October 21, 2020

An anarchist & trade-unionist critique of education

An anarchist & trade-unionist critique of education

From Freedom News UK by Mohamed Khougali

Analysis, Oct 4th

This essay is an attempt to further elucidate and elaborate on a previous article written about the British Eurocentric education curriculum. In the instigating article, I write about the usurpation of history through academic revival and conserving a certain historic and narrative arc. I go on to talk about the purposeful deification of white accomplishment and what that means to the students. I suggest four chief concerns that come out of this practice of historic ‘cleansing’? “(1) whitewashing, (2) loss of history, and intellectual ignorance, (3) frozen time, consequently moulding of identity, and (4) intellectual privilege”.

In this essay, which is necessitated due to the enflamed ‘culture wars’ currently annexing the zeitgeist, I widen the scope from psychology and the British educational curriculum to all subjects and the hegemony of Eurocentric academic curriculum. I will analyse the effects of the four concerns on our societies and how to neutralise their harmful effects. The chief concerns are adequately furnished in the instigating article.

On a sociological and economic note, it must be said that the US and UK curriculum is a ubiquitous phenomenon, and especially so in the global south. Perhaps this is an added patch to the wholesale globalisation of capitalism. It is often the bourgeois and upper classes who enrol their children to schools which provide these curriculum modalities. This produces the essence, and substance, of the dying and opportunistic postcolonial and subaltern theory. Which the abovementioned bourgeois use to negotiating with the neoliberals for “authentic” space and to amalgamate in the globalised capitalist system. Professor Chibber presents a revolutionary critique of postcolonialism that goes further than these words.

The first concern of erecting an academic border, in order to isolate and promote a certain historic arc, continues to perpetuity with the universalisation of (I)GCSE and SATs. This authority to narrate is a privilege bestowed to universities, government bodies and private entities in the UK and US. Here I think lies the great concentration of power which requires scrutiny and change. Of course, the two arguments that immediately follow any scrutiny of this authorship is; 1) the successes of the SATs and GCSEs are shared globally with those who wish to enrol, it’s not authoritative and cannot be a hegemony. 2) The bodies that compile the materials are of the highest standard in their respected countries, which is based on merit, not on conspiratorial authoritarian motives.

To tackle the first counter critique, there is an absurd and perverse conception in the political imaginary of what authority is, that which is by the rifle-butt, anything else is academic and theoretical. Which reduces the humanities to a ‘self-help book’. Authoritativeness comes in many forms, to suggest otherwise is to deny the legitimacy of genuine grievance. In our current globalist capitalist system, one needs to position themself adequately in the educational hierarchy to prompt career reincarnation into, at least, the middle class. It is unequally advantageous, in order to secure this position, to enrol the child into the (I)GCSEs or SATs, a form of the elite reproducing the elite.

For the other retort, firstly, highest standards according to whom? Highest standard according to the judgment of the institution compiling the examination; everyone has their biases, including said institutions and the governments that stamps for approval. The second part of that argument, ‘in their respected countries’, to suggest that the best for one country is the best for others without inviting scrutiny from other countries has clear imperial undertones. This is not an invitation to conjure the abovementioned postcolonial theorist for intervention. Both points of the statement amount to elitism.

The second chief concern is displacing the ‘other’ outside the scope of history, suggesting that the chronology of history is apathetic to these ‘token-others’. This is linked to the first chief concern, in that the elitism is consistently reincarnated until the token-other phenomena take root in the historic imaginary. Essentially, normalising the academic cleansing of other’s experience, this process is so very widespread that analysis of anything outside the periphery of academic orthodoxy is only legitimised through fetishism. The high priests of which are postcolonial theorists and the like. The two immediate criticisms of attacking the current academic methodology which disenfranchise is; 1) how can you possibly accommodate all of the world’s history and not disenfranchise anyone. 2) The history that is presented in the curriculum is simply the most relevant today.

To answer the first criticism, which is valid, this is not what is suggested here. The selected information is Eurocentric and exclusionary, there should be a mechanism to insure inclusion in the selection process. Why is it that we are not taught about the inception of the communist party in Kenya? Or the invention of the Zero? Or al-Mamun commissioning a titanic project that hinges on the advance use of spherical geometry? Ironically, the oldest university in the world was founded by a north African woman, Fatima al-Fihri, how is it possible that there’s no mention of her in the curriculum that is readying students to enter university? Adding all the accomplishment and happenings of history is impossible, but I think to lazily use that as an excuse so not to intervene in this act of cleansing is a flaccid criticism. The selection process needs radical reform, more on that later.

As for the second criticism, which I would assume is reactionary, this is flat out false, but it also misses the point. Every piece of information is important to some and irrelevant to others. World War I to me is far less important than Mek Nimr’s ambush of Ismaeil Kamil Pasha, to some readers it’s vice versa. What I am not suggesting is to simply select based on biases, but rather a fair, thoroughly studied, approach to make prime the consented curriculum material. Which emphases the world’s contribution to academia. One of the sadder moments in a previous year was a Nigerian girl asking me “what did we contribute to the world?”

