Archive for March 2011

Academic Life on a Sliding Scale.

I still think it was a good idea to fly across the big country to get out of big snowstorms and land in the warm weather of the administrative San Francisco sun in relation to the latest Conference of the Association of American Colleges and Universities [AACU] (Jan. 26-29, 2011). With the title “Global Positioning: Essential Learning, Student Success, and the Currency of U.S. Degrees,” the four-day event included a Pre-Meeting Symposium with a second title: “Integrating the Sciences, Arts and Humanities: Global Challenges and the Intentional Curriculum.” Notice the absence of “system” in this “Global Positioning,” the good signs of essence and success, the invisibility of a verb, and the somewhat surprising adjective “intentional” in relation to curriculum in the second title in relation to the generally desirable policy of integration. After all these years in the American circumstance, it is safe to assume that the euphemistic language typically refers to the bad, pressing reality of the opposite bad name kept in the background so to speak: disorientation, unintentionality disintegration, increasing fragmentation of American education inside the increasing fragmentation of American life, and American colleges and universities are fighting, who isn’t?, for their meaningful life in the following decades of the new century. The standard academic behavior does not make the situation look very promising, so far, but we will have to wait and see how the wind blows the sail –yet for how long?—almost in the certainty that stronger language will not be used in this type of meetings: economy of stagnation, federal disinvestment and defunding of public education, possible decline of Empire, privatization, informality, metamorphosis if not deformation of education requirements but also of academic labor conditions, sliding scale of student learning and professional requirements, degradation of education in short. Talk of reform will be accepted, but not a complete and thorough scope of more biting and “radical” vision: Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa yes, but no Stanley Aronowitz for example, and never mind comparative foreign intelligence telling us what we are missing, and the question comes your way almost like a boomerang: did you expect anything different? Global Positioning was symptom of a nervousness in relation to those “global challenges” in US education sectors, one among them to be sure, and the conference had a US-centric, US-only approach that betrays a flimsy perspectivism and a rather flimsy internationalism in our global-village times. No wonder the feeling was one of a “great blooming, buzzing confusion of the outer world,” as in the Lippman phrase, with which “we” appear to be failing to be catching up, emotionally and intellectually. The conference title alludes to this world threat, indirectly and euphemistically: US education is losing competitive ground internationally. So, what about it? And is the education sector the only one? The conference program and the poster had a clean photo of water waves. Lots of blue, no geograhy, no coast, no lighthouse, no boats, no sailors, no gps, no north, south, etc. No poetry. Calm before a storm? Are we swimming into it or out of it? Swimming or sinking? Adrift? The “colorful” adjective was explicitly mentioned in the opening night forum in relation to the whole education apparatus in the introduction of Mark Taylor, who had dry things to say, and there will be further mention in relation to the recent text Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (2011) by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa that was presented the Friday evening to a big crowd. Three more euphemisms: from “intentional” and “integrative” curriculum to “limited” learning. Think the desire for a coherence that is not happening and also the opposite bad name,  non- and even anti-academicism among the customers and consumers as we will get to see a bit in the end. The conference was English-only, and perhaps this remark of mine may surprise you, and there was no big multiracial constituency that I could see, thicker the lilly-white hue of the attendees, men mostly, the closer you got to presidential sessions, I sneaked my way into a couple of them (one with Eduardo Ochoa, Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education, Department of Education, and one with Yuk-Shee Chan, the President of Lignam University in Hong Kong). Yet, you still want to see managerial reason by the waterfront trying to put faces and some type of language around a few burning issues that have to do with the business of the university and the mystery signs of “knowledge” and “education” in the early decades of the 21st century.

In the business culture, follow the money: unsustainable model financially, and incapable of delivering what is needed. Much of what is going on in higher education is “disturbing.” This bluntness was Mark Taylor’s the first day and his was a call to make a  “fundamental change in vision, faculty members being a part of the problem.” I could not agree more: criticism of the bad thing begins at home. Yet, his talk was not carefully put together in the transition from the Kantian model of the university to a more loose and decentered network conditioning of contemporary society –a la Manuel Castells. But Taylor is not Manuel Castells. This sounds plausible enough, but elaboration was still needed. I liked the dryness of the man who is not willing to sing along the excellencies of the system. The elimination of “tenure” is perhaps the most uncomfortable thing that remained after the talk, and he does not have to worry too much since this “final solution” is already firmly in place in most universities and colleges without grand proclamations (witness the coverage of the bad guy of “tenure,” a funny word hitting the funny bone of the American idiom, in public high-school settings in the recent documentary David Guggenheim’s Waiting for Superman, and witness the “creative” proliferation of categories (clinical, visiting, adjunct, lecturer, teaching faculty, postdoctoral), smokescreen to get a few confused about low-wave short-term job precariousness. The following parental guidance accompanies Guggenheim’s educational documentary: “Some material may not be suitable for children. Some thematic material, mild language and incidental smoking.” Feel like gritting your teeth? Mutatis mutandis: global positioning with no system.

