||Vally, Salim (2004) Times challenge for education in these times: War, terror and social justice. World Congress on Comparative Education, Havana, Cuba, 25-29 October, 2004 Keynote Address : -.
||by Salim Vally
[This article was presented initially as the Keynote Address to the 12th World Congress on Comparative Education, Havana, Cuba, 25-29 October, 2004. The Conference was convened by the World Council of Comparative Education Societies (WCCES) and the Association of Cuban Educators (APC).]
The bombing of Baghdad
began and did not terminate for 42 days
and 42 nights relentless minute after minute
more than 110,000 times
we bombed Baghdad
we bombed Basra…
we bombed the National Museum
we bombed schools we bombed air raid
shelters we bombed water we bombed
electricity we bombed hospitals … we
bombed everything that moved/we
bombed everything that did not move…
we bombed the darkness we bombed
the sunlight we bombed them and we
bombed them and we cluster bombed the citizens
of Iraq and we sulfur bombed the citizens of Iraq … and we
complemented these bombings/these “sorties” with
Tomahawk cruise missiles which we shot
repeatedly by the thousands upon thousands
(you understand an Iraqi Scud missile
is quote militarily insignificant unquote and we
do not mess around with insignificant)… (June Jordan, 1997:45)
This is an extract of a poem written by the late June Jordan, Professor of African-American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, long before the World Trade Center bombings on 9/11. Although Jordan is no longer with us, her poetry continues her unceasing commitment in life to the realisation of social justice, the unseen possibilities of true human coalitions and solidarity across colour, sex and national boundaries. Her poetry and those of others you will hear is not meant to be a substitute for thorough, rigorous research and education praxis; but poetry, like music, drama and song, can point us to the urgency of these times, can demand attention to the tasks at hand, the outrage required, can inspire us to negotiate the difficult terrain most people fear to tread and of course, healing for those who have been violated.
Think of Pablo Neruda’s (1973:334) poem, A Song for Bolivar, Pablo Picasso’s painting, Guernica, 1 or Paul Robeson silencing the guns in the front line of a war through his rendition of the song, Ol’ Man River (Brahm, 1987).
Yet, beyond the narratives and descriptions of the horror and carnage, as well as the honour and courage, what are the implications of these times for educationists? How do we understand the world, how is it changing and what is our role in these processes? Should we not re-examine the values, knowledge and skills we impart and instil in our schools and universities? Or should we continue, blithely and superciliously, to shrug our shoulders, shake our heads and measure our intellectual prowess by the number of obtuse articles we “publish while others perish” (Zinn, 2001:177) in esoteric journals? 2 Should we continue to induce avoidance by succumbing to the temptations of money, power and pusillanimity? The late Edward Said’s (1994:100) clarion reprimand that these lures for an intellectual are “corrupting par excellence” comes to mind.
All of us here clearly condemn George Bush’s Manichean ultimatum to the world – “If you are not with us you are against us” – as rank, presumptuous arrogance. Yet do we share the Indian writer and activist Arundhati Roy’s (2001b) concern when she implored us, as educationists, shortly after 9/11 to understand that, “There is no way out of the spiralling morass of terror and brutality that confronts the world today. It is time now for the human race to hold still, to delve into its wells of collective wisdom, both ancient and modern”.
It is my contention that the human rights implications of invasion, occupation, recolonisation, or “war” if you prefer, and the subsequent global “anti-terror” campaigns are far-reaching for educators and students. They speak to the way we teach, what we teach and how we manage contentious issues within our classrooms and schools, with due consideration to the real purpose of education and the rights of all those involved.
No doubt, the sight of human beings jumping from the Twin Towers in New York to avoid being burnt to death remains etched in our minds and challenges the core of our humanity. Subsequent to these events whole communities and countries have been targeted in an orgy of collective punishment. The US hegemon has made the world a much more dangerous place. As educators, we need to understand the sources of these horrendous attacks and must be vigilant against jingoism, militarism and xenophobia in these times. Teachers around the world were challenged to assist students in understanding these events and respond to the myriad questions posed. It is emblematic that some preferred to avoid discussing these events with their students. Others provided answers fuelled by prejudice and stereotypes. This, I believe, does violence to our vocation. A cavalier approach to addressing these issues is also problematic; rather, the issues should be dealt with in a sensitive and reflective manner.
