September 19, 2009
Is academic integrity at Halifax’s largest university compromised by funding from the military?
by Jane Kirby
Reprinted from The Dominion
HALIFAX—In May 2008, Dalhousie University's $2-million funding agreement with arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin raised alarm bells for many local peace activists and advocates for academic freedom.
With attention focused on the science and engineering departments involved in contracts for developing weapons technologies, however, relatively little focus has been given to the role of social science departments in conducting military research - this despite the fact that the Department of National Defence (DND) has been directly supporting research at Canadian universities for over 40 years.
Dalhousie's Centre for Foreign Policy Studies (CFPS), a research institute affiliated with the school’s Political Science Department, received $323,636.21 from various programs and channels of the DND in 2008-2009, according to the Centre's annual report. This means that direct military funding accounted for approximately 56 per cent of the Centre's overall budget.
The bulk of this funding comes via the Security and Defence Forum (SDF). One of the requirements of receiving the core SDF grant is that CFPS must teach a minimum number of courses with “significant security and defence content.” According to the Centre's 2008-2009 Annual Report, this means 15-20 courses with at least 50 per cent security and defence content.
“What concerns me about the CFPS is that the funding they receive from the military will affect the scope of my education as a student of political science here at Dalhousie,” , says Jesse Robertson, a third-year Political Science student at Dalhousie and a member of the Student Coalition Against War (SCAW). “I believe course content should be determined by the university, its professors, and its students, and them alone”
The SDF is a program of the DND that is mandated to promote “a domestic competence and national interest in defense issues of current and future relevance to Canadian security” through research, education and outreach. According to the SDF's website, this includes supporting academic research on issues including terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, Canada-United states defense relations and the Canadian Forces' international role.
The SDF provides awards for graduate and postgraduate students working in such areas and funds research centres on university campuses across the country including the Gregg Centre for the Study of War and Society at the University of New Brunswick, the Centre for International Relations at Queen’s University, the Centre d’études des politiques étrangères et de sécurité at Université du Québec à Montréal/Concordia University and the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.
Dalhousie's Centre for Foreign Policy Studies is one of 13 such “Centres of Expertise” directly linked to the SDF. The Centre currently receives the maximum core SDF grant of $140,000 annually, with up to $16,000 in additional funding available for conference funds, according to the grant agreement between the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies and the Security and Defense Forum. This is in addition to the $11,000 in Special Project funding given by the SDF to the Centre in 2008-2009 to pursue specific research and outreach projects.
According to Dr. Amir Attaran, Professor at the University of Ottawa, Canada Research Chair in Law, Population Health and Global Development Policy and vocal critic of the SDF, this funding formula has troubling implications for academic freedom. “It is very pernicious, I think, when any academic is handpicked for funding by the government, and I do not restrict this criticism to the DND”, says Attaran. “What this does is create an environment in which people are not competing for funding, and in which the government is buying its supporters, acquiring groupthink. And groupthink is especially dangerous in times of war”.
In addition to teaching courses with "significant security and defence content" in exchange for the core SDF grant, the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies is also expected to conduct research on security issues and produce about 50 publications per year. The Centre is also required to conduct outreach activities with the Canadian Forces, the Department of National Defence, Parliament and the Canadian public. This includes organizing and promoting conferences, workshops and events, and giving regular media briefings.
Despite the need to fulfill the above requirements, faculty members associated with CFPS maintain that the SDF grant does not influence the content of the Centre's research or teaching activities. “The funding really is arm’s-length”, maintains Dr. David Black, the current Director of CFPS, “I know it's shocking, but there really is no intervention.”
Black asserts that while “it would be fair to say that the bulk of people associated with SDF Centre's would take a traditional view on security and defence,” the SDF “does not intervene at all in how one defines security and defence”. He points to the Centre's recent Child Soldiers initiative, which links security to development and has allowed for dialogue with former Child Soldiers, as an example of the breadth of subjects that can be researched and taught by Centre faculty under the SDF grant.