Convergence is the big in-word concept on the evening table etherized against the global sky, as is integration. Or another: bringing things together, togetherness. The global village or globalization: yes, euphemism for capitalism (taboo word in the American idiom as is the female pudenda). Why the systematic indirection about this coming together and of what kind? And where? And who is doing it? It is as though the language had to go around unpleasant realities (think of a doctor knowing bad news for the patient). The various panels gave you a sense of how different institutions set to sail these uncharted waters. Some of these endeavors are little more than self-promotion and branding. But you can still read in between the lines issues such as student recruitment and the need for a greater reach to meet market goals (not unknown is the fact of small liberal arts colleges recruiting in Africa the students they cannot find in the immediate geography anymore, wasn’t this foreign brain drain the way of keeping graduate programs together in the first place?). The push of the conference was healthy in the sense of wanting to make you see big, federal-national landscapes and beyond. The pull is however not surprising: “do your own thing, according to your institution and your needs, since one (federal) size does not fit all.” And lately there is no fabric to the glove that will not fit the many hands in disarray. This is –always?—the American “final solution” that looks severely disunited and incoherent in relation to initiatives such as the pan-European Bologna initiative (the Daniel Bell dictum of a society with no center is also obvious relevant to higher-ed education sectors). Hence, the assumed horizon is that of your institution, this is what matters, in case you are confused, or perhaps the consortia of comparable institutions playing in the same field, or catering to the same market share and thus competing for the same customer-and-consumer niche, and privatization is the end of the road after the fork that you must take, particularly since the plight and blight of public de-funding took the bada bing excitement out of the cash register some decades ago (check out Aronowitz’s books on education and cultural studies, Knowledge Factory and Roll over Beethoven for example, for vast landscapes, intellectual and otherwise in the vicinity of the CUNY-New York experience). Administrators do not nibble in the catastrophic, never publicly. Managers tend to keep the thinking belts and the lips tight. How’s the saying about sinking ships? “Global Positioning” was predictably also in the sense that it was a very domestic and mostly internal affair, very American in this (bad) sense, despite claims otherwise in the first plenary introduction about people coming from I do not know how many countries. The foreign dimension was mostly about “us” doing business over there, in the Blade-Runner feel of the “offworld”: there is an amorphous “us” of disconnected and private interests, with no good glue no Ministry of Education, no significant endowment for the Humanities, so there is ample liberty, or libertarianism?, and there is some other dimension, some “blob” out there, where a few super-human, replicants?, are doing things “we” should be doing and “we” must pay attention to. There were two or three distinct foreign geographies, one historically close and two faraway but fast emerging: Europe and the Gulf-War countries and Asia (mostly China). The Lumina Foundation brought a panel to talk a bit about the integrative Bologna Process. The intention, always: to try to intervene in Federal policy towards some sort of administrative decision that could benefit your foundation in the short-term. The Europeans are coming together with Germany as the leading nation inside however an unmistakble general decline of transatlantic exchanges (Europe is not what it was). And the happening place is the Middle East and Asia: think of the jump for Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh to Doha, Qatar for example, and China is the big market over there, but also over here, presumably adopting American-style “liberal arts” models and I somehow doubt it (the bulk of graduate students are not coming from the European base any more, while graduate programs are being generally downsized and levels of education are being flattened out, mercilessly). “Global Positioning” was looking at the explosion of geographical predictabilities appertaining to undergraduate education exclusively without quite saying so.

If the 1st Plenary “Globalizing Knowledge” by Mark Taylor was a bit thin and dry and perhaps blunt, and I have no quarrel with the last two adjectives, the 2nd Plenary, “It Ain’t What You do, it’s how you do it: Global Education for Gender Justice” by Kavita Ramdas, was the opposite, fluid, smooth and pro-development all in the good name of “social justice.” Dynamic and enterprising, she kept striking the right chord that this type of conference was seeking. It was probably the highlight of the conference. The speaker is a young woman of Indian origin, attractive, articulate, engaging, with a confident sense of humor. The message is pro-active, expansive, you-can-do-it openness to the developing world that is worthy of your attention. Tactfully, the word capitalism was not mentioned. And there was the occasional touch of gentle, if firm recrimination that you have to do it better that comes from a young and caring mother to her (American) children: “Why don’t you [Americans] study some geography?” Wisely, the AACU sought the proximity of a leading member of the Global Development Advisory Panel of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Program on the Status and Education of Women (PSEW), the right choice was an eloquent “woman of color” who gamely pushed for interconnected developmentalism in a global world, without accentuating the “negative.” The ideal suggested: the sensible combination of local traditions with the new economic imperatives of global outsourcing for example (she recalled the anecdote of being horrified at a no-children-requirement in an American wedding, always with a gentle tone and laughter). The point is to be entrepreneurial while paying attention to where you are coming from (she was defending Indian assumptions about family relations without lingering too much in them). And the 3rd Plenary, “The Immigrant Threat: Higher Education, Citizenship, and a Better Future for All,” by Leo Chávez, had the potential of something greater that was not delivered. A tall, good-looking, good speaker, again with a confident sense of humor, he showed a lot of slides from popular magazines posing in explicit fashion the “Latino threat.” The point: the xenophobic and nativist disposition towards the category of “Hispanic / Latinos.” Any doubts any one? But, Chávez remained at the superficial level of popular-journal covers, making sure we all understood that these stereotypes are fabrications with little handle on the real of the real. The Hispanic / Latino communities want to learn English and work hard and that the message of racists is really not true in reality once you get a bit close to it. There was no effort to look into conflictive ideological constructions and who may benefit from such fabrications that might perhaps stubbornly resist to disappear when you highlight them with different data, perhaps to a different kind of audience than the one attending the conference. Or, perhaps not. Issues of institutional racism, embedded in the context of American colleges and universities, no one has to go to foreign locations, is a much more complicated matter that was not addressed here, the laughter would have subsided quickly, so there was a bit of too much safety in demarcation lines in the talk that addressed the menacing visuality of Latino representation in popular magazines (Mike Davis’s work on urban landscapes, from Magical Urbanism: How Latinos  Reinvent the US city, in between City of Quartz, and the recent anthology of Evil Paradises puts global geographies with more bite in relation to some of the racial and ethnic difficulties including Chávez’s Southern California). There was a nice ethnic ratio among plenary speakers but not among participants in general, as already mentioned. Your GPS will decode the elements of (im-) possibility of subject and object in this type of setting. And the little red devil perched on your left shoulder whispered in the closest ear that there was some predictability in the eloquent English-speaking California Latino speaking of the bad Latino stereotype, the foreign business woman of discreet color speaking of development and social justice in the Indian subcontinent and the white guy based at Columbia University speaking of the tough love needed in relation to bad deficits and bye, bye to tenure over here. His also? How easy would a devilish mind, think of the narrator in Cortázar’s “Babas del Diablo,” play combination games with identity features and subject-matter (the Latino speaking of the dysfunctionality of the Kantian university for our here and now, the white guy castigating abject racialization of foreign women in white circles and the woman of color speaking of the desirable elimination of the rigidity of academic tenure)? I am simply allegorizing subject positions and subject matter –devilishly?—in the context of this higher-ed-management conference to make the general point that our sensibilities are all more rigid than what we think they are and that we only manage for the most part to address some of these larger issues of education and knowledge in superficial manner in public settings. The tone of the talks was conversational, with no “big” words and no book or author references. The manner of the numerous workshop sessions is emphatically not bookish or scholarly, “academic” in that “bad” and popular sense of academic. Managers are not academic, perhaps ex-academic, and we will see shortly how the maligned adjective fares in the vicinity of Arum and Roksa, and they are emphatically not intellectuals, perhaps there will be some ex-intellectuals among them. The information delivery is short and sweet, there is a “do-good” approach nesting in some underdeveloped “bad” and there are some visuals, but not too many. Thesis-free often, and mostly presentational, things do not get representational and there is no questioning the nature of representation. Definitely, there is little explicit politics. Official talk, side by side brand talk, mostly. No specific-disciplinary talk. In fact, the disciplines do not make their appearance here, not even obliquely. There are persona non grata. All cats black so to speak. And the managerial impulse is to herd these addressing “challenges,” another euphemism, and not problems, much less crises, never catastrophes fast approaching from various angles at once. The administrative ethos: catch the feeling early in the morning, and the gist of the message in the thin euphemism, and in the evening you will see for yourself what’s best in relation to your institution without necessarily telling it like it is to an unnecessary number of citizens in your own institution (you may be amused to hear that managers and administrators are not averse to call themselves “the dark side”). Larger landscapes –federal and international—are nice to have of course, but what really matters is the local politics of your institutional set-up and how to go about it in the short term. Anything long term happening anywhere in our fast-paced and seemingly disjointed global society? It was not infrequent to see administrative staff in the workshop sessions properly attired, taking notes and catching the lingo that was to be passed to their bosses once they were back in their original settings. You got the sense of business and care and thoughtfulness in some of them.

