The Organic Intellectual

If our greatest task is to liberate humanity, as Paulo Freire asserts, then it is absolutely essential that we create a culture of resistance from below that is able not only to counter, but transcend the limitations of the ruling culture imposed by above. Hopefully, The Organic Intellectual will help serve this purpose.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Bonuses for Them, Bull for Us: Fighting Back at UT

This is not intended to be a full article, only a brief update concerning the most recent development in University of Toledo administration's continuous attempts to screw over students and faculty. To put things in perspective, check out this prior article concerning UT and the various sources it links to.

It turns out that in the face of the economic crisis, forced furloughs, layoffs, and budget cuts, there is an ample amount of money to go around for administrators at the University of Toledo.

The Board of Trustees Finance Committee is recommending approval for the new budget, which will require “mandatory furloughs of employees to achieve spending reductions necessitated by institutional budget deficits," according to The Independent Collegian. Mandatory furloughs are expected to cut $1.3 million from workers at UT this year. In conjunction with this, a 3.5% budget hike is expected to garner another $2 million for UT.

However, these "spending reductions" to deal with "institutional budget deficits" seem only to affect two groups of people, namely, workers and students. At least $580,000 (more if we count in bonuses for the real fat cats like Lloyd Jacobs) of this $3.3 million, or a little under 1/6 of this could be covered quite easily: don't pay out massive bonuses to a select few administrators. It is absolutely disgusting that in the face of such an economic crisis these administrators, most of whom do very little for any of us and are not accountable to us in any way, are making over half a million simply in BONUSES. Some of these "bonuses" are double or triple the yearly wage of workers. As noted in the excellent article "Pigs at the Public Trough," (credit for the graph below goes to them as well) these do not "include bonuses approved or paid to President Jacobs including a bonus of $150,000." Below is a graph of the breakdown:

Even the amounts dished out show the priorities of the heads at UT. At the apex of this pernicious theft we see Jeffrey Gold, who runs the Health Science Campus and has his hands tied up in the the Medical Center and College of Medicine, with over $200,000 whose bonus ALONE could provide at least four well paying jobs for a year. Next is the universally disdained Rosemary Hagget who, more than anything else, is the largest mouthpiece for the administration and their policies; she gets $73,000. Next comes Scott Scarborough who, according to UT's website, is "responsible for the overall financial health of the university’s main campus and health science campus." Perhaps returning his $60,000 bonus and not allotting hundreds of thousands of dollars aside for a few individuals while the rest of us suffer could promote the "financial health" of the university, no? That would, of course, be fundamentally against his stated principles cultivated around the concept of a business-run university where immense profits can be garnered for the few while the rest of us are hit with the bill. Even the athletic director gets nearly a $30,000 bonus while entire departments run off less than that (the budget for Asian studies, for instance, runs off $4,000 according to a friend who just graduated).

This is little more than a kick to the face of both students, who are facing tuition increases next semester alongside state cuts to the Ohio College Grant, and workers who are being terminated or forced to take time off.

We, of course, are not the only ones battling such theft from public funds for administrators to maintain their ostentatious lifestyles. Peralta Community College students and faculty are going through the same thing: "Teachers, staff and students are bracing for furloughs, increased class sizes, retroactive tuition hikes and cuts to services and programs this fall." In April students at the University of Vermont occupied a building to protest the budget cuts. In Seattle "members of three campus unions, five student groups and the American Association of University Professors came together on April 28 at a meeting to denounce the budget cuts being imposed on the University of Washington." Students are articulating demands to tax oil companies, not students, to pay for higher education in California. Just today Socialist Worker printed a report of San Fransisco students and faculty gearing up for a battle against recent budget cuts. The list goes on and on. The point is, we are NOT alone in this struggle, people are fighting back. So should we.

The question then becomes, what will we do about it? This year at UT we have a host of battles that need to be fought. The most pressing issue for the majority of students is, obviously, parking. Yes, we can ride bikes, but not in the winter, and the parking situation is absolutely mad. President Jacobs patronized most of us last week when he commented that the parking situation was "fine" and that "students just don't want to walk." This coming from a man, mind you, who has his own reserved parking spot and obviously does not walk very much himself. Perhaps they could redirect the half a million dollar bonuses and slice a bit off the top of the bloated administration budget to actually fund a new parking garage somewhere that makes sense.

But even more serious political issues face this very working class campus than parking. The UT College Republicans have essentially sworn themselves to an ideological holy war this year, claiming they hope to "recapture the university with conservative values." They are even in the process of creating a list of liberal professors who they exclaim have expressed bias against conservative students in the classroom. Aside from their freindly rhetoric, the obvious McCarthyite tendencies spewing from the plan are noxious. This issue is of vital importance, of course, especially when you have administrators stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from Ohio tax payers and working class people. Even more obnoxious are the "Stop Obama's Healthcare" tables that are beginning to make an appearance around campus with a photograph of Obama sporting a Hitler mustache, the comparison is not only cliché, it's moronic. Word is, although I cannot confirm this, there was also a noose hung outside of the Law Center yesterday; obviously racism has not seen it's way out with the election of Obama. So, as we can see, the level of political maturity is not quite developed yet from our friends on the other side of the political fence; over there they defend corporate firms, hedge-fund managers, private military contractors, etc. and attempt to equate a timid healthcare reform with Hitler's massacre of six million Jews, along with however many Communists, gypsies, homosexuals, and every other group he saw fit. Way to go Republicans, you ought to be proud.

Needless to say, given the socioeconomic makeup of UT, it's fairly obvious that the vast majority of people do not identify with their politics. The youth of UT showed adamant support for Obama during the election. That does not mean we can simply let all this happen without a fight, however. As Obama begins more and more to disappoint those who hoped for the more broad and encompassing change he promised people may become disillusioned; this is where the forces of the right may gain their ground. Therefore, it is all the more important that we wage our own ideological campaign to combat them. We cannot allow the ideological struggle to be one-sided, or else they will gain by default. We need to be debating them, engaging them, and organizing ourselves to take them up on every issue they attempt to espouse their virulence. This is what the university should be about, right?

We must be careful, however, not to place our hopes in a purely ideological struggle. We have to be involved materially as well, understanding, especially in light of the current crisis, that it is essential for us to develop "knowledge of the historical process in it's entirety." As George Lukács notes, "This means that 'ideological' and 'economic' problems lose their mutual exclusiveness and merge into one another. The history of a particular problem turns into the history of problems." We must be able to formulate this concept to meet the needs of today. It is absolutely vital that we combat, here and now, the measures being taken by UT to force us to tighten our belts while they make room for extra food in theirs. That being said, it is absolutely essential that we articulate the idea that this is a universal problem with particular circumstances. While our struggle at UT is important, it is vital that we link up and share our experiences and extend our solidarity to people struggle all over against similar conditions.

We, as students, also have to show solidarity with both workers and professors. From the talk on campus the union leadership, such as Harvey Wolfe who heads the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) for UT, has been silent on the issue. Murmurs of faculty strikes are buzzing, but, nothing serious has yet developed as far as I know. I will be glad to update on the issue if I hear otherwise, but students must be adamant in their support for faculty resistance through strikes and other means.

At the VERY LEAST we should be organizing some sort of united front against the budget cuts and layoffs. Until UT administrators ENORMOUS salaries and bonuses are cut, we should be arguing that students should not see a god damn penny increase in tuition or workers one forced furlough. There is no doubt in mind that this should be pragmatically linked with the struggle against the attempt to "recapture the university along conservative values."

They will only get away with this as long as we let them. The question is, do we have the courage to stand up to them?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

On Education Part Three: Education, for Liberation or Domination?

This mini-series "On Education" is a compiled list of short essays concerning theoretical approaches to classroom pedagogy and their broader implications upon us as educators and our students. I hope to continue it for a while, and, of course, any critical dialogue upon what is presented is more than welcome. I will try to space these out weekly.

