Yanis Iqbal presents the second part of his critique of educational culture under neoliberal capitalism by outlining a new educational strategy
To mount an effective counteroffensive against neoliberal educational culture, we need a new strategy which will generate critically conscious subjects who would cooperate to construct the cultural structure of revolution.
According to Dr Paula Allman, the process of providing this cultural structure to the revolutionary state is an integral unit of the “prefigurative work” of revolution. Antonio Gramsci also highlighted the importance of this cultural dimension of social revolution by saying the following: “Every revolution has been preceded by an intense labour of criticism, by the diffusion of culture and spread of ideas among masses of men”.
The educational strategy which will help revolutionary activists to counteract neoliberal education and lay the foundation of the cultural structure of revolution has two elements – student-oriented pedagogic activism and proletarian pedagogic activism.
The primary objective here should be to completely change the configurations of bourgeois educational institutions. These capitalistic and (mis)educational institutions are directed and administered by business magnates who continuously and cleverly compel the students to undergo ideological indoctrination and then, reproduce these ideologies throughout their lives.
This type of mental domination occurs at all levels of education: whether a student is in school or in university, he/she is always exposed to the mechanism of bourgeois education. Michel Foucault’s views on education are extremely helpful in studying the machinations of bourgeois education. In his book Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault writes: “Is it surprising that prisons resemble factories, schools, barracks, hospitals, which all resemble prisons?” This particular text makes it explicitly clear that schools are quite similar to prisons, due to the simple fact that schools too have the same function as that of prisons. Like the discipline of prisons, schools also suppress students and use subtle micro-disciplinarian tactics. Through these methodical procedures, self-scrutinizing subjects are produced. These subjects possess an internally regulated system of docility which hardwires passivity into their brains.
By using student-oriented pedagogic activism, the regulated docility of students can be eliminated. Student-oriented pedagogic activism consists of five elemental components: non-vocational education, an anti-commodification educational approach, promotion of Liberal Arts in the curriculum, anti-meritocratic education, and the practical support of protest movements.
(1) Provision of an adequate non-vocational education would rebalance provision away from job-oriented education, which mystifies the essence of education and ruthlessly instrumentalizes it. An extrinsic end known as a “job” is clearly identified and education is made a means to that end. If we support and implement non-vocational kinds of education, this process can be thwarted.
(2) An anti-commodification approach is aimed against an educational culture that treats students as consumers who have to uncritically consume the commodity known as knowledge. The commodification of education obstructs students’ praxis (theoretically informed activism) and their general cultural and humanistic development. Paulo Freire, in the third chapter (Teaching Is Not Just Transferring Knowledge) of his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, said that “Unfinishedness is essential to our human condition”. It is therefore essential that education avoids commodification and strives for the self-realization of our unfinishedness.
(3) The revivalof Liberal Arts and Humanities subjects is important in an educational environment where techno-managerialism is relentlessly dismantling democracy. Technical education is steadily producing politically passive and culturally impoverished individuals who are indifferent to the poverty-stricken people living around them. As Avijit Pathak states in his article Education in the liberal arts and humanities are important in themselves: “We seem to be producing well-fed, well-paid and well-clothed slaves. This is dangerous.”
(4) Anti-meritocratic education would act as a bulwark against the discriminatory distributive system of meritocracy, which is no more than a bourgeois apparatus, providing a rational legitimization of economic inequality. The working class believes that it is their lack of merit and the ruling class’s possession of it that prevents social mobility. In this way, a meritocratic fatalism is internalized by the working class. Meritocracy is also irrational to its very core, because it presupposes that merits exist in an ahistorical vacuum. The belief that meritocracy has firmly established a “Rawlsian equality of opportunity” has been disproven by Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis in their book Schooling in Capitalist America.
(5) The development and support of protest movements would be the final culmination of this student-oriented pedagogic activism. Protest movements would initiate a culture of resistance, enabling students to put theoretical knowledge into practice and allowing practice to inform theory.
History is full of examples of student-oriented pedagogic activism which euphorically proclaimed the ideals of an anti-neoliberal education. In 2015, Shinzo Abe tried to stop academic programs related to Liberal Arts, and aiming to convert them into opportunities for natural sciences. At the same time, he was also advancing a conservative security bill which aimed at amending Japan’s war-renouncing constitution, and aligning it with a securitized discourse about threats from China, North Korea and Islamist extremism. In opposition to these two militaristic and neoliberal government proposals, the Students' Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALD) organized massive nightly protests and collectively built a successful anti-war and anti-neoliberal movement.
