Tee shirt designed by Miami University students, Oxford, Ohio
There is a lot of mamby-pamby rubbish trotted out these days about the need for "Engagement" in education. Usually this means trying to get bored and disengaged students to be interested in course material, eager to work and learn. Lots of solutions are trotted out - they usually amount to spicing up lectures to make them more interesting. Another means that has been proposed is to have students work on "real" projects in the belief that they will become more interested if they can see that they are actually making changes in the world. The point made in this essay, is that none of these definitions really address the needs of students to align themselves with community interests - and to become engaged in issues of social equity and justice. The normative definition leaves unadressed the croe issue of confronting injustice, whether corporate, institutional or buraucratic. Students engaged in community endeavours who do not engage with issues of power and inequality are just as likely to find themselves working for the bureaucratic state, the local government or the corporate oppressor where the issue of speaking truth to power is never called into question. In Cincinnati, for instance, the City is systematically criminalising homelessness, displacing the poor black community and destroying neighbourhoods to build upper class condos. Students at Miami University working through the Center for Community Engagement in Over-the-Rhine confront these issues everyday. They practice critical engagement - a form of academic engagement that stands in solidarity alongside the oppressed and marginalised. See also Pissing on Poles.
This talk was prepared for presentation to the European Architecture Students Assembly, in Manchester, England in August 2010. I was (and am still) concerned that the way we teach professional skills is directly related to the social, political, cultural, economic and environmental crises that seem to be increasing daily. The Wall Street sub-prime traders of today are the graduate students of yesterday. They learned their skills in an environment of social and cultural isolation - separated from those who ultimately paid the cost of their collective misdemeanours. Furthermore, the skills that they learned were forged in a pressure-cooker environment of rampant competitive individualism and selfish egocentrism - devoid of compassion, empathy or kindness. Their work ethic was grounded in the ideology of the free-market as Prime Mover - superseding all human agency - existential or otherwise. We now know the price of that education and the millions who had to pay, and while the Business Schools like Harvard and Stanford now scramble to reinsert courses on Ethics into their curricula, little has changed, simply because the foundational premises upon which their system of beliefs is built remains unchallenged and untouched. The rhetorical context of this piece is somewhat abbreviated - the talk was never crafted into a formal scriipt. But the images and occasional comments will perhaps convey the sequential argument that I was presenting.
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