Wednesday, August 29, 2007

On Being a Tool

Heard this commentary this morning from an African-American student from a working class family that is in her second year as a student at New York's elite Sarah Lawrence College. In it she talks about her alienation from the well healed student body in her first year as a Freshman. The commentary itself is quite compelling but what caught my ear was her quote from Audrey Lorde: "you can't use the master's tools to tear down the master's house."

Yes and no...

Reading? yes. Math? yes. Economics? yes. Science? of course. Now all of these tools can and are used in subjective ways that keep the master in banks, bimbos and armies but as a teacher I notice that lots of urban kids become nihilists and across the board oppositionists. It's a fine line then between having a radical pedagogical perspective and a bent towards progressive change and being an apologist for the system. Because you need to know how something works if you want to break it down to say nothing of putting something positive in its place. Students see that the system is failing them and the larger community so they reject all institutions, including education, and authority because they see any kind of accommodation as selling out, particularly for black males.

The commentary also reminded me of the old story about Che and the National Bank of Cuba. So the story goes that around 1962 or so Fidel called in the tops in reaction to the dismal state of the Cuban economy with Che as the head of the bank. Fidel then said, "hey remember when I asked are any of you guys an economist because I have an important job for you and Che spoke up and said, I am, I want the job?" At that point Che got up and said, "oh, I thought you said are any of you guys a communist?"

Moral of the story: it's not always red over expert.


TAF said...

The most interesting point here is the turn to nihilism among your students. That really stands out as a tragic outcome of this social collapse. But are you sure it is nihilism? Maybe more like narcissism or even hedonism. There is plenty of support for narcissism elsewhere in the popular culture and many of the idolized entertainers glorify a kind of hedonistic lifestyle and that seems to be the ideal. Whatever the -ism, it is tragic.

anton said...

Oh no, they are certainly narcissists and hedonists but that's a given. The problem is that lots of them think of themselves as radicals or revolutionaries but they are just "raging against the machine" but are not sure how the machine runs or which machine should replace it let alone how to make a new machine.