Read Past Contributions:
Part One: Banking or Problem Posting Education?
Part Two: Selective Omission and What We Learn from Malcolm X's Schooling Experience


This article explores the nexus of the educational framework developed by Horace Mann, an early nineteenth century American educational reformer and theorist. Borrowing from previous thoughts and methods of educational development, Mann reviewed various methods and merged them into a functional model based largely upon the authoritarian Prussian school system. One shall find that Mann’s educational approach was mostly an attempt to homogenize the ever-changing immigrant workforce and “provide [employers] with workers who were not only more productive but also docile, easily managed, and unlikely to resort to strikes or violence” (Tozer, 76). At a time when industrialization and urbanization were quickly impinging upon the exclusive agrarian society envisioned by Thomas Jefferson, it became essential that the ruling elites (composed of giant industrial owners, large-scale corporate executives, etc.) found a method in which to sterilize the working class and secure their position of power. Thus, Mann’s education process, a manifestation of elite desire to maintain power with striking similarities to the nationalistic, trade-specific, dehumanizing educational process in Prussia, is largely a pedagogy of oppression; the educational institutions which Mann argues for serve to reproduce the existing social structure and the dominant ideology.

One of the most striking examples is Mann’s attempt to apologize for the enormous wealth gap in society. His aims are rather explicit when he explains that education should “disarm the poor of their hostilities towards the rich” (Tozer, 77). This blatant example, despite some intertwining populist rhetoric, betrays his class loyalty. This is only reinforced when he explains, “The main idea set forth in the creeds of some political reformers, or revolutionizers, is, that some people are poor because others are rich” (Tozer, 77). By implying that a dialectical understanding of wealth is an inappropriate analysis, and that his conception of education alone will lift the poor out of the depths of poverty, Mann’s educational reforms can be viewed as little else than a attempt to skillfully manipulate the public to garner support for an educational process which fostered class oppression. In fact, a letter from a Lowell manufacturer, who had employed and exploited hundreds of workers, explicated upon this postulation:
“I have uniformly found the better educated as a class possessing a higher and better state of morals, more orderly and respectful in their deportment, and more ready to comply with the wholesome and necessary regulations…and in times of agitation…I have always looked to the most intelligent, best educated…for support” (Tozer, 76).
Thus, one sees that the primary goal of the educational process for school reformers such as Mann was to create a working class who provided little or no resistance to the oppressive conditions in which they labored. This played to the ears of the newly emerging ruling elite of industrializing America. No critique was permitted of an economic system where workers’ labor was exploited for as much surplus value as possible, starvation wages were predominant, child labor was common, and workplace rights were absent. Likewise, the idea that democracy should extend to the workplace was a dangerous idea to the elites in the early 19th century, much as it is today. Education, in Mann’s conception, serves to stifle democracy and its spread beyond the very limited political sphere.

The idea that society should reinforce the power structure and reproduce itself continues today. Modern school systems serve the interests of the dominant class. As Jean Anyon found upon studying various schools according to income, “students in different social-class backgrounds are rewarded for classroom behaviors that correspond to…different occupation-strata—the working classes for docility and obedience, the managerial classes for initiative and personal assertiveness” (Anyon, 1). It appears that Mann’s ideas are largely dominant in today’s educational atmosphere. Indeed, Anyon further explicates upon this point when she explains that working class schools use “mechanical, rote work that [is] given little explanation or connection to larger contexts” (Anyon, 4) and “Work is often evaluated not according to whether it is right or wrong but according to whether the children followed the right steps” (Anyon, 3). These examples highlight the fact that the majority of working class students are taught to become obedient workers who unquestioningly accept society and the current class structures which exist. In contrasts, elite schools train children to replace the ruling elite in society, so that the cycle continues, capitalism maintains itself, and the undemocratic workplace remains a permanent institution.

Undoubtedly, this model of education should be challenged by anyone concerned with truly democratizing society and the process of fully humanizing each individual. Indeed, even contemporary writers challenged Mann’s educational ideal. Orestes Brownson, whose own educational idea based upon democratic localism, flawed itself, was correct in pointing out the insidious nature of Mann’s proposals; his critique explained that the educational apparatus Mann envisioned was no more than “a branch of the general police” whose goal was to “[make] the rich secure in their possessions” (Tozer, 79). Unfortunately, history has shown that Brownson’s warnings were not considered seriously enough.

Today, educators are barraged with a wide gamut of bureaucratic measures intended to stifle critical thought and democratic practice. In fact, teachers themselves are supposed to be the “docile, easily managed” workers who are “disarmed…of their hostilities towards the rich” (Tozer, 76-77). Teachers unions, historically a vehicle for struggle against unfair working conditions and a lack of resources, have been largely stripped of their influence and are now run by a ruling group of conservative labor bureaucrats. Democracy and autonomy have been replaced with undemocratic centralization of power and unquestioning obedience. For educators, becoming promoters of educational liberation is vital; until teachers engage in the struggle to break free from the chains that bind them, however, this goal cannot be realized. Educators must look to the example of the 15,000 teachers who recently marched against budget cuts, class size increases, pay cuts and layoffs in LA. One could also look to the Puerto Rican teachers who cut ties with the bureaucratic SEIU and democratically organized their own teachers union to fight for better wages and schools. In order to promote the liberation of all people, educators must fight to liberate themselves; this means challenging Horace Mann’s conception of education and fighting for genuine democracy both inside and outside of the workplace.

Works Cited

Anyon, J. (1980) Social Class and the Hidden Cirriculum. Journal of Education, 162(1), Fall.

Tozer, S., Violas, P., & Senese, G. (2009) School and Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. 6th ed. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

Friday, August 28, 2009

How Capitalism Underdeveloped Hip-Hop: A People's History of Political Rap (I and II)

Hip-Hop is perhaps one of the most expansive and encompassing cultures to envelop the world in the beginning of the twenty-first century. It is a fascinating, complex, multifaceted culture that portrays a wide variety of lifestyles, articulates hopes and dreams of oppressed communities, and fosters a culture of resistance that, at least in some instances, challenges the cultural hegemony of a society that relies upon alienation, exploitation, and oppression to perpetuate its own continuance. On the other hand, hip-hop has been assimilated into the dominant culture in many ways through skillful manipulation of the cultural developments by corporate interests signifying, perhaps, the futility of hoping that a cultural movement can withstand the impact of capitalist intrusion while attempting to live in it's home. Still, the political, economic, and cultural implications of hip-hop are immense and, in a very limited sense, my article attempts to synthesize some of the scholarly work concerning this unique cultural development.

There are limitations, due in part to time and length constraints on the original piece and upon my own lack of research in particular areas, which I feel should be mentioned beforehand. Namely, the lack of women, who played a pivotal role in the development of the culture, are not given as much prominence as they should have. Likewise, I hoped to explore the concept of transcending racial barriers among working people and the poor, especially given the election of Obama, in relation to hip-hop phenomena like Eminem. Unfortunately I could not explore either of these in-depth. Other critiques, I'm sure, are warranted and I would hope that anyone who reads it will be willing to expand upon them.

This first post contains the first two sections of the paper. Due to blog limitations, my footnotes are not included. However, I will post the Works Cited with the last post. Also, if anyone wants a PDF copy (around 35 pages, sort of long) I will be glad to e-mail them one.


INDEX: How Capitalism Underdeveloped Hip-Hop: A People’s History of Political Rap

+ Introduction: Historical Phenomena, Hip-Hop Culture, and Rap Music
+ The South Bronx in the 1970’s and Material Conditions in Hip-Hop’s Birthplace

+ Afrocentricity, Black Power, and Hip-Hop’s New School
+ West Coast Projects, the Rise of Gangsta Rap, and Congress’s War on the Youth
+ Corporate Consolidation and the Telecommunications Act

+ Bursting Onto the Mainstream Scene and Contemporary Political Rap
+ Hip-Hop at a Crossroads: Conditions Today and Where Do We Go From Here?
+ Works Cited

Disclaimer: The language expressed in this article is an uncensored reflection of the views of the artists as they so chose to speak and express themselves. Censoring their words would do injustice to the freedom of expression and political content this article intends to explore. Therefore, some of the language appearing below may be offensive to personal, cultural, or political sensibilities.