Projects like the Child Soldiers initiative are “not exactly military propaganda", agrees Ken Hansen, a Defence Fellow at Dalhousie and affiliate of the CFPS, claiming that the financial incentive for influencing research topics or outcomes in favour of the DND is nonexistent. “The budgets are so small. $140,000** does not buy you a puppet on a string”.
Others are skeptical of those who maintain that funding sources have no impact on research content or outcomes.
“That is a neanderthal view of research ethics,” says Dr. Attaran. “That argument would never hold up in the natural or medical sciences. It's the same argument scientists used to accept money from tobacco companies to study smoking”.
Other think-tanks funded by the SDF have been accused of publicly taking stances on military issues without disclosing that they are funded by the DND. Dr. Attaran points to one example of an SDF-funded academic testifying to Parliament in favour of Canada's mission in Afghanistan, without disclosing that the research on which his testimony was based was funded by the DND.
Kaleigh Trace, a recent graduate of the International Development Studies Department at Dalhousie and a member of SCAW, extends these concerns to the courses taught by the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. “How unbiased is policy advice given to government officials or briefings given to the media when it is based on research ultimately funded by the DND?” asks Trace. “How objective can course content based on this same research be?”
The 19 courses taught by the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies that fulfilled the SDF's requirement for security and defence content were offered mostly through the political science department, with one course in international development studies and two courses in history. Faculty associated with CFPS maintain that these courses would be taught whether or not SDF funding was involved, and that content for these courses can take a variety of perspectives that is not in any way influenced by the connection to DND. “Poli Sci is not in any way beholden to CFPS”, says Dr. Black, “Neither we nor anyone from SDF vets the content of those courses”.
Jesse Robertson disagrees that the funding arrangement has no impact on course content. “When an outside body creates a financial incentive for certain courses to be taught, the independence of the university is at stake. What would people think about Dal if an oil company agreed to give money to the Engineering Department for every course taught on oil extraction? My worry is that the financial incentive for professors in the Political Science department to teach courses on war and security limits the opportunity for myself and others to study other fields in the department”.
The Student Coalition Against War has suggested that any course that fulfills the security and defence content requirement make its connection with the CFPS, the SDF and the DND explicit in course calendars, giving students the opportunity to decide whether or not to enroll. While it may be difficult to avoid such courses entirely, given that core Political Science courses like World Politics are included on this list, SCAW says full disclosure would give students the opportunity to consider how military funding might influence the perspectives advanced in the course.
Dr. Attaran extends this argument to apply to all activities of SDF-funded Centres and academics. “If you are going to accept SDF funding, which I think is unwise…in everything you write about the military or security you must disclose this. If you are giving a lecture on security or military history or social responsibility in times of war, you must disclose this. Otherwise you are not teaching or doing research ethically”.
“This kind of thing happens all the time”, notes Dr. Attaran. “But the point is that the SDF is particularly dangerous because military research is particularly dangerous. We are talking about war.”
**Hansen's numbers reflect only the core amount of funding given annually to the Centre by the SDF and do not include special project grants or conference grants. They also do not include Hansen's own $153,000 salary, which is paid for directly by the Navy, not through the SDF.
Written and researched by Jane Kirby with files from Ben Sichel
Dominion Editor’s note: Jane Kirby discloses her own involvement with the Student Coalition Against War, even though SCAW provided her with no financial incentive to write this piece.
Rebel Youth Editor's note: Good for you Jane!
Rising rates of teen pregnancy and STDs in the United States are the result of programmes intended to stamp them out.
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 27th July 2009 as "Politically Transmitted disease"
All of us are in denial. Without it we couldn’t get through life. Were we to confront the implications of mortality, were we to comprehend all we have done to the world and its people, we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. To engage comprehensively with reality is to succumb to despair. Without denial there is no hope.
