Category Archives: Students

Why China will win the Artificial Intelligence Race

Two Artificial Intelligence-driven Internet paradigms may emerge in the near future. One will be based on logic, smart enterprises and human merit while the other may morph into an Orwellian control tool. Even former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has foreseen a bifurcation of the Internet by 2028 and China’s eventual triumph in the AI race by 2030.

In the meantime, the US seems more interested in deflecting the smart questions of today than in building the smart factories of tomorrow.  Nothing embodies this better than the recent attempt by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) to create an AI-based filter to “stamp out fake-news outlets before the stories spread too widely.”

But what exactly constitutes fake news? Does it include media-colluded lies over Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction in 2002? Or the egregiously fraudulent Nurse Nayirah testimony a decade earlier? Will the binary logic of “either you are with us or against us” be used to certify news sources?

According to US President Donald J. Trump, fake news is a 24/7 specialty of the CNN, Washington Post and just about every other US mainstream media. The author agrees with Trump on this note. As a futurist, he relies heavily on credible news sources.  The CNN and WaPo therefore rarely feature on the trusted list. At the same time, the author squarely blames Trump for the ongoing US-China trade war. This raises several questions: How will MIT’s AI filtration system treat editorial divergences in the same publication? Will they all be feathered and tarred as “fake news” once a threshold – 150 articles according to the new system – is crossed? How will it evaluate analytical gems in the unregulated alternative media and open source fora? Will social media evidences, planted and generated by a critical mass of trolls, be machine-aggregated to determine true news?

It is also disturbing to note that this digital commissariat is being partly developed by Qatar – a nation that has been routinely singled out for its human rights abuses, use of slave labour, rampant anti-Semitism, runaway fake news and support of jihadi terrorism.  While Qatar and the US media have incessantly accused Syria of wielding chemical weapons, experts from MIT and the UN have adduced otherwise. How will such contradictory reports be treated in the future as more Gulf Arab money pour into MIT and its cohort research institutions?

Not Made-in-America

The future of US artificial intelligence and its emerging technologies is overwhelmingly dependent on foreign talent drawn from Asia and Eastern Europe.  This is unsurprising as 44 million US citizens are currently saddled with a staggering $1.53 trillion in student loans – with a projected 40 percent default rate by 2023.

The US student loan bubble is expanding in tandem with the rising un-employability of young Americans. Fake news overload naturally leads to pervasive intellectual stupefaction.  US policy-makers will ignore this ominous trend, just as they ignore the perennial national slide in global indices that measure the quality of life, education and human capital yields. Can the human mind – incessantly subjected to politicized fairy tales and violent belief systems – be capable of continual innovation?  It is, of course, easier to blame an external bogeyman over a purely internal malaise. Herein lies the utility of fake news; one that will be filtered by a digital nanny and policed by thousands of ideologically-biased fact-checkers.  Funded, of course, by the US deep state!

Somehow no known form of intelligence – artificial or otherwise – has impressed US policy-makers on the national security dimensions of the immigrant-citizen digital divide. High-achieving immigrant communities, for example, may be targeted by irate citizens during a period of intense economic distress, precipitating a reverse brain-drain to their countries of origin.

Even otherwise, the children of highly-skilled naturalized immigrants face a variety of discriminatory practices when they come of age. The most notorious of this is the “Asia fail” intake regimen at vaunted US universities where smart second-generation Asian Americans are routinely sacrificed on the altars of artificial diversity and multiculturalism.  In future, a digital panopticon may selectively reject meritorious applicants based on “inappropriate” social media posts made a lifetime ago.  Any litigation-unearthed bias in the admissions process can be blamed on a technical glitch. Or on the Russians!

Forget about merit! The prevalent imperative is to develop next generation rubber-stampers for the privileged 0.1%.

Divergent Futures

Just like the Internet, the middle classes of a rump US-led Greater Eurabia and a China-led world may have separate trajectories by 2030.  With China experiencing a middle class boom and record numbers of STEM graduates, AI is poised to boost the quantity and quality of a new generation of digital scientists.

At the same time, the search algorithms of Google, YouTube, Facebook and its cohorts are making it harder for individuals to access critical open source data and analyses.  The convenient pretext here is “fake news” and the need to protect society from misleading information.  Why think… when a state-led AI Commissar can do the thinking for you? Ironically, the West routinely charges China for this very practice. How is it possible then for China to develop rapidly and become a leader in AI?  In the core Asian societies, the art of “constructive criticism” incentivises erudition, knowledge and a face-saving approach.  Knowledge is also unfettered by ideology or provenance.

The US, on the other hand, is hopelessly trying to find a balance between its ideological dictates, visceral populism and next-generation knowledge. Talent and AI are sacrificed in the process. According to Google’s Eric Schmidt, “Iran… produces some of the smartest and top computer scientists in the world. I want them here. I want them working for Alphabet and Google. It’s crazy not to let these people in.”

It is even crazier to think that a smart society can be moulded by AI-mediated claptrap and news filters.  This is why China will win the AI race, and Asia will prevail in the Internet of Ideas (IoI).

Why Liberal Jews in Israel and the US have made Lara Alqasem a Cause Celebre

An American student of Palestinian descent detained in Israel’s airport for nearly a fortnight has become an unexpected cause celebre. Lara Alqasem was refused entry under legislation passed last year against boycott activists, and Israeli courts are now deciding whether allowing her to study human rights at an Israeli university threatens public order.

Usually those held at the border are swiftly deported, but Ms Alqasem appealed against the decision, becoming in the process an improbable “prisoner of conscience” for the boycott cause.

The Israeli government, led by strategic affairs minister Gilad Erdan, claims that the 22-year-old is a leader of the growing international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Activists like Ms Alqasem, he argues, demonise Israel.

Two lower courts have already ruled against the student. Israel’s supreme court has postponed her deportation until Wednesday while it reconsiders the evidence. But refusing to go quietly, Ms Alqasem is attracting increasing international attention to her plight.

So far Israeli officials have shown only that Ms Alqasem once belonged to a small Palestinian solidarity group at a Florida university that backed boycotting a hummus company over its donations to the Israeli army.

Under pressure, Ms Alqasem has disavowed a boycott of Israel, citing as proof her decision to enroll in a masters programme in Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Given the blanket hostility in Israel to the boycott movement, Ms Alqasem has found a surprisingly wide array of allies in her legal struggle.

Members of the small Zionist-left Meretz party visited her and demanded she be allowed to attend the course, which began on Sunday.

Ami Ayalon, a retired head of the Shin Bet, the secret police that oversees security checks at Israel’s borders, warned that the agency was now “a problem for democracy” in repeatedly denying foreigners entry.

Vice-chancellors of eight Israeli universities sent a letter of protest to the government and 500 academics at Hebrew University submitted a petition decrying Ms Alqasem’s incarceration.

The solidarity has been unprecedented – and perplexing.

Israeli officials control entry not only to Israel but also to the occupied Palestinian territories. For decades, foreigners with Arab-sounding names – like Ms Alqasem – have been routinely harassed or turned back at the borders, with barely a peep from most on the Israeli left.

And over the same period, Israel has stripped many thousands of Palestinians from the occupied territories of the right to return to their homeland after living abroad. These abuses, too, have rarely troubled consciences in Israel.

So what makes Ms Alqasem’s case different? The answer confers little credit on liberal Israelis.

Israel’s universities are worried that the academic boycott has highlighted their long-term complicity in Israel’s occupation and is gradually eroding their international standing. Joint research projects with foreign universities are in jeopardy, as is their lucrative income from programmes they wish to expand for overseas students.

The universities want to co-opt Ms Alqasem as a poster girl for academic freedom in Israel.

They hope she will provide cover for their guilty secret: that they have stood by, or actively assisted, as Israel made a mockery of academic freedom for Palestinians under occupation. Research shows that Israel’s universities have strong ties to the nation’s military, which regularly attacks Palestinian places of learning and limits Palestinians’ freedom to study by enforcing strict movement restrictions.

Jewish liberals in Israel and the US, meanwhile, are concerned at the entrenchment of the Israeli far-right’s rule. In recent weeks, a wave of Israeli and American Jewish activists have been detained and questioned at the border over their politics.

Those liberals desperately need to draw a red line, halting the expansion of racial profiling into political forms of profiling that undermine their own status. If the courts uphold the fundamental rights of Ms Alqasem, their own rights will be more secure too.

That was why progressive Jewish leaders in the US added their own voices last week, signing a petition calling for Ms Alqasem to be allowed to study in Israel.

But the case has shone a light not only on the self-interested opportunism of Israeli liberals but also on the hypocrisy of leaders of progressive American Jewish communities.

Ms Alqasem was identified as a boycott activist via a McCarthyite website called Canary Mission, which has murky ties to the Israeli government.

Since it launched in 2014 under the slogan “If you’re racist, the world should know”, the site has built an online database profiling thousands of US academics and students, including Jewish ones, critical of Israel.

Its aim is to terrify US academia into silence on Israel. The site explicitly threatens to send letters to prospective employers accusing its targets – those who show solidarity with Palestinians – of being antisemitic.

Until recently, this blacklist had passed largely unremarked outside pro-Palestinian circles. But since its role in helping Israeli officials bar Jewish and non-Jewish activists became clear, interest in its provenance has grown.

This month the Forward, an American Jewish publication, unmasked several of Canary Mission’s major donors. They include the communal funds of Jewish federations representing liberal communities in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The trail leads back to a shadowy registered charity in Israel called Megamot Shalom, which aims to “protect the image of the state of Israel”.

Simone Zimmerman, an American Jewish peace activist who was detained at the border by Israeli officials in August, lamented that the American Jewish establishment’s secret support for Canary Mission “reeks of hypocrisy and betrayal”.

Supposedly liberal Jewish institutions in Israel and the US wish to be seen battling racism and aiding good causes, including the rights of a Palestinian-American student after she repudiated a boycott of Israel.

But covertly they support and finance projects intended to silence criticism of Israel and enforce the oppression of Palestinians they say they want to help.

Ms Alqasem has been turned into a pawn in the struggle between Jewish liberals and Israeli ultra-nationalists. Israel’s continuing violations of the wider rights of Palestinians – to enter and freely move around their homeland, and to receive an education – are simply not part of the discussion.

• First published in The National

The Sessional Curse: Universities and the Casual Work Force

Universities have become bastions of sessional torment, feeding grounds for despair.  The term “sessional” is merely a euphemised way of describing an academic employee who has no ongoing employment other than what is offered, a person ever at the mercy of the subject or course coordinator of a department.  They are the toiling poor, the barrel scrapers, the trudged upon and demanded.