Introduction: Historical Phenomena, Hip-Hop Culture, and Rap Music

Historical phenomena never develop in a vacuum, isolated from reality; nor are they mechanistically manifested from the historical material conditions lacking the direction of human agency. Rather, historical phenomena are products of a specific environment at a particular time period that have been molded, processed, and transformed by human beings who attempt to define and control their own destiny. The culture fostered in the grimy streets of the South Bronx during the 1970’s is no different. Heavily influenced by the economically and socially oppressed ghettos, along with the echoes of the last generation’s movements for liberation and the street gangs that filled in the void they left, the South Bronx provided the perfect matrix in which marginalized youth could find a way to articulate the story of their own lives and the world around them. In this historically unique context, a culture would be created through an organic explosion of the pent-up, creative energies of America’s forgotten youth. It was a culture that would reach every corner of the world in only a couple decades; this is hip-hop.

Many people mistakenly narrowly define hip-hop as a particular style of music. The reality, however, is that Hip-hop is an extremely multifaceted cultural phenomenon. As hip-hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc explains, “People talk about the four hip-hop elements: DJing, B-Boying, MCing, and Graffiti. I think that there are far more than those: the way you walk, the way you talk, the way you look, the way you communicate.” Indeed, each component presents its own unique history, heroes, and tales of resistance; each acts as a distinct piece of a larger puzzle. Viewed in its totality, hip-hop is undoubtedly a global phenomenon, reaching across the borders of nation-states and touching entire generations. One integral aspect of this culture, familiarly labeled rap, is the musical element which combines MCing and DJing; it is “is the act of speaking poetically and rhythmically over the beat.” As Black intellectual Michael Eric Dyson eloquently explains, “Rap artists explore grammatical creativity, verbal wizardry, and linguistic innovation in refining the art of oral communication.” The characteristic east coast sounds of New York City, the intricate Hip-hop scene in France, the nascent grime subgenre in London, and the politically charged rap developing in Cuba demonstrate just how global the influence of rap music truly is.

Hip-hop was born from the ashes of a community devastated by a capitalist economic system and racist government officials. At first independent and autonomous, it would not be long before corporate capitalism impinged upon the culture’s sovereignty and began the historically familiar process of exploitation. Within a few years the schism between the dominant, mainstream rap spewed across the synchronized, consolidated radio waves and the dissident, political, and revolutionary lyrics expressed throughout the underground network would develop, separating hip-hop into two worlds. Rapper Immortal Technique frames this dichotomy in a political context emphasizing the opposition between the major label “super powers of the industry” and the “underground third world of the street.” Indeed, the stark difference between the commodified songs and albums pumped out by the mainstream rap industry and the creativity and resistance exemplified in the underground movement cannot be overemphasized.

Hip-hop’s glamorized, commercialized image, made familiar through every aspect of pop culture and privately centralized radio stations, is viewed by some as a justification for the prevailing “boot strap” ideology derived from thirty years of neoliberal economic policies and the dominant ideological formulations supporting them. Time argues capitalism allowed for “rap music's market strength [to give] its artists permission to say what they pleased.” Indeed, some argue that one’s ability to market a product in a capitalist society is what has allowed rap music to flourish and become as large of an industry as it is today. This simplistic view, however, ignores one crucial aspect; the culture has been manipulated by a handful of industry executives for capital gain. Meanwhile, hip-hop activists who advocate for social change, formulate political dissent, and fight for economic redistribution have been systematically marginalized and excluded from the mainstream discourse. Corporate capitalism, aided by neoliberal deregulation and privatization, have stolen the culture, sterilized its content, and reformatted its image to reflect the dominant ideology. Independent, political rap containing valuable social commentary has been replaced with shallow, corporate images of thugs, drugs, and racial and gender prejudices filled with both implicitly and explicitly hegemonic undertones and socially constructed stereotypes. Hip-hop has been underdeveloped by the mainstream industry in the same sense that third world countries were underdeveloped by traditionally oppressive first world nations: it has been robbed of its content like a nation is robbed of its resources, its artists exploited like a country’s labor is exploited, and its very survival hinged upon complete subservience to an established political, economic, and social institution. The following is an outline of a culture’s musical resistance to subjugation by the economic, political, and social authority of American capitalism and its ruling elites.

The South Bronx in the 1970’s and Material Conditions in Hip-Hop’s Birthplace

Until 1979 with the release of Sugarhill Gang’s six minute track titled “Rapper’s Delight,” hip-hop’s musical component, rap, had not spread far beyond the South Bronx where it originated. To highlight 1979 as the year rap music began, however, would be a disservice to not only historical accuracy, but to any serious understanding of the roots through which hip-hop music blossomed. Comprehending the rise of a culture inevitably entails a holistic approach where the political, economic, and social institutions and conditions are analyzed to derive an understanding of their effects on the thoughts, ideas, and actions of the generation who created the culture. Therefore, the rise of hip-hop is inevitably linked with a host of changes during the 1970’s to the political economy and the dominant ideology supporting it. These changes include the fading of the nonviolent civil rights movement and the subsequent black power movement, a massive restructuring from the failed Keynsian economic policies of state-interventionism to neoliberal, trickle down economics, the prodigious deindustrialization and the resulting unemployment, and the abandonment of urban spaces by government divestment and white flight. The Bronx of the early 1970’s provides a paragon for such conditions and how they impacted the residents of these urban spaces; these conditions, however, were not limited to one area but were widely represented in many urban areas during this decade. Hip-hop culture, springing from such a particular set of conditions, would spread like wildfire into other areas where a similar combination of political and economic changes was rapidly advancing.

As Akilah Folami explains, “Historically, Hip-hop arose out of the ruins of a post-industrial and ravaged South Bronx, as a form of expression of urban Black and Latino youth, who politicians and the dominant public and political discourse had written off, and, for all intent and purposes, abandoned.” These youth were alienated from decent employment opportunities and confined to under funded schools with little community resources; New York would suffer immense job losses coupled with decreased local and federal funding for social services. The South Bronx alone would lose:
600,000 manufacturing jobs; 40 percent of the sector disappeared. By the mid-seventies, average per capita income dropped to $2,430, just half of the New York City average and 40 percent of the nationwide average. The official youth unemployment rate hit 60 percent. Youth advocates said that in some neighborhoods the true number was closer to 80 percent.
Such conditions would leave “30 percent of New York’s Hispanic households...and 25 percent of black households…at or below the poverty line. This massive loss of employment was not the only contributing factor, however. Urban renewal programs, such as the one directed by elite urban planner Robert Moses, helped fuel white flight and suburban sprawl along with subsequent capital divestment from the city. Moses would go on to plan and build the Cross Bronx Expressway, which would “cut directly through the center of the most heavily populated working class areas in the Bronx,” tearing apart the homes of some 60,000 Bronx residents. Utilizing “urban renewal rights of clearance,” Moses and local legislators would effectively enforce economic and legal segregation of poor and working-class Blacks and Latinos whom were pushed into “tower-in-a-park” model public housing units where they “got nine or more monotonous slabs of housing rising out of isolating, desolate, soon-to-be crime-ridden ‘parks’.” Thus, it was deep within these hellholes of poverty, unemployment, segregation, and desperation that hip-hop’s first birth pangs would be felt. As hip-hop historian Jeff Chang poignantly explains, it’s “not to say that all hip-hop is political, but hip-hop comes out of that particular political context.”

The enormous influence of material conditions on hip-hop are lucidly illuminated with the 1982 release of a song titled “The Message” by pioneering rap group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Hesitant at first to record such a “preachy” rap song by a self-titled “party group,” eventually Melle Mel, the lead rapper of the group, decided to give it a try. Thus, the group helped to pioneer “the social awakening of rap into a form combining social protest, musical creation, and cultural expression.” Although not the first to provide social commentary on institutional racism and abject living conditions, as evidenced by earlier rappers such as Kurtis Blow, Brother D and the Collective Effort, and Tanya “Sweet Tee Winley, “The Message” would provide the first mainstream, commercial success to speak seriously on these issues. The immense frustration and alienation of being confined to run-down ghettoes presents itself repeatedly throughout the song. Wrapped in each and every line is piercing social commentary on the condition of America’s rotting inner city slums. The song opens by describing the horrendous conditions found specifically in the South Bronx during this period but could also be applied most the nation’s abandoned urban centers:
Broken glass, everywhere / People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care / I can’t take the smell, I can’t take the noise / Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice / Rats in the front room, roaches in the back / Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat / I tried to get away, but I couldn’t get far / Cause the man with the tow-truck repossessed my car
The sentiment expressed in the last two lines of being unable to escape the projects is one that runs consistently throughout the history of Hip-hop. Tupac, nearly a decade later, would articulate this despair further in his song “Trapped” where he speaks to the agonizing feeling of hopelessness and anger at being segregated into ghettoes and harassed by police.

