Friday, January 4, 2013

The Rocky Mountain Student Power Convergence: faculty workshop at 3 pm Saturday



I will join Chad Kautzer of University of Colorado at Denver in speaking briefly and facilitating a workshop on student movements once upon a time (and faculty as part of such movements) and faculty-student-worker common interests in the light of the corporatization of the University tomorrow at 3 at the Tivoli (where workshops are will be posted as you come in) at Auraria. There may be a video of the session and if so, I will put it up.

The conference is also taking place now and you can find the schedule here.

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I will talk about SDS, the student movement of the 1960s, the Harvard strike, the broad opposition to the war but except for a few, courageous souls, feeble support for the student movement, and initial efforts to form a worker student alliance. There has been much change, including a nonviolent sit-in by students to support a living wage for campus workers some 10 years ago (again, I suspect, not with great faculty support, except for a few people). It would be good if other faculty jointed us as well as students, particularly people who have experience with the union movement (I have some from the AFT at Metro, but others have much more).

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Chad was involved in recent student movements at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and I think in the unionization of teaching assistants. Those experiences will serve as a beginning…

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Last night, I went to the first assembly of the weekend, a discussion, chaired by Roshan Bliss, adopting rules for the meeting as a whole. What was striking about the students, following upon Occupy, is the keen consciousness of what is lacking in academia. Roshan invoked Paolo Freire who speaks of a banking model of education; standardly in American public schools including colleges, the talker (professor, lecturer/grade) "knows" and the students are seen as passive consumers of education. As Hans Morgenthau once put in the Charles van Doren scandal at Columbia, they are treated as cars, with the professors the fillers of the gas tank…See my Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? ch. 2.

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There is no common effort to seek the truth.

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In contrast, the students suggested deep listening, listening to inquire and learn, rather than merely to reply. Serious learning is a common, not a competitive enterprise.

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They suggested a sort of standing forth (talking), standing back, with encouragement for those who do not easily participate, for those who often turn out to be intimidated from participating (a large feature of lecture classes and classes dominated by one) to come forward and make their thoughts and feelings about hierarchies known (at UCLA once upon a time, I had discussions with black students who sat in the back of a large sociology course, as I did as an SDS organizer, occasionally in attendance, because they did not want their faces to be connected with their names).

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With regard to racist or sexist or homophobic or other injurious innuendos – probably rare in this group - they suggested saying “ouch.” When someone is going on too long, they suggested a hand signal.

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The students sat around in a large circle to have real, face to face discussion (this is something I do routinely in classes). The organization of a meeting or a class can be conducive to enfranchising each person or in the case of the ordinary academic seating arrangement, enacting the authoritarian/passive listener model.

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I try in teaching to advance the idea that learning should pivot around student interests in the material, that it is better for students to find projects that each can work on enthusiastically - that each can connect with the material of the course in her own way - and contribute insights into in presentations, sometimes modifying them or suggesting topics to fit each person's interests, or final papers.

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Teaching inevitably involves an interplay between someone who knows more and others who are there to learn. And often some are too busy with other classes, with making enough money to stay in school, with the intensity of relationships outside, to do more than pretty uninvolved.

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But the strength of a class as of a movement is what each person learns, including the teacher, and brings away from it herself.

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All of the ideas here would make for better discussion in classrooms compared to the ordinary authoritarianism and hierarchy of teaching.

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The thoughtfulness that goes into the invitation to participate in this conference is striking. The students had done much work on many problems, for instance debt slavery (with the insight that it is harder and harder for ordinary people, particularly poor and minority students, to afford college, running up huge debt).

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The conference will be revelatory on many issues and is linked to organizing around the country and internationally, notably the student fight in Quebec which defeated higher tuition. I include the statement the organizers drafted.

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The RMSPC Mission Statement

• The Rocky Mountain Student Power Convergence is a gathering of students, young people, and their allies for education, empowerment, and action on our campuses and in our communities.

• We will discuss and confront issues surrounding the affordability and privatization of education, and education as a human right for all people, not just the privileged.

• We will focus on creating a student activist network in the region which empowers students to create concrete change through direct action.
What is the RMSPC?

The Rocky Mountain Student Power Convergence is a gathering of students, young people, and their allies for education, empowerment, and action. Student activists and young leaders will converge in Denver from January 3rd – 6th, 2013 for three-and-a-half days of workshops, discussions, panels, and trainings focused on building capacity for students to collectively take action and confront the many problems we face in our education system and our society. We are building upon the momentum of the National Student Power Convergence that was held this past August in Ohio by bringing together students and youth from across the region and the nation to network, learn from each other, and empower ourselves to address the problems in our outdated and increasingly commercial education systems.

Who will attend the RMSPC?

We invite students and youth from all identities, perspectives, and backgrounds to join us for the Convergence. We are looking for student leaders and young activists who are passionate about making change in the world. No matter what specific issues you focus on, they are all connected, and we want you here. We are specifically focusing on connecting young leaders from the broader Rocky Mountain region and the West, but we also are hoping to have representation from many other regions and countries.

Despite its name, the Rocky Mountain Student Power Convergence is not just for students. The Convergence is about empowering the younger generation as a whole, so it is for young people and their allies. We understand that not all young people are able to or want to become students, so being enrolled in school is not a prerequisite for attending. Also, we recognize that no youth movement can be successful without solidarity from supportive elders, so we will be inviting faculty and community members to join us for specific parts of the Convergence.

Where did this come from?

We are part of a growing global student movement aimed at giving youth the chance for a better future. In 2011, we witnessed the youth of Chile, Egypt, Greece, Tunisia, and countless other countries fearlessly stand up to fight for their future. Then in early 2012, the spark spread through North America, with thousands of young people taking to the streets of Quebec and Mexico for the right to education and for authentic democracy. The movement finally manifested in the U.S. with the National Student Power Convergence in August – and not a moment too soon.

Ours is the most educated, diverse, progressive, and technologically capable generation to date, yet we are the first generation expected to have less opportunities than our parents. Our generation has watched as our governments stand by while growing inequality cripples our societies. We’ve watched our environment continue to degrade, poverty continue to increase, prisons continue to expand, and wars continue to destroy lives. All the while, we’ve seen our educations deteriorate while our tuition rises. The world has made it clear to us that we will have to fight for our future. Youth and student movements have played a crucial role in many of the most important social changes in history. Today is no different. It’s our generation’s turn to build an American youth movement that can help drive substantial change in our world.

No one is going to do this for us. It’s got to be here. It’s got to be us. It’s got to be now. #HereUsNow

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