The anguished pleas of some people directly affected by the terror attacks on 9/11 is apposite (Rethinking Schools Collective, 2001:4)
Phyllis Rodriques, whose son lies buried where the World Trade Center stood, said:
Our son died a victim of an inhuman ideology. Our actions should not serve the same purpose. Let us grieve. Let us reflect. Let us think about a rational response that brings real peace and justice to our world. But let us not as a nation add to the inhumanity of our times.
Amber Amundson, whose husband died at the Pentagon, had this to say to the US administration:
I take no comfort in your words of rage. If you choose to respond to this incomprehensible brutality by perpetuating violence against other innocent human beings, you may not do so in the name of justice for my husband. Your words and imminent acts of revenge only amplify our family’s suffering, deny us the dignity of remembering our loved one in a way that would have made him proud, and mock his vision….
These wise and tragic words uttered shortly after 9/11 were not heeded. The Bush administration’s recidivistic actions have made it the chief recruiting agency for fundamentalist groups throughout the world. In addition, under the guise of fighting terrorism, many hard-won universal human rights have been trampled upon or eroded. Intelligence and security services in many countries have been using the “war against terror” to justify an increase in monitoring communications, harassing people with scant evidence, clamping down on dissenting and critical views, and leveraging greater spending on arms and intelligence – money that could be used to fight poverty and provide for education.
At another level and without demeaning the sense of loss felt by the families of the thousands who died on 9/11, we need to ask ourselves: Was there a similar sense of outrage around the world and in our classrooms and universities when one million people were killed in Rwanda not long before 9/11? Why this inequitable distribution of sorrow and empathy? Why the unfair distinction between death that merits a camera and death that merits a few lines of statistics and death that merits no mention at all? According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, another sort of “terrorism” took place on 9/11 – the death of 35 000 defenceless and vulnerable children across the world because of hunger and starvation (Rethinking Schools Collective, 2001:12).
A member of the Minnesota Alliance for the Indigenous Zapatistas, and a staff member of the Resource Center of the Americas, responds to this duplicity, lyrically:
Before I start this poem,
I’d like to ask you to join me in
a moment of silence
in honour of those who died
in the world trade centre
and the pentagon
last September 11th
I would also like to ask you
To join me in
a moment of silence
for all those who have been
harassed, imprisoned, disappeared,
tortured raped killed in retaliation for those strikes,
for the victims in both
Afghanistan and the U.S.
And if I could just add one more thing…
A full day of silence
for the thousands of Palestinians
who have died at the hands of
U.S.-backed Israel forces
over decades of occupation.
Six months of silence
for the million and-a-half Iraqi people
mostly children, who have died of
malnourishment or starvation
as a result of an 11-year U.S embargo
against the country.
Before I begin this poem:
two months of silence
for the blacks under apartheid
in South Africa,
where homeland security
made them aliens
in their own country.
Nine months of silence
for the dead in Hiroshima
and Nagasaki, where death rained
down and back
every layer of concentrated, steel, earth and skin
and the survivors went on as if alive.
A year of silence
for the millions of dead
in Vietnam – a people, not a war –
for those know a thing or two
about the scent of burning fuel,
their relatives bones buried in it,
their babies born on it.
A year of silence for dead in Cambodia and Laos,
victims of a secret war … ssssshhhhh …
Say nothing … we don’t want them to
Learn that they are dead.
Two months of silence
For the decades of dead
In Colombia, whose names,
Like the corpses they once represented,
Have piled up and slipped off
Before I begin this poem,
An hour of silence
for EI Salvador …
An afternoon of silence
for Nicaragua …
Two days of silence
for the Guetmaltecos …
None of whom ever knew
a moment of peace
45 seconds of silence
for the 45 dead
at Acteal, Chiapas
25 years of silence
for the hundred million Africans
who found their graves
far deeper in the ocean
than any building could
poke into the sky.
There will be no DNA testing
or dental records
to identify their remains.
And for those who were
strung and swung
from the heights of
in the south, the north,
the east, and the west…
100 years of silence…
for the hundreds of millions of
from this half right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
in postcard-perfect plots
like Pine Ridge.
Sand Creek, Fallen Timbers,
Or the Trail of Tears.
Names now reduced
to innocuous magnetic poetry
on the refrigerator
of our consciousness …
So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust
Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be
And the rest of us hope to hell it wont be.
