Issue #27, September 1996
How much should the state invest in education? In the United States, and elsewhere in the world, this question is being raised at the national and local levels. Funding for public education in the US has been cut repeatedly over the past decade, leading to intense debates over what should be done with the scant amount of money that remains. Teachers' unions suffered what amounts to resounding defeat in negotiations with their districts and universities, and in California, many K-12 teachers took pay cuts in order to keep their jobs. Other states have issued almost no pay raises for teachers in the past several years. Graduate student instructors who have tried to form unions at universities in the US have been crushed, and many have been forced out of school for presuming to call themselves employees who deserve recognition.
At the same time, as Megan Shaw points out in "Public Education Policy, But For Whose Sake?", left and right-wing critics of education are battling over what constitutes an "education" for U.S. citizens. Should the state give illegal immigrants a free education? Should teachers encourage critical thinking, or should curricula focus on "the basics" and rote memorization? Perhaps most importantly, people are arguing over what it means to be knowledgeable about the United States and other nations. Progressives favor a multicultural education, which emphasizes the different histories of people in this country and throughout the world; conservatives favor English-only schooling that sometimes includes prayer and nearly always excludes sex education, ethnic studies, and young women who become mothers in high school.
Ultimately, all of these issues boil down to who and what will be funded. It's no secret that the amount of education you're allowed to receive and the amount of money your educational institution receives will largely determine your ability to get a job. What happens to education is intimately bound up with what happens to the economy and each individual's class position within it. At this point in history, the value of education and knowledge are themselves undergoing radical revision. We can no longer say for certain that the schooling we receive really prepares us for the world in which we live -- nor can we say for certain that education as we know it will even exist for very much longer.
In the face of that uncertainty, and the scarcity of funding for purely academic projects, Charlie Bertsch questions the distinction frequently made between academia and the "real world" in "Pedagogy of the Depressed." He argues that there are important reasons for protecting universities from the concerns of the marketplace. At the same time, however, there is clearly something positive in efforts to make higher education more relevant to everyday life. In his article "Heritage of the Hidden-Hippies," Jeremy Russell writes about education in a less formal setting, asking what he learned from being raised by hippies, and how that form of education affected him as he grew up, first in Idaho, then in California. Immigrants studying English and American culture are the subject of Ron Alcalay's article "Observing Americans, EFL Students Share Insights." He quotes them writing on what they perceive about American culture while living in America, and explains how we can learn about ourselves from them.
Several of the articles in this issue explore what place art has in our lives and in our political movements, how art is taught and how it teaches. Artist Mike Mosher's article "Eye Candy Like a Raised Fist: Graphics for Political Words" traces the role art has played in politically radical groups, and how it can contribute to them. In "Just Say No To Rock and Roll," Joel Schalit analyzes the hidden political meanings of the media's construction of Nirvana and how that has been received. Annalee Newitz's "Jane Austen: The Movie, Or Why We Watch Great Books" analyzes movie and TV adaptions of Jane Austin novels. She criticizes the association we make between the consumption of art and "bettering" ourselves.
All of the contributors to this issue of Bad Subjects are in one way or another implicated in the educational system which they are also criticizing. Some of us are students, some educators, some work in fields related to education policy. Although most of us are involved in what gets called "formal education," we are also attempting to break down the boundary between education and the rest of our lives. Going to school and taking classes at colleges and universities are not the only ways that we learn how to work and behave in responsible ways with each other. The articles we've gathered for this issue attempt to reimagine education as an ongoing, social process where what we learn, and where we learn it, are not nearly as important as what we do with what we've learned and how we try to change our lives as a result.