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3rd Centavo ~ Acuña: Academe as a Plantation ~ A False Consciousness

by Rodolfo F. Acuña

The Webster’s dictionary defines a plantation as “a large area of land especially in a hot part of the world where crops (such as cotton) are grown.” However, like every other definition it has many lives. The popular meaning today includes large farms growing a commercial crop such as cotton, bananas or other single crop such as sugar. It needs a large labor pool comprised of slaves or near-like slave labor such as peonage.

Like prisons the slaves develop a mental and emotional dependency on the institutional life. I have friends who actually enjoy going back to prison, although acknowledging their loss of freedom. The plantation preys on this dependency and gives the inmates (slaves and peons) housing and other functions. They are often controlled through privileges that they are grateful for.

The university is organized in a similar fashion: the bosses, the overseers, the disparate crew bosses and the peons (the students). They are distinguished by titles: doctor, professor, mister and the peons by first name. Recently I referred to a colleague as Ms. So and so, she corrected me, Dr. So and so.

I responded that I did not use the title, any title, and that my father upon learning that I had one asked me, “¿si eres doctor que curas?” (“if you are a doctor what do you cure?”).

Everyone down the vertical scale has a title: full professor, associate professor and assistant professor. When I began at my present institution, the entry was often an instructor who was at the bottom of the overseer class but was in line to move up.

Originally the lecturers were paid better than the instructors or the part timers. However, the lecturers and the part timers were vulnerable because they were not in line to become “partners.”

Today the part timers enjoy some permanency thanks to a union contract. In lieu of equality they have been upgraded in name to “lecturers.” It sounds better, and a title almost always makes the guard feel like he is in line for a promotion to become a tenured professor.

This plantation mentality has been used very effectively by academe that has converted the institution into profit centers. The process is neoliberalism that “makes it harder for poor children to attend college and forces debt-ridden students into an intellectual and moral dead zone devoid of imagination.”

In an interview Henry A. Giroux defined neoliberalism as an ideology that interprets profit making as the essence of democracy and concludes that only the market can solve our problems. “As a mode of governance, it produces identities, subjects, and ways of life driven by a survival of the fittest ethic, grounded in the idea of the free, possessive individual, and committed to the right of ruling groups and institutions to accrue wealth removed from matters of ethics and social costs.”

This hit home the other day when I received an email from a part-timer who now considers herself a “lecturer.” She objected to my criticizing California State University Northridge for converting itself from a public university into a private university – privatizing the blue collar working labor pool into contract labor.

At CSUN and most state universities, the academy increasingly relies on part timers to process its classes. CSUN has not gone as far as some American universities and outsourced online teaching to foreign vendors via profit making centers such as the Tseng College. However, CSUN is headed the way.

Using part time or lecturers is cheaper than employing full time professors. The academy saves not only in salaries but costs for sabbaticals, release time, tenure, office space and other perks. In lieu of higher salaries many of the part timers (AKA lecturers) are forced to moonlight. In Chicana/o studies departments some teach at two and three other campuses to eke out a living. The result is they parachute in and out of the university, and students in most cases do not get the benefit of office hours.

Many of the so-called lecturers develop what Marxists called a false consciousness that is caused by the systematic misrepresentation of dominant class of reality. Thus the subordinate classes form a false consciousness. The ruling elites systematically conceal or obscure the realities of subordination, exploitation, and domination. Examples of this false consciousness abound; most obvious are workers identifying with the Republican Party or corporate thieves.

Critics of neoliberalism blame the lack of critical thinking skills. It is no accident that the teaching of critical thinking has been under heavy attack by neoliberals. Max Rafferty, a California Superintendent of Public Instruction in the 1960s, called the schools of education subversive for teaching critical thinking. The outcome is that it pays to be ignorant and ignorance like greed is good.

The notion of a false consciousness hit me the other day when I received an email from a part timer (AKA lecturer) who told me that I was “biting the hand” that fed me because I was criticizing the university and the administration for the abuses of neoliberalism and the privatizing of what was once a public institution.

The email began like all messages of this type; she demanded that I take her off my mailing list accusing me of sending unsolicited “missives” (she is on the humanities list server, not mine). She continued “I find your recent remark towards Dr. Harry Hillenbrand intolerable…I have been a lecturer in the Department of English for sixteen years… I have found Dr. Hillenbrand to be a valuable champion of my efforts, always with an open ear and open mind.” In the next breath she complains about “the interminable and convoluted confines of University Policy to improve teaching conditions for Lecturers at CSUN.” The writer then says that she is “only entitled to teach four classes per academic year, per my three-year contract, [thus] I earned $19,000 last year.” She then questions how much I have been paid, “Has the University really been that bad to you?” This is another way of telling me that if I don’t like it to go back to Mexico.