But some people make a doctrine of it. American conservatism could be described as a movement of denialogues, people whose ideology is based on disavowing physical realities. This applies to their views on evolution, climate change, foreign affairs and fiscal policy. The Vietnam war would have been won, were it not for the pinko chickens at home. Saddam Hussein was in league with Al Qaida. Everyone has an equal chance of becoming CEO. Universal healthcare is a communist plot. Segregation wasn’t that bad. As one of George Bush’s aides said, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”(1)
Collective denial has consequences. A new study by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that during the latter years of the Bush presidency, America’s steady progress in reducing teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases was shoved into reverse(2).
Between 1990 and 2004, the birthrate among teenage girls fell sharply: by 46% for 15-17 year olds. The decline was unbroken throughout these years. (The same thing happened in the rest of the western world, though about 20 years earlier). But between 2005 and 2006, something odd happened: the teen birthrate increased by 3%. In 2007 it rose by another 1%. I think most people would agree that this is a tragedy. According to the UN agency Unicef, women who are born poor are twice as likely to stay that way if they have children as teenagers. They are more likely to remain unemployed, to suffer from depression and to become alcoholics or drug addicts (3). Similarly, the incidence of gonorrhea dropped for more than 20 years, then started to rise in 2004. After a long period of decline, syphilis among teenage boys began to increase in 2002; among girls in 2004.
The CDC makes no attempt to explain these findings, but the report contains four possible clues. The first is that between 1991 and 2007, the percentage of high school students who had ever had sex declined. So did the number of their sexual partners, and their level of sexual activity. But from 2005 onwards there was a levelling or reversal of all these trends(4). The second possible clue is that while the use of condoms among high school students rose steadily from 1991 to 2003, it stagnated then declined between 2003 and 2007(5). Towards the end of the Bush years, schoolchildren began abandoning condoms at the same time as their sexual activity rose.
The third clue is provided by the shocking data from the Hispanic community. Adolescent Hispanic girls have less sex than their non-Hispanic classmates; but they have three times as many children as non-Hispanic whites(6). Why? Because they are less likely to use contraceptives, probably because of the doctrines of the Catholic church.
But perhaps the most interesting clue is this one. The CDC has published a map of trends in the teenage birth rate. I ran it against a political map of the Union and found this: nine of the ten states with the highest increase in teenage births voted Republican in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections(7). (Eight of them voted for McCain in 2008.(8)) Among them are the Christian conservative heartlands of Kentucky, Alabama, Mississipi, Louisiana and Oklahoma. These are the places in which Bush’s abstinence campaigns were most enthusiastically promoted.
George Bush did not invent sex education without the sex. Clinton’s last budget set aside $80m for abstinence teaching(9). But by 2005 Bush had raised this to $170m, and engineered a new standard of mendacity and manipulation. A Congressional report in 2004 explained that programmes receiving this money were “not allowed to teach their participants any methods to reduce the risk of pregnancy other than abstaining until marriage. They are allowed to mention contraceptives only to describe their failure rates.”(10) The report found that over 80% of the teaching materials “contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health.” They suggested, for example, that condoms do nothing to prevent the spread of STDs, that 41% of sexually active girls and 50% of homosexual boys are infected with HIV and – marvellously - that touching another person’s genitals “can result in pregnancy.”(11)
While “abstinence-plus” campaigns (teaching contraception while advising against sex) are effective, a long series of scientific papers shows that abstinence-only schooling is worse than useless. A paper published in the British Medical Journal found that abstinence programmes “were associated with an increase in the number of pregnancies among partners of young male participants”(12). An article in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that although teenagers who have taken a pledge of sexual abstinence are less likely to have sex before marriage and then have fewer sexual partners, they have the same overall rate of infection as the kids who haven’t promised anything(13). This is because the pledgers are less likely to use condoms, less likely to take advice and less likely to go to the clinic when they pick something up. Most teenagers (88%) who have taken the pledge end up breaking it(14). But, like the campaigners, they are in denial: they deny that they are having sex, then deny that they have caught the pox.
