U.S. Intellectual History Blog

The whole world is watching the whole world watching the whole world

In a speech given by Slovoj Zizek on October 9 at Liberty Plaza (I think Andrew referenced this in his last post) Zizek made a bold plea (among many bold and sometimes scattered appeals) to shift our understanding of reality. If we imagine that these protests are extraordinary and exceptions then they will come to an end and we will return to a world where raising taxes on the wealthy seems unAmerican and healthcare should be expensive and difficult to come by. In his remarks, I was particularly struck by the following passage:

“There is a danger. Don’t fall in love with yourselves. We have a nice time here. But remember: carnivals come cheap. What matters is the day after. When we will have to return to normal life. Will there be any changes then. I don’t want you to remember these days, you know, like – oh, we were young, it was beautiful. Remember that our basic message is: We are allowed to think about alternatives. The rule is broken. We do not live in the best possible world. But there is a long road ahead. There are truly difficult questions that confront us. We know what we do not want. But what do we want? What social organization can replace capitalism? What type of new leaders do we want?”

Indeed, what do we want? And will we, the many of us who contribute to and read this blog, at least witness this protest when we are in NYC in a month? I am curious what many of might suggest our obligation is to a protest that claims to represent the 99%.

As an aside to the discussion about the paltry academic openings yet again, I’ve been reading Benjamin Ginsberg’s The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters. His contention is easy and well-documented: layers of administration have supplanted the imperative to hire full-time faculty who could be committed to the education of students. Those students are playing dramatically higher prices for an education that has seems to be producing dramatically declining results–students can take loads of cool classes and workout next to a cafe but cannot write or debate to save their lives. I recently presented a plan to some folks at my school that we reduce the number of courses offered, increase the credit hours of courses that are heavy on research, and add faculty to teach students how to identify, complete, present, and publish whatever research we can help they do. That is my reality, even if it is not yet anyone else’s.

4 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Ray,

    Monmouth College recently debated and voted for (successfully) a curriculum “hour load” change that involves students switching _from_ the current model of 3-hour courses taken 5 (and even 6) at time per semester _to_ a plan that involves 4-hour courses capped at 4 per semester.

    The idea is that students have more seat time, and are therefore exposed more to the academic side of college life. The thinking is that current students are too distracted by high numbers or courses and, paradoxically, too much time given to non-academic endeavors.

    As a visiting prof, the entire debate has been an excellent experience thinking about the nature of the liberal arts and the meaning of college life.

    My problem with the hour-load issue is that it is window dressing in relation to the fact that we either do not respect, or do not foster, the necessary “culture of reading” that is required for a college to be successful. To have something to say in class and on paper, one has to drink deeply from articles, books, films, etc. to develop either an appreciation or a embryonic critique.

    If we college types are to have an “occupy academia” movement as Andrew suggests, and that you referred to, then our demand surely has to be that college becomes more about creating analytical thinkers who read deeply (as well as “write or debate,” as you say). I don’t want to pretend that colleges did this better historically (Adler and Hutchins complained about students more interested in “college life” and material gain than academics in the 1930s). But surely we can become a people who foster intelligent debate and deep reading _while_ we also have a little fun. It’s not, or shouldn’t be, an either/or situation.

    If getting to this point means reducing administrators (whether they be student advisors or excessive numbers of “student life” coordinators), then so be it.

    – TL

  2. Currently the Illinois State Board of Education is working towards the Core Curriculum Standards for students (in addition to the already lengthy content knowledge standards). In these standards, teachers will be required to incorporate true analytical/research/critical thought development into their classrooms, starting at early as 3rd grade. While I am only truly involved in the Secondary Level of this curriculum development, the changes, I believe, are a positive move. The only struggle I see in this change, however, is that students will still be test on their multiple choice skills.

    Mr. Lacy was correct in his statement above regarding the administration, where the trouble lies in getting these skills to students, often (although not all, as we must not forget parent involvement, teacher accountability, and study apathy) is in the mirco-management of administration (at all levels) of the classroom.

  3. Having just moments ago visited the Occupy Chicago facebook page to which I had subscribed (then later unsubscribed), the portion of Zizek’s comments quoted here struck me. I was left asking myself one question in particular after reading through the posts left by my fellow facebookers: what exactly will these protesters do once they’ve left the streets to return to the daily realities of their individual lives, and to what extent will they persist in their efforts? Sadly, though not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority of the posts contributed to the Occupy Chicago page appear to be, at best, naive. It doesn’t surprise me that so many individuals have chosen to involve themselves in this movement, especially in a city like Chicago which is always home to a large contingent of unemployed or underemployed artists and well-educated young people coming from privileged backgrounds. It isn’t my intention to sound cynical, but I cannot help but view the involvement of many of the Occupy Chicago protesters as superficial. While well-meaning, too many of them appear to be more interested in the protest aspect of this ongoing movement than in fostering the sort of communication necessary to affect any meaningful change (whatever that means.) To be fair, I can speak only to the nature of the posts of those individuals who have offered their thoughts on the Occupy Chicago page.

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