Not like it always has been
Because this not a 9-1-1 poem
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.
This is a poem about
what causes poems like this
to be written
And if this is a 9/11 poem, them
This is a September 11th poem
for Chile, 1971
This is a September 12th poem
for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977
This is a September 13th poem
for the brothers at Attica Prison,
New York, 1971.
This is a September 14th poem
for Somalia, 1992.
This is a poem
for every date that falls
to the ground in ashes
This is a poem for the 110 stories
that were never told
The 110 stories that history
chose not to write in textbooks…
You want a moment of silence
Then take it
Before this poem begins.
Here is your silence.
But take it all
Don’t cut in line.
Let your silence begin
At the beginning of crime.
Tonight will keep right on singing
For our dead (Emmanuel Ortiz, 2002).
We cannot be indifferent about the violence that circulates constantly and easily in contemporary times – the fact that entire countries can be destroyed by cruise missiles, through withholding or issuing of cheques by the high priests of the World Bank, or through slow strangulation by global warming. Cultural imperialism is the alter ego of militarisation – for McDonalds to exist there has to be the manufacturer of fighter jets, McDonnel Douglas. Education has to be understood in the context of these global processes.
Hence, Nelly Stromquist’s (2002) plea to comparative educators that we need to develop wider and deeper understandings and meanings of the processes of globalisation and of the full reach it is attaining through both the market and the state. She argues that private firms and international financial institutions are now the key players, and that their influence on education policies is maintained through “persistent circulation of ideas, provision of and promises to fund reforms that move in desired directions…” (Stromquist, 2002:1). Individualism, competition and consumption, within academe as elsewhere, are the dominant values and Stromquist laments the fact that in this situation there is “little space left for contestatory and liberatory thought” (Stromquist, 2002:1). The challenge for us is to expand the space that exists. Some suggestions toward this end will be made later in this talk, but first a few points on the impact of corporate globalisation on education, or rather the insidious war on public education.
The assault on our institutions includes the recasting of public space as a commodified sphere, with students as consumers and staff as sales consultants. Individual and social agency as well as access to institutions are defined largely through market-driven notions, fiscal parsimony, corporate values and corporate planning frameworks. There exists a rarely questioned and unspoken assumption that the market is an appropriate model for education. In the face of mass unemployment, aligning skills to the competitive global “new knowledge economy” holds a neoteric seduction and has become the obsession of many an education department. Commonweal and learning that addresses the self to public life and social responsibility to robust public participation and democratic citizenship is marginalised and ridiculed in favour of a culture of crass commercialisation and consumerism.
Educators and students are cajoled “to ultimately see all meaning in terms of what can be bought, sold or made profitable” (Shumar, 1997:5). They seek to do so through reifying socially constituted and produced educational processes as measurable things (Canaan, 2002:4). Writing on the global homogenisation of education, Maude Barlow and Heather-Jane Robertson (1996:61) argue that the “corporate model of education based on head-to-head competition and survival of the fittest has become the prototype for most governments and education institutions”.
Institutions submit to government funding formulas that penalise students from less affluent backgrounds, cut academic support programmes and privilege programmes that have greater purchase in the marketplace, with many arts and humanities courses being phased out. Lack of state support drives institutions to seek corporate sponsorship, with all the negative consequences that adhere to this. Barlow and Robertson quote an extract from an article titled “Universities for Sale” in This Magazine that captures this transmutation:
Knowledge that was free, open and for the benefit of society is now proprietary, confidential and for the benefit of business. Educators who once jealously guarded their autonomy now negotiate curriculum planning with corporate sponsors…. Professors who once taught are now on company payrolls churning out marketable research in the campus lab, while universities pay the cut-rate fee for replacement teaching assistants…. University presidents, once the intellectual leaders of their institutions, are now accomplished bagmen. In exchange for free merchandise, universities offer exclusive access to students for corporate sponsors. A professor’s ability to attract private investment is now often more important than academic qualifications or teaching ability.
In the university where I work, to add insult to injury, my staff card was embossed with the Coca-Cola logo, and this after more than 600 support staff were retrenched or outsourced to private companies. I assure you, “ things did not go better” with Coca-Cola – financial exclusions of poor students and other cuts continue.