A study published by the American Journal of Public Health found that 86% of the decline in adolescent pregnancies in the US between 1991 and 2003 was caused by better use of contraceptives(15). Reduced sexual activity caused the remainder, but this “ironically … appears to have preceded recent intensive efforts on the part of the US government to promote abstinence-only policies.” Since those recent intensive efforts began, sexual activity has increased.
When Unicef compared teenage pregnancy rates in different parts of the world, it found that the Netherlands had the rich world’s lowest incidence – five births per 1000 girls – and the US had the highest: 53 per 1000(16). Unicef explained that the Dutch had “more open attitudes towards sex and sex education, including contraception.” There was no “shame or embarrassment” about asking for help. In the US, however, “contraceptive advice and services may be formally available, but in a ‘closed’ atmosphere of embarrassment and secrecy.”
Obama’s new budget aims to change all this, by investing in “evidence-based” education programmes(17). The conservatives have gone ballistic: evidence is the enemy. They still insist that American children should be deprived of sex education, lied to about contraception and maintained in a state of mediaevel ignorance. If their own children end up with syphilis or unwanted babies, that, it seems, is a price they will pay for preserving their beliefs. The denialogues are now loudly insisting that STDs and pregnancies have risen because Bush’s programme didn’t go far enough. The further it went, the worse these problems got.
1. Ron Suskind, 17th October 2004. Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush. http://www.nytimes.com/2004/10/17/magazine/17BUSH.html
2. Lorrie Gavin et al, 2009. Sexual and Reproductive Health of Persons Aged 10–24 Years — United States, 2002—2007. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss5806a1.htm
3. UNICEF, July 2001. A league table of teenage births in rich nations. Innocenti Report Card No.3. UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.
4. Lorrie Gavin et al,
9. United States House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform — Minority Staff Special Investigations Division, December 2004. The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-only Education Programs. http://oversight.house.gov/documents/20041201102153-50247.pdf
12. Alba DiCenso et al, 15th June 2002. Interventions To Reduce Unintended Pregnancies Among Adolescents: Systematic Review Of Randomised Controlled Trials. British Medical Journal 324:1426.
13. Hannah Brückner and Peter Bearman, 2005. After the promise: the STD consequences of adolescent virginity pledges. Journal of Adolescent Health 36 (2005) 271–278. http://www.yale.edu/ciqle/PUBLICATIONS/AfterThePromise.pdf
15. John S. Santelli et al, January 2007. Explaining Recent Declines in Adolescent Pregnancy in the United States: The Contribution of Abstinence and Improved Contraceptive Use. American Journal of Public Health, Vol 97, No. 1. http://www.ajph.org/cgi/reprint/97/1/150
16. Unicef, ibid.
17. Janice Hopkins Tanne, 20th May 2009. Obama’s budget changes sex education funding from abstinence-only to comprehensive education. British Medical Journal. doi:10.1136/bmj.b2008.
September 18, 2009
Interviewee: Milwaukee activist and artist, as well as Young Communist League leader, Jeanette Martín talks about a local open mic series that she and two other local activists put together.
Interviewer: Ursula Mlynarek is the National Membership Coordinator of the Young Communist League, U.S.A. and native Milwaukee-ian.
UM: What is Stitch?
JM: STITCH is the name that we, Alida Cardos Whaley, Tony Garcia & myself came up with. We we're thinking about what this open mic series entailed of, and what it meant to us. I yelled out STITCH! Since this open mic series is our own way of trying to stitch both sides of Milwaukee, and build community.
UM: What is the format of Stitch?
JM: This weekly open mic series travels from one venue to the other- bringing in youth from one side of town to the other. Youth share thoughts, ideas, poems, songs and other art forms. Each night has different featured artists. Features were chosen through word of mouth, connections and people that heard about this open mic series.
UM: Are a lot of the features political?
JM: I believe that many of the features have strong messages to send across to the audience, but I would not label all of them political.
UM: Why is Stitch unique?