This manifests in the ground, for example, during the Sudanese revolution of 2018/19, where women were on the forefront and were part of the driving force of the revolution. This phenomenon is then conceptualised in the media as a ‘feminist’ insurrection, literally as the women’s movement identified with its Kandaka history. A flagrant subversion to accommodate within the orthodoxy. This shows us the short comings of the current academic methodology. More so, it suggests that women struggle and liberation needs to be attached to the orthodox narrative arc to make sense. Let me be the first to inform, women have been struggling and fighting for rights in Sudan outside the ‘influence’ of the orthodox narrative arc of struggle for a very long time. The orthodox narrative encourages vanguardism.

This brings us to chief concern number three. Which is placing the token-other within a certain frame of analysis due to their perceived irrelevance and unorthodoxy. Cast to a peculiar existence, where their legitimacy relies on fetishized and isolated fragments of their history, perpetuated by the abovementioned unholy alliance between neoliberalism and postcolonial theorists. The neoliberals represent the orthodoxy, while the postcolonial theorists represent the opportunist bourgeoisie profiteering from the ‘other’s’ struggle through normalising existential peculiarities and existential limitation. Simply, attributing and preserving the existence of other groups within a framework that compliments the orthodox historic arc within the hegemonic curriculum. Colonialism and postcolonialism are examples where, as mentioned in the instigating article, Africans are identified solely with that historic saga. The persons who bestowed onto themselves the awesome responsibility to narrate the ‘authentic’ identity of the ‘native’ are postcolonial theorists.

Finally, the fourth chief concern. This concern pertains to the expectation to produce by the European, since the orthodoxy is that everything happens in Europe, this ricochets into two directions. Firstly, it disenchants the other group. Secondly, it turns the Europeans into both Sisyphus and Atlas, in the sense that they are consistently expected to push the boulder of knowledge indefinitely upwards, and must maintain the ‘Enlightenment’. Of course, both assumptions are ridiculous, but is naturally assumed, it’s a dogma. “Not every round shouldered man is therefore an Atlas”. In my opinion, this resuscitates the rhetoric, albeit diluted, of the ‘white man’s burden’ to civilise.

The reason why I thought this essay pertinent in this moment, is because of the acute race struggle awareness, culture war and despair that is tangible worldwide. When it comes to race and racism, I think as a society we’ve done an abysmal job at trying to justly answer the calls of the aggrieved. Reactions to racism are now in the form of teaching middle age people how to be ‘culturally sensitive’, or tokenism in the work place. This reveals a glaring ignorance of the actual fundamental disfunctions. On tokenism, this goes back to the peculiarity of existence, where the POC or BAME, or whatever exotic acronym used today, are reduced to their fetishized assigned background. Two immediate problems arise, firstly it cementifies the fetish and subjugates the POC employee, who is constantly in doubt as to whether they are good enough for their job, to the synthetically concocted identity categorisation. Secondly, it sedates any grievance, as if by magic this resolves the trauma that lead to this point.

I am of the opinion that the question of racism is a question of class struggle and education curriculum. Even if one reflects on imperialism or colonialism, essentially a classist endeavour, it was racialised to moralise its purpose. Similarly, today capitalism’s drive to consistently increase profit relies on, as professor Zuboff has demonstrated thoroughly, the spread of its influence through the commodification of that which can be commodified. The re-emergence of race hostility and racism, as documented, reaches its hights when there’s economic uncertainty. Where once it was acceptable to blatantly and violently physically attack minorities, today these physical attacks are not hyper-normalised and in their stead there’s what we call culture wars. All symptoms of the diagnosis of economic instability. So how does this relate to education?

Before answering this question, so to drive the point home, the commodification of racism is the incorporation of identity within capitalism and the labour market. As absurd as it may be, due to the encroaching influence of capitalism, the only time that one has to celebrate and reflect on identity is within the working hours. Meaning the expression of identity comes in the form of tokenism, organised racial celebration drives and general fetishizing of identity, due to our essentialism to produce or die in capitalism. When companies say they are diversity positive, they are saying “forget the economic injustices and class fraternity, focus on race and our magnanimity.”