The problem here is loathsomely international.  In 2014, CBC News noted the increasing use of contracted sessionals in the university curriculum in Canada.  The case of Kimberley Ellis Hale was cited, an instructor in sociology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, who had essentially slaved for sixteen years on a precarious contract.  Despite those years of service, “she has no job security.  She still needs to apply to teach her courses every semester.  She gets none of the perks a full time professor gets”.

As with Canada, the United Kingdom’s tertiary education system sees approximately half of all academic staff employed on low-paid temporary contracts.  In the United States, half-time work characterises half of faculty staff while the majority do not fall within a “tenure track” category.  The doors to employment security are, for the most part, barred.

In Australia, as a consequence largely of shifts that took place in university education in the early 1990s, teaching and research institutions became servers of market goals and ideologies, overseen by a none-too-benevolent master in the form of the Commonwealth.  Casual academic staff are the “proletariat of the academic profession”, something akin to a tribe abandoned and lost.  “It seems,” reflect Jane Kenway and Diana Langmead rather ruefully, “that the triumph of economics over university education is now complete.”

Central to this is fragmentation and increased expectation: the former, focused on splitting management from workers and ongoing workers from casual employees; the latter, on converting the academic into a consultant, entrepreneur and wearer of all hats of incongruous size and meaning, all the while inflating workloads on diminishing returns.

Casual academic staff are, according to research done by Robyn Day, David Peetz and Glenda Strachan, “not integrated with the permanent academic labour market and that discipline is a key determinant of the level of ‘frustration’ of casual academic staff.”

With this environment comes a subservience peppered by anxiety.  Free thinking is feared and despised; grovelling and silence is rewarded, if only sporadically.  Colleagues compete for diminishing resources; the casual labour force fears the loss of favour and, to that end, remain consciously indifferent to university policy that might well undermine pedagogy and research.  Resistance and protest is, in some cases brutally, quelled.

Little wonder then, that university politburos and their over-remunerated consultancies insist on collective binges of wellness days, the psychobabble that substitutes decent policies for crank panaceas.  (We care for you by showing how we detest you.)  “Searching for wellness and well-being on most university websites,” write Brad Wright and Matthew Winslade in The Conversation, “will lead to a dedicated page detailing a wealth of independent strategies and programs focusing on specific areas of health, such as mental health or workplace safety.”

These grotesque exercises serve one purpose: to demonstrate the ongoing failings of a university system to either care for teaching and research staff and, in a grim spinoff, the students themselves.  Staff employed on a casual basis will emit levels of psychological distress so acute as to be contagious; the students, in turn, will react.

The university politburos are, however, on to this, appropriating such fairly meaningless concepts as the “healthy university“.  Issuing from the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges in Canada, such holistic approaches find ample room in conference proceedings but serve to remain stuck in a management, public relations void.  While the Okanagan Charter arising from the gathering was fed by the thoughts of health professionals, researchers, students and policy makers from 45 countries, local implementation remains within the purview of the management classes long lost to academic thought.

The dictates of finance and delivery are all powerful.  Quality can be left to hang.  While a tenured or ongoing employee at academic rank might well be given a set number of courses to teach, those same courses, and number, can be taught by a sessional staff member for a fraction of the price.

The academic sweatshop, in other words, burgeons with desperate members hoping for admission.  Managers and higher academics, noting this, see chances to mine the pool of labour, and boast accordingly of having lesser teaching loads to enable them to pursue fictional and, in most cases, the stodge that counts as research. (Evaluators, take note.)

The sessional curse also extends to undermining the broader university environment.  While fat cat managers gorge themselves upon increasing salaries to cut ribbons, imbibe, identify appropriate paperclips and fill rooms with their insipid and, in the end, irrelevant presences, the pay for the sessional academic remains fairly constant in its impecuniousness.

Hours are capped; students are not permitted, depending on the policy of the department, any attention beyond an hour in terms of marking and consultations. The learning process, in other words, is cut at its most vital point, discouraging the sessional from marking the paper in any way beyond the bare limit whilst depriving the student of the rigour necessary to benefit from that said education.

This age of education is marked by the struggling part-timer and the looting manager barricaded behind protocols of control and discipline (do not, academics are told, challenge the management line).  Any reconciling of these is impossible on current trajectories and requires an enthusiastic, collectively orchestrated coup d’état.

Criminalizing Childhood: School Safety Measures Aren’t Making the Schools Any Safer

Every day in communities across the United States, children and adolescents spend the majority of their waking hours in schools that have increasingly come to resemble places of detention more than places of learning. From metal detectors to drug tests, from increased policing to all-seeing electronic surveillance, the public schools of the twenty-first century reflect a society that has become fixated on crime, security and violence.

— Annette Fuentes, Investigative Journalist, Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse becomes a Jailhouse, February 12, 2013

It used to be that if you talked back to a teacher, or played a prank on a classmate, or just failed to do your homework, you might find yourself in detention or doing an extra writing assignment after school.

Of course, that was before school shootings became a part of our national lexicon.

Nowadays, as a result of the government’s profit-driven campaign to keep the nation “safe” from drugs, weapons and terrorism, students are not only punished for minor transgressions such as playing cops and robbers on the playground, bringing LEGOs to school, or having a food fight, but they are being punished with suspension, expulsion, and even arrest.

Welcome to Compliance 101: the police state’s primer in how to churn out compliant citizens and transform the nation’s school’s into quasi-prisons through the use of surveillance cameras, metal detectors, police patrols, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, drug sniffing dogs, strip searches and active shooter drills.

If you were wondering, these police state tactics have not made the schools any safer.

Rather, they’ve turned the schools into authoritarian microcosms of the police state, containing almost every aspect of the militarized, intolerant, senseless, overcriminalized, legalistic, surveillance-riddled, totalitarian landscape that plagues those of us on the “outside.”

If your child is fortunate enough to survive his encounter with the public schools, you should count yourself fortunate.

Most students are not so lucky.

From the moment a child enters one of the nation’s 98,000 public schools to the moment he or she graduates, they will be exposed to a steady diet of draconian zero tolerance policies that criminalize childish behavior, overreaching anti-bullying statutes that criminalize speech, school resource officers (police) tasked with disciplining and/or arresting so-called “disorderly” students, standardized testing that emphasizes rote answers over critical thinking, politically correct mindsets that teach young people to censor themselves and those around them, and extensive biometric and surveillance systems that, coupled with the rest, acclimate young people to a world in which they have no freedom of thought, speech or movement.

By the time the average young person in America finishes their public school education, nearly one out of every three of them will have been arrested.

More than 3 million students are suspended or expelled from schools every year, often for minor misbehavior, such as “disruptive behavior” or “insubordination.”

Black students are three times more likely than white students to face suspension and expulsion.

Zero tolerance policies that were intended to make schools safer by discouraging the use of actual drugs and weapons by students have turned students into suspects to be treated as criminals by school officials and law enforcement alike, while criminalizing childish behavior.

For instance, 9-year-old Patrick Timoney was sent to the principal’s office and threatened with suspension after school officials discovered that one of his LEGOs was holding a 2-inch toy gun.

David Morales, an 8-year-old Rhode Island student, ran afoul of his school’s zero tolerance policies after he wore a hat to school decorated with an American flag and tiny plastic Army figures in honor of American troops. School officials declared the hat out of bounds because the toy soldiers were carrying miniature guns.

A 7-year-old New Jersey boy, described by school officials as “a nice kid” and “a good student,” was reported to the police and charged with possessing an imitation firearm after he brought a toy Nerf-style gun to school. The gun shoots soft ping pong-type balls.

Things have gotten so bad that it doesn’t even take a toy gun to raise the ire of school officials.

A high school sophomore was suspended for violating the school’s no-cell-phone policy after he took a call from his father, a master sergeant in the U.S. Army who was serving in Iraq at the time.

A 12-year-old New York student was hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker.

In Houston, an 8th grader was suspended for wearing rosary beads to school in memory of her grandmother (the school has a zero tolerance policy against the rosary, which the school insists can be interpreted as a sign of gang involvement).

Six-year-old Cub Scout Zachary Christie was sentenced to 45 days in reform school after bringing a camping utensil to school that can serve as a fork, knife or spoon.

Even imaginary weapons (hand-drawn pictures of guns, pencils twirled in a “threatening” manner, imaginary bows and arrows, even fingers positioned like guns) can also land a student in detention.

Equally outrageous was the case in New Jersey where several kindergartners were suspended from school for three days for playing a make-believe game of “cops and robbers” during recess and using their fingers as guns.

With the distinctions between student offenses erased, and all offenses expellable, we now find ourselves in the midst of what Time magazine described as a “national crackdown on Alka-Seltzer.” Students have actually been suspended from school for possession of the fizzy tablets in violation of zero tolerance drug policies.

Students have also been penalized for such inane “crimes” as bringing nail clippers to school, using Listerine or Scope, and carrying fold-out combs that resemble switchblades.

A 13-year-old boy in Manassas, Virginia, who accepted a Certs breath mint from a classmate, was actually suspended and required to attend drug-awareness classes, while a 12-year-old boy who said he brought powdered sugar to school for a science project was charged with a felony for possessing a look-alike drug.

Acts of kindness, concern, basic manners or just engaging in childish behavior can also result in suspensions.

One 13-year-old was given detention for exposing the school to “liability” by sharing his lunch with a hungry friend. A third grader was suspended for shaving her head in sympathy for a friend who had lost her hair to chemotherapy. And then there was the high school senior who was suspended for saying “bless you” after a fellow classmate sneezed.

In South Carolina, where it’s against the law to disturb a school, more than a thousand students a year—some as young as 7 years old—“face criminal charges for not following directions, loitering, cursing, or the vague allegation of acting ‘obnoxiously.’ If charged as adults, they can be held in jail for up to 90 days.”

Another 12-year-old was handcuffed and jailed after he stomped in a puddle, splashing classmates.

Things get even worse when you add police to the mix.

Thanks to a combination of media hype, political pandering and financial incentives, the use of armed police officers (a.k.a. school resource officers) to patrol school hallways has risen dramatically in the years since the Columbine school shooting (nearly 20,000 by 2003).

What this means, notes Mother Jones, is greater police “involvement in routine discipline matters that principals and parents used to address without involvement from law enforcement officers.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, these school resource officers (SROs) have become de facto wardens in the elementary, middle and high schools, doling out their own brand of justice to the so-called “criminals” in their midst with the help of tasers, pepperspray, batons and brute force.

