Innovidya member Raja Bellare points us towards in interesting transcript of Naom Chomsky’s views on How America’s Great University System Is Getting Destroyed
The article is quite long. Here are some excerpts from the different sections:
On the trend of hiring non-tenure-track faculty
Chomsky argues that this is simply the corporatization of the university system.
When universities become corporatized, as has been happening quite systematically over the last generation as part of the general neoliberal assault on the population, their business model means that what matters is the bottom line.
and a corporation works best when the workers are “insecure”:
when Alan Greenspan was testifying before Congress in 1997 on the marvels of the economy he was running, he said straight out that one of the bases for its economic success was imposing what he called “greater worker insecurity.” If workers are more insecure, that’s very “healthy” for the society, because if workers are insecure they won’t ask for wages, they won’t go on strike, they won’t call for benefits; they’ll serve the masters gladly and passively. And that’s optimal for corporations’ economic health. At the time, everyone regarded Greenspan’s comment as very reasonable, judging by the lack of reaction and the great acclaim he enjoyed. Well, transfer that to the universities: how do you ensure “greater worker insecurity”?
Relation of Education to Democracy and Activism
Chomsky actually takes a much broader view, and points out that keeping faculty and students “insecure” is related to how the establishment is trying to control democracy and activism since the 1970s.
If you go back to the early 1970s when a lot of this began, there was a lot of concern pretty much across the political spectrum over the activism of the 1960s; it’s commonly called “the time of troubles.” It was a “time of troubles” because the country was getting civilized, and that’s dangerous. People were becoming politically engaged and were trying to gain rights for groups that are called “special interests,” like women, working people, farmers, the young, the old, and so on. That led to a serious backlash, which was pretty overt.
and the point made is that the best way to tackle the too many special interests problem was by ensuring that our students are appropriately “indocrinated”:
the “special interests” were causing problems and they said “we have to have more moderation in democracy,” the public has to go back to being passive and apathetic. And they were particularly concerned with schools and universities, which they said were not properly doing their job of “indoctrinating the young.” You can see from student activism (the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movements) that the young are just not being indoctrinated properly.
So, how do you indoctrinate the young?
There are a number of ways. One way is to burden them with hopelessly heavy tuition debt. Debt is a trap, especially student debt, which is enormous, far larger than credit card debt
And another technique:
… is to cut back faculty-student contact: large classes, temporary teachers who are overburdened, who can barely survive on an adjunct salary. And since you don’t have any job security you can’t build up a career, you can’t move on and get more. These are all techniques of discipline, indoctrination, and control. And it’s very similar to what you’d expect in a factory, where factory workers have to be disciplined, to be obedient; they’re not supposed to play a role in, say, organizing production or determining how the workplace functions-that’s the job of management. This is now carried over to the universities. And I think it shouldn’t surprise anyone who has any experience in private enterprise, in industry; that’s the way they work.
Fixing the System
How do we fix the system? Here are Chomsky’s suggestions:
First of all, we should put aside any idea that there was once a “golden age.” Things were different and in some ways better in the past, but far from perfect.
One fix is to increase student and faculty participation in decisions:
Most universities now have some degree of student participation in faculty decisions. And I think those are the kinds of things we should be moving towards: a democratic institution, in which the people involved in the institution, whoever they may be (faculty, students, staff), participate in determining the nature of the institution and how it runs; and the same should go for a factory.
There are some decisions in a university where you don’t want to have [democratic transparency because] you have to preserve student privacy, say, and there are various kinds of sensitive issues, but on much of the normal activity of the university, there is no reason why direct participation can’t be not only legitimate but helpful. In my department, for example, for 40 years we’ve had student representatives helpfully participating in department meetings.
And increasing he creativity and autonomy of the modes of education:
We certainly want people, both faculty and students, to be engaged in activity that’s satisfying, enjoyable, challenging, exciting-and I don’t really think that’s hard. Even young children are creative, inquisitive, they want to know things, they want to understand things, and unless that’s beaten out of your head it stays with you the rest of your life.
In a reasonably functioning university, you find people working all the time because they love it; that’s what they want to do; they’re given the opportunity, they have the resources, they’re encouraged to be free and independent and creative-what’s better? That’s what they love to do. And that, again, can be done at any level.
Examples of Creative Educational Experiments
It’s worth thinking about some of the imaginative and creative educational programs that are being developed at different levels. So, for example, somebody just described to me the other day a program they’re using in high schools, a science program where the students are asked an interesting question: “How can a mosquito fly in the rain?” That’s a hard question when you think about it. If something hit a human being with the force of a raindrop hitting a mosquito it would absolutely flatten them immediately. So how come the mosquito isn’t crushed instantly? And how can the mosquito keep flying? If you pursue that question-and it’s a pretty hard question-you get into questions of mathematics, physics, and biology, questions that are challenging enough that you want to find an answer to them.
And another example, this time from Kindergarten:
That’s what education should be like at every level, all the way down to kindergarten, literally. There are kindergarten programs in which, say, each child is given a collection of little items: pebbles, shells, seeds, and things like that. Then the class is given the task of finding out which ones are the seeds. It begins with what they call a “scientific conference”: the kids talk to each other and they try to figure out which ones are seeds. And of course there’s some teacher guidance, but the idea is to have the children think it through. After a while, they try various experiments and they figure out which ones are the seeds. At that point, each child is given a magnifying glass and, with the teacher’s help, cracks a seed and looks inside and finds the embryo that makes the seed grow. These children learn something-really, not only something about seeds and what makes things grow; but also about how to discover. They’re learning the joy of discovery and creation, and that’s what carries you on independently, outside the classroom, outside the course.
If any of the above themes resonated with you, you should check out the full article, which goes into much more detail in each section.