Stitch is unique since it is being organized from the actual folks that are part of these communities, for a good cause. I've gotten tons of emails from other coffee shops and venues that were very excited about what we were doing-and wanted to help us in any way that they could. That was one thing that really showed me that we were doing something positive for our comunidades.
UM: You keep referring to Milwaukee's "two sides" of the city. Please describe what you mean by these different sides, and what the importance of connecting them.
JM: The north side of Milwaukee is disenfranchised and financially deprived, and most of its residents are African American. The eastside of Milwaukee, UW-Milwaukee campus area, known to be the "nice" side of town, and there is a diverse group of folks living there, but the majority being white. The east side of Milwaukee also hosts financially wealthy Milwaukee residents. The Southside of Milwaukee, that was a majority Polish neighborhood since the early 1900s has now transitioned into being a predominantly Mexican, Puerto Rican as well as Hmong community. In the deep Southside of Milwaukee is the home to mostly white working class. By having the open mics alternate weekly, people are exposed to a place they may have never been to before, or would even think about going to otherwise.
UM: Tell me about Son MUDANZA, one of the key performers tonight.
JM: Son Mudanza established itself 2 years ago through influence of Son del Centro, a Chican@ Son Jarocho group in Santa Ana, California. Son Mudanza uses dance, poetry and song to built community as well as use as a form of cultural resistance here in the United States. A lot of the poems are the struggle on both sides of the border, as well as personal realities about being a Chican@ here in the United States.
Son Mudanza believes in solidarity and supports other social movements that believe in the power of difference. We're all friends, organizers and activists in our communities.
September 17, 2009
Will Canada be going to the polls in a few weeks? What does all this mean for youth and students?
The Canadian website “Cut me a slice: for a people’s response to the economic crisis” is currently running a poll. It asks “Which summer movie title do you think best describes Canadian politics?”
Perhaps it’s “Land of the Lost.”
As Parliament returns, Harper’s government is on wobbly legs. But now the New Democratic Party has indicated it would support the ruling Harper Conservative’s ‘thin gruel offer’ on Employment Insurance. The thin gruel is to provide temporary, additional EI benefits to workers who have worked and paid into EI for seven of the past ten years and who collected no more than 35 weeks of benefits in the last five years.
To put this in perspective, there are over 1.6 million unemployed workers in Canada. About 40% of them are receiving EI benefits. This initiative does nothing to help those in our class who work in manufacturing, the oil patch, forestry and, increasingly, the service sector – jobs subject to periodic layoffs. As the Canadian Labour Congress has said, the measures “won’t touch most of the unemployed, including younger workers or mothers who worked part time.”
All this is a bitter pill for the hundred’s of thousands of Canadians recently laid off. It is a bitter bill for the youth and all the workers who can’t collect. It is a bitter pill for all those collecting EI currently, who will see their benefits run out in a matter of months. So perhaps, returning to movies, the best title is “The Hangover.”
Four weeks ago it seemed an election was not in the cards. Four days ago it seemed an election was almost inevitable. Now it is off the table – for a moment. It is a volatile time, charged with rupture, yet opportunist politics rein.
In the case of Layton’s NDP, their opportunism amounts to a betrayal of working people, youth and students, and so many other constituencies of the Canadian people. Within days of the NDP’s announcement, his party is already facing sharp criticism in progressive circles and elsewhere. So much for Layton embracing resistance – message to the people’s cause: “He's just not that into you.”
In the case of the Liberal’s opportunism it’s a different case. Increasingly it appears Iggy’s Liberals have an almost identical imperialist agenda to Harper’s Tories. Nevertheless, Iggy the opportunist will probably bend from his neo-liberal ideology in the face of pubic pressure – at least more than Harper. So it’s not fair to say that if the Harper Tories were to be defeated we would just get more of the same. It is vitally important to boot-out the Harper Conservatives and their extremely dangerous agenda. And a weak Liberal government relying on the NDP could open possibilities for people’s struggle, vital issues like the ending of the war in Afghanistan, childcare, and EI reform.