Dyson notes that as rap evolved it “began to describe and analyze the social, economic, and political factors that led to its emergence and development: drug addiction, police brutality, teen pregnancy, and various forms of material deprivation.” The Message takes up many of these issues and more, commenting repeatedly on the terrible state of education children in the projects are confined to. One line provides an explanation of how in the ghetto one rarely gets more than “a bum education” alongside “double-digit inflation.” Another verse tells the story of a young boy who exclaims to his father that he feels alienated and dumb at school, due at least in part to his teachers’ attitudes towards him; as the child explains, “all the kids smoke reefer, I think it’d be cheaper, if I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper.” In this succinct rhyme, the postulation put forth by educational theorist Jean Anyon that working-class and poor students are pushed into occupations which perpetuate the existing class structure is brilliantly summarized. The despair and bleakness of abject ghetto life is articulated in a rather percussive manner in the last verse, “You grow in the ghetto, living second rate, and your eyes will sing a song of deep hate, the places you play and where you stay, looks like one great big alley way.”

Although “The Message” was not the first social commentary on ghetto life to be produced, it was the first mainstream success to reach a broader layer of listeners and proved that socially conscious rap had an audience. By the early 1980’s hip-hop had already exploded onto the scene through particular mediums in certain areas. Graffiti had already provided a way in which alienated and seemingly invisible youths could make themselves visible outside the Bronx through creative, counter-hegemonic acts that signaled to the ruling authorities they were claiming their own space. Break dancing, or B-Boying, provided an outlet for youths to engage each other in peaceful competition and while it “did not dissolve the frustrations of being poor, unemployed, and a forgotten youth, it certainly served… as a catalyst to increasing the youth led community based peace effort.” However, it was rap music that, arguably, would have the largest impact in the future:
At a time when budget cuts lead to a reduction in school art and music programs, and when vocational training in high schools lead to jobs that had significantly decreased or no longer existed, “inner city youth transformed obsolete vocational skills from marginal occupations into the raw materials for creativity and resistance,” with “turntables [becoming] instruments and lyrical acrobatics [becoming] a cultural outlet.”
This cultural outlet would not remain isolated in the South Bronx for long. Neither would it be confined to simply describing the harsh reality of living in the projects.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

High-speed Rail On It's Way to Ohio?

So, folks, here it is. Long past due, of course, but for the first time there is serious talk about implementing a high-speed passenger railway system throughout Ohio and the Midwest. Given the horrendous state of public transportation opportunities for Ohio residents, and anyone from Toledo can surely back these sentiments, this plan has a host of potential benefits for the region and for us.

For the full list of benefits regarding high-speed rail to the Midwest, check this out. Here's a summary:

- Can transport people nearly as fast as a plane at a much lower price.
- Less air pollution, less smog.
- Productive alternative to cars, as you can do essentially whatever you want while you travel (read, work, etc.)
- Estimated to provide $1.3 billion in highway congestion relief and $700 million in airport congestion relief.
- Reduces reliance on private, individualized forms of transportation that are deadly to our environment and costly both personally and for road maintenance.
- Jobs, a couple thousand long term jobs and nearly fifteen thousand construction jobs, dire at a time when working class people are feeling the heat from the economic collapse.

This is perhaps the most intense pursuit of public transportation we've seen in the Midwest region. I see no reason why progressives should NOT support this plan.

And, for those of you voting in the Toledo mayoral elections here in a few weeks, check this statement by candidate Keith Wilkowski:
Toledo should pursue intermodal transportation systems for people by developing high speed passenger rail in connection with the Obama Administration’s commitment to a Chicago to Pittsburgh high speed rail line. Toledo is strategically positioned to convert our downtown railroad station into a regional multi-modal hub for passenger cars, buses, and high speed trains. Even beyond that, with high speed rail on the horizon, Toledo should aggressively pursue the engineering, design and manufacturing jobs that will be created by America’s new investment in high speed rail.
Let's have no illusions, whoever gets into office may be pressured into pursuing some sort of high-speed rail, the question is, however, under what conditions will it function? How will it be run? Will it be private or public? What are the assurances that once it is built, using federal stimulus money, that it won't simply be handed over to a private corporation to jack up the prices in order to extract as much profit as possible? What will the conditions of the potentially 2,000 permanent workers be like? These are all questions that need to be raised, however, we have to be PART of the dialogue in order to raise them.

I'll end with this, it's a e-mail forwarded to me with a link to a survey by the Ohio Department of Transportation. Worth taking a minute to fill out. Tell them we want high-speed PUBLIC transportation!


As Ohio's economy continues to sag and energy prices remain high, our state needs a statewide passenger rail system more than ever!

Ohio is applying for passenger rail stimulus dollars to connect Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, and Cleveland via passenger rail by 2011. The state would then work to increase speed and frequency of service while also extending service to other cities throughout Ohio.

Help Ohio get on track with passenger rail! The Ohio Department of Transportation is currently collecting public input to inform their planning efforts and the stimulus application. Click here to access the survey.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Critical Review of the Abolitionist Movement

Any movement that adopts as its major objective the overthrow of a chief existing institution, the state apparatus, or the class and social relationships stemming from those institutions, is naturally a radical movement; thus, the abolitionist movement was, without doubt, a radical movement. The general thrust of the abolitionist movement was one of radical change. It should be mentioned, however, that not every individual and group involved in the abolitionist movement was a radical; even more, many of them were often plagued by the foulest racism and conservative political and economic tendencies. Some who seek to analyze things in a linear manner, through a “left-right” paradigm, will attempt to isolate certain figures, groups, or ideologies and place them somewhere along this concocted political line. Those further on the left are considered more radical, and those closer to the center, less radical. More often than not this becomes an arbitrary, academic debate which does little to clarify each individual, group, etc., considering one may adopt a “radical” position which another individual or group rejects, and vice versa. Thus, simply drawing a line of measurement of their “radicalism” in order to place figures here or there can lead to confusion and historical inaccuracy.

A more appropriate analysis would consist of accepting the fundamental concept of the abolitionist movement as radical (as its aim was to overthrow the existing state, social, and political institution of slavery, the backbone of the South) and analyzing each individual and group position in a larger context. It should be noted that each character and faction claimed some positions that could be considered radical and others that were far from it. Thus, to fully understand the often radical elements of the movement, and likewise the conservative elements, each leading character and group must be analyzed based upon their stances on a few key issues: their dedication to the cause, the desired quickness of the transition, the reason for wanting abolition, the level of belief in racial equality, their position on violence, and finally their relationship to other nascent reform movements. One will find, after looking at the various elements within the abolitionist movement, that despite some of the shortcomings and atrocious views of certain abolitionists, that overall the movement was a radical one.

It is obvious that the institution of slavery was one of terrific oppression, hostile dominance, excessive brutality, and cruelty. It is equally obvious that society remains with horrendous remnants of the institution such as massive inequality and extensive racism. Slavery was a vast and powerful institution that was deeply saturated into every realm of society on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, although its barbaric clutch remained upon the South until the very end. As it was so deeply rooted in society at the time, agitation against it was often ill received and sometimes dangerous. Thus, by the very act of coming out against it and in favor of abolition, one could find themselves ousted from social circles, discriminated against, attacked, or killed. Especially in the early part of the 19th century, before abolition had become a national political debate, abolitionists could likely find themselves the target of a mob or hostile townspeople. Therefore, it is safe to say that speaking against such an overarching and colossal institution was a radical step, even if the steps taken against it or the conclusions one came to about how to end it were conservative.