As a result, students are not only being ticketed, fined and sent to court for behavior perceived as defiant, disruptive or disorderly such as spraying perfume and writing on a desk, but they are also finding themselves subjected to police tactics such as handcuffs, leg shackles, tasers and excessive force for “acting up.”

In the absence of school-appropriate guidelines, police are more and more “stepping in to deal with minor rulebreaking: sagging pants, disrespectful comments, brief physical skirmishes. What previously might have resulted in a detention or a visit to the principal’s office was replaced with excruciating pain and temporary blindness, often followed by a trip to the courthouse.”

The horror stories are legion.

One SRO is accused of punching a 13-year-old student in the face for cutting in the cafeteria line. That same cop put another student in a chokehold a week later, allegedly knocking the student unconscious and causing a brain injury.

In Pennsylvania, a student was tased after ignoring an order to put his cell phone away.

On any given day when school is in session, kids who “act up” in class are pinned face down on the floor, locked in dark closets, tied up with straps, bungee cords and duct tape, handcuffed, leg shackled, tasered or otherwise restrained, immobilized or placed in solitary confinement in order to bring them under “control.”

Roughly 1500 kids are tied up or locked down every day by school officials in the United States.

At least 500 students are locked up in some form of solitary confinement every day, whether it be a padded room, a closet or a duffel bag. In many cases, parents are rarely notified when such methods are used.

In almost every case, these undeniably harsh methods are used to punish kids for simply failing to follow directions or throwing tantrums.

Very rarely do the kids pose any credible danger to themselves or others.

For example, a 4-year-old Virginia preschooler was handcuffed, leg shackled and transported to the sheriff’s office after reportedly throwing blocks and climbing on top of the furniture. School officials claim the restraints were necessary to protect the adults from injury.

A 6-year-old kindergarten student in a Georgia public school was handcuffed, transported to the police station, and charged with simple battery of a schoolteacher and criminal damage to property for throwing a temper tantrum at school.

Unbelievably, these tactics are all legal, at least when employed by school officials or school resource officers in the nation’s public schools.

According to a ProPublica investigative report, such harsh punishments are part of a widespread phenomenon plaguing school districts across the country.

Indeed, as investigative reporter Heather Vogell points out, this is a local story everywhere.

It’s happening in my town.

It’s happening in your town.

It’s happening in every school district in America.

This is the end product of all those so-called school “safety” policies, which run the gamut from zero tolerance policies that punish all infractions harshly to surveillance cameras, metal detectors, random searches, drug-sniffing dogs, school-wide lockdowns, active-shooter drills and militarized police officers.

Mind you, this is all part of the government’s plan to “harden” the schools.

What exactly does hardening the schools entail?

More strident zero tolerance policiesgreater numbers of school cops, and all the trappings of a prison complex (unsurmountable fences, entrapment areas, no windows or trees, etc.).

Schools acting like prisons.

School officials acting like wardens.

Students treated like inmates and punished like hardened criminals.

Even in the face of parental outrage, lawsuits, legislative reforms, investigative reports and endless cases showing that these tactics are not working and “should never be used for punishment or discipline,” full-grown adults—police officers and teachers alike—insist that the reason they continue to handcuff, lock up and restrain little kids is because they fear for their safety and the safety of others.

“Fear for one’s safety” has become such a hackneyed and threadbare excuse for behavior that is inexcusable.

Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that explanation covers a multitude of sins, whether it’s poorly trained police officers who shoot first and ask questions later, or school officials who are ill-equipped to deal with children who act like children, meaning they don’t always listen, they sometimes throw tantrums, and they have a hard time sitting still.

Unfortunately, advocates for such harsh police tactics and weaponry like to trot out the line that school safety should be our first priority lest we find ourselves with another Sandy Hook. What they will not tell you is that such shootings are rare. As one congressional report found, the schools are, generally speaking, safe places for children.

In their zeal to crack down on guns and lock down the schools, these cheerleaders for police state tactics in the schools might also fail to mention the lucrative, multi-million dollar deals being cut with military contractors such as Taser International to equip these school cops with tasers, tanks, rifles and $100,000 shooting detection systems.

Indeed, the transformation of hometown police departments into extensions of the military has been mirrored in the public schools, where school police have been gifted with high-powered M16 rifles, MRAP armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and other military gear. One Texas school district even boasts its own 12-member SWAT team.

According to one law review article on the school-to-prison pipeline:

Many school districts have formed their own police departments, some so large they rival the forces of major United States cities in size. For example, the safety division in New York City’s public schools is so large that if it were a local police department, it would be the fifth-largest police force in the country.

The ramifications are far-reaching.

The term “school-to-prison pipeline” refers to a phenomenon in which children who are suspended or expelled from school have a greater likelihood of ending up in jail.

As if it weren’t bad enough that the nation’s schools have come to resemble prisons, the government is also contracting with private prisons to lock up our young people for behaviour that once would have merited a stern lecture. Nearly 40 percent of those young people who are arrested will serve time in a private prison, where the emphasis is on making profits for large megacorporations above all else.

This profit-driven system of incarceration has also given rise to a growth in juvenile prisons and financial incentives for jailing young people.

Indeed, young people have become easy targets for the private prison industry, which profits from criminalizing childish behavior and jailing young people. For instance, two Pennsylvania judges made headlines when it was revealed that they had been conspiring with two businessmen in a $2.6 million “kids for cash” scandal that resulted in more than 2500 children being found guilty and jailed in for-profit private prisons.

So what’s the answer, not only for the here-and-now—the children growing up in these quasi-prisons—but for the future of this country?

Peter Gray, a professor of psychology at Boston College, believes that school is a prison that is damaging our kids, and it’s hard to disagree, especially with the numbers of police officers being assigned to schools on the rise.

Clearly, the pathology that characterizes the American police state has passed down to the schools. Now in addition to the government and its agents viewing the citizenry as suspects to be probed, poked, pinched, tasered, searched, seized, stripped and generally manhandled, all with the general blessing of the court, our children in the public schools are also fair game.

Instead of raising up a generation of freedom fighters, however, we seem to be busy churning out newly minted citizens of the American police state who are being taught the hard way what it means to comply, fear and march in lockstep with the government’s dictates.

After all, how do you convince a child who has been routinely handcuffed, shackled, tied down, locked up, and immobilized by government officials—all before he reaches the age of adulthood—that he has any rights at all, let alone the right to challenge wrongdoing, resist oppression and defend himself against injustice?

Most of all, how do you persuade a fellow American that the government works for him when for most of his young life, he has been incarcerated in an institution that teaches young people to be obedient and compliant citizens who don’t talk back, don’t question and don’t challenge authority?

What can be done?

Without a doubt, change is needed, but that will mean taking on the teachers’ unions, the school unions, the educators’ associations, and the police unions, not to mention the politicians dependent on their votes and all of the corporations that profit mightily from an industrial school complex.

As we’ve seen with other issues, any significant reforms will have to start locally and trickle upwards.

As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, with every school police raid and overzealous punishment that is carried out in the name of school safety, the lesson being imparted is that Americans—especially young people—have no rights at all against the state or the police.

If we do not rein in the police state’s influence in the schools, the future to which we are sending our children will be characterized by a brutal, totalitarian regime.

Bizarre Israeli Analyses of Syrian Curriculum Circulate in the Middle East

My friend, a senior UN official based in Amman, Jordan, recently received a newsletter from an Israeli institution – “IMPACT-se”. Their report was called, ‘modestly’, “Reformulating School Textbooks During the Civil War”.

It is full of analyses of the Syrian curriculum.

Interesting stuff, without any doubt: Manipulative, negative, but interesting. It made it to many other places in the Middle East; to Lebanon, for instance, where even the word “Israel” is hardly ever pronounced.

Predictably, being compiled in Israel, the report trashes Syria, its ideology, and the determined anti-imperialist stand of President al-Assad.

However, that may backfire. Excerpts that are quoted from the Syrian curriculum would impress both education experts, as well as the general public, if they were to get their hands and eyes on them. And I am trying to facilitate precisely that, in this essay.

Children in Damascus taking summer programme

What the report found outrageous and deplorable, others could find very reasonable and positive. Let’s read.  Here is what the “IMPACT-se” is quoting, while ringing alarm bells:

Saddam Hussein took power, and his period witnessed a number of wars in the Arab Gulf area. The first was with Iran, called the First Gulf War (1980–88), which occurred through incitement by the US, in order to weaken both countries. History, Grade 12, 2017–18, p. 105.

Well put, isn’t it? But it gets much better, philosophically. Imagine, this brilliant intellectual stuff is actually served to all Syrian children in their public schools, while in Europe and North America; kids are fed with neo-colonialist mainstream propaganda. No wonder that Syrian children are much better versed in what is happening in the world. No wonder that millions of Syrian refugees are now ready to return home, after the abuse they received abroad, and after realizing how indoctrinated and brainwashed by Western propaganda, the people all over the world are.

“IMPACT-se” continues quoting the Syrian curriculum, naively thinking that the words engraved there, will terrify the entire world:

This competition and struggle worsened as the capitalist system developed and new occupying forces such as the US, took control over international politics. It exploited its scientific, technological, economic and military supremacy in order to expand its influence and [gain] control over the capabilities of the peoples of the world. This was done in cooperation with its allies, to increase its presence in the international arena as the only undisputed superpower. National Education, Grade 8, 2017–18, p. 81. (The US) strives to maintain its supremacy by monopolizing developing technology, controlling wealth and energy sources in the world, most importantly oil, and forcing its hegemony on the international community. National Education, Grade 8, 2017–18, p. 82.

This could be easily written by the progressive economist Peter Koenig, by the international lawyer Christopher Black, or, why not, by myself.

The people, who worked on the Syrian curriculum, combined two things brilliantly: 1) indisputable facts, 2) elegant simplicity! Actually, this curriculum should be offered not only to the Middle East kids, but all over the world.

A girl child taking extra class in the summer in Damascus

Look how skillfully and honestly it summarizes modern history:

After the disappearance of international balance and unipolar hegemony took control of the world, the US began searching for excuses to justify its intervention in other countries. It occupied Afghanistan in 2002, under the pretext of fighting against “terrorism” in order to realize its political and economic goals. One of the goals was to build an advanced military base close to countries which the US considers to be dangerous (Russia, China, India, Iran and North Korea). In addition, Afghanistan had many assets (such as iron ore and gas). In 2003, the US—helped by a group of countries—declared war on Iraq under the pretext that Iraq was holding weapons of mass destruction and aiding terrorism. The occupation came after an unjust siege and air strikes over Iraqi cities and institutions, without authorization from the UN general assembly and the Security Council. National Education, Grade 8, 2017–18, p. 82

Making the world become one form, one structure and one model, which is the most powerful model now controlling the world, economically and militarily—the American model. The hegemony of the capitalist system . . . turning the world into a consumer market for Western products and ideas, while stripping the nation of its principles, customs and traditions, abolishing its personality and identity, first diluting and then gradually eliminating nations and cultures. National Education, Grade 12, 2017–18, p. 31.