And we now turn to the session that had the book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (2011) by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa as center stage. It was a spirited session with two articulate, likable individuals who presented themselves as social scientists concerned with the sobering data they had statistically gathered. The sampling of colleges and universities in question remain unidentified, and the student sample is about 2,300 (p. 36 in the book). I leave for the experts the methodological appendix at the end of the book. The claim is that the findings are representative of the American education system as a whole –exclusively through students’ responses. These findings are not something that educators –but also students, faculty, administrators– will be radically unwilling to discuss, but probably not publicly during recruiting season (in the same way that admitting that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not going well does not at all mean the interruption of the recruiters’ job). Blame –if one wants to put it that way– is spread ecumenically and it thus gets diffused and finally evaporates in the arena of non-problematic commercialism. There are no big political proclamations and this book is concerned with the US, exclusively. Academically Adrift is manageable reading item about a generalizable poor undergraduate performance. The authors say they care about this and there is no reason not to believe them. There is no big philosophy of education either, or big or small history of American education. Academically Adrift is meant to be intervention in the second half of the Obama administration that has placed verbal focus on education. This session was overall the most informative session of the conference touching on the key nouns of the conference title with eloquence and no bombast and presenting somber data of modest educational achievement on the part of American undergraduates, again nothing that your institutional experience will not confirm (AACU has done some promotion to these authors; there has been coverage in Chronicle of Higher Education (Jan. 28, 2011, “Researchers find new evidence that college students are failing to learn,” and “”Are Undergraduates Actually Learning Anything?,” pp. A30-1, A10-11), and even the occasional article by Bob Herbert about it in the New York Times (May 12, 2011) synthesizing some of these findings). It is not a great book, but it is however as good as it gets in its deliberately limited scope of vision. What are the findings? Fundamentally, Arum and Roksa tell you that their statistical evidence says that there are big numbers of American undergraduates showing no progress in the first two years of college and that the numbers remain strong in such “limited knowledge” after the whole college experience (the other side of the euphemism in quotation marks would make the argument feel like abuse of customers’ rights). Their student-information evidence suggests declining requirement structures and general lack of concern among parents and students, but also among faculty and administrators. College life is mostly about socialization, and there is a further problem: the “no-problem” dimension, or in other terms, the institutional “no-crisis” of such crisis that is not exclusively educational, but social.

This largely quantitative sociology of student achievement in the social-space of higher-ed wants to be listener-and-reader friendly, short-term and immediate, manageable, policy-level interventionist. The disposition is reformist. What else is possible in these conference settings? The book opens with the dedication “for our students.” The tone of both presenters is measured and emotionally modulated to convey believable concern (no harsher or punkish “no future” singing, thank you very much). No one would want to kill these messengers of bad news despite –or because of—the disparity they have established between the institutional talk of the social need of “critical skills” and the institutional walk of a “[c]ollegiate culture that ha[s] little to do with academic learning” (p. 3). Intellectual life is an exceedingly small portion of the increasingly small portion of the academic life that is being taken over by social life inside college and university campuses (socialization was Richard Rorty’s fast-passing insight about university life in America that I will never forget). The adjective “academic” thus becomes the invisible (wo)man figure on American campuses: thin thing and it is not a pretty sight, if you catch it.

The Emperor (and the Empress) is naked and the two education sociologists call on it, gently: American students come to college poorly prepared and they leave college poorly prepared, as though college life was some kind of prolongation of late teens and early twenties without much substance. They arrive academically adrift, and a substantial portion of them leave academically adrift. Academic effort has “dramatically declined in recent decades” (3), while there is little impact in grade point average (4). Low standards, grade inflation, banality of education inside a system that is built upon the premise that “education is good for you,” and increasing costs inside a general climate of federal defunding (Arum and Roksa appear not to have an axe to grind in the uneven public-private divide as far as the session went and the book tells, at least according to this reader). We have a consumer-and-customer-based system and the student-course evaluation exercise mean that faculty will “game the system” with lower standards, generous grades and entertaining classes. Money puts the thing in perspective: the average student loan ($22,700, p. 15): that is an expensive bill for socializing inside the market-based logic of education sectors.

Our social scientists do not hide their frustration with the US government holding no record of higher-ed educational achievement. Colleges do the same obfuscation with student outcomes (pp. 18, 19). The end of the Academically Adrift proposes the ideals of transparency and accountability, a moot point in our consumer-and-customer-driven society at large (136-7). Why should private companies release their market data and labor contracts? Reaching for the Moon? Fog of cultural war? If so, our two brave social scientists decided to run their own numbers claiming to cover the total American numbers, 18 million students in 4,300 degree-granting institutions (p. 33). How much are students learning (developing skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing)? Not much (p. 34):

45% of students, no statistically significant gains in such skills (p. 36); 50% of students in the sample had not taken a single course in the prior semester that required more than twenty pages of writing and one third had not taken one that required even forty pages of reading per week(p. 71), 83% percent of freshman reported that they had not written a paper during the current academic year that was twenty or more pages long; 51 percent of college seniors had not done so either (p. 71). There is a dramatic flight from the arts and the sciences, from 47% of all BA degrees in 1968 to 26% in 1986 (p. 74). Comfortably, grade inflation keeps pace with such flights and declining standards (pp. 76-7). There are entrenched patterns of persistent class inequality, greater parity in gender in contrast to racial/ethnic and socioeconomic inequalities (pp. 39-40).