But all that is contingent not just on what happens in parliament but also in the streets. Perhaps the best movie title is “The Proposal.” Where the opposition parties stand is their choice. The political arena is wide-open to put forward a real alternative agenda to the Harper Tories. Sooner or later an election will be fought. The YCL-LJC has been consistent in stating that the alternative to the Harper Tories will not come from the Liberals but through the unity and militancy of the people’s movements themselves.
But I think the most fitting movie title should be “Fired Up.” After all, that’s what the labour and people’s forces in Canada need to do – not least the youth and students, who are entering a new semester with crushing tuition fee rates and record-high unemployment. We can’t wait for the election. If we needed more reasons to campaign, educate, mobilize, and resist – the issues are there. In the people’s mood, sparks of anger are flying. It is a question of making a blaze.
Johan Boyden is the General Secretary of the YCL-LJC Canada.
September 16, 2009
Student Christian Movement of Canada
In response to appeals for assistance from SCM Philippines, the SCM of Canada has called upon the Philippine government to release imprisoned student activists and bring to justice those who cracked down on an August 19 demonstration.
The Student Christian Movement of Canada (SCM) stands in solidarity with members of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, the League of Filipino Students, and other activists who were treated violently and arrested during a peaceful protest against corrupt government spending on August 19, 2009.
Debating High School Politics – by Jamie Burnett
We reprint this article in full on the blog for debate and discussion -- a short version will be published in Rebel Youth Magazine. (Image: Freaks, by Cristy C. Road)
However long this article ended up being, it could have been longer. I simply can't get into all the complexities of a year of activity in a magazine article. My recent obsession has been the product of a year spent really committed to the idea of high schools as a site of organizing. About a year and a half ago I began being involved with the YCL – it was only late that fall that I began really focusing on the place I was.
That place was not attractive to me as an activist. My high school is a pretty middle class high school. A significant portion of the student body – especially those who really participate in the “school life” – has parents who are doctors, engineers, senior managers, professors, small business owners, etc. This means that when we talk about the school’s “politics”, there’s something like two groups of people (of course the whole story is more complicated). One is often simplistically – and I would argue, dangerously inaccurately – commonly referred to as “politically apathetic”. They’re not necessarily comfortable in the school. They don’t go to class or assemblies a lot, and when they do, they don’t think much of it. They very rarely identify as “political”. They’re more working class, and they’re generally less likely to go to university.
The other group is more middle class. Their parents are, say, professors at the University, or engineers, they’re a bank manager or they own a business. None of these groups are homogeneous or exact, but there’s a general tendency for these people to do well in school. They’re more likely to be “politically aware”. They participate much more in extracurricular, in clubs, and sometimes in what are generally considered to be “activist” groups. Some are more right wing, some are more liberal. But there’s a very visible class character to how “activism” within the school works – the implicit assumption is that those who are “political” are those who do well in school, and those who tend to do well in school just happen to be of a privileged class.
I didn’t find either of these groups particularly appealing at first. The first group just wasn’t that concerned about a lot of things that were basic staples of my everyday life. But the latter group, though a lot of them insist on being a Green Party sort of left wing, was and is in many ways a lot more problematic. Their politics tend to be exactly what one would expect from a progressive dominant class. They continue to do progressive things, but they're limited – no doubt in part because of their class position – and they can give the appearance of believing that they are saving the world and everyone else is wrong. They tend (and I can only speak in general tendencies) to become uncomfortable or even confrontational when politics becomes challenging, unpopular, or potentially contentious – and this will be important later. When the other group of students doesn’t care about what they’re doing, they believe it is because this group of students is ignorant and bad and not as enlightened as they are.
Another way of putting this: the liberal way of doing politics excludes working class students (or people in general), and when they live in a society and attend a school where they learn that this is what political activism is, it's easy to come to believe that they must themselves not be interested in politics.