The role of the current educational model is to drive a wedge between races, to purposefully gaslight class with race struggle. The jury is in, the rise of the far right in the West is due to economic uncertainty. One has to ask, why is it that economic uncertainty brings about racism? The narrative arc, as previously mentioned, suggests to the European that “you shall carry the torch of enlightenment, that the most important happening in history is what you produce. As for these others, they’re just here because of our charity.” Such sentiments are disseminated subtly through the educational system. The natural reaction is, since it is almost a right for the European to succeed, and she’s currently unemployed or not as successful as the previous generations, something has gone terribly wrong. This places her in a state of liquid fear, of precariousness, where she needs to maintain some sort of certainty, again all based on selective narrative arc. This is where the dormant academic biases are then brought to the fore through the media’s depiction of refugees and the flavour of minority to scapegoating in that particular decade. Those who are influenced by this sequence of logic then vent their frustrations through the alchemy of culture wars, where they pose questions, depending on the configuration between media and educational curriculum, of the type “these immigrants drain our resources, why do we let them in?” or “we’ve been too lenient in accepting the PC clan, now they’ve emasculated us! How should we challenge them?” My personal favourite is “why are universities and left-wing intelligentsia promoting cultural Marxism?” To that last one, which is pure fantasy, what is wrong with Marxism?

The liberals who are animated by, among others, the postcolonial theorists aren’t blameless in this. This war, like all wars, fills the coffers of these theorist and their like, where they make a career out of culture wars and are expected to represent the minorities and speak up for them. I’m afraid, it’s even more vulgar that that, they are the culprits that insist on, not just commodifying, but weaponising culture. Take cancel culture, which is the gentrification of African-American cultural expression to oppose or even boycott something; it could be a corporation or simply a flavour of gum, it can be ethical economics or the emerging fashion style. Yet the theorists have repurposed the phenomena, to the point where it’s at today, with academics having to sign a petition to stop the weaponisation of that phenomena. To go a step back, whether you agree with it or not, the fact that a cultural act has been commoditised and weaponised speaks to the success of capitalism to incorporate culture within the market. To say that being cancelled is some form of retribution does two things; firstly, it suggests that your value is determined based on your employment, a step closer to placing an employee’s entire life in orbit of the market, there was a word for when that happens. Secondly, it reduces the flow of cases to the judiciary, where some of these atrocious claims were supposed to go, increasing the importance of subjectivity.

I believe this is the coherent chronology that links educational curriculum, racism, culture wars and despair. How to fix it becomes the task. Simply, treat the diagnosis, not the symptom. The mode of treatment that has been offered has only exasperated the situation, as mentioned. We need to adopt an anarchist and trade-unionist position. What I mean by this is a community-based effort to tackle these disparities of power. Theoretically, when it comes to challenging the issue of hegemonic education curriculum, it should be a bottom-up approach. In the sense that inclusion shouldn’t be based on biases, the narrative arc should be one that satisfies the students democratically. We should be encouraging the students to vote on what they wish to be taught. This radical democracy will instil in the child the values of democracy and community, but more so, even if the child doesn’t get her pick, she’ll still understand that there is more to learn than what has been authoritatively handed down to her. The options of what they choose can be compiled by a group of democratically voted on academics, this invariably means that education should be a human right globally so not to create another inequality of elitism. We’ve already conceptualised democracy, why have we just limited it to politics?

Beyond this, it is important to impart onto children the culture of democracy. There is a real sense of disenchantment regarding democracy, today and historically, and this is due to both bottom-up and top-down initiatives. Where the elites consolidate power, and a general political masochism on the part of the citizenry. It’s easy to locate the motive for the former, the latter is more complicated. Political masochism comes from a need to be subjugated and to abdicate autonomy, this practice is developed at a young age where authority is automatically given to the elder. So prevalent is the practice, children compare their parents and teachers to Übermensch, and this is because of all the decision they are not part of and the assumed inherent rightness of what they are told. This continues on to student-lecturer dynamic, to employee-employer dynamic, etc. Any deviation would exile to existential and economic limbo. The model needs radical democratisation. Historically, when democracy is presented as an option to a population the first question would always be, are they ready for it? Whether the native of colonial Algeria, or the 1789 French revolution. I think it’s high time children embraced the ability to animate their own autonomy, at least with regard to what they are being taught at school, which they spend a large portion of their time in. I believe this radical democratisation will aid in creating a more egalitarian society.

As for practicing trade-unionism, next time a corporation suggests that it would like to ‘diversify’ its staff I think the response from the workers should be the seceded economic power be renounced to community workers movement or a valid trade-union. We’ve seen what coloured faces in high places have done, and what fear mongering has done, all to the detriment of the worker, the human. I suggest trade-unionism and anarchism because, there needs to be labour-ship negotiation to promote a healthier existence. To liberate expressing your identity in the workplace for it to be fetishized, commodified and inferred value within the market. Instead, one can celebrate her identity, race, faith, community, family and even work mates outside the market.

I think this article is important here in the UK, as Republicans are trying to dismantle and sabotage the 1619 Project in America, which provides an alternative educational arc than the traditional American one. Here in the UK we should be practising this radicalism if we are serious about workers, race and justice.

Mohamed Khougali

Image: Albert Bettannier’s 1887 painting La Tache noire, public domain.

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