She concludes, “But I must say that, in the process, you bite the hand that feeds them. Please stop pissing on my CSUN. This place means too much to me to take your irresponsible jab at Harry Hillenbrand.”

Not once does she examine the issues of the lack of faculty diversity, out of control tuition, student debts, and the university as a profit center, the particulars of the UNAM/CSUN accord or other grievances that I have laid out. She admits that she only earns $19,000 annually which to me constitutes exploitation.

If she loves the university so much why does she tolerate these conditions? Why doesn’t she fight to convert part time positions into full time tenured faculty? And why doesn’t she fight for effective faculty governance through the California Faculty Association?

I am also concerned about CSUN. I am concerned about its ability to educate Latino, black and other working class students. I am concerned as their teacher not their doctor that they have the proper food, shelter and clothing. I am concerned that the universities are using them to pay for administrators, professors and “lecturers” salaries and perks. They are my students not my slaves.

Lastly, I am concerned about the growing academic-military-industrial complex in U.S. and Mexican universities. Higher education should be about teaching students how to think for themselves in a democracy, and not feed the false consciousness of my part time friend who works the same hours as a tenure track professor at, if I am to believe her, a third of the wages of an entry level assistant professor.

Perhaps she should be angry instead of taking it. But the truth is that academe like the prison and the plantation institutionalizes us not to piss on it. She should try it, pissing is often a pause of refreshment.

Rodolfo Acuña, Ph.D., is an historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies, which he teaches at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Occupied America: A History of ChicanosDr. Acuña writes various opinions and essays on his Facebook page and allows sites to share his thoughts.

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3rd Centavo: Acuna ~ How History is Socially Controlled in K-12

Setting Standards:  Serfs and Lords

by Rodolfo F. Acuña

People ask me if the banning of books is actually a blessing in disguise because it calls attention to the banned books. I respond, “Hell No!” Censorship threatens our freedom of speech, and it is the final step toward a totalitarian state.

In the guise of security, our emails and our phones are tapped. Anyone using a Wi-Fi can be spied on at will. What is happening today pales George Orwell’s 1984; it is as insidious as the methods used by the Nazis, the Stasi and the Russians.

The fallout of the banning of books affects all of us. In the future, it will negatively affect the publication of Latino books. What makes it so dangerous is that most of us are oblivious to this threat to our liberties. We are like the serfs in the Middle-Ages who were willing surrender their freedoms and their properties to the feudal lords in return for protection.

The first fatality of censorship is the truth. In the case of the censorship of books by the Tucson Unified School District, it was not just the books that were banned, it is also what will be published in the future. The banning of books did not affect the sales of Occupied America or the other banned books – the banning certainly did not hurt Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

The big losers are the new authors. Mexican Americans and Latinos do not have a defined market share to start off. Now they scared publishers to take a chance. As it stands, publishers look at us as foreigners and find excuses not to print books on U.S. Latinos.

The banning in Arizona will have a chilling effect on less established Chicana/o children book authors whose previous books showed promise, but will now have to wait and see which way the wind blows.

This hits close to home — been there before.

My first works were children and young adult books. They were accepted by publishers because there was a slight opening. They saw an emerging market for them in California and Texas. In the latter sixties, California’s social studies standards wrote Mexican Americans into its guidelines; this represented a huge breakthrough.

California purchased all the books for its school districts so even as supplemental reading material, there was a niche.

The other market was Texas. Publishers could have cared less whether Nebraska expressed an interest in Chicana/o K-12 children’s books. Publishers cared and care more about profit than need.

I had planned to write a children’s book every other year. At the time, I was inspired by the children’s books of Nephtali De Leon and Ernesto Galarza that went beyond entertainment.

At first the Texas Education Agency was enthusiastic about the books. However, things quickly changed. The first was a teacher backlash such as when San Joaquin Valley teachers threw Cultures in Conflict into the waste basket and refused to teach it.

Meanwhile, my activism was making waves, and Chicanos in the TEA told me that they were getting complaints about me from various districts. I was told in confidence that Texas would not be buying my books; this was confirmed by the American Book Co. and Charter Books both of whom had planned to publish more books on Mexican Americans.

These were not isolated cases. The truth be told, thought control exists throughout American education. It is subtle, and is much less transparent than the banning of books.

In Tucson, the books were removed from the classrooms in full view of students and teachers. The only thing that was missing was the Inquisitor’s bonfire. Also, most districts are not as stupid as Tucson and outlaw Shakespeare.

