Friday, August 19, 2011

Ominous Tweets and Pessimistic Ponderings

This morning as I was waiting for my co-op’s resident plumber to check out a leak in my bathroom, I skimmed through my Twitter feed, which was full of messages about the impending re-collapse of the economy. Links to stories about stock market volatility, bad job numbers, decreased manufacturing and the European debt situation flooded my feed. While short, no link was more dramatic than Kevin Drum’s warning of the coming economic and social apocalypse.

While I am no fan of global capitalist economy, I can’t help but personalize these worries. Steep declines in stocks mean less tax revenue for the state of New York, which means fiscally conservative budget cutters will look to new places to trim, including public education (another morning tweet linked to a story about potential tenured faculty layoffs at Southern University). After they’ve eviscerated community colleges, I’ll be out of a job, trying to support two small children and my wife on unemployment as I scratch together a series of adjunct gigs, which put together does not cover the basics of our life. Ultimately, we’ll all end up homeless, my wife will leave me, my children will starve and I’ll be destitute for the rest of my life.

Yes, I know I might be a bit hyperbolic there, but too many people in our current economy are suffering very similar plights. I count myself extremely fortunate to have been, thus far, insulated from these recessions.

To bolster these already happy thoughts, I read “Education and the Structural Crisis of Capitalism” by John Bellamy Foster, which examines the “failures” of public education and efforts at “reform.” One of his arguments is that such claims of failure are really just instances of a “blame the victim” ploy--capitalist elites are aiming to remake the education system in their own image. With digital technology, Taylor’s scientific management is finally truly feasible and education can now serve to mold students into cogs that effectively fit into the economic machine that benefits a few.

As part of this project, teachers are increasingly transformed into technicians whose job it is to instruct other technicians, rather than as professionals who practice creativity, analysis and nurturing. This article couldn’t help but to remind me of my administrative duties including scheduling adjuncts and online classes--both of which contribute to the ongoing erosion of the craft of teaching. Foster’s piece is a relatively long read but well worth your time.

I’m also reminded of my professional role as a professor of anthropology at a community college. I exclusively teach intro classes and in intro classes, I don’t teach detailed methods or other technical skills. I feel I succeed if I expose students to new ideas and concepts, critical analysis, new ways of looking at the world and an appreciation of other people and their perspectives. I’m a believer in the experiential value of a liberal arts education and that education should be about more than “adding (economic) value” or profit maximization. Education can contribute to a person’s basic sense of meaning and worth in life. It’s hard for me to imagine the place of anthropology as I know it in the increasingly privatized and corporate world of education. I dread the day I have to justify anthropology’s presence at a community college. Even more, I dread having to reconfigure my teaching so that anthropology’s major use is to assist students in their future as part of the global economic juggernaut.

The bathroom leaked did get fixed at no cost, though. I can take solace in that.

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