One of the first nascent forms of abolitionism promoted was that of the American Colonization Society. The approach they took to the issue was probably the most conservative and racist of all abolitionist groups. The organization was mostly white, mostly conservative, and often filled with vile racists who were keen to adhere to the pseudo-science of white racial superiority at the time. They desired to make Liberia into a colony for the slaves of America to return to. Likewise, they focused on “Christianization and civilization” for those being sent to Africa in hopes that Christianity would then spread through these black colonists to other parts of the continent. They planned a gradual emancipation which did nothing for those in slavery who could not escape on their own. In other words, “we’ll try to get you out of slavery in the next hundred years or so, but first you have to read this book, believe in our god, preach our religion, get away from us good white folk, and go live in a place where you don’t know the language and have never step foot on before.” Needless to say, the vast majority of blacks were not very partial to this plan. Despite a few black figureheads, it was dominated by a white leadership who seemed to care very little for the well-being of blacks and instead for their own political, social, and economic interests. It is apparent that by far, the American Colonization Society was the most conservative, least influential, and highly racist abolitionist organization to exist.

The next organization which played a larger part in the abolitionist struggle was the American Anti-Slavery Society. Begun in 1833, the original group who started the AASS was composed of “Garrisonian abolitionists,” (followers of William Lloyd Garrison) or those who desired an end to slavery though moral conversion of the majority of the people rather than through violent or political means. Despite this, the group consisted of a wide range of figures with various political and social positions. The AASS is much harder to define in terms of radical or conservative, mostly because it consisted of so many people with conflicting ideas. Some within the movement may have been infected with the view of racial inferiority among blacks. Others, like Garrison, fought tirelessly against the idea that blacks were inferior to whites. A split occurred in 1840, just before the World Anti-Slavery convention in London, between the “moral suasonists” and political abolitionists. At the conference, an even larger rift when the convention organizers refused to seat women delegates. Garrison, a staunch proponent of women's right, joined the women delegates in protest in their section rather than sit with the men. This highlights, more than anything, how certain characters in particular organizations could be rather radical while other leaders remained less so. A look at a few key individuals, reformers such as Garrison and Douglass, and militant revolutionaries like Nat Turner and John Brown, will outline how the distinction between radical and conservative can very easily become blurred. A host of contradictions were present in each, rendering them conservative in some ways and radical in others.

Garrison, who, aside from being one of the most important players in the AASS, also founded The Liberator, an abolitionist agitation newspaper. He was one of the most outspoken and direct critics of the institution of slavery. Based on moral principles which he often derived from scripture, he vehemently attacked slavery, racism, women’s inequality, and colonization schemes. His belief was that both violent and political means of ending slavery were useless and his preferred method, “moral suasion,” was what would lead a sort of moral revolution and change the hearts of white Americans. Therein lies the very contradictions which are so often present in radical reformers; namely, he desired an immediate emancipation but only through (slow-working) moral perseverance and agitation, in his opinion, would emancipation occur. Garrison, despite all his fiery rhetoric and blanket condemnation of political rivals, had very few concrete steps and serious suggestions for how to combat such a horrendous institution. Undoubtedly, education and moral argument can be strong motivators, yet, completely relying on them and throwing away two key valuable weapons (political reform and violent means) severely limits the effectiveness of one’s agitation work. Thus, Garrison’s rhetoric was often radical, yet his outlined plan of action was left lacking. This gap between words and action stemmed partly from his religious conservatism (which was also a main source of his inspiration, yet another contradiction) and “nonresistance” ideology. Likewise, his dedication to racial equality and women’s rights was both inspiring and radical, yet his condemnation of the labor movement was equally disturbing and reactionary. Therefore, one cannot simply align Garrison on one side of the political spectrum, but instead each issue must be looked at separately.

Frederick Douglass, a runaway slave who met up with Garrison early in his abolitionist career, soon began to take a turn away from Garrison’s anti-political stance. Unlike Garrison, Douglass contended that political reform was an important tool in the fight against slavery. His understanding of race relations, and how the wealthy slave owners exploited both the black slaves and the poor whites, is a lesson radical activists can still learn from today. Like Garrison, he fought for women’s rights, especially early in his career, and was one of the first signers of the Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments (a women’s rights declaration based on the Declaration of Independence), despite shying away from the issue later in his life. Douglass quickly became an integral part of the system, serving in government and directing his life toward political work. One of his main contentions with Garrison was over the constitution; Garrison held that the constitution was a pro-slavery document (citing extensive evidence such as the 3/5ths and insurrection clauses among others) while Douglass defended the constitution and argued that it instead gave rhetoric and backing to the anti-slavery cause, apparently failing to take into account that a majority of the framers were slave-holders with prodigious interests in protecting the institution. Like Garrison, Douglass also has a clash of thought and action. He did not shy away from his support of insurrection, and similarly spoke of the time he beat a slave-breaker in a fight, explicating the “cleansing” utility of violence. Yet, when the time came for him to take part in John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, Douglass withheld support and used his prestige among other abolitionists to keep them from joining Brown. After the act was done and Brown was hanged, Douglass wrote of his own cowardice and his admiration for the failed insurrection. Again it appears that one cannot simply pin Douglass down as a radical or a conservative; he is instead composed of a myriad of positions, sometimes seamlessly fitting in to his radical persona while at other times clashing against it and withdrawing him from radical political endeavors.

The last two figures, both militants who attempted to lead a slave revolution, must be juxtaposed to fully comprehend the radical militant abolitionists. Both men attempted to overthrow the enormous institution of slavery through violent means where others had simply relied on political legislation and moral persuasion. They both wished for the rebellion to spread through plantations all across the South in hopes that the entire institution would be smashed. Nat Turner wanted to lead a slave uprising lead by himself, a slave, and comprised of slaves. John Brown desired a slave rebellion, once again lead by himself, composed of both slaves and abolitionists of all colors. Nat Turner and his slave army moved quickly from place to place, freeing slaves wherever possible and killing white overseers and children alike. John Brown holed himself and his band of militant followers up in Harper’s Ferry in an attempt to control the weapon’s arsenal there. Turner and his band continued to move until finally they were overcome by white militias, culminating in a devastating battle between the escaped men and the white mobs where finally his rebellion was crushed. Brown’s indecisiveness, and his failure to listen to some of his comrades who wished to retreat to the hills, lead to the destruction of his grand plan of supplying weapons to local slaves. Likewise, both uprisings were crushed and both Turner and Brown, along with many of their freedom fighters, were executed.

The militancy displayed by both groups was beyond a doubt radical. The underlying cause of their fight, the emancipation of all slaves, and destruction of the system which enslaved them were as radical demands as one can wish for. Some of their decisions and actions, however, were not so radical. Although morally debatable, Turner’s policy of unconditional death for all whites is not something to be cherished (for instance, the many white children who were slaughtered) yet condemning him for simply reversing the policy of the white slave master is rather hard to do. One journal claims, however, that this indiscriminate policy toward whites was only something Turner had to resort to at first to “strike terror” into the hearts of whites and planned to be abandoned once they gained a foothold. Likewise, some sources claim he spared the hovels of some poor whites, knowing that they were forced to endure squalor and poverty much like the slave, although they simply lived “freely” in misery. The moral battles which raged inside Turner must have been enormous, yet a policy of indiscriminate killing, regardless of the circumstances, is not something one can easily label as radical, but is instead rather reactionary. Brown, on the other hand, displayed a very radical outlook concerning his idea for a united uprising of black slaves, black free men, and abolitionists of all colors. At the same time, evidence has circulated which shows he may have been somewhat of a “racialist,” or, simply, assumed that his leadership would be superior to black leadership due to some innate ability in whites to lead and distrust of blacks handling important duties. Likewise, his conservative leadership upon taking the arsenal and failing to retreat to the hills for protection remains the foremost factor in the group’s defeat. Once again, the balance between radical motives and conservative (or reactionary) acts play a part in analyzing the role of militant abolitionists.