Why high schools are important
High schools are politically important for several key reasons. Firstly, the class composition of high schools is in almost all cases very different from the class composition of universities. Those who believe that political activism is something best left to those who have attained or are attaining postsecondary education – especially in a society where that access is tightly restricted along class lines – are either totally delusional, or hate the working class. There are a lot of problems with universities as a site of resistance, the most commonly named being that in their capacities as students they don’t have the same relationship to production that workers do. But this on its own hardly precludes the value gained by politicized campuses over the last half-century. Moreover, many of the other problems with campus activism relate directly to the class character of universities.
I’ve also believed for a long time, and still maintain, that the struggle for youth liberation is one of the only major historic struggles against oppression that receives almost no attention from mainstream leftists. Unfortunately what little attention it does get it mostly gets from anarchists. If people said many of the things they say about teenagers about women, they’d be totally ostracized from public life, never mind leftist communities – and I’m talking about cases where they do so with as much rational basis. There is no real reason for this; a perspective in favour of youth liberation is as compatible with Marxism as is feminism. In fact, feminism is greatly enhanced by the attention it gets from a rigorous Marxist analysis of how it fits into a whole society.
One of the few Marxist books to even hint at, in any great detail, this relationship is the 1976 book Schooling in Capitalist America. Coauthors Herbert Gintis and Samuel Bowles outline several significant theses. Perhaps the most important is the idea that schools look the way they do in capitalist society because their express purpose is (in the eyes of the dominant class) to shape workers for capitalist production and “citizenship”. For example, one would expect an ideal capitalist school to teach, in addition to useful technical skills like mathematics, communication and computer skills, obedience, acceptance of the hierarchy of production, and on a broader social level, some sort of comfort or even appreciation for the capitalist nation state and its “liberal democracy”. While no real society is quite so simple, and schools are already a site of significant struggle (though here students have largely been excluded), this is the basic way in which schools function. As for the more subtle complexities, I’d like to explore the details of the relationship between schools and the capitalist state in a later article for this publication.
Thus any serious political analysis of schools entails recognizing that they play a crucial role in capitalist reproduction – not producing commodities as such, but reproducing capitalist society and its labour force, making sure capitalism keeps happening. It’s worth considering, at least, that disruption of this process could be for that reason alone a valuable avenue of struggle. This is in addition to the fact that many if not most students intuit if not articulate that capitalist schools are horrendously insulting, dull, and stifling of personal development, and thus they should be changed regardless of their place in production. The alienation of capitalist production pales in comparison to that felt by those “working” in schools and not even producing so much as alienated commodities.
Gintis and Bowles warn, as another central thesis of their book, that liberal reform is not a sufficient mechanism for creating fundamental change in schools, because ultimately schools are shaped by the real forces which control society and politics – that is, economics. In fact, capitalism can use liberalism itself as a way of maintaining schools in their interests but with a friendlier, more “progressive” face. Therefore they argue, to see “real” change in schools, we need to change the whole society. While ultimately, in the broadest sense, this is true – and the abolition of capitalism should be a goal anyway – it hardly prescribes the sort of work I’ve been doing lately, and which I’d like to introduce to RY in this article.
The work I’ve been doing over the past year eventually materialized into a group called Centennial Student Democracy. The basic mandate of the group is to fight for student democracy, that is, student participation in the functioning of the school. This can entail relatively small things, like bringing a student voice to discussions about dress code or code of conduct. While these are not things that get any revolutionary very excited, it goes very far beyond this. The group is actually developing incredibly quickly, and incredibly well – it got started late in the year, and most of its members have very little “activist” experience, in some cases even in the narrow water-bottle-selling sense the school is familiar with. But what is developing is a sort of institutional criticism, not just “why can’t we wear t-shirts with swear words”, but “why are some programs and departments better funded than others”, “why is X taught and Y not”, “what is the relationship between marking and learning”, or even “why is that relationship so tenuous”. Coupled with serious proposals for action, this will create, at a minimum, a better school.
