Edward S. Herman
Nicolas J.S. Davies
War in Mali
A Lock on the House
Double Dip Recession
Politics of Austerity
Compiled by Joel Chaffee
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Knowledge for What? Educating for Social Justice
When the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December 1948, the General Assembly urged member states “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read, and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.” How well have schools and universities promulgated the Universal Declaration and other issues related to social justice and human rights and human rights behavior? And what challenges do they face in implementing these educational programs?
In his book Modernity and the Holocaust (1989), Zygmunt Bauman expresses outrage at the inability of the social sciences to “[assimilate] the lessons of the Holocaust in the mainstream of our theory of modernity and of the civilizing process and its effects.” His sentiments echo those of a now little-read sociologist, Robert Lynd, who argued passionately in his 1939 book, Knowledge for What?—written with the events in Germany as background—that social scientists must “keep challenging the present with the question: but what is it that we human beings want and what things would have to be done, in what ways and in what sequence, in order to change the present so as to achieve it?”
Bauman and Lynd imply that a real engagement with human rights and social justice would constantly interfere with—and so organize—our experiences. Unfortunately, too often discussions of current events are divorced from human rights topics. For example, an otherwise rich course at the University of Pennsylvania on “Psychological and Ethnopolitical Conflict” devotes a week to “Toward Ameliorating Ethnopolitical Conflict,” and covers such topics as “Psychodynamic approaches: loss and mourning, narcissism of small difference,” “Forgiving, negativity dominance, and some aspects of methodology,” and “Non-experimental (observational) studies: cross-sectional and cohort investigations.” Presumably, the promotion of human rights should have some role in “ameliorating” ethnopolitical conflict. Unfortunately, there is no mention of human rights in this 31-page syllabus. Similarly, university courses on the Holocaust commonly do not integrate human rights or contemporary human rights abuses into their syllabi. We have the examined past, but do we have a useable past? Examples abound of curricula that leave out the essential question: How we should behave in the light of human right abuses?
There are three approaches that are commonly found among educators that hamper social justice education. The first is a commitment to a particular model of education that champions objectivity, devalues subjectivity, and does not allow students to create personal values and a moral voice. The second approach is related to the first: devoid of a moral voice, students cannot develop sophisticated feelings that lead to ethical behavior. Finally, educators attempt to create professionals who can compete in their particular marketplace, but they do not discuss how these professionals could further the public interest.
Educators generally teach with a “literacy model” in mind. This model focuses on what students should know, as well as how they perform relative to their grade level. The national discussion on performance standards and standardized exams reflects this approach. Objectivity is the benchmark of the literacy model. The educator and sociologist Parker J. Palmer reminds us that “fact” comes from the Latin facer, “to make,” and “theory” comes from the Greek theoros, or “spectator.” The word “objective” is rooted in the Latin “to put against,” “to oppose,” and the word “reality” comes from res, meaning a property, a possession, a thing. In other words, we champion an intellectual approach that distances ourselves from the world. We master a subject (and note the element of possession in the term “master”) by dis-engaging. Palmer calls this educational approach in which our focus is always outward and separate, the hidden curriculum. The peril of this hidden curriculum lies in the inability to put relationships at the heart of education. Current education has eliminated the idea that knowledge implies connection and relatedness. How strongly I connect to the subject and why it makes a difference cannot be addressed if I am taught to distance myself from the subject.
The consequence of the literacy model keeps teachers from making value judgments about anything except the most blatant abuses. The argument is that since each culture has its own values and practices, educators should not make value judgments about cultural differences. As a result, educators have concluded that the study of customs and norms should always be value-free and that the appropriate role of the student/researcher is that of observer and recorder.
The fear of cultural imperialism impedes talk about what is right and wrong. This relativism—rooted paradoxically in the search for a value neutral objectivity—has even played an historical role in disengaging well- meaning intellectuals from the human rights debate. For example, in 1947 the executive board of the American Anthropological Association felt that no principle of human rights should apply to all human beings and withdrew from discussion about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The anthropologist Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban describes how torn she was between her commitment to respect local customs and her personal abhorrence of female genital circumcision (FGM). During the discussions at the 1993 International Human Rights Conference, Fluehr-Lobban realized that “there was a moral agenda larger than myself, larger than Western culture or the culture of the northern Sudan or my discipline.” She began to uncouple FGM from culture and think of body and pleasure and body and pain as universal, transcultural “grounding experiences” (as Martha Nussbaum phrases it) that are prior to specific cultures.