Of the various methods, tactics, and strategies employed in the abolitionist movement, it is rather difficult to defend a specific position which would work best today. The three major abolitionists themes are political action, “moral suasion,” and violent uprisings. Every situation, every country, region, and city have a range of variables and conditions which define their historical and material level of development. These factors play a gigantic role which method may be most suitable. Assuming that an institution the size of slavery must be overthrown (for instance, the much more expansive system of “capitalism” adopted in most 1st world nations), a mix of many tactics must be employed in order to most efficiently bring down the system. Political legislation is useful in bringing about small reforms which may buy time or give the people (generally, working-class people) more time to organize and better conditions under which to do so. Many must be morally convinced of the inferiority of the established social order and thus, “moral suasion” is a valid tactic. Violence may also be necessary to take control of the political, social, and economic machinery in order to dismantle the system. Likewise, violence in defense of economic and social gains is a very serious possibility. Ultimately, as with the case of slavery, it took a civil war to finish what the abolitionists started. It appears rather naïve, however, to assume that only one option is the key to liberation. Each specific instance requires the movement to be flexible and dependent on the multitude of possible variables which impact a particular scenario and the vitality of the movement challenging the system. Overthrowing such an established institution may require all three techniques and simply adhering to one or throwing away options will render a movement useless in the face of a constantly changing, consistently adapting, and monstrously large enemy.

The abolitionist movement is, without a doubt, one of the most radical and inspiring events to take place in the history of the United States. It far outweighs the radicalism of the American Revolution and many other historically significant events. It brought an end to a system of the most intense brutality. It did not, however, bring true freedom and equality to all people. Many of the effects of slavery still exist in society today, taking on other forms or being skillfully hidden so as no connection is made apparent. The death of slavery punctured the heart of a corrupt, oppressive system. It took radicals from all walks of life whom, despite their sometimes conservative shortcomings, fought desperately for the abolition of a system they viewed as incompatible with humanity. The abolitionist movement supplies today’s activists with a plethora of lessons to be learned. Radicals who wish to carry on the cause of equality and justice have a far way to go, but looking to radical movements of the past is necessary to help create the radical change one wishes to see today.

Works Cited

Cain, William E., William Lloyd Garrison and the Fight against Slavery (Boston: St. Martin’s Press, 1995).

Oates, Stephen. "Children of Darkness" (American Heritage Magazine).

Pope, Daniel, American Radicalism (Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 2001).

Richmond Enquirer, November 8, 1831, quoted in Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolt (New York: Intenational Publishers, 1993), 299.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Debate on the Proposed Educational Reforms at UT

Below are three different articles. The first is a basic summation of the recent privatization attempts and the cutbacks at the University of Toledo in the face of this devastating economic crisis. The second is a response by an Anna Martinez in the PR office of Higher Ed Holdings, a company I criticized in the original piece. The third is my response to her, and to progressives who happen to think Higher Ed Holdings conception of education may be a good thing for cost-cutting in the face of budget cuts, etc. The first two originally appeared on, the third did not (edit: it eventually did) and I have yet to receive a response from Martinez.


July 16, 2009

The Business of Education
Derek Ide

In the spirit of charter school “reform” sweeping across our educational establishment, the college of education at the University of Toledo has been appointed a new, charismatic reformer as dean who will lead the charge. Who is this brave soul planning to lead our college “on a path to world class”? None other than former UT Trustee Tom Brady.

His credentials for running the college of education are impeccable. As former founder and corporate head of Plastic Technologies Inc., Brady is an “entrepreneurial candidate with leadership qualities” who can “figure out how to do things in different ways while being more cost-effective,” in the words Provost Rosemary Haggett.

When former dean Thomas Switzer declared his retirement at the end of the Spring semester, UT President Lloyd Jacobs articulated to Haggett that someone from “outside the educational establishment” with a “business orientation” should run the college of education. One may question why our college of education should be run like a business, but perhaps since I am only a student, and not a member of the board of Trustees, who lavish praise upon Jacobs, I don’t find my interests aligned with theirs.

Jacobs, a medical doctor, who makes over $390,000 per year, with a $450,000 five-year bonus for not seeking a position elsewhere, has continually cited economic hardship as a means of cutting into programs at the university. In 2007 Jacobs faced tumultuous protest by concerned students and faculty when he expressed the desire to implement cuts into the liberal arts programs, decrease the availability of classes in areas like history, and replace full-time instructors with cheaper part-time instructors. Instead, resources were to be funneled almost exclusively into areas of STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Medicine), while other areas are left to deteriorate or become what many students recognize as “diploma mills.”

The administration has been active in pushing for this type of in-and-out, make as much money as you can style of education. On February 26 of this year, Inside Higher Ed reported that “administrators are exploring a partnership with a private company known for churning out quick and inexpensive degrees.” This company was “Higher Ed Holdings, a Texas-based company that would help deliver online masters-level education courses to students in exchange for a share of tuition revenues.” Anyone who plans to be an educator undoubtedly knows that you cannot teach someone to teach simply through an online course; likewise, the dialogue, discussion, and personal contacts so vital to our education that one (potentially) gets in the classroom is not, and cannot, be replicated through such a course.

Luckily, student and faculty protest against such measures, along with quick organization both inside and outside the classroom, forced them to back down. The Toledo Blade reported on March 3 that, “It was still early in the conversations and the fact that the company had to back out at this stage "reflects poorly on our university" because they could not have a reasonable dialogue about the proposal, Ms. Haggett wrote in an e-mail Tuesday to the college of education staff.” This is something we should be proud of.

Thus, Jacobs appointment of “entrepreneurial” Brady, who is obviously outside of the “educational establishment,” comes as no surprise. Brady fits the mold of wealthy, reactionary “school reformer.” As an article in the Independent Collegian explained, “Brady has been a strong advocate for charter schools and other alternative forms of education. He helped to found the Toledo Technology Academy and has been involved with the Toledo School for the Arts.” Students should be trained, according to Brady, to produce more “high-value commerce” and still has hopes to outsource our education with revenue-generating companies like that of Higher Ed Holdings. We can also expect the very few educational courses which foster democratic dialogue and question the dominant discourse (such as those that explore the theoretical contributions of Paulo Freire, John Dewey, W.E.B. DuBois, and others) to be cut.

Supposedly, Brady was approved only after “all final applicants were considered and interviewed.” These “other applicants were from both within and outside of the college and constituted a diverse group along gender and racial lines, according to Jacobs.” It just so happened that Brady, wealthy, white, corporate businessman is the one chosen. Faculty, staff, and students did not support, and were not given a choice, in who was to lead the college. This sort of basic, democratic choice should be expected if universities and our educational apparatus, as educational theorist John Dewey posited, were meant to foster a democratic culture and active engagement on behalf of the educators and learners. Democratic participation by the students is absolutely essential in the learning process.

Instead, top-down decisions are run at our university like in any other private tyranny, with no serious input by those who actually do the work. The Board of Trustees have final say and, until we remedy this sort of institutional roadblock to democratic control, we can expect to have these problems repeated.

Brady is supposed to act as an “interim” dean until July 31, 2010 when a nationwide search can find a permanent replacement. The feeling, however, is that Brady is meant to stay; Governor Strickland refused to allow Brady a leave of absence from the Board of Trustees, so he resigned, signaling to most of us that he meant to securing his new $176,000 position as our new dictator (or, “financial manager” according to Haggett).

Unfortunately, despite some spirited but often small protests against such measures, a sustained campaign has not coalesced to fight back. If we are the University of Toledo seriously care about the quality of our education, it is time that we collectively organize to challenge this top-down, corporate model. We do not want a wealthy CEO governing our college with no accountability; we want democratic control over how it is managed, and the faculty and students deserve that, at the very least. The fight is ours to win; we, as both current and future educators, have to be willing to engage in it.


July 23, 2009

Helping Universities Be Competitive

DEREK IDE'S letter mentions Higher Ed Holdings several times, and in so doing, may give readers an erroneous impression about Higher Ed Holdings' impact on curriculum ("The business of education").

Here are the facts. Higher Ed Holdings supports faculty at state universities to help them convert their courses for online instruction. The quality of the curriculum depends entirely upon the individual universities and their professors who develop and teach it. When students enroll in online classes, they are enrolling in the university and they earn their degrees from the university.

Higher Ed Holdings does not grant degrees. Higher Ed Holdings' stated mission is to help state universities become more competitive and reach high-need underserved populations. Higher Ed Holdings provides services to respected universities around the country.

