The State of U.S. Higher Education

An interesting article came through on Alternet this weekend discussing the the corporatization of university education in the United States. Author Chris Hedges discusses not a corporate takeover per se, but instead how the knowledge and morals of the corporate world have become the dominant paradigm in higher education. He notes the decline in studies of the humanities accompanied by the increase in business degrees. 
"Only 8 percent of U.S. college graduates now receive  degrees in the humanities, about 110,000 students. Between 1970 and 2001, bachelor's degrees in English declined from 7.6 percent to 4 percent, as did degrees in foreign languages (2.4 percent to 1 percent), mathematics (3 percent to 1 percent), social science and history (18.4 percent to 10 percent). Bachelor's degrees in business, which promise the accumulation of wealth, have skyrocketed. Business majors since 1970-1971 have risen from 13.6 percent of the graduation population to 21.7 percent. Business has now replaced education, which has fallen from 21 percent to 8.2 percent, as the most popular major."
This change over the years has led to a generation (or more) of college educated citizens who are less critical, less morally aware, and who value the competition over real human needs. He offers a decidedly bleak outcome of such developments: 
"The values that sustain an open society have been crushed. A university, as  John Ralston Saul writes, now "actively seeks students who suffer from the appropriate imbalance and then sets out to exaggerate it. Imagination, creativity, moral balance, knowledge, common sense, a social view -- all these things wither. Competitiveness, having an ever-ready answer, a talent for manipulating situations -- all these things are encouraged to grow. As a result amorality also grows; as does extreme aggressivity when they are questioned by outsiders; as does a confusion between the nature of good versus having a ready answer to all questions. Above all, what is encouraged is the growth of an undisciplined form of self-interest, in which winning is what counts.""
As a university instructor I can attest to some of these changes, and might add that students are resistant to thinking outside the box. Many - if not most - students want straight forward facts that they can regurgitate on an exam to get their A and move onto the next semester. Learning, thinking, debating, developing critical thinking skills - these are all distant afterthoughts for many of my students, and I'm sure this is a commonality across the U.S. 
The popular press seems to be at a loss when trying to explain many of the events surrounding the recent economic downturn - especially concerning the greed that seems to embody the many corporate institutions involved. Perhaps some of these events can be explained (and even justified) if we take a look at the training and education that this new generation of corporate executives is receiving. We have to look somewhere - and attempt to address the problem - otherwise we risk repetition of such events and the continued valuation of profit and reward at any cost.

The Latinization of Terrorism

I received an email the other day on a Public Health listserve that was essentially a forward of a US Department of State issued travel warning to Colombia. **(Follow this link to the USDS page, or this link to the document in our scribd library)** I imagine that it was forwarded as 'heads-up' to students and colleagues who might be working in the country. My curiosity in the region prompted to take a quick read, and I was quite surprised. The third sentence:

"The potential for violence by terrorists and other criminal elements exists in all parts of the country."

A number of different groups are lumped together under the 'terrorist rubric": 

"Small towns and rural areas of Colombia can still be extremely dangerous due to the presence of narco-terrorists."


"terrorist groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the National Liberation Army (ELN), and other criminal organizations continue to kidnap and hold civilians for ransom or as political bargaining chips."

The date of issue by the Department of State is March 25, 2009; that coincides nicely with a visit to Mexico accompanied by a rousing speech by Hillary Clinton. Concurrent with the visit are a number of news items revealing the increased levels of what may be drug-cartel-related violence in a number of cities in the U.S. - one from the NYTimes, a Yahoo/McClatchy story, even Amy Goodman from Democracy Now covered the topic today

It appears that an increased effort to re-invest war money back into the U.S. (and possibly out of the Middle East) may be under way. There have been whispers of hope that the Obama administration may lean towards a change in approach on this front, and even the labeling of the War on Drugs as a failure in the popular press. This CNN article discusses the need to address an imbalance in arms that drug cartels currently enjoy, and of the $700 million that Mexico will receive in the effort. Colombia already enjoys an immense amount US aid to combat drug violence there. It appears that the War on Terror is making a shift to the soils of the Americas. 

photo credit: greenchange

Of Wobblies and Zapatistas

From the seemingly ever-expanding Z-Space comes this video of a talk given by sociologist, wobblie, and radical thinker, Andrej Grubacic. He offers a short history of the wobblie movement - a blend of anarchism, marxism, and socialism - along with some of the themes covered in his new book "Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History". He looks to the Zapatistas for examples on how to generate a new movement in this time of collapsing Capitalism. The talk was given at the 2009 Bay Area Book Festival. 

Off the Record: The Collapse of Traditional Journalism?

"...the Industrial Revolution didn't totally revolutionize life. So perhaps the Communications Revolution, though possibly even more sweeping, might not, after all, fundamentally alter human nature, what Faulkner called 'the old truths of the human heart.' And even in the twenty-first century, as in the last, humankind might continue to ask where it's been and how it got here, of all places. If so, though the 'first draft of history' that journalism traditionally provided probably wouldn't furnish a fully adequate answer -- it never had -- honest and perceptive reporting still might record useful raw material for the later harsh revisions of scholarship." (Tom Wicker, On the Record, 2002)

Wicker's thoughts, written only seven years ago, demonstrate how quickly the Communications Revolution has indeed changed the state of journalism. While much reporting lately has focused on the bankruptcy or closing of both major and minor daily newspapers, less has been focused on what these changes mean for journalism itself, it's role in a democratic society and it's role as recorder for future scholars and historians. Objectivity aside, journalism's function is so large, it's easy to take for granted.

