"Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible"

This is the image Mike Alewitz links to in his comment. Thanks, Mike!

This is the image Mike Alewitz links to in his comment. Thanks, Mike!

Henry Giroux, in his new Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education, credits the phrase of the title here to sixties radicals. I don’t remember it myself, but it certainly fits the time. College students were feeling empowered even as they were under attack; colleges and universities were places for change, for innovation, and the students felt they were primary contributors. There seemed to be no limit to what could be accomplished–even in the face of what seemed to be implacable resistance from the outside.

Today, students go to college with much more meager visions. As Giroux says, “Instead of public spheres that promote dialogue, debate, and arguments with supporting evidence, US society offers young people a conservatizing, consumer-driven culture through entertainment spheres that infantilize almost everything they touch, while legitimating opinions that utterly disregard evidence, reason, truth, and civility.” And students, for the most part, have accepted that. Giroux sees reasons for optimism, given the resurgence of student movements around the world as well as the impact of the Occupy movement on campus, but this situation, from a student perspective (from all of ours, actually), is dire: “Within the last thirty years, the United States under the reign of market fundamentalism has been transformed into a society that is more about forgetting than learning, more about consuming than producing, more about asserting private interests than democratic rights.”

As faculty, we have been complicit in effecting this transformation, abetting “a relentless, spreading neoliberal pedagogical  apparatus with its celebration of an unbridled individualism and its near pathological disdain for community, public values, and the public good.” If the millennial generation is seen as a failed generation it is only because that have been brought up to be that way: their failure (if it, in fact, is) was created for them and no one provided a model for resistance–something that was certainly offered in the sixties when there still existed genuine attempts at counterculture. “Hip,” after all, is a wholly owned  subsidiary, today, of corporate America, as is the “outsider.” There are very few places to turn for models that are not themselves imbued with the neoliberal agenda.

Giroux likes to place the blame on the American political right, but I think the fault is all of ours, with those of us associated with higher education, who should know better, as culpable as anyone, for all of our professed liberal values. We may talk a radical line, but we live neoliberal lives. Our hypocrisy has made us a laughingstock to the right, who deride us as antiquated “Mercedes Marxists,” today’s descendants of the “limousine liberals” of the sixties. For all of David Horowitz’s attacks on universities, the right hasn’t taken us seriously for decades. After all, our own institutions are turning into bastions of neoliberal ideology and organization. The war Giroux writes of is all but lost.

But it is not lost.

Not if we stop letting ourselves be pushed around. Not if we start following the lead of movements like Occupy with their “emphasis on connecting learning to social change” and show our own “willingness to do so through new and collective modes of education.” We. the faculty, need to join with students, who should be our natural allies, and aid each other in developing the collective backbone that will allow us to forcefully reject the neoliberal agenda being forced upon us by governments and boards of trustees whose belief systems are based on faith in on the effectiveness of the free market and (let me repeat) “celebration of an unbridled individualism and its near pathological disdain for community, public values, and the public good.”

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