I would like to direct you to another article that appeared in Inside Higher Ed more recently entitled "The Evidence of Online Education" which states that "online learning has definite advantages over face-to-face instruction when it comes to teaching and learning." The article is based on the findings of a new meta-analysis report released in June by the U.S. Department of Education.

Another good resource is a report entitled "The College of 2020: Students," which appeared in Chronicle Research Services, also in June of this year. That report states that "colleges that have resisted putting some of their courses online will almost certainly have to expand their online programs quickly."

In addition, we welcome you to visit our Higher Ed Holdings Web site, where professors and deans from state universities describe their work in developing and teaching their online programs. We appreciate your interest,
Anna Martinez, Higher Ed Holdings, Dallas, Texas


August 6, 2009

A Response to Higher Ed Holdings
Derek Ide

Higher Ed Holding’s representative, Anna Martinez, was quick to respond to my original article condemning the privatization of higher education in the United States. While her rapid response may be a testament to the capability her company’s Public Relations department, her arguments concerning online education are largely vacuous when scrutinized beyond the rhetoric. Much like corporate-driven charter schools emphasis “choice” for underprivileged children, all while making inane profits, Higher Ed Holdings utilizes language of “competition” to reach “underserved populations.” This rhetoric falls far short of reality, however, despite the claim to statistical evidence.

Her immediate argument is that the university remains the controller of curriculum and her company simply transfers regular courses to the web. While I never said otherwise, it does very little to distract from the fact that both Higher Ed Holdings, along with the university administration, is converting to online courses not for the benefit of the student or the professor, but to extract larger sums of money from our pockets.

First, the entire situation must be put into context. In the face of $7.8 million in state cuts to higher education, the people who run the University of Toledo are trying desperately to find ways to cut costs. The immediate response was to notify students, on top of the 60% cut in their Ohio Choice Opportunity Grants awarded by the state, that they would be facing a tuition hike next year. At a time when working class families are suffering from wage cuts, loss of jobs, and home foreclosures, this is only one more added worry to those who were subsidized for the prodigious costs of post-secondary education.

The University of Toledo is largely a working class school and, these price increases and funding cuts will inevitably limit those who wish to pursue an education but cannot afford it or significantly increase the debt students go into to pay for education.

Online education, however, does absolutely nothing to lessen the problems working class students face. Students enrolled in online courses, despite decreasing the costs for the schools through various cost reductions (no physical space needed, no instructor present, less infrastructure for parking or public transit, etc.), online courses are just as expensive per credit hour as regular courses. To top it off, UT charges a “distance-learning fee” for the travails the administration suffers under such cost-cutting measures.

While this does not implicate Higher Ed Holdings directly, and I do not lay claim to the idea that they are the root cause of UT’s problems, instead of the cost-cutting benefits going to the students by decreasing tuition costs the money is funneled into the hands of those who own Higher Ed. This represents a furthering of the privatization that inevitably removes democratic control from educators and students. The company and its message play a vital role in maintaining and perpetuating this new discourse which allows for the privatization of our education.

Thus, the second problem with Martinez’s response is the whole ideological component that is necessarily attached. Higher Ed Holdings claims to “gives state universities a competitive advantage over their rivals.” The presupposition that competition is a positive thing and the business-model for education supports quality learning only supports the dominant ideological discourse surrounding the privatization and, in turn, profit-making schemes that have hijacked our educational system.

This emphasis on competition inevitably forces the university to pursue any cost-cutting measures available to them by a variety of means. Online education is simply one tool to pursue this, and Higher Ed Holdings simply the means through which this tool is put into action.

Third, Higher Ed Holdings itself is not known for their legitimacy. The owner, Randy Best, is a right-winger who vigorously supported and fundraided George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000. He actively supported No Child Left Behind, which has been disastrous for educators and students across the nation. On top of this, ABC news reported he made “millions of dollars in profits from a federal reading program that critics say favored administration cronies at the expense of schoolchildren.” In return for his service to the Bush campaign, he received lucrative contracts from NCLB. Best eventually turned around and sold Voyager Expanded Learning, associated with the $6 billion Reading First initiative, for $360 million.

Conversations with Higher Ed Holdings and UT began due to “Scott Scarborough, the university’s chief financial officer, has a history with the company, and once sat on its board.” Mr. Scarborough, of course, was never elected to his position by faculty nor does he represent their interests. He eventually left DePaul University due to the fact that he, according to president of the 2006-7 Faculty Council, had a “tendency to allow financial concerns to override academic priorities.”

He exemplified this concern in a recent statement about the budget cuts, “There will be conversations with the provosts, deans and vice presidents trying to identify non-revenue producing programs…you have to start there to ask the question, ‘Is it essential; is it strategic, is it mission-critical?” It seems that for Mr. Scarborough mission-critical means, first and foremost, ‘does it make money?’

Even more preposterous is, as the Independent Collegian reported, he plans to make working people pay for the cuts:

“Aside from looking at programs, administrators will be approaching the various unions which received contractually negotiated salary raises and ask them to consider forfeiting them, Scarborough said. According to estimates from last semester, this would free up approximately $6 million annually. Administrators may also consider stopping the previously approved salary raises for those non-union personnel making under $40,000. Personnel making more than that didn’t receive a raise.”

Scarborough, President Jacobs, and the rest of the administration do not seem willing to fork over their bloated salaries, why should regular working people? Why would they be willing to hand out money to private companies like Higher Ed while they attempt to cut workers’ pay?

Thus, we should not be surprised to find two profit-driven, corporate pals trying to push their agenda on our school.

Fourth, my argument was not that online education is completely invaluable, or that we should dogmatically dismiss it as a medium of education. That is not the case at all. In fact, I believe online education can be, and should be, implemented and immersed in every learning environment, as web-based skills are absolutely essential in our day.

My criticism was that UT, with the help of Higher Ed Holdings, would transform the Master’s degree program from one based in the classroom, with all the dialogue, discussion, and potential for hands on activity which it entails, to one completely online. Along with this inevitably come the various problems associated with it, such as a separation from educator and students, rout learning with little critical analysis, very few possibilities for engaging dialogue and debate, etc. More importantly, the intent was not to create a symbiotic learning environment which utilizes face-to-face education and online education, as the very study Martinez points us to confirms as “best of all,” but to create one where UT could create a degree factory which pumped out titles with as little cost as possible.

In other words, students would be receiving less for their money. They would be paying the same amount, more with the additional distance-learning fee, and receive no face-to-face instruction, no chance for dialogue, debate, or discussion, and even less room for democratic participation in the classroom.

Even the study which she claims to promote her argument notes that online education is not a better medium for learning, but students generally spend more time with online courses then they do in the classroom.

Fifth, educators within the department would be forced to convert to an online program, whether or not they preferred the medium. Personally, I have spoken with a number of educators who were quite weary of teaching their classes purely online. The advent of this forced conversion would, it seems, render the alienation of the educator from their work even greater. There is a reason that Higher Ed Holdings backed out of the deal; popular pressure from professors and students forced them too.

The original report explained some of the motivation behind this opposition:

“Under the roughly outlined agreement, Toledo faculty would continue to teach online courses through video lectures, but students would be assisted by “coaches” employed by Higher Ed Holdings. Toledo faculty say they’re unsure what the credentials of the “coaches” would be, and that’s a source of discomfort.”

An unidentified professor explained further:

“If I’m a talking head on video, I would have very limited contact with my students,” the faculty member said. “The only people who would have contact would be ‘coaches,’ who have a masters degree – or not; who would understand – or would not understand – [course] content or the province that I have in my classes. It’s probably the worst case scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”

Due to space, I will save extensive critiques of the sources of these studies and their supporters. Arne Duncan, the Department of Education, private companies like Higher Ed who hope to make a profit, they all have a vested interest in completely digitalizing education. It cuts costs. For the state, this means less expenditure on superfluous populations. For private companies, this means more profit is directed to their pockets.

I also have not seriously reflected here upon the implications that online education entails in reality for students. The facilitation of standardized test-style education, a format which dilutes the learning process and stunts the development of critical thinking skills, would be greatly increased with online education. Anyone who has taken an online course knows how they are full of multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank education, quite the opposite of the dynamic and engaging learning atmosphere actually required to stimulate students.