The Nation's recently published article, "The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers," by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, delves into the mess surrounding newspapers' struggle to survive in the digital age, speculating about what will be left in the wake of journalism's collapse. From the article:
So this is where we stand: much of local and state government, whole federal departments and agencies, American activities around the world, the world itself--vast areas of great public concern--are either neglected or on the verge of neglect. Politicians and administrators will work increasingly without independent scrutiny and without public accountability. We are entering historically uncharted territory in America, a country that from its founding has valued the press not merely as a watchdog but as the essential nurturer of an informed citizenry. The collapse of journalism and the democratic infrastructure it sustains is not a development that anyone, except perhaps corrupt politicians and the interests they serve, looks forward to. Such a crisis demands solutions equal to the task. So what are they?
Read the entire article here.

Land & Decolonization in Bolivia

Last weekend, news broke that Bolivian president Evo Morales had redistributed some 94,000 acres of land in the hostile (and wealthy) eastern lowlands region. In a Reuters article, "Bolivia Passes Land From Rich to Poor," Morales explained, "Private property will always be respected but we want people who are not interested in equality to change their thinking and focus more on country than currency," referring to the use of slavery by the wealthy landholders in the region.

Opinions of this historic step in Bolivia's decolonization are, of course, varied. Ben Dangl's article, "Justice in Bolivia" on ZNet nicely contextualizes the redistribution of land in Bolivian political history and media coverage. Dangl goes into the corruption scandal that hit the Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party (Morales's party), the polarizing occupation of former-vice president Victor Hugo Cardenas's house, and finally, the pattern of misinformation plaguing media coverage of Bolivian events. Read Dangl's article here.

International Women's Day

So far, 63 countries have hosted 981 events in celebration of International Women's Day, according to the IWD website. Although calendars marked March 8 as the official Women's Day, events, protests, and celebrations are occuring throughout the month.

For instance, in Brazil, members of Via Campesina and the Landless Workers' Movement gathered to protest the practices of multinational agribusiness, in particular the environmental destruction caused by mono-cropping of ecualyptus in Rio Grande do Sul. Overall, eight Brazilian states saw protests so far this month. Read the entire article at ZNet.

In the U.S., one out of many protests took place in Philadelphia, PA, where women and men of all ages gathered in front of the Department of Human Services to protest the agency's discriminatory policies. Protesters allege the agency too frequently mistakes "poverty for neglect, and trauma caused by domestic violence as evidence of poor mothering." Read the entire article at Philadelphia Independent Media Center.

Click here to search for IWD events throughout the world.


Foiled: Sustainable Food

Even a brief perusal of news headlines, magazine articles, academic databases, etc. will tell you that food has moved to the forefront of many social and theoretical conversations. The local and organic food movements have also gained a foothold -- it seems the "alternative" label less often prefixes them now than in years past. However much headway these ideas have made in mainstream consciousness, they still are not the norm, and, according to an article in Mother Jones, they still are not the answer to the impending and current food crisis.

Paul Roberts' article "Spoiled: Organic and Local Is So 2008" discusses the sustainability of the corporate and alternative food industries, arguing that a much more complex definition of sustainable food economies needs to supplant the current understanding -- one that covers not only organic and local, but also affordability, nutrition, and fair production. By one calculation, only 2% of the food produced today would fall into this category.

Roberts discusses many interesting options: the use of "seed predators" to reduce the need for pesticides, vertical farming, urban polyculture systems, grocery store rooftop farms, and more.

Read the entire article here.

Rap in Gaza and the West Bank

We did a few posts on the recent war in Gaza with hopes of exposing the horrors of yet another unjust war. What we do not often see are the effects of such violence on real people. The St Petersburg Times in Florida just put together this short video on what they report is an emerging rap scene in Gaza and the West Bank based around protest and change. The rappers appear to be young, but all of them have been touched by the war in some way, and this comes through in their lyrics. Beyond wanting to share and express the anger and pain derived through such experience, the young men also express a desire to move beyond such violence and make powerful calls for change.

The "Book Club" Label: Probation and Reading

Today, a member of Changing Lives Through Literature, the program discussed in our previous post, posted a response on their blog, Changing Lives, Changing Minds, to Leah Price's article in the New York Times. The response offers a different perspective on the same session that Price attended, aiming to express the complexity of the program.
From the post:
Participants quickly relate the similarities between story elements and their own troubled pasts, with some venturing away from the text to recount personal anecdotes. When this happens, Waxler encourages them to apply their experiences to the characters in question. Changing Lives Through Literature, after all, is not a counseling session or a trip to rehab. Its purpose is not to motivate offenders to confess their own troubled pasts aloud to a group. Instead, the program aims to create a psychologically safe place where participants can discuss their experiences through the characters and thereby realize things about themselves.
Baker's follow-up comment is particularly interesting as well:
One issue I have with both Price’s article and my own account is that the probationers are silent–they have no voice of their own in the pieces. They do not talk: they are talked about.
Read "A View on the Times" >> >>

Image: Changing Lives, Changing Minds