There was no talk of horrid percentages for “minorities” in privatized settings, also faculty members, with Hispanics not reaching percentages beyond 5% (Chávez’s talk did not help in this regard). And your Althusserianism will come to the support of the statistical structure: bureaucratic-educational sectors do not reduce class differentials, they are not mean to, but to reproduce, if not intensify them (pp. 91-2). The academic labor composition, a low-wage labor market, is currently subjected to a tremendous informality in its configuration, mocking recognition of educational credentials and professional experience, typically hiring down in short-term contracts, and these positions are typically filled in by petty-bourgeois social sectors, and you will remember what the French thinker had to say about the revolutionary potential here… But this working dimension is tangential to Academically Adrift.

Chapter five is probably the core chapter titled “The Mandate for Reform:”

“Growing number of students are sent to college at increasingly higher costs, but for a larger proportion of them the gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication are either exceedingly small or empirically non-existent. At least, 45 percent of students in our sample did not demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in CLA [critical learning abilities] performance during the first two years of college […] Large numbers of US college students can be accurately described as academically adrift. They might graduate, but they are failing to develop the higher-order cognitive skills that are widely assumed college students should master. These findings are sobering and should be a cause for concern” (121).

I insist that the tone of the researchers was measured and matter-of-fact in the session, never alarmist, although I would think that everyone should be open to admit to a bit of hell’s bells here, with or without the music of AC/DC, provided you are not a thoroughbred administrator with the sole horizon of your successful institution until the end of times. Academically Adrift has the same measured tone in between the adverb and the adjective from beginning to end, better in the description than in the “final solution.” This reformism is good thing, the politically correct and polite thing to do in public, also chimera, unicorn, thin thing that will never reach federal impetus. Does anything reach federal impetus in the post-New-Deal, post 9/11 US? But no one is thinking federally. At best, such reformism will mean some situated institutional implementation of double-size writing requirement in a controlled environment. The healthiness of the description of what is not a secret –the world has known for years of the poor educational level of American society at large!–  lies in the fact that US-as-Number One bombast language is virtually impossible. Arum and Roksa are willing to  address the generalized thin academicism, arrested acculturation, even deculturation, and generalized illiteracy embedded in an American education always already intensely instrumentalized by capitalism, consumerism being one aspect of it. How could the signs “knowledge” and “education” remain untouched here? And what do they mean socially today? Now that is a big question for another time and place, and perhaps another AACU conference. Within proper bounds, Academically Adrift focuses on those who reach the finish line in higher-ed and there is little smile and applause. Arum and Roksa tell you, keeping company with the education historian Helen Horowitz, that “limited learning [has] a long and venerable tradition in this country” and the second adjective is a nice touch in a book that does not go for fancy prose (p. 123). The US higher-education system is thus living off its reputation as being the best in the world, clinging to its “sterling international reputation” (124), identical message as the aforementioned documentary Waiting for Superman, with the same inspirational date to be mentioned soon. You may lick on that [number-one] lollipop if you wish, as the PuertoRican Spanish expression has it, in relation to the “colegios,” and the false cognate (colleges are universities and not high schools, strictly speaking) is tremendously significant in the vicinity of Arum and Roksa. Fundamentally, educational decline touches on the larger social dimension: “In an increasingly globalized and competitive world system, the quality and quantity of outcomes of a country’s education system are arguably related to a nation’s future trajectory and international economic position” (124). This is the theme of the conference. These lines address the bats with baby faces: the fraying of the reputation, the fracture of the nation-state to inspire and hold perfectability dreams any longer. They also convey something of the increasingly expanding perception, yet always ever-so-American language-shy, of greater societal deterioration and decline. The feeling is that we are not anymore what we were in the 1970s, and obviously a few things have happened to the US ever since, a few more grey hairs and a few more pounds to the bodies attending the “Global Positioning,” call them baby boomers, not least the geopolitical conditioning. When all is said and done, the distressing conclusion is similar to the words of Stanley Katz, what problem, no problem (p. 24):

“Limited learning in the US higher education cannot be defined as a crisis, because institutional and system-level organizational survival is not being threatened in any significant way. Parents –although somewhat disgruntled about increasing costs –want colleges to provide a safe environment where their children can mature, gain independence and attain credentials that will help them be successful as adults. Students in general seek to enjoy the benefits of a full collegiate experience that is focused as much on social life as on academic pursuits, while earning high marks in their courses with relatively little investment of effort. Professors are eager to find time to concentrate on their scholarship and professional interests. Administrators have been asked to focus largely on external institutional rankings and the financial bottom line. Government funding agencies are primarily interested in the development of new scientific knowledge. In short, the system works. No actors in the system are primarily interested in undergraduate student academic growth, although many are interested in student retention and persistence. Limited learning on college campuses is not a crisis because the institutional actors implicated in the system are receiving the organizational outcomes that they seek, and therefore neither the institutions themselves nor the system as a whole is in any way challenged or threatened” (pp. 124-5).