As funds for public services are generally becoming scarcer, the commercialisation, capitalisation and privatisation of education gains momentum, aided and abetted by the corporate lobbying machinery. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) facilitates this process by insisting on the opening up of “education markets” to international capital and cross-border access to foreign service providers. Governments are pressurised to loosen constraints in the “trade” by lifting “constraints” such as subsidies and grants, labour and consumer protection laws, qualifications and local content provisions.
The key WTO agreement for this purpose is the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). GATS covers every service imaginable, including sectors that affect the environment, culture, natural resources, water, health care, education and social services. The chief beneficiaries of this new GATS regime are companies who are determined to expand their global reach and to turn public services into public markets globally. According to the organisation GATS Watch (2002), “Not only are the service industries the fastest growing sector of the new global economy but also health, education and water are shaping up to be the most lucrative of all services”. Healthcare is considered to be a $3.5 billion market worldwide, while education is a $2 trillion and water a $1 trillion market annually.
Rikowski (2002:1) writes, “…governments attempt to justify opening up education to corporate capital on the grounds that private sector management methods are best, and that business people are needed to ‘modernise’ education for a ‘knowledge economy’ based on information technologies”. There is widespread concern that this justification begins with companies’ involvement in commercial, accounting and information technology courses, and then fans out to encroach on the education sector as a whole.
We all experience the impact of corporate globalisation to a lesser or greater extent on a daily basis. So how do we intervene? Dave Hill (2004:14) implies that the influence of “big business and their governments” have already compromised university research. Similarly, there is a paradox – the funding of research is often linked to commercial interests; therefore, the potential for critical pedagogy, or for alternative perspectives in official spaces as a bulwark against these times, is severely constrained. I am more sanguine about the spaces and possibilities that exist in formal institutions. Once again, these relate to strategies involving issues of contestation, agency, of “whose knowledge counts” and resistance. These issues confront us more starkly then before and areas of intervention are certainly possible, in fact, necessary, if comparative education is to be effective in these times:
Hill, interpreting Paulo Freire, correctly claims that not enough academics are working as critical pedagogues who orient themselves toward concrete struggles in the public and political domains. Even among those educators who want to transform education to serve democratic ends, reservations abound concerning the importance of going beyond institutional spaces. Yet, Freire observed, “ the movements outside are where more people who dream of social change are gathering”. Hill argues, “to engage as critical cultural workers would require academics to politicize their research by becoming social actors who mobilize, develop political clarity, establish strategic alliances…” (Hill, 2004:16). Academics must lead the defence of higher education as a public good and an autonomous sphere of critical democratic citizenry, and resist commercial and corporate values to shape the purpose and mission of our institutions. The emphasis on technical rationality, simplistic pragmatism and undemocratic managerial imperatives must be countered. Proactively, initiatives should include linking programmes and projects to community needs and struggles as well as preventing the exclusion of poor students.
We have a role to play in ensuring that our curricula in schools and universities emphasise human rights, social justice and critical thinking toward an emancipatory consciousness. The lesson from the debates and some racist attacks in a few schools after 9/11 shows that much more work is needed in the areas of anti-discrimination. Stromquist (2002:5) agrees that schools face enormous challenges in making young people understand that human rights and peace are linked and that “you cannot trample on someone else’s rights to claim yours without incurring retribution at some later point”. However, she does add a caveat: “Appeals for the development among people particularly students of a stronger ethic of solidarity and empathy will not be sufficient; work has to take place both to illuminate the inequalities that exist in society as well as to redress the undesirable conditions…” (Stromquist, 2002:5). Pivotal to this endeavour is the development of teachers as critical, transformative intellectuals.
A priority for us should be a comparative investigation of neoliberal projects and the inequalities that arise out of these in different parts of the world. Genuinely collaborative teams of researchers linking the North and South have a role to play here. Culture and context do have particular provenance in these joint initiatives and should not be ignored (see Crossley & Jarvis, 2001). Areas requiring much more work include environmental justice, the effects of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, indigenous knowledge and collective human rights. Much research and activism is required to illuminate not only the ideology and symbols of discrimination but also the structural inequalities that perpetuate these. Crucially, an interdisciplinary approach that recognises the contributions of history, politics and economics as well as art, literature and drama should be pursued.