According to “IMPACT-se”, this is supposed to scare random readers, providing proof how evil the ‘regime in Damascus’ is!

The opposite is true.

An international (non-Western) educator, who is presently based in the Middle East, explained to me over a cup of coffee. I think that this statement is actually a good summary of what many others that are studying the Syrian curriculum really feel:

Education reflects the vision of a given society.  The heart of what a society expects from its citizens is in the curriculum.  Having carefully read the analysis of the new Syrian curriculum and textbooks reinforces my strong conviction of how great a society Syria really is.

*****

Let us see the ‘other side’; those who are critical of Syrian education, those who are making a living from such criticism and from antagonizing the system.

ESCWA (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia), based in Beirut, Lebanon, has an initiative defined as ‘the future of Syria for the peace-building phase’. This ‘process’ involves Syrian experts from all walks of life.

But who are these experts? In 2018, during the expert’s meeting on education, the list included these specialists:

– Former professors (education and law) of Aleppo University

– Former professor of Damascus University

– Head of an education NGO in Lebanon

– Academics and researchers now based in Turkey and Germany

– Independent consultants

Clearly, if at this meeting any participants were Syrians, they were ‘former some things’. Meaning exiles, anti-government cadres, and mostly pegged to some Western organization (predominantly the organizations based in France or Germany). Not one person from the legitimate government of Syria was invited! A typical Western approach: “about them, without them”.

And these people who are serving Western interests, are supposed to help to define a component on education which is considered vital to “reconciliation and social cohesion in post-war Syria”.

Predictably, instead of promoting reconciliation, the speeches were full of hate, bitter and aggressive, anti-Syrian and pro-Western. ‘Experts’ used terminology such as: ‘Hegemony of the Syrian regime’, ‘The Ba’ath Party is only concerned about ideology, never giving Syrians an identity’ (they were actually demanding that religions would serve as ‘identity’, replacing the presently secular Syrian state), ‘We need to talk about the truth of what happened in 2011, what led to the war in 2011. Without that nothing makes sense’ (but the ‘truth about 2011’ in their minds has definitely nothing to do with the fact that the West encouraged the anti-government rebellion, injected jihadi cadres and triggered the brutal civil war aimed at overthrowing a social state).

Their main point seems to be: ‘The war has strengthened the culture of hatred’.

Correct, but not because of the Syrian state, but, because of people like those ‘experts’!

What do they really want? Religion instead of secularism, capitalism instead of socialism, and, of course, the Western perception of ‘democracy’, instead of a patriotic and pan-Arab independent vision of the state.

*****

No matter how one turns it, the Syrian education system, including its curriculum, appears to be greatly superior to those in the neighboring countries. Perhaps that is why it is being placed under scrutiny and under attack.

After all, wasn’t the main goal of the West, in 2011 and after, to destroy yet another socialist, internationalist state that was primarily serving its people?

And the state of Israel? What is “IMPACT-se” mainly complaining about? What is irking it most in the Syrian curriculum? Perhaps this, in its own words and analyses:

The Syrian curriculum bases Syrian national identity on the principles of a continued struggle to realize one Arab Nation that includes all Arab states, constituting one country, the “Arab Homeland.” The textbooks present the borders dividing the Arab states as artificial, having been imposed by European colonialism.

For most of us, this is actually not bad, is it?

Or possibly this:

The current borders are political ones, drawn through the policy of the colonial powers that had controlled the region, especially France and Britain. They do not overlap the natural borders that used to separate the Arab Homeland from the neighboring countries. So, important changes took place in these borders to the benefit of those countries and to the detriment of the Arab land. Geography of the Arab Homeland and the World, Grade 12, 2017–2018, p. 13.”

What is incredibly impressive, is how the Syrian curriculum addresses the Soviet period of its close ally – Russia:

We shall become acquainted with the reality of Russia prior to the Communist Revolution, and the causes which led to its political, economic, social and intellectual renaissance, from World War I until the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Russian Federation in 1991. History, Grade 8, 2017–18, p. 98.

The Socialist Revolution in Russia broke out in order to confront the imperial regime. It declared the establishment of the first socialist country in 1917. [The Revolution] was based on the rule of the workers and the peasants, and it had a global impact, as it supported national liberation movements. History of the Modern and Contemporary World, Grade 11, 2017–18, p. 168.

Gorbachev took over the leadership of the state and party in 1988, and aspired to implement a plan of economic, social and ideological reconstruction. However, the imperialistic countries conspired against the destiny of the Soviet Union and took advantage of the administrative corruption and the circumstances of multiple nationalities, leading to its dissolution in 1991 and the establishment of the Russian Federation in its place. History, Grade 8, 2017–18, pp. 99–100.

Actually, if I could, if I were to be allowed to, I’d love my publishing house (Badak Merah) to publish the Syrian curriculum, or at least its part on history and politics, for everyone outside Syria to read.

What the Israeli “IMPACT-se” sees as alarming or negative, most of people all over the world and particularly in the Arab region, would definitely perceive as truthful, optimistic and worth fighting for.

Are the experts from “IMPACT-se” so naïve that they do not realize it? Or is there something else going on? Perhaps we will never find out.

With or without text books children flock to school in newly liberated Aleppo, January 2017

No matter what: thank you for reminding us of the great Syrian curriculum! It clearly shows how great a nation Syria is!

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• Photos: Yayoi Segi

Education and the Mental Health Epidemic

Across the western world June is exam time; in Britain, written tests taken in halls of silence and tension have triggered a mini-epidemic of anxiety rooted conditions. Pupils have reported mental exhaustion, panic attacks, crying, nosebleeds, sleepless nights, hair loss and outbreaks of acne.

Over the past 25 years, depression and anxiety amongst teenagers in the UK has increased by 70%. This pattern is repeated across the developed world, and is the result of a cocktail of pressures, pressures that result in 10% of under 18-year-olds in America being dependent on mental health medication.

In parts of Asia things are just as bad or worse: the pressure to achieve high marks in exams in Hong Kong is driving some students to suicide: “71 students took their lives between 2013 and 2016,” reports The South China Morning Post. In Singapore, which produces children who excel in standardized tests, an 11-year-old jumped to his death from the 17th floor of an apartment building in 2016 because he was afraid to tell his parents his exam results. The inquest heard that the boy’s parents relentlessly pushed him to achieve at school: his mother would cane him for every mark he received under 70%. In 2015 a record 27 suicides were reported amongst children between 10 and 19, which was double the previous year’s total.

Suicide or attempted suicide is a raw scream revealing the internal agony a child is living with; pain that he/she feels suffocated by, and unable to openly acknowledge. In most cases children don’t kill themselves, they just become ill, some, chronically. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that neuropsychiatric conditions are the primary cause of disability in under 25-year-olds worldwide and says that globally between 10% and 20% “of children and adolescents experience mental disorders,” feeding what are often long-term conditions. Research shows that 75% of all mental health issues begin before a person reaches 18, with 50% taking root before age 15.

Engines of conformity

There are various interconnected reasons for this mental health epidemic; the burden to conform and the relentless pressure to succeed are primary causes and are present throughout institutionalized education. For many young people education has become a bi-word for competition and anxiety, school or university a place where uniformity is demanded and individuality denied: a hostile place in which pressure and stress dominate.

Despite the best efforts of teachers, many of whom are doing wonderful work, the goal of academic institutions in many countries has been reduced to passing exams and achieving good-to-high grades. This is anathema to what education ought to be. At the heart of education should be the aim of creating happy human beings free from fear. This requires establishing environments that allow an individual to discover innate talents, to explore him/herself and slowly, perhaps clumsily, give expression to that; a stimulating, nurturing space where mistakes can be made, failure allowed, independent thinking fostered and responsibility for society and the natural environment engendered.

Like all aspects of contemporary life, education has been tainted by the values of a particular approach to life, a materialistic methodology that fosters negative tendencies instead of feeding the good and liberating the spirit. Competition is encouraged instead of cooperation, placing people in opposition to one another, cultivating division instead of unity. Individual success is championed at the expense of group well-being and life is reduced to a battleground ruled by desire and the pursuit of pleasure.

The focus within this paradigm of misery is on material success and the accumulation of status and things. Hedonism is sold as the source of all happiness, feeding perpetual discontent. It is an extremely narrow approach to life that denies mystery and wonder, pours cynicism on the miraculous and attempts to crush self-investigation and silence opposition.

Whilst the majority of humanity suffer and struggle to live healthy fulfilling lives within this mode of living, there are those who, economically at least, profit handsomely. As a result, and failing to recognize that they too are trapped, they do everything to maintain it; they are the wealthy and powerful, the ‘ruling elite’. Money begets power and political influence under the pervading paradigm; such influence is used to shape (and draft) government policies that strengthen systems, which maintain the existing unhealthy order.

To uphold the status quo, freedom of thought and true individuality is curtailed, social conformity insisted upon. The major tools of conditioning are the media, which is commonly owned by corporations or controlled by governments, organized religion, and education. The policies of schools and colleges are set by central government, and, consistent with the pervasive ideology politicians ensure that conformity and competition are built into the working methodology.

Students are set in competition with one another, with established standards and with themselves, and are regularly forced to sit written examinations to evaluate how much they can remember or know, about any particular subject. Taking exams dictates the passage of a child’s education and establishes the benchmark against which young people are judged, and by extension often judge themselves. Using tests as a way of assessing a person’s ability and knowledge is archaic; sitting exams exerts colossal pressure, and although some may be able to cope and ‘do well’ the majority feel suffocated.

In Britain, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) relates that in 2016/17 Childline delivered “3,135 counseling sessions on exam stress – a rise of 11% over the past 2 years.” Children aged between 12 and 18 reported that exam stress was causing “depression and anxiety, panic attacks, low-self-esteem, self harming and suicidal thoughts.” This pattern is common in many developed and developing countries, where ideologically-driven corporate governments obsessed with trade, continue to pursue methods, that are, by design, detrimental to the well being of children.