I would put it to you that this is possibly the most significant information coming out of Academically Adrift, hardly ground-breaking news that should take no one by surprise, unless you have been in some foreign planet chasing down bad guys for decades. But this is the nice twist to the no-news: the no-crisis of the crisis, the working of the system after all despite or because of the theoretical dysfunctionality of “limited learning,” or unlearning, of the students always already customers and consumers doing what they are supposed to do in such customer-controlled and consumer-based environment. What if such dysfunctionality is only apparent and disappears when looked at with telescope and microscope? Why should the students ever do anything differently anyway? Based on what type of transvaluation that goes against market capitalist values? And how different are things now as supposed to forty years ago for the immense majority of those 18 million students? The customer-is-always-right market logic wins the day over the “old humanistic” logic of greater social-horizon expansionism and intellectual adventurousness and increasing philological-textual sophistication. The more socially conscious cultural-studies is not free from this take-over (you must have seen the “cultural studies” sections in popular bookstores in the country, enough said). The good old days that never were gave way to the bad new days of decultural illiteracy that have been around for a while. Whither, if not wither?, at least in relation to old ways and it will take some courage to sing convincingly that one feels fine with this end of the world as we know it, and the pun I hope is amusing while having some bite, and not exclusively for conservative defenders of the “humanities” (try to catch the sign in quotation marks in the conventional American idiom in the streets and see how it fare and paradoxically the “liberal arts” are becoming expensive commodity for those, privileged minority, mostly women, who can afford to foot the bill). But “Global Positioning” had, as mentioned, no system and no evidence of wanting to do the handling of the disciplines. And the message was, starting the first day, that interdisciplinarity is the summum bonum. Now this must be held with some suspicion, at least keeping company with this high society of managers and administrators, this has little to do with the vocal discipline-insurrection of Duke University in the 1990s. Here, such language conveyed more a liquidation-sale strategy around faculty positions combining various departments around programs of study built around recognizable themes of actuality to be updated periodically (say, water scarcity, and how to go about it, and the International label, and a bit of the appropriate foreign language that may come in handy and one or two postdocs doing the work of former five positions in five different units). Integration, right? Consolidation! Neater and tighter approach to faculty costs! But our two social scientists did not venture the unpretty garden of forking paths of academic labor conditioning in early 21st America, perhaps wisely so in the context of the conference that was welcoming them. However, this nod to the constitutive no-problem of the theoretical problem of “limited knowledge” (why not ignorance, even the narrow mental horizons of idiocy in the etymological sense of the word), which is not quite identical with repressing or silencing the problem, which is well known after all, was the acknowledgment that I got from Roksa after their presentation: the stopper of all the reformist impulses, mind you. Who wants to go beyond those “limitations” towards “unlimited” knowledge risking putting the immediate frame of institutional intelligibility at risk, not to mention mocking the official jargon of authenticity? What if we are dealing with spaces of social-and-thought control (Paul Virilio has put university and deterrence in the same tight knot)?

And why should one always assume at face value that the education business is tautologically about the truth, whole and sole, of education? And for all its social agents in a given social space? What about also contemplating the containment and even the negation of such education-and-knowledge in a society of consumption that has different priorities? In point of fact, isn’t it true that both good nouns, knowledge and education, mean more something like “information” in the current society of information, or network society increasingly going virtual, think again Castells. This is increasingly the dominant culture in our global times of the abuse of the plasticity of such sign, “culture,” that left behind –ages ago?– the venerable, conservative idea of slow-paced text-based “humanistic” cultivation for a minority who can afford such luxury (labor conditioning of the academic profession effectively destroys such ideal following the imperatives of the business culture of cheaper is better, thank you very much). The interesting thing is whether “cultural literacy” is expanding correspondingly with such momentous societal transformations and whether academic units can keep up nimbly with them. Arum and Roksa answer in the negative, but only with eyes on the students. Perhaps a second book can be written with keen eyes on the benign neglect faculty members suffer. My comparative student-and-teaching experience in the last twenty years confirms those findings. What about yours? Does the customer get evaluated when s/he goes to purchase an item of choice in the store of preference if s/he can afford it? Tautology: the knowledge factory delivers knowledge, so says the brand, and higher education delivers education that is higher than high school that is also higher than lower levels. And one must go beyond the literalism of the sign in the manner of a discerning interpreter of signs also in relation to the Empire of Good always already delivering the Good, successfully, publicly. Don’t say anything if you have nothing nice to say? Believably critical, intellectual skills will have to shoot this saying and no one doubts that doing so puts the speaking subject in trouble, if not out of the institution in question. Arum and Roksa put the bunk in the college marketing of such “critical” skills necessary for our own certainly complex and seemingly unhinged societies. I am of course addressing the conservative-cynical containment of subjects and objects of knowledge inside the institutional precincts seeking its reproduction within the education industry. Who would risk a fierce critique to the current industry posing no-futures, no-alternatives, also more radical and desirable alternatives outside its boundaries, or its reach? That is why Arum and Roksa are indeed invited to circulate inside the “Global Positioning” and others, I previously mentioned the name of Aronowitz, always suspicious of authority knowledge and always willing to stretch the frames of institutional intelligibility would be less welcome. Or am I entirely wrong? And how many do you know who remain enthusiastically content within the limitations of liberal institutions, discursively and otherwise, in the new century?

I will finally put it in the following terms: the salesperson is selling a motorbike to the customer, the customer buys it, the motorbike has a flat tire, the other tire is missing and does not run, the customer does not appear to be angry, despite incurring a significant debt in the purchase of the vehicle that does not take him/ her anywhere, but s/he does not really want to go anywhere, and what does s/he do with the purchase?, why did s/he buy it in the first place?, group recognition among other bikers?, is the bike symbol of something mysterious?, no one seems to care very much, the salesperson still says that this is the best motorbike out there in the history of the world, the customer does not appear to say anything, etc.

This is a Princeton professor and former President of the American Council of Learned Societies: “the public is quiet satisfied with what higher education is doing on the whole. This is a market system and the customers are buying. We have by a considerable measure the finest system of higher education in the world. And if that’s the case, this is an “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” situation:” Stanley Katz dixit (p. 24).