In California and the rest of the country commissions are appointed by the state boards of education to determine what can be taught at K-12 grade levels. The commissions are comprised of small groups of educators – generally white. Their actions are followed closely by special interest groups who want their version of the Apostles’ Creed taught in the schools.

Standards seem innocuous. Indeed, the word standard seems progressive, and we think of it as some kind of measurement. The mindset is that standards are necessary to furthered safety. They are necessary to improve our lives.

But the word is not as innocent as it seems. Today, the setting of standards in education has reached ridiculous proportions. It dictates what students can and cannot learn. Who is and who is not important to know about. In every sense of the word it amounts to censorship.

Without the knowledge of most people, the fight over standards has become part of the nation’s culture wars.

The problem is not so much with setting benchmarks in math and science – that is, unless they become muddied by the teaching of creationism. The major battlefields are in the field history–social science where right wing conservative groups focus their attacks.

Even liberals such as the late historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. often join the nativist ranks. Schlesinger in the 1990s wrote The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society that attacked multiculturalism and Afrocentrism. His position was so jingoistic that Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a professor of English and Afro-American studies at Harvard, called Schlesinger’s arguments a “demand [for a] cultural white-face.”

Schlesinger and his gaggle of supporters wanted U.S. standards to focus more on what the United States has done right than wrong on topics such as slavery and the treatment of Native Americans.

According to Schlesinger, the American identity was in jeopardy because multiculturalism and Afrocentricism placed race and ethnicity over national affiliation. Identity politics, according to Schlesinger, promoted separatist ideas of history.

Today, well-funded right wing foundations such as the National Association of Scholars have openly entered the culture wars. Their tactics are to purchase right wing scholars and fund their research.

In reality, Schlesinger’s position was not out of character. In an editorial in the New York Times Barry Gwen, “The C.I.A. and the Culture War,” wrote that Schlesinger’s early career was funded by the agency. The practice was part of the Cold War strategy.

In recent years Texas has been in the eye of the storm. Its fifteen member board of education is intent on promoting a curriculum that cultivates a suspicion of the notion of the separation of church, and indoctrinates students on the alleged contributions of the National Rifle Association to American history.

Texas is important because it in 2011 it had 4.8 million textbook-reading schoolchildren. The board that selects standards, selects what the children read. Special interests control the board because of a light turn out of voters and because of the contributions of wealthy donors that elect culture warriors.

This is not new. Since the 1960s, the selection of schoolbooks in Texas has been the target of the religious right.

Why do publishers tolerate these standards and demands to censor books? They are in it for the money. The State of Texas pays for the textbooks and the loss of this market could be a financial disaster.

In Arizona and Texas, the Mexican has replaced the communist as the boogeyman.

Witness the idiocy of Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne who justifies the censorship of books and the attack on Mexican American Studies by making absurd accusations that MAS promotes separatism and intends to reconquer Aztlán.

In conclusion, the banning of books or allowing right wing extremist to tell us what students should learn or not learn is thought control. It is undemocratic and we should fight back.

Rodolfo Acuña, Ph.D., is an historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies, which he teaches at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Occupied America: A History of ChicanosDr. Acuña writes various opinions and essays on his Facebook page and allows sites to share his thoughts.

3rd Centavo ~ Acuña: Politics is the Art of Compromise?

by Dr. Rodolfo Acuña

The most overused saying among liberals is that politics is the art of compromise, and it gripes me to no end. Liberals repeat it with such smugness as if they were sages. I find it so pretentious — to the point that I consider it a bunch of toro dung.

It is like saying that politics is the art of the possible, an equally absurd, pretentious and irritating notion. What happened to the impossible dream? Shouldn’t we always strive for something better?

If we have to have a standard wouldn’t a better saying be that politics is the art of principle after all politics is not a game. It involves people, and consequences.

In my own little world, I have seen too many Chicana/o studies programs compromised out of existence with administrators convincing Chicana/o negotiators that it was impossible to give them what they wanted, not enough money. At the same time the president of the institution draws down $300,000 a year, and gets perks such as housing, a per diem, and an automobile. One recently retired university president that I know sits on two corporate boards of directors, and draws down an extra $300,000.

This is academe’s version of one potato two potatoes three potatoes, more.

The game gets ridiculous. Faculties at institutions of higher learning supposedly have shared governance. In fact, every committee is merely advisory to the president who can accept or reject the recommendations.

For the past several years California State University professors have been playing footsies with the administration or better still the chancellor’s office over the budget and pay raises. This is a Catch-22, however. Faculty members also say that they are concerned about the escalating tuition; note that students pay as much as 80 percent of instructional costs. So where is the additional revenue going to come from? Professors love students, but not enough to forgo raises or out of principle go on strike to trim back the number of administrators and the presidents’ salaries.