Instead of policies rooted in competition, cooperation and sharing need to be encouraged in all aspects of education and standardized exams consigned to the past. The educational environment needs to be one in which children are encouraged to support each other, to share their own particular gifts with the group and build a sense of social responsibility. Many teachers naturally employ such inclusive methods, but working within divisive systems, which promote individual success, conformity and competition, their efforts are often frustrated.

An Alternative way

A more enlightened approach to education is found in Finland. Here, children don’t start school until they are seven, there is no streaming or selection in schools, so children of varying abilities work side by side, no homework is set, school holidays are long and there is only one standardized test, administered in the final year of high school. The result is happier children than in countries where testing, homework, selection and competition reign supreme. Not only are children happier (according to the World Happiness Report, Finland is the happiest country in the world), they achieve higher academic marks than students in many other countries; according to The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) organized annually by the OECD, Finland ranks fourth for reading and 5th for Math in the world; 93% of students graduate from High School, compared to 78% in Canada and 75% in America.

Teachers in Finland are well qualified – all have a Master’s Degree – and are highly valued. They are not dictated to by misguided politicians who come and go, but are trusted to do their job independently, and the country has a long-term approach to education policy, which “means plans remain in place for a significant amount of time, giving them a chance to work, ” says Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers.

An education system is part of a society’s overall approach to living. As well as being a happy place to live and having a relaxed attitude to education, Finland has some of the lowest levels of wealth and income inequality in the world and the highest level of community trust. In contrast, Britain, USA, Singapore and Hong Kong have some of the highest levels of inequality. The Finland education system is inseparable from the culture, which it serves. Saku Tuominen, director of the HundrEd project says that Finland has “a ‘socially cohesive’, equitable and efficient society, and it gets a consistently reliable school system to match.”

Systems of education built around the ideals of the market that use competition, selection and examinations are contributing to a collective atmosphere of division, injustice and anxiety. Such methodologies need to be fundamentally changed, replaced by creative environments in which children and young adults can simply be, without pressure to achieve or become anything in particular. In such an atmosphere, true intelligence, which is beyond the limitations of knowledge, can flower.

The Death of Radicality

For the majority of young Americans, progressivism has taken on a uniquely bourgeois focus that detracts from any radical thought. Historical movements for change, such as anti-imperialism or racial justice, have been either discarded or fronted in the perspective of individual “wokeness”; student political radicality has been overtaken by the radical chic.

Progressive students are very much willing to fight for social justice and against oppression, so long as it doesn’t cut too deep into their education or career prospects. Students idolize historical radicals and mourn contemporary tragedies—often very loudly and publicly, so that the whole world might know where they stand. The new accessibility of social media combined with the constant need for validation has given young people a new character of political involvement: one in which overlaying a rainbow flag on a profile picture suffices in supporting the struggle for LGBT+ rights. But beyond the occasional quote, namedrop, or moral support, progressive students often lack anything political beyond a vague resistance to oppression.

Thankfully, this false consciousness is not harmful in itself—but trouble comes when these “woke” inanities are mistaken for substantive progress.

The presentation of these organizations as legitimate means of progress deludes us into thinking that the few clubs and interest groups we join count towards changing society. If we fall into this deluded trap, the idea that these moments constitute real action, then we should abandon hope and shelve any idea of progress for the future.

Living a “woke” life for these few years at colleges only conditions us for a “woke” life beyond college: one devoid of meaningful progressiveness or radicality. The majority of students clearly prefer the ease of being able to signal their virtue via prominent displays of alignment with progressive values over directly acting on their claimed beliefs against the slightest resistance: see the walkout. We now value appearing fashionably left-wing over being moored in sound progressive and leftist ideology. The new radical chic is of being woke, being an ally, and being anti-Trump—and it is sapping young people’s radical spirit at an alarming rate.

Being “woke” as a student is no longer a realization of political consciousness, but instead a declaration of morality. The term began as a very real and succinct description of a realization of the societal diseases around oneself. The first recorded usage of “woke” in a political setting came from a Black union representative from the American Mine Workers, whose condition was probably less than ideal. For a majority of Americans, however, our lives are far from that of Black trade-unionists in the 40’s. We’ve appropriated this term, which originated as an accurate description of political consciousness, for our own twisted method of virtue signalling.

The degeneration of the term “woke” goes hand-in-hand with the self-affirming nature of “allies” in the United States. In theory, an ally is someone who supports an oppressed group, to which they do not personally belong, in their struggle for societal emancipation. Taken out of context, there is nothing wrong with being an “ally”. One doesn’t have to be part of an oppressed group to support them in their liberation movement—indeed, change for an oppressed group often depends on the allyship of other members of society. It goes without saying that the majority of progressive American youths would gladly support any number of identity groups against the forces of oppression. Why then, is it that we need to declare ourselves as “allies”? It seems that we as young progressives have passed the point where the announcement of allyship turned from genuine concern for the oppressed into another form of self-validating virtue signalling.

The most common criticisms of Trump—rudeness, vulgarity, and personal distastefulness—damningly reveal the focus of the “woke” and the “allies” of students. Attacking Trump over the superficial is far easier than digging into the nitty-gritty of his atrocious policy-making. However, it almost seems as if any attack on Trump, whether for his personality or for his policies, is boiled down in the minds of progressive youths into a simple attack on Trump.

Nuanced and ideologically grounded responses to Trump are notably lacking across university and high school campuses. If we only respond to the daily outbursts from Trump, what will happen when the next neo-conservative crypto-fascist comes around with a shred of tact?

Given our track record, we’d probably be fine with it, so long as we called them out for every time they swore at a reporter or made a sexist comment or had sex with some porn-star. Our attacks that we levy at Trump must be from a theoretically sound perspective, lest we forget what we stand for as progressives and radicals. If we hope to stand against the looming reactionary darkness, we should best bring the torch of solid ideology with us to light the way.

Of course, all this hinges on the assumption that progressive students are willing to fight for what they believe in. Perhaps it gives us too much credit to assume that we are capable and willing to fight for social justice. Given that we have chosen the path of hollow platitudes over thorough ideological considerations, maybe the current expressions of wokeness and virtue signalling are the highest form we could hope to achieve.

The administration gives us the means and methods to develop our own principles. Few other schools have whole days dedicated to discussions of social issues. Yet, we continue to view our political and social selves from the perspective of what clubs or affinity groups we participate in rather than personal convictions and well-founded beliefs.

No one stands in the way of progressive students’ personal ideological development, but solid progressive politics are still lacking. There is hardly a stigma against progressive politics in American schools. If anything, one would expect that the few conservatives on those campuses would have the least capability to develop their beliefs and understanding of the world.

Despite all the factors stacked against them, a disproportionate number of my philosophically and ideologically inclined friends are conservatives. It seems as if the overwhelming progressive culture of youth politics has made us complacent with holding fists in the air and feeling guilty for being white or not a person of color. Clearly, we have the capability to reach out and seize well-read and thought-out politics, but progressives have made a choice not to. Our own political habits have made us lazy and self-satisfied, and that could be the death knell for the future of American radicality.

Ultimately, it is the burden of students themselves to take up the mantle of progressivism that they have claimed. It is no longer enough to be woke or an ally. If we truly want to be the ideological future, then it is essential that we cast off the self-affirming norms so commonplace today. Now more than ever, political consciousness in all forms must be developed as fast as possible—and not just holding a fist up.

Neo-Liberal Academia and the Death of Education

Recent cases of personal information collecting for corporate interests highlight the urgency of revisiting the topic of higher education in its connection with the corporate sector and the government. We ought to reconsider at least some aspects of the complex web of the contemporary “education industry” and its social implications. Understanding how contemporary (Western) education works (or doesn’t work) can contribute to raising the awareness of the general population as to the scale of the problem, and making a change, no matter how small.

What’s the problem?

Why should one be concerned with the way the system of (higher) education works? Although the manifold issues related to the contemporary system of higher education in the West (primarily in the US) cannot be summarized in one word, one phrase does capture the most important problems: corporatization of universities.

This process is not new. It follows the more general tendency of applying “neo-liberal” policies, “business logic” and “market principles” to virtually all spheres of our private and public lives. Higher education—and, in particular, the humanities as the main focus of this essay—seem to be one of the latest victims of the all-penetrating (neo-liberal) capitalist ideology. The application of this ideology in academia has resulted in a couple of significant changes over the past decades, primarily in the US and the UK, but the rest of the world is catching up. These changes have diminished to quite a significant degree the very idea of education in the sphere of the humanities, its meaning and its purpose.

Higher costs

The costs of higher education have skyrocketed. According to some sources, the cost of acquiring a university education in the US has increased 1,120% over the last three decades, and even more if compared with the 1960s and 1970s. It is hard to find any relevant economic justification for this, and in reality, one can show that the rising costs of higher education have a very negative general economic and social implications. However, what makes no sense from the perspective of the economic interests of the general population or the society as a whole makes perfect sense if viewed from the perspective of class warfare.

The effects of the rising costs of higher education are very real—students are trapped by huge debts created by extensive borrowing in order to be able to pay for unattainably high tuition costs. In such a situation, they cannot afford to spend time on extracurricular activities or get engaged in social activism; in other words, they cannot afford to work against the system. Borrowing huge amounts (to pay for what should be free to them) teaches them an important lesson about the system in which they are supposed to live: one must be obedient, accept the rules of the game, get a degree and try to find a “good” job so that they can start paying back the loans. This ideological instrument turns out to be very effective—it helps the system to replicate and expand. It is not difficult to see a very conservative ideological framework behind this logic. It basically says “conform to the way the system works” (i.e. to the “markets” as a new version of secular gods), “don’t question, don’t try to change anything” (since that’s “unrealistic” or even socially “irresponsible” behavior). In continental Europe, where the institutions of higher education are still predominantly publicly funded, class and culture wars are fought differently (but that is a topic for another essay). Instead of individual’s intellectual capabilities, personal motivation and readiness to invest a lot of time and energy in learning, deep pockets and obedience become much more decisive factors of the overall study success.

The growth of the university administration

Higher costs are accompanied by the changing academic culture and the institutional functioning of universities. The role of the faculty and students in governing the university has declined to a remarkable degree. Faculty members are increasingly expected to be obedient executors of the policies designed by the university managers. The corporate-like university management (presidents, vice presidents, provosts, deans, vice deans, etc.) has grown significantly, both in size and in power. In many cases these managers come from very different worlds (e.g. the entertainment industry, politics, financial institutions, etc.) with little or no understanding of what education or university is all about. But they (supposedly) know what the “real world” looks like, and that seems to be sufficient qualification for the positions of the university bosses.