But is there anything else than a brutal loss of perspectives and of self-promotion and branding? Are the theoretical expectations of knowing a bit about the world lining up to the successful pursuit of getting a good job and making it happen socially? Is this situation –remember the expensive purchase—in any one national format any better than it was forty years ago? I make explicit that I use the motorbike motif as objective correlative of education –borrowing from T.S. Eliot’s terminology originally in an essay dealing with the failures in Hamlet— and those who know Spanish, at least in the Iberian modality, may also remember the colloquial expression of “someone selling the motorbike” (“vender la moto”), which means that someone is trying to take advantage of you telling you something untrue, or trying to sell something that is not what s/he says it is (of course you can also be the salesman in the previous life story!). The shopkeeper nation has been upgraded to a global empire of virtual, total salesmanship of material and immaterial goods wrapped around some brand name in thoroughly institutionalized social relations. The informal Spanish-language expression conveys that you can see more than the immediate social situation of buying and selling, and that someone unworthy of your trust was trying to make you fall for the faulty vehicle with no tires, no good engine and little life, and that you hopefully knew how to keep coax from hoax at some distance, that you knew the difference between a good bike and a bad one and finally the assumption being that you really wanted to use it and run with it in vast geographies and this one was not the way to go. The customer may always buy just anything for the hell of it to put in your garage as magnificent piece of junk to gather dust and fungus. But the point is to emphasize the use-value side of things (and the smart readers will remind me of the exchange-value take-over in our contemporary societies!). This is still, I hope, a valid point: perhaps education in America circa 2011 has little to do with the inherited notion of education qua cultivation of intelligence and of sensibility, or effort, in the acquisition of the type of knowledge that will put the whole social frame in its proper place of self-question. Perhaps, the motorbike of education in 21st century America, and there will be glorious exceptions out there I am sure, is mostly objective correlative of something else that has little to do with the intelligence of the world. Bringing the world and the intelligence down to the level of marketing a commodity and profiting from such transaction? Finding social partners of your same social class? And perhaps life in America, and other places too, has increasingly more to do with the negative or other side of the “positive” signs in the conference title, more with disintegration, unintentionality, asystematic, more with the de- if not anti-humanities. And since when are petty-bourgeois educational sectors revolutionary sectors? Perhaps the motorbike has more to do with the allure of branding and social grouping in controlled-customer-friendly environments than with anything else more socially vague, undefined and adventurous. Perhaps the materiality of the motorbike has gone immaterial, virtual, and it does not matter if it is a bike or a refrigerator or an elephant or whatever, “education” being after all an immaterial good that cannot quite be put down unambiguously in outcomes, charts and statistical percentages about which neither the “bad guy” of the US government nor the increasingly privatized higher-ed institutions are forthcoming. Since when are increasingly bureaucratized environments free-for-all, egalitarian fields of fun pasture and delight where there is no “mine-and-thine”? Perhaps the value of having some sort of access to the motorbike –getting out of the parents’ house for four years, hearing in the distant classroom echo the foreign names of Jorge Luis Borges or Weber or Rorty, a study-abroad semester-long program, etc.—has more to do with the purchase of a ticket that will hopefully put you in a higher social space in your complex society… “Education” is thus possible code for a controlled environment, contrived social space increasingly indistinct, privatized and commodified, inside which the student will have “experiences” that will become not stigmata but good recognizable markers –perhaps— for later developments. Inside these social spaces of relative privilege, the student will get to socialize with his /her own social class, with a sprinkling of “diversity,” as in a summer camp, a country club, ideally a springboard to a job, social connections, even marriage prospects, explicitly mentioned by Arum and Roksa. The issue of social reproduction acquires a literal meaning side by side institutional reproduction, and I realize as I am finishing this writing that I have been emphasizing the more privileged and expensive education environments in my own description.


So, whose problem, exactly? For those inside: no problems. The authors do not foresee change “without some exogenous shock to the system” (142). Insides and outsides must always be looked at with suspicion. There are overlaps, interpenetrations, projections, mystifications. And this thin hope of something more drastic than situated reformism is frighteningly close to the sensibility in popular films in which the threat to the good and beautiful girl is the bad animal swimming in the water (Jaws), as opposed to the good-looking friends in swimming suits, but also to Samuel Huntington’s Toynbee-copy-cat formula of internal-and-external threats to a fenomenally grotesque universal explanation of world-history mechanism of civilizational clash (Hispanics are a “challenge” to American national identity, for example). The assumption is a conservative one: what is, is good, it can be improved a little, but it is fundamentally good, and what is not, or was, or is not yet, is less good, or bad or very bad and why on earth should “we” wish to change for some foreign alternative? But history is metamorphosis and mutation and institutionalized social relations do also decline and deteriorate. What about social disengagement with institutions perceived to be obsolete, if not hostile to social needs? What about the awareness of mutations in the conceptions of knowledge production, but also in sociability? What about virtualizations of timespaces that bypass accepted common sense, even wisdom? Arum and Roksa speak of lack of academic learning and of high levels of disengagement among students: only 24% read a print or online newspaper, while 34% admit to receiving no news from any source (p. 143). Feel free to ask your students anything that happened one or two decades ago. Ask them about where their names come from. Do a cultural-literacy exercise with the paper of he day. How do they compare with their parents and grandparents? Academically Adrift ends in the subdued mood of a thin-lipped cool-jazz trumpet: wishing for the revival of the good moment of Soviet Sputnik provocation and the Kennedy call for greater inventiveness and creative energy. Nostalgia? Can this country put itself together? No one wishes to answer such momentous question in the permanent negative with or without the ridiculous euphemism of “trading zones,” meant to be a good metaphor thing, for the “integrative” curriculum. Flow of subjects and frictionless objects of knowledge production as a good, desirable thing?: this is unreal liberal phantasmagoria passing through neoliberal ideology without substance of any kind: no geography, no social relations, no norms, no ownership, no institutions and no interests, also no war. (Free) trade, qua the good name of capitalism without its official “bad” name. And there we were left in table-round discussion groups with a collection of strangers with no center or periphery: typical American pedagogy of easy prompting, slight chit-chat discussion with no frame and no conclusions, I thought, tremendously significant in an indirect type of way in relation to some of the larger issues at stake. Presenters in the first day had an easy day in the vicinity of the good name of “integration:” Liquidation sale in times of an economy of stagnation and massive disinvestment in education, that is what the sign in quotation marks really means. Do you want to bet? At close distance, some of these administrators, and I sincerely repeat that some of them conveyed care, experience and intelligence, will tell you about how the institutions are severely challenged by diversity populations, currently 6%, and of the disconnect with the conventional course offerings. Will the mash-up of disciplines shifting from distribution models to integrative models, from deliberate-structured to intentional-integrationist “curricula” fix it? Answer: increasing modularity or cafeteria menu of ad hoc courses and expendable subjects in the knowledge position handling them. The focus was mostly on the customer-conditioning of the student subject historically supposed to want to seek education and knowledge not outside one good day at the beach but inside the self-styled education-and-knowledge institutions. Yet, where is the seductive articulation of “education” and of “knowledge” in relation to previous decades, if not centuries, and towards what kind of global society in the immediate future? What is at stake is no more, and no less, than the survival of the American university system that is largely producing students that are not learning very much of anything and that are not competitive internationally. But perhaps the reader of these pages thinks otherwise and in so doing s/he will also disagree with Arum and Roksa. Finally, irrespective of how “global” is defined, and believe it or not this was one of the discussion topics that was predictably left open and dangling in one of the workshops I attended, isolationism is not the way to go. It never is. And we are doing it, as one respectable colleague remarked to me, and we are doing it without good language, and without good modern foreign languages, in the same warm way the managerial sun smiles and shines equally for all the sunflowers in the same big open field of the whole wide world out there.

Any comments? Get in touch, fherrero@oberlin.edu, fgh2173@gmail.com

No Superman will Save Education in America.