To close, my argument is not that online education should be outright opposed, but that private companies hoping to make a quick buck off transferring our courses online in order to cut costs should be. Online education, in the right hands, may prove liberating and helpful, but it can also be used to perpetuate the “banking-style” education dominant in the field at the moment. We, as socialist and progressive educators, must combat this. We must also struggle against the continued privatization of our schools. Charter schools and private companies like Higher Ed are waging a war of ideas, dressing their profit-generating schemes with progressive phrases. It is our job to take them up and unveil the reality behind their ostensible rhetoric.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On Education Part Two: Selective Omission and What We Learn From Malcolm X's Schooling Experience

This mini-series "On Education" is a compiled list of short essays concerning theoretical approaches to classroom pedagogy and their broader implications upon us as educators and our students. I hope to continue it for a while, and, of course, any critical dialogue upon what is presented is more than welcome. I will try to space these out weekly.

Read Past Contributions:
Part One: Banking or Problem Posting Education?

Part Three: Education, for Liberation or Domination?


The chapter entitled “Mascot” in The Autobiography of Malcolm X is an illuminating, yet disheartening look at the state of education in the 1930’s. Malcolm reflects upon his schooling experience and the attitudes of peers and authority figures accompanying it. At a time where racial segregation was rampant in the South, and the North simply disguised their racism in a paternalistic manner, Malcolm’s account is a fantastic primary source with the potential to enlighten the reader in regards to the honest condition of American schools during that time. The dominant ideology shines through repeatedly throughout the chapter. Malcolm recalls how he enjoyed history, except for the fact that his history teacher “was a great one for ‘nigger’ jokes” (Haley, 35). He speaks of his quality schoolwork, his excellent grades, his involvement in extracurricular activities, and his relative intellectual capabilities in comparison with his peers; still, his very humanity is denigrated by his English teacher when he professes his desire to become a lawyer and Mr. Ostrowski explains “that’s no realistic goal for a nigger,” suggesting carpentry instead (Haley, 43). Thus, he implies that this young black child, with one of the best grades in the class, is still somehow inferior and unable to perform at the level of his white counterpart. This obvious insult, one meant not as an invective solely towards Malcolm whom Mr. Ostrowski was actually fond of, provides a paragon exemplifying how racism and conceptions of racial inferiority, reflections of the dominant ideology, so deeply penetrated society.

The examples above of overt, personal prejudices are no longer commonly accepted in mainstream society. Struggle throughout American history but erupting in the 1960’s against the prodigious racial inequality in the United States helped shape and transform many Americans' views on racial inferiority. Today, personal ideas of race and race relations have liberalized considerably; this is undoubtedly evidenced by the fact that Americans elected the first black president, who won more white votes than any democratic nominee since Jimmy Carter. At the same time, material conditions for historically marginalized groups, such as blacks, have been on the decline for the past thirty years. Thus, the liberal conception of racism, which they postulate exists because of personal prejudice by backward whites, proves unable to explain this phenomenon. One must instead look critically at the societal institutions, and the dominant ideology which supports them; these institutions have the ability to simultaneously liberalize personal conceptions of race and, conversely, increase the hardship, oppression, and segregation which many black communities face on a day to day basis.

One small component of this dominant ideology, which Malcolm so thoroughly depicts but does not label, is selective omission. This tool, omnipresent throughout the educational system, is used vigorously by academia, textbooks publishers, and public officials to sterilize the resistance of the oppressed against the system which oppresses them. Indeed, it is a paralyzing technique intended to pacify and placate students. Selective omission is a percussive blow to the truth that continues to exert immense force, even today, in hopes of subjugating the masses and excluding them from any sort of participatory democracy. This process, by which those who wish to maintain the status quo and prevent any fundamental change, carefully allows for the absence of regular people in the decision making process. It appears that this aspect of the dominant ideology acts to help ease tension which could potentially arise from the contradictions of a society which prepares students for a “nonparticipatory experience in the workplace” while simultaneously inculcating them “with the prevailing political rhetoric that U.S. society is democratic” (Tozer, 276).

In Malcolm’s case, the selective omission he cites is in regards to black history in his textbook. He explains:
It was exactly one paragraph long. Mr. Williams laughed through it practically in a single breath, reading aloud how the Negroes had been slaves and then were freed, and how they were usually lazy and dumb and shiftless. He added, I remember, an anthropological footnote of his own, telling us between laughs how Negroes’ feet were “so big that when they walk, they don’t leave tracks, they leave a hole in the ground” (Haley, 35).
Due to the gains made through collective struggle and organized resistance on the parts of historically marginalized groups, this blatant example would not stand today. However, it is quite easy to draw parallels between Malcolm’s textbook and modern textbooks; both make vigorous use of tactical selective omission. In Malcolm’s case, the omissions are obvious; the brutality and dehumanization of the institution of slavery, the history of abolitionism, the organizational and independent forms of resistance, the struggle for racial equality, or, in other words, the self-activity of regular people, are all ignored. Most important, however, is the fact that his textbook presents the issue as if it simply resolved itself, mentioning that “slaves were freed.” The implication, of course, is that this was due to the benevolence of those who control society and not because of the prolific struggle against the pernicious institution. Indeed, it removed the role of common people as an agency for change. Selective omission, used in this manner, hopes to conceal the fact that often times working within the framework of the established system is futile; it hopes to derail the idea that the oppressed must organize and fight back in the process of human liberation.

Examples in modern textbooks are innumerable. One study of social studies texts “reveals that positive social changes in civil rights, the resolution of the Vietnam war, labor unions, and the women’s movement are presented as triumphs of the legal system” (Tozer, 276). This sort of selective omission is vital to the functioning of the social system as it is currently structured; educational institutions, as they now stand, are meant to perpetuate that stability. The reason for this is simple; those who wish to maintain their wealth and power surely want the masses who labor below them to remain in their place. Serious challenges to the system are excluded or, as is the case of the rather popular Socialist Party, “most often portrayed negatively, as an insignificant movement on the part of an irresponsible few” (Tozer, 276). This pays no regard to the fact that Eugene Debs, presidential candidate for the Socialist Party, at one point won 6% of the popular vote while imprisoned for speaking out against World War I. Selective omission is a vital tool in the ruling class’s arsenal and they are more than willing to use it in order to secure the dominant ideology.

This tool is just one of their weapons. Historically, the ruling class has shown that it will stop at nothing to preserve it’s stranglehold on power. As educators, it is our job to do our part in the struggle for human liberation. Taking back history from the rich and powerful and emphasizing the role that regular people play in the making of history are fundamental in that quest for liberation. Explaining how, instead of working within the system, the largest gains have been made when struggling against the system, is one step to empowering not only the students we teach and the communities they live in, but ourselves as well. It is our job, in dialogue with our students and the community, to smash through purported truths and reclaim the educational system which we, and the students, sustain with our labor and creativity.

This can be difficult when functioning within the confines of a hierarchical, non-democratic school structure. At the moment progressive teachers and students are on the defensive against a myriad of attacks; privatization, lack of resources, budget cuts, No Child Left Behind, etc. all represent conservative aggression intended to consolidate and centralize power in the hands of the few and leave the rest of us begging for crumbs. However, we have a wide range of tools available to help combat misinformation, selective omission, and the dominant ideology. We must make use, both inside and outside of the classroom, of educational resources such as Howard Zinn’s A People's History of the United States to challenge the whitewashing of history, periodicals such as Rethinking Schools to help articulate our arguments for a critical pedagogy, Jonathon Kozol’s The Shame of the Nation to combat American-style educational apartheid, and various other materials which can help in the struggle. Indeed, when Huey P. Newton said that people learn best by observation and participation, his words could not ring any more true for educators today; it is our role to be models of the struggle for our students. The fight for quality educational standards, equal funding for all children, and the removal of reactionary policies and programs for our schools will have many similarities to the struggle for racial equality, better wages and unionization, and the GLBT movements of both past and present. It is time that teachers stand up and fight back.

Works Cited

Haley, A. (1964) The Autobiography of Malcolm X. New York, NY: The Random House Publishing Group.

Tozer, S., Violas, P., & Senese, G. (2009) School and Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. 6th ed. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

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