It really gets ridiculous at times. At Northridge, Chicana/o studies was threatened that if it exceeded its target enrollment that the department would be penalized and its budget cut. Our former chancellor wanted to pressure the state legislature to cough up more money by turning back students. The administration minions at the disparate campuses justified this by repeating the party line that numbers do not count. In fact they laid a guilt trip on us saying that Chicana/o studies professors we were not team players because we were admitting too many students.

As a result, this semester we have a crisis. The institution did not admit enough students; the rationale was if we had fewer students, then we would spend less. But it does not work that way. At state universities even the allocation for paper clips depends on how many students you are taking in. That is why most departments are now being told to beef up their enrollment or lose a portion of their department budget.

Good old compromise got us there as well as the illusion that faculty has power. In fact there were other possibilities. Compromise was not necessarily one of them.

The word compromise is insidious. President Barack Obama has been trying to play Henry Clay and show that he is a great compromiser – forgetting that he is not bargaining for a used car.

President Obama compromised and got his Obama care package. A half a loaf is better than none my Democrat friends repeated, smiled, and nodded. But, according to the New York Times, “Americans continue to spend more on health care than patients anywhere else. In 2009, we spent $7,960 per person, twice as much as France, which is known for providing very good health services.” An appendectomy in Germany costs a quarter of what it costs in the United States; an M.R.I. scan less than a third as much in Canada.

The U.S. devotes far more of its economy to health care than other industrialized countries. It spends two and a half times more than the other countries do for health care; most of it is funneled through giant health corporations. Why do we pay more? Could it be because Obama compromised on the single payer?

I have been to France, Spain and Germany; I can testify that the quality of care is on a par and often better than in the U.S. and the earnings and prestige of doctors is equivalent or better.

Why is this? Could it be that they don’t have giant medical corporations making tremendous profits? Just Blue Cross of California has annual revenue of $9.7 billion. This not for profit corporation made $180 million in excess profits in 2010.

The only conclusion that I can reach is that Obama was suckered into believing compromise was necessary and that politics was the art of the possible instead of sticking to principle.

Let’s be honest for a moment, immigration was put on the back burner until the Democratic party realized that in order to win that Latinos better be invited to the dance.

However, Mexican Americans, Latinos or, whatever we call them, play the same ridiculous game as white people do.

Go to the neighborhoods, ask Central Americans if they are Mexican, and they get insulted. Ask Cuban Americans if they are Mexican, and they get insulted. Many resent the fact or want to ignore that Mexican Americans make up two-thirds to 70 percent of the Latino total.

So, let’s not rock the boat, Mexicans will call any politician with a tenth Mexican blood a Latino and call them compadre. They are happy to be called anything but Mexican.

I don’t know how we are going to get out of this bind when we have to vote for people without principles. Are we going to support a Marco Rubio or a Ted Cruz because they have Spanish surnames, or George Prescott Bush because his mother was Mexican, and forget that he was once called ”the little brown one.”

It gets ridiculous — like that game played in the Huffington Post’s Latino Voices that features articles asking, do you know that this actor or actress has Latino blood? It is as stupid as the game of compromise or the art of the possible.

It reminds me of my grandfather and uncles who worked on the railroad (Southern Pacific) for fifty years who would say that a certain foreman was simpatico, they just knew he liked Mexicans. Why shouldn’t he? Mexican workers bought his lottery tickets and junk jewelry.

Support should be based on principle. I support Central and Latin Americans not because their numbers swell opportunities for politicos, but because they have suffered European and Euro-American colonialism, and come to this country for a better life. They deserve what every other human being should have.

We are not going to get a thing through compromise. Every time I look at John Boehner, Eric Cantor and their buddy in the Senate who reminds me of the bloodhound Trusty in “Lady and the Tramp”; I am reminded that a fair deal is based on integrity. I would not want any of these jokers to come to dinner – not in my house!

Before we start compromising and calling anyone our amigos remember that Boehner called a 2007 bipartisan immigration bill “a piece of shit.” This is what he thinks about us. I use the generic word Latino because I care about my Latin American family – not because I want to be Italian.

Obama is now at a crossroads. He is going to have to make a decision, and that decision does not only encompass immigration and gun control. It is about whether politics is the art of compromise, the art of the possible, or whether it is about principle.

My advice is to tell his three Republican amigos to take a hike and mint the damn trillion dollar coin. It is better to be right and to be respected than to be liked.

Rodolfo Acuña, Ph.D., is an historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies, which he teaches at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. Dr. Acuña writes various opinions on his Facebook page and allows sites to share his thoughts.