One of the results of this is that the faculty members are becoming administrators—instead of focusing primarily on (real) research and teaching, they are often overwhelmed with “assessment” forms, meaningless meetings and other corporate-like administrative duties that are often not only useless but actually directly counterproductive. Contemporary US academia resembles, in many ways, the late Soviet bureaucracy—an ever-increasing number of forms and procedures mask the lack of any real content.

Market-oriented “education”

The question that is usually asked when education is discussed is, “What do the markets need?” Today, education is understood as training for doing a particular “business.” Many “solutions” that are proposed to the problem of contemporary education fail precisely because they accept this very same “business metaphysics” as the ultimate horizon of meaning. New programs are designed and justified in front of university managers based on the “needs” of the “markets.” But we rarely pause to examine the logic behind this reasoning.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with training for particular jobs (unless, of course, that training is for the aggressive war industries, harmful financial speculations and the like). The problem is that this is precisely what education is not. Education should not be about our ability to fit into the existing, pre-given systems. Education should never be simply training. This is what made higher education, at the dawn of modernity, different from the medieval guilds, where one could obtain training, but without education. University education is about inquiring into the broader context and theoretical principles of things, it is about questioning the very framework of the system and the society as a whole. Doing something that “the markets” expect us to do, although necessary up to a point, is essentially a bizarre enterprise. Why should we do what “the markets” tell us? Who says that what they tell us is good, necessary or meaningful? Who says that this or that is a real problem that we need to “fix”? Maybe there are more pressing issues to address? Well, without (real) education, we will never know.

Asking simple questions like these is already enough to expose the highly ideological nature of today’s concepts of education and of the “real world.” Expert-oriented training (which also often suffers from its low quality, for the reasons listed below) is not what higher education—especially in the humanities—is all about. By limiting the scope of thinking, research and practical engagement, “the markets” (i.e. the leaders of the corporate sector) become the “agenda designers,” the “trendsetters,” those who determine the problem to be fixed and how to fix it (with somewhat predictable outcomes). To further ensure that problem-solving remains within this market-driven framework, one needs to call upon the “experts” and the obedient mainstream media to “explain” to the (already indoctrinated) general audience what the problem is and what the solutions are. This strategy effectively prevents alternatives views, issues and solutions from penetrating the (mainstream) public discourse.

The consumer-type of “education”

In neo-liberal academia, students are increasingly being treated as customers/consumers. The logic they are trained to absorb is that they “pay” for a certain “product” or “service.” Applied to higher education, that “product” is the diploma or certificate, not education or knowledge. Obtaining real education and knowledge is not the same, not even similar, to going to a supermarket or a restaurant where we are supposed to be “satisfied.” Education implies hard work, challenging situations, dissatisfaction, frustration, creativity, initiative, dedication and much more. The results of this consumer-centered “education” are the well-known phenomena such as grade inflation and low learning outcomes, accompanied by an increase in all possible services on campuses (sports halls, coffee shops, entertainment rooms, etc.), except those that have something to do with (real) education.

Related to this is the broader issue of the impact of technological advancements and the broader cultural shift that has accompanied it. It has been evidenced now that when we read from our laptops, cellphones, tablets and other screens, we memorize and understand less than when we read from old-fashioned (paper) books. In addition, the sense that all information (mistaken for knowledge) is readily available to us diminishes careful reading, analysis and thinking about what we read. To paraphrase Baudrillard, more and more information seems to result in less and less knowledge and understanding. This is not an argument against technology; it is merely an argument about many of the side effects of the way we use it, with elements having a direct, detrimental impact on our reading and thinking culture, both vital for (good) education.

The culture of “safe spaces” and political correctness

This issue is intimately linked with the “consumer-centered” ideology. Since students are treated as customers, there is a tendency to keep them “safe” from anything that can potentially be “harmful” or cause “distress.” This means that students are exceedingly kept from exposure to different ways of thinking, different types of information and different values. This is literally killing education. When the consumerist logic is taken to its extreme, and applied to all spheres of our lives, it results in students being encouraged to advance the anti-intellectual discourse in which “I feel like…” is a sufficient argument against all the points of view, arguments and values that they “feel” they don’t like. More and more classrooms begin to resemble the one from the famous Modern Educayshun video. The culture of “trigger words” and politically-correct speech becomes the stage on which the play of education is staged. This spectacle is often called “progressive” and “liberal.” The true name for this is not progressive, left or liberal, but a sad, anti-intellectual performance of the late consumerist era. The paradox is that when many of these “liberal” or “leftist” circles (primarily in the US) advocate political correctness, “safe spaces” and other supposedly noble and progressive ethical postulates, they, in fact, advocate a secularized fundamentalist worldview (some of which is so brilliantly captured in Nikki Johnson-Huston’s essay “The Culture Of The Smug White Liberal”).

The persecution of professors is a part of these crusades launched against freedom of speech and freedom of thinking. It becomes not all-too-uncommon to find cases of tenured professors being fired for simply speaking their mind, for expressing views that are considered “problematic” or “unacceptable.” This brings to memory the darkest episodes of totalitarian systems.

The public discourse and, even more tragically, academia, are thus often hopelessly caught between religious-fundamentalist oppressiveness (called the “right”) and secularized fundamentalism, both very oppressive.

Consequences

Neo-liberal academia, in some of its features, seems as a return to the pre-modern types of training, when a student would enter a guild to penetrate a particular interest group, learn a skill and then conform to the market demands. This understanding of education is fundamentally different from the humanistic idea of education, with its stress on theory, analysis of principles, critical and free thinking (which means thinking without any pre-determined purpose or constraints).

Following the business/market logic as the ultimate criterion in education is harmful. The reality is that at this point the neo-liberal logic of global corporate capitalism (with its disregard for the ecological and humanitarian crises for instance) is driving the world toward its ultimate destruction. Designing university curricula to conform to this logic is therefore nothing short of contributing to the destruction of the world.

What’s the solution?

Contrary to the present tendencies, one can think of a different form and meaning of higher education. Its primary role should be to question everything, especially widely accepted views and values, everything that has become “normality.” Its role should never be to make people fit into existing models. A meaningful system of higher education should, in my view, offer three key elements:

(1) Systematic, in-depth knowledge of a particular field or discipline. This is supposed to make students future experts/professionals in their respective fields. This is what the “training” is about, and this is a necessary, yet, alone, insufficient element of good education.

(2) Critical thinking and social responsibility. We should educate students to question and change the existing ideological frameworks and social and political institutions every time they do not meaningfully contribute to the society, and especially when they become harmful. The goal of (serious) education should not be to prepare students to fit into the (corrupt) system; the goal should be to prepare them to change the system and the markets, to make them more humane and meaningful.

(3) Personal growth. This dimension of education, which once upon a time was considered vital, has almost completely disappeared from academia. Education and the growth of one’s knowledge should not be a “job” divorced from one’s personality, from who we are. Education should be about activating our individual creative potentials, it should be pleasurable, adventurous, it should make us better persons. It should allow us to reach who we can be, beyond the demands and limitations of the currently existing power structures.

We should not let capitalism make us forget who we are as human beings.

I Went to Flagstaff for a Commencement

What is explained can be denied but what is felt cannot be forgotten.

Charles Bowden

What do you say, at age 61, as I am rubbernecking the constant superficial, seedy, consumer-caked world now as someone considered a major failure – a few dozens jobs, mostly sacked from, and a few dozen careers, and, I am slogging away at a homeless shelter trying to save myself from the constrictor of capitalism, that strangulating system that gets us all complicit in the crime, making us all little Eichmann’s in this murder incorporated killing, complicit in the hyper exploitation of man, woman, child, ecosystem?

Consumerism as a psychological wedge to allow for the synchronized event horizon of finance-government-surveillance-media-military to work on the masses as a suffocating fog pumped out across the globe by an elite bent on total dominance.

We can jump onto the global stage and see the battering truth:

Diagnosing the Empire with Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD)

Western culture is clearly obsessed with rules, guilt, submissiveness and punishment.

By now it is clear that the West is the least free society on Earth. In North America and Europe, almost everyone is under constant scrutiny: people are spied on, observed, their personal information is being continually extracted, and the surveillance cameras are used indiscriminately.

Life is synchronized and managed. There are hardly any surprises.

One can sleep with whomever he or she wishes (as long as it is done within the ‘allowed protocol’).

Homosexuality and bisexuality are allowed. But that is about all; that is how far ‘freedom’ usually stretches.
Rebellion is not only discouraged, it is fought against, brutally. For the tiniest misdemeanors or errors, people end up behind bars. As a result, the U.S. has more prisoners per capita than any other country on Earth, except the Seychelles.

And as a further result, almost all conversations, but especially public discourses, are now being controlled by so-called ‘political correctness’ and its variants.

But back to the culture of fear and punishment.

Look at the headlines of the Western newspapers. For example, New York Times from April 12. 2018: Punishment of Syria may be harsher this time.

We are so used to such perverse language used by the Empire that it hardly strikes us as twisted, bizarre, pathological.

It stinks of some sadomasochistic cartoon, or of a stereotypical image of an atrocious English teacher holding a ruler over a pupil’s extended hands, shouting, “Shall I?”

Carl Gustav Jung described Western culture, on several occasions, as a “pathology”. He did it particularly after WWII, but he mentioned that the West had been committing terrible crimes in all parts of the world, for centuries. That is most likely why the Western mainstream psychiatrists and psychologists have been glorifying the ego-centric and generally apolitical Sigmund Freud, while ignoring, even defaming, Carl Gustav Jung.

The reality is, though, most of the revolutionaries like myself in this cesspool of capitalism have to slog ahead in the belly of the beast, without the rarefied air of being an international journalist like Andre Vltchek. The reality is most of us know that when 11 million babies under age two die of treatable maladies each year, or when bodies are shot through and extremities are shattered by the sadism that is the Gestapo-Apartheid “state/religion” of Israel, we push through the fog of rapacious consumerism and consort with our deep empathy for our brothers and sisters under the thumb of despotic regimes like USA, Russia, Israel, China, India, et al.

Because, now, no matter the level of melanin in a collective people’s skin or the desperation of the people, the globe has been infected by a virus called Capitalism-Finance-Unfettered Exploitation.

Exploitation is a pretty tame word for what I am hinting at: destruction, annihilation, extinction. As is the case with me, a rant percolates from the bowels of the commonness of my life, the microcosm of traveling from point A to point B. What happens in Vegas happens in New York City. What unfolds in little town USA is unfolding in San Fran.

