Book Review: Privileged Education for the Marketplace

Mula Tore patungong Palengke: Neolliberal Education in the Philippines by Bienvenido Lumbera, et al. editors. Published by IBON Foundation.

In the best tradition of progressive scholarship, this 347-page book is a collection of 25 reflective essays, grouped into four major chapters, written by teachers, scholars, and researchers who have a stake in the academe and are concerned by the alarming developments in our educational system.

Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 21, July 1-7, 2007

In the best tradition of progressive scholarship, this 347-page book is a collection of 25 reflective essays, grouped into four major chapters, written by teachers, scholars, and researchers who have a stake in the academe and are concerned by the alarming developments in our educational system. It is a powerful critique of what it calls “neoliberal education” and the social structures that spawn it. The liberative impulses of a new world throbbing within the shell of the old are reflected in these essays by a group of young and not-so-young, committed progressive intellectuals. Collectively, the authors have written an engaging book about our educational system, not a polemic.

Our economic system is driven by the accumulation of capital, that is, by an attempt by a small minority of persons who own society’s productive wealth to maximize both the profits and the growth of their enterprises. This drive is incessant and engulfs nearly every aspect of life in every nation on earth. The book demonstrates the centrality of the dynamics between the now globalized market economy and the institutions that it has created to perpetuate itself. For in the academe, we see the neo-liberals (as they are called in Europe) and neo-conservatives (as they are called in the United States), giving birth to ideas that would sustain it, how to supply the future managers for the system, and the arguments to rationalize the existing order. Thus, the academe becomes the ideological home for the rationalizations and analyses for the “free markets,” “free trade,” and “deregulation and privatization” which are relentlessly hammered home by the U.P. School of Economics. But our neo-liberal friends neglect to tell us that their prescription is based on freedom for business but discrimination against and repression for the laboring poor.

The book’s contributors are right in pointing out that as the free-market steamroller moves forward on the economic front, its neo-liberal counterparts in academe trivialize the liberative aspects of education, emphasizing only its marketable aspects. A crucial point here is that the material infrastructures of the neo-liberal educational system promote and attract the largesse – money and resources – to create the intellectual ammunition, to promote and to defend structural adjustment policies that devastate the lives of the poor and promote the interests of a privileged minority. Thus, courses and programs that strengthen Filipino identity and culture against historical amnesia, that are deemed “less marketable” are gradually phased out by making them compete with more exotic sounding course offerings, or with courses deemed more attractive for foreign employment.

Nevertheless, to confront these challenges and the dominant paradigm, those of us who understand the malaise need to stir up debate, to enable the emergence of a new vision for the future. Let me state that when we talk of education and the educational system, we speak of the future being in the present. The future, so to speak, is now. But while the educational system is the de facto appendage of the state, the corporations, and private interests, we also assert the primacy of intellectual autonomy to challenge that reality, through meaningful intellectual inquiry and public discourse. As such, this book and those of us who agree with its fundamentals are a “dysfunction” to the prevailing economic system and its cultural and ideological infrastructure. For in apprehending what the very power of capital is inadvertently proclaiming as it overruns, subordinates and dominates every aspect of our lives and minds, we overcome pessimism and leap to optimism. And as the book suggests, an alternative is possible, one that is rooted in our collective liberating potentials to replace it. But at the core of this discussion is this: the real challenge before us is not to limit or constrain, but to expand the space for academic freedom, and hence, the university’s inspirational and visionary function. And since society is an association of free persons, it does not need to surrender to the logic of the market.

In the University of the Philippines, the political and intellectual autonomy of the academe as a counter-institution to a repressive neocolonial state emerged in the 1970s during the Diliman Commune. This was the historic event during the First Quarter Storm when University constituents – students, faculty and the U.P. community – formed the “Malayang Komunidad ng Diliman” (Liberated Community of Diliman) and literally took up C. Wright Mill’s trenchant challenge to contemporary intellectuals “to speak truth to power.”

The power structure in the academe is not left out in the book. For our institutions, too, adopt the neo-liberal paradigm in their university governance, curricula and programs. As the facilitator of the cultural and ideological apparatus to the neo-liberal agenda in both the institution and in public policy-making, academic administrators often become the aggressive implementors for the smooth operation of the neo-liberal agenda. Why, the administrators have already begun to treat knowledge as “intellectual capital” and “intellectual property.” But while the law of the marketplace is promoted as the dominant mode in governance, are universities not supposed to counter the inequities of neo-liberalism and the market economy, to assume the role of social critic? It is indeed imperative that we assert and extend democratic decision-making in the university, if only to develop the constituents’ leadership, intellectual and cooperative capacities.

Whatever social, political or economic system we are made to endure, the academe must sustain its reverence for scholarship, its tolerance of diversity and dissent, and its belief in the freedom of speech and the academic freedom that we often take for granted – the freedom of inquiry and expression on any subject, whether on University issues or the state of the nation. And even more important, social activism and transformation have to start at home, in our universities, and eventually develop ever broader, more inclusive forms of solidarity and action outside the confines of the classroom.

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