Gender-specific petitions for political asylum in the United States federal immigration courts often reveal the insensitivity (or confusion) of drawing a too-sharp distinction between universal ethics and commitments to local customs. Thus, in the 1996 case Fisher v. INS, the 9th Circuit Court held mistreating a woman in Iran for failing to follow the dress code was not persecution, but “routine punishment for violating generally applicable laws.” Her petition for asylum was denied.
I do not mean to deny the importance of context and the uniqueness of culture, politics, and power by my comments about relativism. Even the UN High Commission for Human Rights takes a pragmatic stance, and considers itself a “protection agency” rather than a relief organization because it has to work with government that are “sensitive to human rights issues,” when areas of national law conflict with international human rights law. International law does not deny the uniqueness of individuals and cultures. However, it assumes that universals exist and will emerge through a resolute quest for fundamental understanding and for actualizing the potential for a full life.
The fact that there is no culturally neutral interpretation of human rights should not keep us from discussing the challenges inherent in a universalism vs. the specificity of cultures. As Michael Freeman pointed out in a 2004 article in Human Rights Quarterly: “It is not the task of human rights theory to determine ultimate religious or philosophical truths, but to identify the rules that ought to govern the relations among persons of different beliefs.”
This brings me to the second point. The educational approach that privileges a value free objectivity hampers discussion of ethical behavior. Many educators, focused on literacy and mastery, do not articulate such a bold and explicit mission.
There have been interesting attempts to inject the question of how to behave in a few selected high school social justice programs and curricula. For example, the Boston-based Educators for Social Responsibility offers a curriculum for students, teachers, administrators, and support staff in middle and high school that “emphasizes making personal connections to the skills and concepts of conflict resolution. This personal perspective involves providing regular opportunities for self-reflection through observation, writing, reading, and discussion.” In this program, teachers are challenged to address behavior: “If we want students to use peacemaking skills in their own lives, we, as teachers, must strengthen our commitment to model and practice these skills on a daily basis in our classrooms and communities.” The National Council of Teachers of English Committee on Teaching about Genocide and Intolerance proclaims in its two-volume book of essays and resources that “If we as teachers believe that prejudice is a learned behavior, then it is imperative that we work as teachers to reduce, if not eliminate, prejudices we find both in ourselves and in our students.” Facing History and Ourselves addresses ethics in its history-based curricula on the Holocaust as well as the American civil rights movement. These educational programs do not shirk from a discussion of personal values and value building.
Lastly, the “literacy model,” whose aim is to turn students into future professionals, can disregard the conflict of interest between the professional and the public interest—a conflict amply illustrated by charges of partiality leveled against doctors who are paid by pharmaceutical companies to endorse new products.
In 1968, the distinguished American sociologist, Talcott Parsons, wrote that the professions have become “the most important single component in the structure of modern societies.” Parson’s statement is certainly true in our complex contemporary culture. Universities have been very successful in building professional cadres in nearly every field. Individuals, corporations, courts, and government increasingly depend on people who are purported to have expert knowledge. The danger is that experts are perceived to have special knowledge that is inaccessible or too complex for the general public—the entity they are supposed to serve. This confers a lot of power to the professional and is a barrier to informed discussions. In addition, status, social power, and significant financial gains often make them dependent on the social and political entities for which they provide services.
Unfortunately, many people around the world are in grave danger. Academic discourse is irrelevant to them if it is not accompanied by activism. The 1948 UN Genocide Convention was meant to be preventative and to mete out punishment. Recent genocides reveal the difficulty in preventing such events. The activism I speak about includes providing an acquaintance with the history of human rights abuses and sophistication about the way governments work. But this is not enough. Teachers must also engender feelings of obligation and insist that relationships are at the center of the human rights enterprise.
Social justice education that results in activism occurs when students become allies—rather than bystanders— to marginalized, voiceless, and under-represented people and groups in their community. A practical interest in local causes can be the starting point for students to engage with national and international human rights concepts and current issues of justice.
A recent case exemplifies this fusion of knowledge and ethical behavior. The Nation reported (December 17, 2012) that students in a sociology class at San Jose State University on “Social Action” decided to champion the minimum wage cause. Starting from scratch, they researched the problem, gathered interested students, approached unions for funding, lobbied the city council, and eventually gathered more than enough signatures to put a minimum wage proposal on the November 2012 ballot. It passed. They proved that knowledge in the service of social activism leads to meaningful change in society.
Michael Nutkiewicz was Executive Director of the Program for Torture Victims in Los Angeles from 2001-2007. He served as Senior Historian at the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, established by Steven Spielberg to videotape the testimony of Holocaust survivors.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.