The 2011 Chilean student movement is also an example of a well-organized student-oriented pedagogic activist mobilization in which many issues were cogently tackled by the dissenting students. In these protests, more than 250,000 students demanded the re-organization of the Chilean educational-economic system which included a tax reform and a constituent assembly to consider changes to the Organic Constitutional Law of Education. The student protests also re-politicized the Chilean electoral field by expressing anger against the right-wing government of Sebastian Pinera.
The successful consummation of student-oriented pedagogic activism would be a significant achievement in constructing the cultural dimension of revolution. It would help develop Gramscian ‘organic intellectuals” who would represent the interests of the working class and would equip that class with an ideological-intellectual apparatus to help with the “war of position” which is necessary for the establishment of a revolutionary state.
But student-oriented pedagogic activism in itself can’t construct the necessary cultural hegemony for a successful revolution. For that, we also need proletarian pedagogic activism.
Proletarian pedagogic activism
The main element of proletarian pedagogic activism is the Freirean concept of critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy is totally different from a didactic method of teaching or a one-way teaching method of simple transmission. It assumes that teachers and students are both the co-investigators of reality. In this method, reality is presented as dynamic and ever-changing. It has to be studied non-statically through problem-posing educational procedures.
Problem-posing education can be contrasted to the ‘banking’ method of education which sees students as receptacles, in which fragments of information have to be continuously dumped and this information has to be textually ingested. Paulo Freire says that “In problem-posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves”.
In proletarian pedagogic activism, the teacher would be the vanguard revolutionary party and the students would be the proletariats. Proletarian pedagogic activism entails that the teacher be the revolutionary party because the party itself is capable of organizing the masses, sustaining the working-class movement and welding the entirety of the working class into a coherently unified conscious entity.
To constructively teach the working class, a Vygotskian-Leninist conceptual synthesis needs to be produced, in which there are two stages.
In the first stage, the everyday, spontaneous concepts of the working class have to be emphasized. Everyday concepts can be immediate economic demands and are clearly distinguished from structural demands. Vladimir Lenin used the term “trade-union consciousness” to describe purely economistic demands. According to him, spontaneous consciousness is the embryonic form of scientific consciousness. An example of everyday concepts can be the sporadic and non-strategic strikes of 1860s and 1870s. These kinds of everyday concepts have to be interlinked to the systematic interrelated group of structural concepts to progress from a spontaneous consciousness to a scientific consciousness.
In the second stage, after highlighting the everyday concepts associated with the daily material conditions of the working class and interlinking it to the larger structure, the working class would be in the possession of scientific concepts. Scientific concepts are realities which are apprehended in a large-scale and comprehensive framework.
For example, workers of a specific industry may realize after going through the first stage of proletarian pedagogic activism that their fight is not only against the owners of the particular industry in which they are working, but against the whole capitalistic structure which is their general source of oppression. In this case, they produce a generalization, a systematization of concepts in which many spontaneous concepts are rooted. Through scientific concepts, a scientific consciousness is produced which may be interpreted in Marxian lexicon as class consciousness.
Again, there are many concrete historical examples of proletarian pedagogic activism which critically educated the working class and helped them realize their political potentiality. The Cordón Industrial or Industrial Belts in Chile during Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government; the Spanish anti-fascist self-managed workers’ industries; and the Recovered Factories Movement and neighbourhood assemblies in Argentina during the December 2001 Argentinazo movement are all examples of proletarian pedagogic activism in which workers incorporated demands for system change into their disputes.
Class consciousness allows workers to comprehend the structural relationships which lie behind the spontaneous concepts and prepares them for strategic and systematic volitional acts. It channels their egoistic-passional instincts into ethico-political interests. The pedagogical presentation of scientific concepts has to be done by the members of the revolutionary party through critical educational method. Lenin said that workers need to be treated as “social theoreticians” when they are developing a revolutionary ideology with members of the party.
After proletarian pedagogic activism, the working class would become culturally enriched. They would rally behind the revolutionary party, which supplements its presence in the civil society with the aid of organic intellectuals. The combined cohesiveness of the revolutionary party, a critically cultured working class and a strong cohort of organic intellectuals would produce a new cultural hegemony of the working class. This cultural hegemony would transform neoliberal education and would also lay the foundational cultural structure to accompany social and political revolution.
Yanis Iqbal is a student and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India.