Whatever it is, here I was, back in Arizona, first Phoenix, the cancer, the cancer, and then up to Flagstaff, oh that place before white man invasion sacred healing cloud island peaks. Arizona, as I’ve written extensively, is where I cut my teeth as a small town newspaper reporter, learned directly the value of radical conservation, became a brother in arms for Chicanoism, tried my hand at diving and helping bring across refugees of the proxy wars of USA in Guatemala, etc.

I’ve written poetically about the place – here and there, and have inserted the value of those formative years into almost everything I’ve written, taught, done in my 48 years since coming to Arizona young, 13:

Wrestling the Blind, Chasing Apache Horses, and Unpacking the Vietnam War – (September 4th, 2013) or page 12, Cirque

But this most recent trip, a weekend, I went to celebrate my 22-year-old niece’s matriculation, with bachelor of science degree, from Northern Arizona University. The old days when I was young, 19, and a journalist, and then, activist, like quicksilver in my brain, taking over not only my senses, but memory. Many of us saw the writing on the wall 40 and 50 years ago – this barely inhabitable place (a place of migration for Papago and other indigenous people’s), with a blitzkrieg of outsiders plowing the desert and eventually corralling the Colorado River into brackish canals to feed the malls and mayhem of winter baseball leagues and out of control military complex tax cheats. Three state universities, and then this new cheater, University of Phoenix . . . headquarters for the bizarre U-Haul . . . dry mothball arenas for the USA’s killing flying machines. Odd as hell place, with the likes of Edward Abbey running amok. I hear now Noam Chomsky is visiting prof at U of A in Tucson.

Humans build their societies around consumption of fossil water long buried in the earth, and these societies, being based on temporary resources, face the problem of being temporary themselves.

— Charles Bowden, Killing Hidden Waters

I kind of think of Charles Bowden from time to time, who was a reporter and novelist living in Tucson and covering the Southwest and northern Mexico. When I go into the desert, after looking at some shell of a rag that we now call daily newspapers, I feel this guy’s haunting – now dead going on four years:

When he got a hold of a story, he wouldn’t let it go, said former Citizen copy editor Judy Carlock. He had a very generous heart and a lot of compassion … he didn’t mince words.

The way I was trained up, reporters went toward the story, just as firemen rush toward the fire. It is a duty.

He was compelled to work; he had to write … in vivid imagery and concrete detail, Carlock said. Every Monday morning, the (Citizen) city desk would come in to find a long, brilliant masterpiece they had to find room for in the paper.

He lived at full tilt, fueled on caffeine and nicotine, said Carlock. Bowden had stopped smoking about two years ago, Carroll said, and was lifting weights, working on that second wind in his life.

He was no saint, but he was true to himself, said Carlock. I think he secretly relished being thought of as a rogue.

This amazing ecosystem, with syncopated Native American tribes and amazing Mexican communities turned into a wheezing series of six-lane freeways and spiraling communities for the infirm, the emphysemic and the insane.

It’s really difficult to find a place to start.  Sedona and the vortices? Flagstaff, from one-horse town to bedroom (climatically cooler but fire prone) to Phoenix? The 365 days a year fire pit danger, as heat comes earlier, rain disappears quicker, and the landscape is peppered with suburbia’s faux Mexican-Italian-Spanish-Greek designs as the ubiquitous 20-mile caravans of cars and trucks push the hot tunnel of air which is Arizona?

As a former newspaperman, I am compelled to read the dwindling local news anywhere I go, even five and dime advertising things, or corny local monthlies, and so just a few minutes with the Arizona Republic show me where the mass delusion, mass magical thinking and mass ignorance get set in. But, compelling, the stories slugs or ledes:

• Border Patrol punk who murdered 16 year old for throwing rocks, and the jury convicting him of involuntary manslaughter gets hung

• Animal abuse claims against the Havasupal Tribe’s section of the Grand Canyon – you know, animal lovers saying the pack animals used to ferry the tourists into the Canyon are treated like shit (abused) . . . . oh those do-gooders, just how many of them are animal-free product users . . . how many of them know how every stitch of clothing, every chemical smeared in their lives, every product of the modern age are placed in their realm with millions of rats, mice, dogs, and apes murdered for that consumer entitlement . . . ?

• PK12 teachers on the march for wage increases, class size reductions, more counselors, more money for staff and support personnel . . . and yet many of these Arizona scallywags want them to eat shit

• Flagstaff keeping homeless people from living – camping – on public property through ordinances from hell

• A great female representative from the state wanting dreamer children – undocumented – out of the Copper State, more of the same Trump et al giving children the boot while Trump’s monster wife calls for no more bullying

• God in the classroom, a civics literacy bill, more report cards for schools (to fail them so the charter schools get more easy pickings), and this drive for charter (for- profit, hedge-fund lined) schools to take from the public coffers and teach absolute shit

• More gigantic housing developments planned in the Sonora desert without any water delivery plans, without any water!

• Raytheon Missile Systems breaks ground on an expansion of its Tucson facility – 2,000 more Little Eichmann’s added to the already large 10,000 workers designing, testing, manufacturing and delivering via Amazon dot Com killing systems to include Tomahawk missiles and this new Stormbreaker small diameter bomb

• Mexican-American female columnist for the Arizona Republic newspaper bashing the possibility of socialist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador making it as president of Mexico . . . “he’s a Hugo Chavez-style authoritarian tropical messiah who would turn Mexico into another Venezuela”

• The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community building lavish baseball stadiums for professional teams like the Diamondbacks

• HBO plans to debut John McCain documentary on Memorial Day – “John McCain; For Whom the Bell Tolls”

• soda or sugar taxes outlawed in the state
• non-English contracts will be voided in all insurance transactions, and beyond

• Abortion patient questions are now mandatory

Oh the compounding blasphemy. If this were a thematic essay, well, here are the components:

• Wanton excess in the state, with brand new, freshly washed expensive SUV’s, power cars, pick-up trucks

• Endless strip mall after strip mall and faux Spanish colonial kitsch and after faux Hacienda kitsch which propels the dribbling consumerism of 24/7 Superstore Grand Openings

• Zero tribute to the peoples of the real Arizona – Chemehuevi, Chiricahua, Cocopa, or Xawitt Kwñchawaay, Dilzhe’e, Apache, Havasupai, or Havasuw `Baaja, Hopi, Hualapai, or Hwal `Baaja, Maricopa, or Piipaash, Mohave, or Hamakhava (also spelled Mojave), Navajo, or Diné, Southern Paiute, Akimel O’odham, formerly Pima, Quechan, or Yuma, San Carlos Apache, Nné – Coyotero, or Western Apaches, Tewa, Tohono O’odham, formerly Papago, Southern Ute, White Mountain Apache, Ndé – Coyotero or Western Apaches, Xalychidom, or Halchidhoma, Yaqui people, Yavapai, or Kwevkepaya, Wipukepa, Tolkepaya, and Yavepé (four separate groups), Zuni, or A:shiwi

• Redneck clashing with wimpy liberal clashing with snowbird clashing with old Mafia clashing with Hispanic-Latino/a clashing with senior citizen Trump lover clashing with new money clashing with the Raytheon mentality clashing with the endless cancer spur that is Arizona

• My old stomping grounds, now despoiled by in-ground pools, putrid man-made lakes, endless track homes like carcinoma, endless twisting cul-de-sacs where minds end up mushed up in mojito-ville

• Hatred, man, the Trump way, McCain way, Goldwater, putrid former Maricopa County Sheriff and Minutemen militias on the border, and the Gestapo Border Patrol and the rot which is a state in the union emblematic of red state loafers and the hard-working people like those teachers

• A college, NAU, broken by a president who cheats faculty and luxuriates in the money thrown her way and the attention the local yokels give her

• Students fighting this female NAU president Rita Cheng who wants cuts to all sorts of important programs (in the liberal arts) so she can court those wanton criminal corporations and alt-right Koch Brothers

• The graduation I went to was embarrassing, dead, nothing in the way of speakers, controlled by this president, and was ten times more lackluster than a Missouri Synod Lutheran Sunday meeting

• Peter Principle of incompetents rising, as in the case of Rita Cheng and thousands of movers and shakers (sic) that run the state

• The inarticulate middle and upper classes of society exemplified in Arizona

• A state with more sun per year with nary a solar panel in sight

• The rotten belief that infinite growth, infinite in-migration, infinite giveaways to the corporate leeches will lead to prosperity

• The Caucasian and other Whitey people’s insipid Trader Joe’s-Dutch Brothers-Bed, Bath and Beyond systematic lobotomizing of the masses

• Sprayed-on lawns and Astroturf backyards scattered around the desiccating real lawns throughout the entire Phoenix and Tucson metroplexes

• Daily reminder of the old adage of “who the fuck thought white people and their poodles settling in Arizona made any sense”

• Like anywhere else, Arizona has no worthy newspaper of note anymore, and the news is not to be seen in the light of day

I’ve always said, that one slice of life is a microcosm, that splice onto one of the big fat four-hour reels of 70 mm movie film depicting the universality in the absurdity of being Homo Sapiens under the thumb of money changers, militaries and grand exploiters. Example: One shit-hole sugar cane fucker and his sibling (Fanjul Brothers) and his fucking family destroying the lives of thousands of slaves, upsetting the natural world, and sending the sweet sting of death to millions. One fucking family owning billions of dollars and billions of people and draining the Everglades. Something along those lines – just look at history of rubber, gold, oil, wood, fruit, minerals, raw labor, animals.

This arithmetic is as clear as the day is long, in a world where this time, the so-called now time, is bereft of no logic, no ethics, no depth of knowledge, no truth except the rubbery huckster kind. While NAU had zero commencement speakers for all five graduation sequences, we now have to read about a world of Rex Tillerson — that son of a bitch lying, thieving, fossil fuel thug — now at a graduation for a military institute (what the fuck are we still living in a world of military academies – sic).

You can’t make this shit up in a work of fiction:

In a commencement speech at Virginia Military Institute, the camera-shy former secretary of state gave his most public remarks since President Donald Trump ousted him from the White House in March.

“As I reflect upon the state of American democracy,” he told the Class of 2018, “I observe a growing crisis in ethics and integrity.”

Tillerson’s emphasis on integrity echoed his parting words to colleagues at the State Department in March. Then he went even further:

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”

Tillerson’s time in Trump administration was marked by tension. He reportedly called the president a “moron” eight months before he was fired and replaced by then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

But the oil industry veteran has yet to directly criticize Trump. His speech, which began with a discussion on the globalized economy and stressed “the value of friends and allies,” is the closest he has come to attacking Trump’s rhetoric and “America First” policy.

