Higher Education, Corporate Funding & Language Extinction

by lana lynne on August 13, 2011

Noam Chomsky recently gave a speech at the University of Toronto at Scarborough about the increasing privatization of the public education system, the transcript of which was posted on Alternet. As universities receive less and less funding from the state, and more from tuition, the issue of funding becomes increasingly precarious, which becomes a convenient window of opportunity for increasing corporate funding. "The funding issue raises many troubling questions," Chomsky points out, "which would not arise if fostering independent thought and inquiry were regarded as a public good, having intrinsic value." However, "in a corporate-run culture, the traditional ideal of free and independent thought may be given lip service, but other values tend to rank higher," more specifically, short-term profits without much thought about the future, which can threaten both the integrity and the independence of research and education.

As corporate colonization takes hold, higher education can become more about producing commodities for the job market, and, with corporations increasingly meddling in the affairs of personal values, their influence on universities becomes even more troubling. As Chomsky notes, he walks by on a daily basis the Koch Building, named after the Koch brothers, the money behind the Tea Party.

This corporate take-over has many far-reaching implications, but one that comes to mind stems from another recent essay found on Survival about the extinction of languages. "You Can't Google it and Get it Back: Why the Death of Tribal Languages Matters," by Joanna Eede, discusses the implications of having, on average, one language die every other week -- a rate that exceeds species extinction yet garners little attention in the mainstream.
"In the end, the death of tribal languages matters not only for the identity of its speakers...but for all of us, for our common humanity. Tribal languages are languages of the earth, suffused with complex geographical, ecological and climatic information that is rooted in locale, but universally significant. ...But languages are also rich in spiritual and social insights–ideas about what it is to be human; to live, love and die. Just as natural cures to humanity’s illnesses are waiting to be found in plants in the rainforest, so many ideas, perceptions and solutions about how humans engage with each other and with the natural world already exist, in the tribal languages of the world. Languages are far more than mere words: they amount to what we know, and who we know ourselves to be. Their loss is immeasurable."
Being concerned about the loss of languages requires a long-range perspective, one that steps outside of the moment and takes in the big picture -- both the past and the future. It is one with which a corporate-run education system would probably have little concern, unless, maybe, the temporary preservation turned a profit.
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