My first full-time teaching job was as a sociology instructor at Career U. Unlike other career schools, this one actually gave me freedom to design my own Intro to Sociology courses—certainly not the norm at most career schools. I met some pretty cool students in those classes, and we did good work. My job helped to promote critical thinking among the students.
Hooray for me!
So this week’s class reading, Gayatri Spivak’s essay “Teaching for the Times,” was quite jarring. In this essay, Spivak writes:
Proctor and Gamble, a large U.S. multinational corporation, sends students specializing in business administration abroad to learn language and culture. Already in 1990, the National Governors’ Association report queried: “How are we to sell our products in a global economy when we are yet to learn the language of the customers” . . . We are caught in a larger struggle where one side devises newer ways to exploit transnationality through a distorting culturalism and the other knows rather what transnational script drives, writes, and operates it. [emphasis hers]
I’ve been reflecting on my role in this transnational script, on how the classes I taught over those past three years at Career U were actually in service of this “distorting culturalism.” How many students eventually went on to use their knowledge in service of the various Proctor and Gambles?
Towards making globalization palatable to people in the Third World, the very people who would also be made to shoulder the resulting devastation?
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It’s easy to harp on the career universities and for-profit institutions. But this has long been happening in the community colleges where I teach, in the R1 where I work and study. There are business and finance students in our ethnic studies classes, who see [insert ethnic or racial group here] communities as the next great untapped market.
There are students taking Asian American and Asian history courses to market themselves to multinationals. And because these courses increase their chances of getting into law or business schools.
There’s the publications spawned from the various research centers, with their non-transparent funding.
Hey, at least the for-profit universities are honest about their corporatism.
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This post was initially titled Colonialism, because I want to explore the various ways that institutions like the academe, development organizations, and yes, even the blogosphere shore up colonialist discourse. And I’m still thinking about those. But optimist that I am, let’s focus on the possibilities for ruptures.
It’s been more than a decade since I read Freire, and I remember how fired up I was about the transformative power of education, about education being the “practice of freedom.”
I have seen snippets of critical pedagogy in action. Not a lot, but enough to keep me hopeful. One that stands out was a class on Asian American women that I TA-ed. Majority of the students signed up to fulfill course credits, dreading what they expected to be an indoctrination from an “angry woman professor.” What they got was an instructor who was developing her own ideas on Asian American feminist epistemology, so she came into the class as both a teacher and a learner.
It’s hard to describe in writing just how well she ran the class. She rarely used the term “feminism” except in reference to liberal feminism. And through pedagogical techniques such as situated knowledge and standpoint exercises, she pushed these pre-med and pre-law students to critically evaluate feminist theory from their own lives as Asian Americans and Asian American women. To think about how much these theories address, and about aspects of their lives that the theories do not even recognize. Some final papers showed a rudimentary grasp of feminism and womanism, while others went beyond that to grapple with how being women and Asian Americans positions them socially and professionally. In their evaluations, students wrote of being surprised, disturbed, and profoundly moved by the class and the instructor.
I still struggle to really understand critical pedagogy, how courses like women’s studies and ethnic studies could move beyond preaching to the choir, and really serve to center education in a wider democratic process.
But what else do you do? Spivak reminds those in women’s studies that we’re no longer oppositional scholars, that we’re very already much caught up in the transnational script of capital. It’s really a matter of deciding what kind of script that you want to help write.