The German philosopher Martin Heidegger mysteriously invoked the line “Only a God can save Us!”, a tribute to the poetry of Holderlin, in his final interview to the German magazine Spiegel, against the legacy of defeat in World War II and the decentering of Europe from global supremacy, post-totalitarian collectivization projects, Nazism and the Holocaust. The Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset has the famous line: “I am I and my circumstance and if I do not save it, I do not save myself.” The whole vocabulary of redemption and health is here implied, and also its dystopian opposite: corruption, misery and for those religious-minded, damnation and hell. Less philosophically and poetically inclined, and more instrumental and secular, the postmodernist culture of late capitalism in America circa 2011 invokes the recognizable comic book character in relation to the utter disaster of the public school system, at least according to David Guggenheim’s documentary Waiting for Superman, against the background of financial bust and budget crisis, two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, post 9/11, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the relative decline of US superpower, hispanicization, etc. Cheers to the Oberlinyoungeducators.org (Oye!, are they pulling off some Spanish?) for putting together the event in packed West Lecture Hall and thanks to the Nord Family Foundation for the money. Having said that, there are many issues here worthy of consideration in relation to a tendentious documentary, and one cannot ever let go the immediate circumstantial set-up intact either. But do we ever grasp what “saving” means socially, anymore?

Waiting for Superman is mediocre liberal ideology always going for emotional individualizations of social problems, controlled approach to “color” (or non-white) sectors playing the token, representational role, sentimentalizing and infantilizing monumental social differentials, while attacking organized labor in the vicinity of the teaching profession (hardly the pinnacle of social prestige in the US, or any society for that matter). And this beauty of a message is happening precisely in the context of a “very liberal” and very heterogeneous “mostly white” private college, where it is officially $200.000 per customer for a college degree with mediocre labor conditions among its hired faculty against a big national picture of tremendous job precariousness inside and outside the teaching profession. I am writing these lines when governatorial attempts are taking place to curtail unions from collective bargaining power in Wisconsin and Ohio. Of course, such measures make sense if what you want is to individualize workers to deal with them as and when you please. This anti-union disposition –again in the vicinity of a poorly compensated profession– is official symptom of the erosion of  democratic principles in our immediate American society that may have already lost any notion of collective anything. “Public” and “education” are soft code words for the theoretical posibility of a workable conception of collectivity that is here in a severe state of disrepair, also according to the documentary. One good thing: bye, bye to the bombast of the “Number One” society in the history of the world, except for one moment that I will play up later.

Let your imagination fly but stick to the immediate circumstance. The documentary includes abundant abjection mechanism that must be repudiated again and again. What does that mean? Let me explain: you wintess the travails on those socially heterogenous below you (economically, professionally, in regards to educational achievement, ethnic configuration, age, gender, etc). You look down at and on them.

Waiting for Superman has lots of this: the documentary gives us cute “color” kids, they must be prepubescent in the American convention of “innocence,” pursuing their dreams of education and social advancement in urban settings in major cities (Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston, etc.). The sign “education” is never explained as though we all knew what this means and this is a truly non-ironic point. It is supposed to mean to have access to an institution and being able to complete a set of courses or program. And this is not happening in big numbers. We get to see overweight “minorities,” except for one white mother and daughter in Redwood City –surely not in the rundown Hispanic neighborhood there–  blue-collar, unemployed, with basic language skills in some cases. The mother of the very cute Hispanic girl, Daisy, speaks off-camera in Spanish one and this one little sentence, reality effect?, in this English-only documentary, speaks volumes: “Soy este, ¿como se llama?, de la limpieza” [I am what they call the cleaning…]. The “señora” is missing and these subalternized  Americans do not make it to the leve of the euphemism of the conventional expression of “cleaning lady.” What about bringing these cute kids to your private institution in sizeable numbers to reach the government prediction of 33.33% by 2050?

Who is doing the waiting? The kids, the parents, the institutions? Missing subject position. But the individual solution is no solution at all. Yet, Waiting for Superman paints in good colors some good guys (Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada), and in very bad colors the general state bureaucracy and the American Federation of Teachers personified in President Randi Weingarten out there in the big mess of New York (there must be some relief in the mid-west platform of observation!). No one is coming with enough power to save us, the documentary says and the images of Superman have a primitive, deliberately silly black-and-white quality. It is a primitive Superman before technicolor and special effects. And I immediately thought of Tina Turner’s song “We do not need another hero.” So, what is going on? How to go about it? Charimastic individualities working their way through dysfunctional institutionality, is one of the fundamental messages of this problematic video painting a near-apocalyptic malfunction of public education in America. But stop there for a minute: the “public” twin gets all the blame and the “private” is nowhere to be seen and never gets a single word of condemnation. A bit funny the smell of this rat? Remember Diane Arbus’s photography of the funny-looking twins? How come one of them gets the bucket of dirty water while the other is off-screen? Is the implication that the private sector works or that it is the same bad thing? Also, there is generic “public [high-school] education.” What about higher education in between the twins? Everything great in private colleges and universities doing “outreach” down under, down there while handling the diversity or minority sectors ever so tentatively? But never lose sight of privatization mechanisms of a complex American behemoth (comparisons with individual European countries of the size of Finland are ludicrous, so is the Oberlin-New York City parallel). At any rate, there is no way around the abysmal education levels –including university sectors —in public and private institutions in this country, emphatically not competitive internationally. Waiting for Superman mentions the position 20-odd for the US for all subject or discipline proficiency. Bring it home: you are paying how much for what exactly? And you think you are going to get what at the end of it? Make the issue multi-directional also in relation to ever so increasing built-in hierarchies.

Malcolm Cash, senior lecturer from Ohio State University, was my favorite in the follow-up panel. Yes, urban is code for “color.” Read: “non-white.” And public is code for degradation. No sense of community. Ground-zero collectivity. So, this is “color” entertainment of the educational kind for a “white” public who will claim to be concerned and possibly to want to help, but how genuinely? I bet you must have felt a tingling sensation up and down your spine, burning sensation in your earlobes, a crawling feeling up and down your legs… watching Waiting for Superman in the West Lecture Hall, if only in relation to the heterogeneity between the American society depicted on the screen and the segment of American society sitting in the West Lecture Hall seats. Something of an embarrassment at “their” failure that is not yours, right?, and there was a bit of a Disneyfied UncleTomism at work here: morality lesson of the cute kids’ failure they are helpless to prevent? Don’t they need our help, accordingly? Did the documentary provide sharp ethnic readings of larger social vistas of American society? Any potent cultural bites coming from black-and-latino education sectors, perhaps from AFT headquarters? Francisco, Daisy, a cute black girl in pigtails who could not go to graduation because her single overweight weeping mother could not pay the bills… Who does not love these kids in bicoastal locations such as L.A. and New York? Do we ship them in big numbers to expensive private colleges with or without state support? With cute animated maps and pop-up flags: horrendous numbers in math proficiency (40% to 18% failing students). The cheap thrill: the lottery situation, the balls rolling, the countdown, the disparity between seats available and competing children. Did you notice the “color” of those playing the lottery game? And I am risking here one general statistic that was not in the film: half the students in the country do not finish high school and half of the students who go to college do not finish college. And among those who finish, one may wonder the quality of the material at the finish line. I am happy to stand corrected in relation to these improvised numbers.

