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Archive for February 16th, 2011

against the really free school

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Ah, feel vindicated today. During the UK student occupations, I accepted any invitation I received to address student occupations and did my best to come up with something good to say to them… Even though that increasingly amounted to saying something like “Christ, you guys know better than I do at this point… Look at what you’ve done!”

A few weeks ago, I received an email encouraging me to come up with something for the Really Free School. After thinking about it for awhile, I decided to ignore the request… But not without feeling a bit guilty for not pitching something in, especially since the aspects of this movement that have provided opportunities for me to usefully participate have gone into remission for the moment. But reading this this morning, I realize that the hunch I had – that I’m on a different side of this from them – was right. Here’s the post in full:

!Education’s Napster Moment

As a result of the emergence of a virtual marketplace that encourages the forming of community and the sharing of ideas, we have inadvertently been equipped with the tools needed to undo the current rules of engagement.

Ours is the first generation to be given the toolset by which to produce, collectively organise and display our message/ideology/product to a global audience; an audience that, like you, has an equal opportunity to subvert the current trajectory of our education system.

Universities are collapsing. Not as a result of dramatic cuts but because they represent an outmoded model for their primary function, the exchange of knowledge and research. The education industry is about to experience the same death blow to its infrastructure and profit model that Napster issued to the music industry back in 1999.

Everyone within our generation is aware that the construction of ideas and the execution of research has shifted its locality to a sprawling virtual space that is open to collective input.

Let us not draw out the death rattle of our institutions by allowing concessions to be made and minor battles to be fought and ultimately lost – instead let us accelerate the pace of their demise.

Abandon the institution and declare it’s death, the point at which our apathy for the current state of play is declared, the better. With this change we will be able to destabilise the mediated control of our social trajectory, causing a genuine crisis for those that stand to profit both politically and financially from our existing system. It is the institutions and those that control them that need us.

Create a real crisis, torrent your syllabus, duplicate your id cards and give them to strangers, scan your entire library and post it on AAARG, distribute maps of your university online, relocate your seminars to a space outside of the institution. Invalidate the universities existence, so that together we can begin to build fresh foundations on its grave.

Invite anyone and everyone to participate, saturate your institutions and make them a true open space. The path to knowledge does not end on the day of graduation.

This document was put together on the spur of the moment as a direct response to this situation, its ideas are not fixed. Instead it seeks to act as a provocation or suggestion that we should consider the complete reformation of what we currently have. More money/Less cuts cannot cure the decline of our institutions. We have now a unique opportunity to create something new, independently and autonomously.

Wow – sounds like someone’s been reading Kpunk et al – at least before Kpunk et al’s dextrous sidestep into allegiance with the generally non-accelerationist protest movement late last year. (Short version of my critique: saying “They’re not as apathetic as I wrote” is not the same as saying “Perhaps the embrace of apathy is not the right way forward…” Harder to admit that your argument was wrong than your diagnosis…) But that is some pretty hardcore accelerationism cum depressive despair in the blogpost, per what we’ve seen from the likes of the left-theoretical blogetariat. I am fully in-line with the desire to open university admissions, to grant as much access as possible, deheirarchize institutions etc. (If CUNY wants to go back to open admissions and offer me a job, I’d be there in a second, despite the fact that I do indeed get on very very well with my hand-picked and quite brilliant students where I am now…) The only reason I don’t want anyone to video and release my lectures for free on the internet is that I’d have to rewrite my lectures every single year for fear that some or most had heard it all already. Trust me, I have enough work to do as it is…

More seriously, I am absolutely sure that the way forward is not the abandonment of what vestiges of socialized education remain in the UK or anywhere else. I think it’s safe to say that they’re missing an absolutely enormous, gaping difference between the napster-fucking of the music industry and doing the same thing to what is left of publically funded university education. In short, most of us don’t care in the least about the survival of, say, Sony. We don’t care about cutting into to their profit margins, we don’t care if they go under, and we might even have faith that if they and their competitors no longer existed we would still be able to find good or even better music without them.

On the other hand, I’d like to think that we do care about the continued existence and viability of not-for-profit and (let’s hope) state funded educational centres. At this point in history, there are far better targets for anarchistic rage than the ISAs that administer higher education, at least in the humanities and social sciences. (At the moment, I am being force-interpellated by institutional pressure – from a University Press – to add more Badiou etc into my book. That’s not exactly the stuff of Christian conservatism…)

I used to talk to someone who from time to time would kick around the idea of dropping out (or being evicted from) regular academia and “taking it on the road” – giving talks and passing the hat. She also was a sometimes theorist of the sort of university without walls idea that is behind the RFS communique above. When we talked about it, the thing that I always said was that sure, it’s a nice idea, but if I were her I’d just plan to give, say, the porn talk over and over again and probably forget about giving the Hegel lecture quite so often or even at all.

Some of education isn’t fun – it can’t be fueled by people hitting “like” on some social networking website. I’m lucky. I get to teach the attractive stuff from the modern period, the stuff that just about everyone wants to read. But I am incredibly grateful that my students are forced to read lots of other materials that, given the choice, they likely wouldn’t. Lots would skip Chaucer if they could, and much else besides that they complain about to me but ultimately they need to have in order to understand – and in particular to see the limitations of – the hip fun but ultimately sort of narcissistically angled stuff that they get to do with me.

I have no moral qualms with downloading music or television. I will say however that my ability to do so doesn’t necessarily lead to the best use of my time. This morning for instance, feeling in a bit of a rut, I finished up the newest season of Mad Men rather than reading Peter Hallward’s excellently lucid book on Badiou, which I started yesterday. Perhaps you see the problem? The infinite availability of what I like isn’t necessarily a conduit to my successful continuous self-education.

And of course there’s another side to this. Destroy the university and no one pays me anymore. I spend an awful lot of time and energy on teaching – most months, almost all of my time and energy. The students seem to want me to do it. Maybe it’s their interpellation by their ISA of choice, but they’d be pretty upset to run the seminars on their own or if I just put my syllabi and lectures on-line. But if no one’s paying my fine but meagre salary, I’d obviously have to find something else to keep me in hotdogs and buns. Call it me defending my financial interests, but even given the rough job market I’m pretty sure I could find something amazingly more lucrative to do for a living than this.

I think it’s become clear – it seemed very much so at the occupations last year – that faculty are no longer viewed with suspicion. We’re all on the same side here… Save of course for those who go over to administration, which is another matter altogether and something that I sure as shit will never do. At any rate, I’d bet six cans of Grolsch that within a few months, Cameron et al rolls out some sort of Big Society e-learning initiative. When you’re coming up with ideas that happen to be exactly the same as those of the party in power, it might be time for a bit of an decelerationist moment. If so, maybe the folks at the Really Free University could be hired in to administer it.

Scattered post – sorry about that. Anyway, glad I didn’t go. This is not something that I support. I hope there will be many opportunities in the near-term to give talks at occupations whose interests and aims I share.

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February 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm

Posted in academia, occupations