This from the moronic Huffington Post. Alternative realities, sure, Mister Exxon. The reality of propping up dictators, of hiring murderers to take over land, of stealing oil from any number of countries, and the complete environmental despoilment created by the great Exxon-Shell-Chevron-You-Name-It soul and soil eating machine. Imagine, this guy’s a thug, Tillerson, who has no concept of realities, except his thuggery, and a billionaire mentality. Yeah, Exxon and the alternative reality of climate change and the bullshit destruction of the earth from fossil fuel burning. What great record this keynote speaker Tillerson has, and, in the end, he’s as ballless as the lot of the millionaires\billionaires, afraid to criticize the deviant, stupid and reckless Trump.

Where do these people come from? Which DNA-warped womb do they exit from? Which felonious family raised them? Which two-bit schools educated them? Which insane people hire them and then promote them?

A two-day trip back to Arizona is like a two-year LSD trip, floating around with mushrooms on the tongue daily, as bottles of mescal run through the veins. I am telling you, when you get out of your routine – I am a social worker in a veterans’ homeless shelter, where the word “chaos” describes the totality of my time there, daily – and this rushing hot wave of air sucks the oxygen from the lungs for a minute or two. Arizona is California is Oregon is Washington . . . .

And exactly what is the US of A, with so much junk, so much materialistic droning, and yet, poverty is growing, big time, and the fear of the future in terms of no one achieving affordable housing and clean public transportation and free education and decent jobs is like us all whistling as we walk past the graveyard which is Western Capitalism.

Arizona, like any other state, is defined by the kleptomaniacs in government, on boards, in corporations and in the political class. Arizona is defined by a schizophrenia of faux opulence and real indebtedness and our fellow citizens struggling, dying, really, in a world that is upside down when it comes to clean air, clean water, real medicine, and affordable life.

Arizona is the mix of Eastern seaboard accents and southern twangs and amazingly mean people who are in it for themselves, for their backyard in-ground pools, for the 6,000 square foot Barcelona- style triple-decker home. We are talking about leathery skin from all the sun and leathery pools of empathy in the hearts and minds of most Arizonans.

Yet, here I am, 61, wishing my niece good tidings, as she embarks on the journey of medical school applications, and then, what? What world is it we have to give or anoint our children with? I am flabbergasted at the stupidity of the NAU graduation, the bloodlessness of the speakers, the lack of verve, the paucity of an event that for many has cost a pretty penny in debt for parents and children alike.

I end with 2011 commencement speech at Olympia’s Evergreen State College, Angela Davis:

Commencement speakers frequently assume that their role is to encourage graduates to go out and conquer the world. The task I have set for myself is much more modest. I want to urge you to be able to retrieve and sort through and rethink and preserve memories of your time here, which may very well turn out to be the most important period of your lives. Like the philosopher Walter Benjamin, I emphasize the past as the key to your future.

And so as you move on, some of you will go to graduate school, right? Some of you will find jobs. Unfortunately, some of you may not find jobs. Some of you will make families, some of you will engage in activism, some you will be involved in cultural work, and there are all kinds of permutations and combinations of all of these. But I would like you to periodically stop and reflect about the extent to which your lives were radically transformed by your experiences here. And I hope that you will have courage to draw upon the education you have received here from your most challenging professors, as you try to imagine more equitable ways of inhabiting all of our worlds. If you continue to think and act in the tradition of your college you will respect all of the inhabitants of our environments, and not simply assume that the environment must be preserved for the sake of future human generations, but rather for all the future generations of plant life, future generations of all animal life.

How do we extricate ourselves from enduring hierarchies, class, race, sexual, religious, geopolitical? This question, I think, is the question that needs to be posed. Posing that question is the mark of educated human beings. So I might then ask you to think about education as the practice of freedom. Education is the practice of freedom. And so freedom becomes, not an imagined condition in the future, not the set of achievements that will fulfill some desire, but rather an unrelenting, unending, collective effort to reconstruct our lives, our ways of relating to each other, our communities, and our futures. Congratulations to The Evergreen State College class of 2011.

Role Of Youth In The Coming Transformation

The eruption of youth protests over gun violence in schools and other issues is another indicator that the 2020s could be a decade of transformation where people demand economic, racial and environmental justice as well as peace. Students who are in their teens now will be in their twenties then. They will have experience in how protests can change political culture.

Some view the youth awakening in these protests as reminiscent of youth movements in previous generations, others are less optimistic. We cannot predict the role this generation will play, but throughout the history of mass movements, youth have been a key factor by pushing boundaries and demanding change.

One of the slogans in the actions against gun violence is “adults failed to solve the problem.” The truth is, as many youth are aware, those currently in power have failed on many fronts; e.g., climate change, wealth disparity, racial injustice, never-ending wars and militarism, lack of health care and more. These crises are coming to a head and provide the environment for transformational changes, if we act.

Beware of Democratic Party Co-option

One of the challenges youth, and older, activists face is the Democratic Party. Democrats have a long history of co-opting political movements. They are present in recent mobilizations, such as the Women’s March and March for our Lives, which both centered on voting as the most important action to take.

Big Democratic Party donors, like George and Amal Clooney, provided massive resources to the March for Our Lives. The corporate media covered the students extensively, encouraged attendance at the marches and reported widely on them.

As Bruce Dixon writes:

It’s not hard to see the hand of the Democratic party behind the tens of millions in corporate contributions and free media accorded the March For Our Lives mobilization. 2018 is a midterm election year, and November is only seven months away. The Democrats urgently need some big sticks with which to beat out the vote this fall…

Democratic politicians see the gun issue as an opportunity for the ‘Blue Wave’ they envision for 2018, even though the Democrat’s history of confronting gun violence has been dismal. When Democrats controlled Congress and the presidency, they did not challenge the culture of violence, confront the NRA or stop militarized policing that is resulting in hundreds of killings by police.

Ajamu Baraka writes:

Liberals and Democrat party connected organizations and networks have been quite adept at getting out in front of movements to pre-empt their radical potential and steer them back into the safe arms of liberal conformism.

Indeed the history of the Democratic Party since its founding as a slave-owners party has been one of absorbing political movements and weakening them.

For this new generation of activists to reach their potential, they must understand we live in a mirage democracy and cannot elect our way out of these crises. Our tasks are much larger. Violence is deeply embedded in US culture, dating to the founding of the nation when gun laws were designed for white colonizers to take land from Indigenous peoples and control black slaves.

When it comes to using the gun issue for elections, the challenge for the Democrats is “to keep the public anger high, but the discussion shallow, limited, and ahistorical,” as Bruce Dixon writes. Our task is to understand the roots of the crises we face.

Historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz describes this in her new book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment. The culture of violence in the US goes beyond the horrific shooting in schools to the militarization of our communities and military aggression abroad. The US military has killed more than 20 million people in 37 nations since World War II.

One step you can take in your community is to find out if there is a Junior ROTC program in your local school and shut it down.

Potential for Youth to Lead in Era of Transformation

One of the reasons we predict the 2020s may be an era of transformation is because issues that have been ignored or mishandled by powerholders are becoming so extreme they can no longer be ignored. Bruce Dixon of Black Agenda Report writes the gun protests present an opportunity to highlight all the issues where Democrats (and Republicans) have failed us.

Youth are already involved, often playing leadership roles, in many fronts of struggle.  Rev. Jared Sawyer, Jr. writes that when racial violence arose at the “University of Missouri in recent years, student athletes and scholars united in protest, prompting the administration to take action. Organizations like Black Youth Power 100 have arisen in the wake of police” violence against black people. Youth are on the front lines of the environmental movement, blocking pipelines and carbon infrastructure to prevent climate change. Youth are leading the movement to protect immigrants from mass deportation.

This week, Hampton students took to the streets over sexual violence, housing, food and other problems on campus. Students at Howard University started HU Resist, to “make sure that Howard University fulfills its mission.” They are in their third day of occupying the administration building.

At March for Our Lives protests, some participants saw the connections between gun violence and other issues.  Tom Hall reported that those who “attended the rally had far more on their minds than gun control and the midterm elections—the issues promoted by the media and the Democratic Party. Many sought to connect the epidemic of mass shootings in American schools to broader issues, from the promotion of militarism and war, to poverty and social inequality.” Youth also talked about tax cuts for the rich, inadequate healthcare, teacher strikes, the need for jobs and a better quality of life. He noted those who attended were “searching for a political perspective,” and that, while it was not seen from the stage, opposition to war was a common concern.

Robert Koehler writes: “This emerging movement must address the whole spectrum of violence.”  He includes racist violence, military violence, mass incarceration and the “mortally sinful corporate greed and of course, the destruction of the environment and all the creatures.” What unites all of these issues, Koehler writes, is the “ability to dehumanize certain people.” Dehumanization is required to allow mass murder, whether by a single gunman or in war, as well as the economic violence that leaves people homeless and hungry, or for the violence of denying people necessary healthcare and to pay people so little they need multiple jobs to survive.

Movements are Growing, Now How Do We Win?

We have written about the stages of successful social movements and that overall the United States is in the final stage before victory. This is the era of building national consensus on solutions to the crises we face and mobilizing millions to take action in support of these solutions.

Protests have been growing in the US over the past few decades. Strong anti-globalization protests were organized under Clinton to oppose the World Trade Organization. Under the Bush administration, hundreds of thousands of people took the streets against the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq. The anti-war movement faded under the Obama administration, even though he escalated US militarism, but other movements arose such as Occupy, immigrant’s rights, the fight for 15, Idle No More and black lives matter. Erica Chenowith posits that current youth activists “did their first activism with their moms. It’s a quicker learning curve for kids.”

At present, large drivers of mass protests are reaction to the actions of the Trump administration and the Democrats using their resources to augment and steer anti-Trump anger into elections. To prevent what happened to the anti-war movement under President Obama, people will need a broader understanding of the root causes of the crises we face, not the shallow analysis provided by the corporate media, and will need to understand how social movements can be effective.

To assist in this education, Popular Resistance is launching the Popular Resistance School. The first eight week course will begin on May 1 and will cover social movement theory – how social movements develop, how they win and roles people and organizations play in movements. All are welcome to participate in the school. There is no cost to join, but we do ask those who are able to donate to help cover the costs.

For more information on the school and to sign up, click here. Those who sign up will receive a weekly video lecture, a curriculum and an invitation to join a discussion group (each one will be limited to 30 participants). People who complete the course can then host the course locally with virtual support from Popular Resistance.

The next decade has the potential to be transformative. To make it so, we must not only develop national consensus that issues are being mishandled, that policies need to change and that we can change them, but we must also educate ourselves on issues and how to be effective. We have the power to create the change we want to see.