leaning here at DV – the “post your comments here” window. That’s good, I believe. But places like Nation of Change, Truthout, Truth-Dig, Alternet, Mother Jones, The Nation, In These Times, many others, have that capability. Some of the stuff being tossed back and forth is proof that (a), the writers (sic) either failed the first principles of common rhetoric in school, or (b), never got the common rules of engagement for discourse, or (c), just are part of that growing army of folk who are tainted, or “special,” or have the screws way too loose.

Trolling for Misanthropes on the WWW

Even for pretty innocuous stuff, like the Chronicle of Higher Education’s new coming out of the already out The Adjunct Project. In the story, “Adjunct Project Reveals Wide Range in Pay” by Audrey Williams June and Jonah Newman, readers will see 90 posts – before this one below gets posted. It’s a January 4, 2013 piece, so I have no idea how or who will bite. But note when you read the 90 posts, plus mine, that many, many posts reflect what Henry Giroux has already stated –

Public education is under assault by a host of religious, economic, ideological and political fundamentalists. The most serious attack is being waged by advocates of neoliberalism, whose reform efforts focus narrowly on high-stakes testing, traditional texts and memorization drills. At the heart of this approach is an aggressive attempt to disinvest in public schools, replace them with charter schools, and remove state and federal governments completely from public education in order to allow education to be organized and administered by market-driven forces. Schools would “become simply another corporate asset bundled in credit default swaps,” valuable for their rate of exchange and trade value on the open market. It would be an understatement to suggest that there is something very wrong with American public education. For a start, this counter-revolution is giving rise to punitive evaluation schemes, harsh disciplinary measures, and the ongoing deskilling of many teachers that together are reducing many excellent educators to the debased status of technicians and security personnel. Additionally, as more and more wealth is distributed to the richest Americans and corporations, states are drained of resources and are shifting the burden of such deficits on to public schools and other vital public services. With 40 percent of wealth going to the top 1 percent, public services are drying up from lack of revenue and more and more young people find themselves locked out of the dream of getting a decent education or a job while being robbed of any hope for the future.

Those that are assaulting it are assaulting us, educators of all stripes. I’m an adjunct-contingent professor, but I like to be called teach’ as most of my students at community colleges, universities and private non-profit colleges have called me. Even leatherneck military students and medium security prisoners called me that.

The assault is asymmetrical, and bombastic, and steeped in the capitalist’s paranoia and addictions to bank accounts, material things and endless infantile lifestyles.

It’s based on new math, one that never was a big part of our evolution, but is now up front and real because of a messed up media, rotten Hollywood, felonious marketers, and putrid politicians, among others. They put a price on everything – from the pinky that gets chopped off in their meat-packing plants, to the women and girls burned to death in their Walmart factories, to the ding on their Hummers, to the five carat diamond piercing you know what.

These are the people that get on the news, get the TV shows, get the ears of politicians and who end up becoming part of the dopamine-special class of managers and administrators. The see, speak, hear evil in their dreams, and that evil is selling something every second of our waking and sleeping lives. They sell patriotism, sell ethics, sell spirituality, sell the family, sell communities, sell whatever they can claim as their resource for plunder.

So if you have time, go to the Chronicle piece and read what happens. I might experiment with this in a more expeditious manner – that is, put up my dukes quickly on one of these on-line harping boxes. For now, though, remember that the ship of fools is taking us over the fiscal, emotional, cultural, ecological, energy, education, humanity cliff sooner than later if we have no way to respond, to attack back, to answer their calls to us to prove that an education is worth more than the paper it’s printed on, more than the paycheck the rich are willing to dole out, more than the trumpets on Saturday heralding in another day of football madness.

Here’s what I posted at 5 p.m. January 15, 2013. Enjoy, weep, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

Adios … Your School Yard Pugilist!

To Chronicle of Higher Education Commenters

Wow –

Not a lot of love for teachers here. Let the market drive the pay. You get what you pay for. College is a business. Let the shifting baselines syndrome overtake every last bit of common sense. Sure, it makes a lot of sense to someone who has no concept of how education should go, should be, and might be going without this constant bottom line managerial class of folk – those who make hefty paychecks and hire on more useless bloated toads at the top – demanding cuts. They are the actors for the ruling class. Again, what is the purpose of an education? Certainly, the majority of folk teaching college now – at-will wage slaves – deserve more than a pot to piss in.

The reality is that the baseline for contingent and adjunct faculty shifted the past, oh, 30 years since I was a graduate student and then newly minted adjunct-part-timer. Let’s see — I had roots in El Paso, tons of friends, put in a lot of community service, got involved politically, and, well, was trained to teach journalism, English, and, to be honest, almost anything. I went to graduate school there, so the UTEP Miners is my alma mater. I did the school a service by TA-ing there, publishing stuff while I was there, working with migrant youth while I was there, working on special school-wide projects while I was there, and even engaged the city and the region in a few things while I was there.

What’s that worth to the school, to the community, to the region? What’s the value added I gave to the school and my fellow students and faculty?

So, teaching as a freeway flyer in 1987, 18 total classes in one school year (after I had spent 1986 in Mexico and Guatemala writing and working), and then cobbling together writing gigs with the two city’s dailies (at different times) and other writing work, that was supposed to be the writing on the wall for me? I should have realized that it wasn’t my career?

