In “Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market,” the late great sociologist Pierre Bourdieu discusses the social suffering experienced by teachers, social workers, and other members of what he calls the left hand of the state: the “agents of the so-called spending ministries which are the trace, within the state, of the social struggles of the past.” The left hand of the state is opposed to the technocrats of the Ministry of Finance, the public and private banks. Today, the powerful right hand of the state no longer seems bent on amputating the left hand.
This battle between the two wings of the state was particularly apparent this week. In Rhode Island, state officials fired the entire teaching staff of a school that had been judged to be failing. The right hand brings the ax down on the left. This is part of the “accountability” agenda advanced by the Republicans since “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB). Particularly disturbing, however, is the fact that this decision was publicly supported by President Obama and the Democrats. In fact, the action was partially a product of his administration’s wholesale embrace of NCLB. The school in question was to be reconfigured under the guidelines of an Obama administration School Improvement Grant, which mandated that poorly performing schools should be transformed by a) extending instructional hours; b) converting them to charter schools; c) closing them entirely; or d) replacing the principal and half of the staff. The local school board had been pursuing the first option, but when the teachers’ union demanded higher wages for increased instruction time, the board broke off negotiations and shut down the school. NCLB=No Teacher Left Employed.
There has been some resistance to this punitive agenda of late. On Thursday, a national day of action in defense of public education saw demonstrations take place across the country. Here’s a map of actions. My union, the Professional Staff Congress, took part. I was tied up with a job search, unfortunately, and so don’t have any pix. But the PSC recently produced a great brochure that makes some strong arguments against proposed cuts to higher education in NY. And here’s an interesting video meditation by UC Berkeley activists on the student movement:
I’ll give Bourdieu the last word: “Now that the great utopias of the 19th century have revealed all their perversion, it is urgent to create the conditions for a collective effort to reconstruct a universe of realist ideals, capable of mobilizing people’s will without mystifying their consciousness.”