The importance of the media and social communication should not escape us. We need to occupy spaces that exist while we critique media that avoid critical scrutiny of the state and the effects of neoliberal globalisation. Generally, the media monopolies such as the Murdoch Group, CNN, Fox, the BBC and others have played the role of “weapons of mass deception”. Still there are honest journalists who are not sycophantic and “embedded”, as well as independent media that need to be engaged. The manufacture and manipulation of public opinion must be challenged in the tradition of Noam Chomsky, John Pilger, Robert Fisk and some of the courageous journalists at Al-Jazeera.
Methodologies of research that embrace participatory action research and popular education can become a “transformative endeavour unembarrassed by the label ‘political’ and unafraid to consummate a relationship with an emancipatory consciousness” (Kincheloe & McLaren, 1998:264). Burbules and Torres (2000:19) comment that from “…these critical perspectives might emerge new educational models … including education in the context of new popular cultures and nontraditional social movements; new models of rural education for marginalized areas and the education of the poor; new models for migrant education, for the education of street children….”
Above all, we need to accept that in the light of events over the past few years mere appeals for social justice and recitation of texts such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are inadequate. The veteran Tanzanian activist and intellectual Issa Shivji (2002:2) indicts this perspective of human rights:
…the US presented, and continues to present itself, as the champion of human rights, despite the fact that it was at the same time trampling on the basic rights of Third World peoples – their right to life and self-determination – as it propelled and fuelled wars and supported dictators. The setting of human rights standards through international conventions and declarations is itself a very contentious political process. We should be wary therefore of a perspective on human rights which does not treat human rights in the context of history and social struggle.
According to Keet (2002:35), UN conventions “differentially bequeathed rights without challenging the world order and in essence left the human rights landscape unchanged”. Following Upendra Baxi (1997a), the single most critical source of human rights is the struggles of the peoples of the world and the praxis of victims. These, rather than human rights instruments, should inform the discourse.
June Jordan (1997) explains:
And this is for Crazy Horse singing as he dies
because I live inside his grave
and this is for the victims of the bombing of Baghdad
because the enemy traveled from my house
to blast your homeland
into pieces of children
and pieces of sand…
And I am cheering for the arrows
and the braves
In a similar vein, South Africa’s Mazizi Kunene (1982), writing with dignity and suppressed passion after the 1976 Uprising where 800 people, largely children, were killed by the apartheid state’s police, is resolute:
We have entered the night to tell our tale
To listen to those who have not spoken
We, who have seen our children die in the morning,
Deserve to be listened to…
Nothing really matters except the grief of our children.
Their tears must be revered, their inner silence
Speaks louder than the spoken words; and all being
And all life shouts out in outrage.
We must not be rushed to our truths whatever
We failed to say is stored secretly in our minds;
And all those processions of embittered crowds, have
Seen us lead them a thousand times
We can hear the story over and over again, our minds
Are numbed beyond the sadness. We have received the power to command.
There is nothing more we can fear.
We meet here in Cuba, a country that has made impressive gains in education, health care, sport and cultural expression despite the decades-long blockade and other measures taken by successive US administrations. Cubans have sacrificed much in the pursuit of international solidarity. Holding on to these gains should not be the responsibility of Cubans alone. Not far from us is Guantánamo Bay, which Fidel once described as a dagger in the side of Cuban sovereignty. We are confident that Guantánamo Bay, like Robben Island in my own country, soon will no longer be a place where unspeakable human abuse occurs.
To hope like this is essential despite the bleakness of these times. The pre-eminent Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish (2004) succinctly captures this expectation:
Here on the slopes of the hills,
facing the dusk and canon of time
close to the garden of broken shadows
We cultivate hope.
An unjust world is not inevitable. The riposte to the TINA (There Is No Alternative) argument is THEMBA (There Must Be an Alternative). Taking our cue from the leitmotiv of the World Social Forum, it is up to us to prove that Another World Is Possible and urgently so. Finally, we take succour from the words of Maxine Green (1998:xxix):
…teaching for social justice is teaching for the sake of arousing the kinds of vivid, reflective, experiential responses that might move students to come together in serious efforts to understand what social justice actually means and what it might demand. That means teaching to the end of arousing a consciousness of membership in a society of unfulfilled promises… . Once awakened (as a group, a community) to concrete examples of injustice (the humiliation of immigrant children, the refusal of decent housing to single mothers or the aged, the deterioration of certain classrooms and not others…) they might, together, invent a project of remediation, palliation, repair.
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