So, yes,  we are dealing with “drop-out factories,” not only in urban settings (one wonders if the big-city geography adds angularity as opposed to more amiable rural pastures, I somehow doubt it). Think of a possible synonym: disengagement of social energies from faulty or even de-institutionality. So, this “dropping out” is one form of distancing from institutional forms and frames. How sustainable is this if the numbers acquire monumental proportions? Breathtakingly, Waiting for Superman builds a parallel with the prison system, perhaps a political unconscious mechanism that puts doing school time with “doing time” (in jail). Do the kids have to “do time” before entering adulthood proper, the labor market, family life, etc.? But there is no direct line between education and all those good things… And the talk is –appropriately for the business culture– no other than money talk: the money it costs to have someone in jail could be used for the education of the same person in triple amount of years. You guessed it right: “education” remains empty signifier. Yet, how come we are not doing the transfer from jail money to public-education money? Everybody knows that private prisions are big business, and so are private colleges.

So, money is the center of the business culture, what else?, and this is also the implied center of the documentary since the logic of the crisis of education is not exactly spelled out, except occasionally, for example when the numbers of jobs in the future, some 130 million jobs, will find 50 million qualified Americans to try to fill them in. The system is not sustainable financially, but also socially with the projected national resources, and it is already unable to give a classroom seat to the big numbers of young Americans who want one. The center cannot hold, as the Yeats line popularized in political circles since the 1950s has it, and you may not agree with me, but I bet my money that you will agree with the distinguished American sociologist Daniel Bell in relation to the lack of sustainable point of national reference in American life (the White House? The Statue of Liberty? Bloomberg’s Post-9/11 New York City?. The Washington “Mall,” the Midhan el –Tahrir, the “Liberation Square, in the nation’s capital?  Waiting for Superman highlights the nation’s capital with the infamous line: everything that is wrong in elementary and high school is here. And here, the good, powerful individual is Michelle Rhee walking through carboard boxes, walking fast with her laptop open and firing principals. You get the superwoman picture speaking with confidence in Fox-News coverage.

The very bad generic guy, according to the documentary? Bureaucracy. The “Blob.” 14,000 autonomous education organisms cutting across federal, state, boards and councils. Waiting for Superman speaks of a complete lack of accountability.

The second generic bad guy? Tenure. The word is unusual outside schools and colleges. It means relative job security, contract continuity, perhaps long-term, but what is long-term in 21st century American society?, theoretically based on merit and achievement. And there is a tremendous erosion of such concept (in between half and ¾ of all college teaching is done by non-tenure people). So, in a sense what is happening is the shortening of the time-frame of labor conditions in a profession already poorly paid. Do you know that there is no real, fundamental difference between high-school employment and college employment –and this is the undying shame of a system that flattens out levels of professional education). And this is the disagreement with Malcolm Cash, called “professor” by Marvin Krislov, President of Oberlin College, listed as “senior lecturer of Ohio State University,” who said to be “philosophically opposed to tenure.” What philosophy is this? Not Heidegger. Not Ortega y Gasset. This is like FGH, mostly ignorant of baseball rules, saying baseball is a bad boring game. Or the fox saying the grapes out of reach are bad as in the proverbial story. In times of job precariousness you get rid of modest and most stable prerogatives? You kill the hunger with a hunger strike?

The third generic bad guy? Unions.

Why are they bad? Because they fight for public school tenures? And they defend bad teachers who do not fired ever. Unflattering images of Randi Wingarten of the AFT in a rally. Waiting for Superman makes the direct connection with the Democratic party. What the AFT wants is no difference among teachers. No reward system. They all get paid the same. No one –no matter how bad—loses the job they don’t deserve. There is talk of the “Dance of the Lemons” (or the Turkey Trut, or Pass the Trash). It means passing the bad people around from one school to another. There is a reference to the infamous “Rubber Room” in New York where 600 teachers languish costing 100 million dollars (per year?). One hears these bits and pieces and the logical reaction: Feel your concealed carry. Quick Draw. Michelle Rhee’s “I am terminating your pincipalship now!” Superwoman.

The fourth generic bad guy? The bad teachers.

Waiting for Superman makes the case for greater independence from state rules. Hence the independently run Charter School. And here, the hero is  Geoffrey Canada, black educator who makes things work in the middle of the worst possible geography, Central Harlem.

The only piece of bombast in the entire documentary: “In 1970s, American education was the best in the world. Americans were leading –past tense—in times when Nixon opened China.” I will not eat this thick piece of burned marshmellow, would you? But this is only making the bitter taste of 23-29th position of the US in all subjects among developed nations bitterer. All statistics are bad: Remediation for 1/3 of kids in the California system, 1/5 of charter [more independent] schools doing fine. There is a final feeling that you will have to run individually to the mountains –for your life. That this is rotten at the core. That the core is not ticking and is beyond repair. The core is American society in between public and education.

But the problems are phenomenal: 1/ inequality is growing in the home of the brave; 2/ the business culture does not really want the public to know, when is the business culture about “knowledge”?; 3/ but these nouns, “education” and “knowledge” are mutating in front of our eyes at action-movie speed, and who claims to know what these signs mean any longer in our global society of post-liberal capitalism in a severe state of disrepair?; 4/ slight or nil regard for “education” in America in a moment of severe institutional discredit; 5/ academic-labor deterioration, downsizing and downgrading or deskilling… No Superman will ever save education, or anything else, in America, or anywhere else. High time to start thinking collectively, accordingly. Can we do it? This is the challenge: so “public” is code for that.

And what kind of post-number-one public society are we building exactly?

Any comments? Get in touch, fherrero@oberlin.edu, fgh2173@gmail.com