I put in a lot of time applying for full-time positions. Those jobs were drying up 20 years ago because it was easier to exploit people by calling them the Sunday before semester classes start. Easier to fire them 10 days into the quarter if the enrollment numbers did not hit some bean counter’s magical graph peak. Not given any benefits, told to pay for our own substitute if we got sick, and given no office or key to the copy room. Pay for the parking decal, here, now. Sure, that’s the model we want young students to abide by. That’s why we have them go to school – to lock step with the marketers and the bottom (feeders) line folk who say –go into the career of the month. If it pays, major in it. Screw everything else.

You think the job market for full-time gigs and part-time ones now is easy, cool, quickly transformed into new pathways to new careers at age 55? Sure, folk. Get some economic enlightenment:

From a capitalist perspective, social resources represent a use of the actual economic surplus that does not directly contribute to the expansion of exchange value. It should now be apparent that the concept of waste is both a normative and a class concept: what counts as waste will depend upon the class perspective, and the needs and interests peculiar to that perspective, from which that determination is made.

— From Alan Nasser, Tendency to Privatize

Some of us were gritty and knew how to work systems of oppression. We knew how to do legal and illegal things to get by. We wanted to be part of the community, which in fact needed us. We did all those extra things at those community colleges and universities, for free. We worked our tails off, and we still applied for fewer and fewer jobs, even in Mississippi.

When you have comments here telling us to love it or leave it, or that the value of education is in our heads, or that “ya shoulda got ah MBA,” all of that tripe, and more, well, these folks were the easy ones to slap down intellectually and logically in face-to-face debates. It was a daily fun fest for folk like me to put them in their places. Sure, they steamed off in their Lexuses or F-150 pick-ups. Sure, they had the first DVD players, the first laptops, the first plasma screen TV. But, wow, vapid, empty, and really not all there.

I’ll end with some Giroux – Important person, educator, public intellectual, thinker, and someone who is not part of the Lexus-Cruise Ship-Las Vegas in July crowd –

What is truly shocking about the current dismantling and disinvestment in public schooling is that those who advocate such changes are called the new educational reformers. They are not reformers at all. In fact, they are reactionaries and financial  mercenaries who are turning teaching into the practice of conformity and creating curricula driven by an anti-intellectual obsession with student test scores, while  simultaneously turning students into compliant subjects, increasingly unable to think  critically about themselves and their relationship to the larger world. This poisonous virus of repression, conformity and instrumentalism is turning public education into a  repressive site of containment, a site devoid of poetry, critical learning and soaring acts of curiosity and imagination. As Diane Ravitch has pointed out, what is driving the current school reform movement is a profoundly anti-intellectual project that promotes “more testing, more privately managed schools, more deregulation, more firing of teachers [and] more school closings.” There are no powerful and profound intellectual dramas in this view of schooling, just the muted rush to make schools another source of profit for finance capital with its growing legion of bankers, billionaires and hedge fund scoundrels.

Public schooling is increasingly harnessed to the needs of corporations and the warfare state. One consequence is that many public schools, especially those occupied by poor minority youth, have become the new factories for dumbing down the curricula and turning teachers into what amounts to machine parts. At the same time, such schools have become increasingly militarized and provide a direct route for many youth into the prison-industrial complex or what is called the school-to-prison pipeline. What is buried under the educational rhetoric of hedge- fund and casino capitalism reform is the ideal of offering public schools students a civic education that provides the capacities, knowledge and skills that enable students to speak, write and act from a position of  agency and empowerment.

Read more

This semi-new venue of trolling and slap down in these mini-yak frames called Comments sections, even here at the CHE, well, some of the misanthropy is interesting, indeed. Not a scientific sampling of the true pulse of Americans’ attitudes toward education or we adjuncts, but, still, pretty funny, pathetic, and tragic.

Adjuncts for the most part want to get equal pay for equal work. Seems like a real Adam Smith kinda principle. Is that a bizarre socialistic concept to some of these folk, that I want to get paid more than $2600 a class – lump sum for 16 weeks – and I still want to teach and make a difference? Is it odd that I would want to fight within the system rather than wither away? Is it odd that some of us know we won’t get rich from this schema, but we also do not want poverty wages and absurd treatment? Funny stuff, really, thinking that somehow the new majority of teachers – adjuncts – somehow is a good thing, reflective of a great operating system. Not.

Try this interview out for size, and then size up your principles, you cash-loving militarists, you dogs of the corporate welfare kind. Ya want McDonald’s U and Walmart Tech and Amazon.dot.com College? Right!

Giroux again:

What is distinctive about the U.S. is that higher education is under attack not because it is failing but because it is public. It is now considered dangerous because it has the potential to function as a site where a culture of questioning can operate, the imagination can blossom, and difficult questions can be openly debated and critically engaged.  Hence, many conservatives see higher education as a threat to their reactionary and corporate oriented interests and would like to defund higher education, privatize it, eliminate tenure, and define the working conditions of faculty to something resembling the labor practices of Walmart workers. While the universities  are increasingly corporatized and militarized, their governing structures are becoming more authoritarian, faculty are being devalued as public intellectuals, students are viewed as clients, academic fields are treated as economic domains for providing credentials, and work place skills, and academic freedom is under assault.

Paul Haeder has been a journalist since 1977. He's covered police, environment, planning and zoning, county and city politics, as well as working in true small town/community journalism situations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico and beyond. He's been a part-time faculty since 1983, and as such has worked in prisons, gang-influenced programs, universities, colleges, alternative high schools, language schools, as a private contractor-writing instructor for US military in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington, and with life long learners and gifted and talented high school students. Poetry and short fiction, the novel and creative non-fiction are also his stem cells. Check out his stuff at www.cirquejournal.com. He can be reached at: paul@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Paul, or visit Paul's website.