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Neoliberalism, Democracy and the University as a Public Sphere

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Posted on Apr 24, 2014

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By Victoria Harper, Truthout

(Page 4)

Second, we need to address what the optimum conditions are for educators, artists, activists, etc., to perform their work in an autonomous and critical fashion. In other words, we need to think through the conditions that make academic labor fruitful, engaging and relevant.

Third, we need to turn the growing army of temporary workers now swelling the ranks of the academy into full-time, permanent staff. The presence of so many part-time employees is scandalous and both weakens the power of the faculty and exploits them.

Fourth, we need to educate students to be critical agents, to learn how to take risks, engage in thoughtful dialogue and address what it means to be socially responsible.

Fifth, educators and others must address pedagogy as the practice of freedom. Pedagogy is not about training; it is about educating people to be self-reflective, critical and self-conscious about their relationship with others and to know something about their relationship with the larger world. Pedagogy in this sense not only provides important thoughtful and intellectual competencies; it also enables people to act effectively upon the societies in which they live.

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Sixth, educators and others need a new political language with broader narratives that address the totality of society rather than focus on single-based issue politics. I am not against identity politics or single-based issues, but we need to find ways to connect these issues to more encompassing, global narratives about democracy so we can recognize their strengths and limitations in building broad-based social movements. In short, it is imperative that as educators and socially responsible intellectuals, artists, parents and concerned citizens, we must act for justice and against injustice. And such a call to pursue the truth with a small “t” must be shaped by informed judgments, self-reflection, searing forms of critique, civic courage and a deep commitment to education as central to the struggle for democracy and social change.  Needless to say, we need to find new ways to connect education to the struggle for a democratic future, which is now being undermined in ways that were unimaginable 30 years ago.

Opposing the forces of domination is important, but it does not go far enough. We must move beyond a language of pointless denunciations and offer instead a language that moves forward with the knowledge, skills, and social relations necessary for the creation of new modes of agency, social movements, and democratic economic and social policies. We need to open up the realm of human possibility, recognize that history is open, that justice is never complete, and that democracy can never be fully settled. I fervently believe in the need for both critique and hope, and have faith that the left can develop the public spheres that make such possibilities possible, whether they be schools, classrooms, workshops, newspapers, online journals, community colleges or other spaces where knowledge, power, ethics, and justice merge to create new subjectivities, new modes of civic courage, and new hope for the future.

Thank you, Henry.


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