It’s not a way to change an entire society, or even an entire educational system, but it is something else – a way to create a political space. It’s a way to create a political space, not simply on a university campus, but at a high school. And if it works, which it has a lot of potential to, it can provide a model for similar projects at other schools. What I’ve deliberately avoided doing, and I’ve had disagreements with activist friends about this, is creating some sort of a leftist activist club. The main reason is because it hasn’t worked, and I’ve certainly tried. But I’ve also found that this sort of a format, at least right now, is not something accessible particularly to working class students. A group that focuses on immediate concerns within the school is one which welcomes people – a diverse group of people which however has a number of similar concerns – into a potentially very political space that they might not otherwise find themselves in. As I mentioned before, the usual sort of “activism” in my school tends to end up looking like the usual sort of liberal charity, which is neither useful nor appealing to people with real problems.
This is something I and several others believe we should avoid, and it's not a trivial task to do so. The people who are coming out so far are mostly of the more “middle class” group of students – that's okay, but for the reasons I've already mentioned it has its challenges. However, there's a surprising and exciting awareness among the group itself that this is a problem, and there's a real commitment to ameliorating it.
There are a lot of questions and uncertainties – for example, the reaction of the teachers and administration is mixed and not yet clear – but what has already been accomplished is impressive. Of course it’s not the answer to all of our society’s problems, but I’m convinced that high schools are a valuable field of struggle that is far too often ignored by the broad spectrum of the left. If you’re interested, there are a lot of things you can do. If you’re in high school, especially – high schools aren’t fun places to work, but they’re important places to work. If you’re not in high school, support those who are. High schools are places which present real problems for students, but those same students have real potential to fight for a better society.
September 15, 2009
Seeing red as way to change the world TheStar.com - living - Seeing red as way to change the world
March 17, 2007
You might think of communism as a dying system, an ideology that has never worked in practice. You might think any Communists left in North America would be older immigrants clinging to the ideals of a country they left long ago. This is not the case for members of the Young Communists League, a youth group operating in cities throughout Canada.
Frustrated by a political system that shuts out young people, those in the YCL see communism as a way to be involved in grassroots movements and feel as if they're making a difference.
(Andrew, the first teen interviewed, wishes to use a pseudonym over concerns of publicly labelling himself a Communist.)
# "When you're in the Communist movement, it's not about communism, it's about seeing the struggle in a certain way and agreeing on the issues that the Communist party takes up. It has to do with social justice. I don't think there should be homeless people. I don't think we should treat the native people the way they do. I don't think my friend should be sent over to Afghanistan. Any youth who's ever worked in a job knows how much they're exploited. I've worked in call centres, greenhouses and restaurant kitchens. The boss is always trying to pay you less and cheat you in different ways.
"In the YCL, which I'm a part of, we don't talk about communism. We talk about the issues we're doing, like organizing anti-tuition increase stuff, fighting military recruitment, raising-minimum-wage campaigns and working with the student union. It's the same stuff as any activist would do but with a Marxist-Leninist analysis.
"We work on issues that have to do with the youth of today. We're not telling them to raise arms and fight tomorrow. You have to understand the situation and work with it as best as you can. In some ways, it would be easier not to call ourselves Communists because people would be less afraid and have fewer prejudices against us. It's not easy being a Communist. You belong to a party that's never going to win the election. I've tried to organize stuff with other groups but, once they find out we're Communists, they don't want to work with us anymore.
"My great-grandparents were Austrian Jews and they had leftist sympathies. Lots of people in the movement today have a history of leftist policy. The Communist movement was where I felt I could do most. We're just fighting for the same things that working people have always been fighting for: better jobs, shelters, peace and general equality for everyone."
/*Andrew*, 19, The Annex/
# "I'm the organizer of Toronto for the YCL. I got involved in high school through the peace movement. I like to tell people we're not about Russian communism but Canadian communism.
"I've been surprised at how open youth have been to different alternatives. In a lot of grassroots initiatives, you'll see youth there but you won't necessarily see them voting. It's indicative of the change youth are looking for. It's not something they see happening through voting alone.
"The primary goal of young Communists is democracy and not democracy that's, like, `Let's elect the best white rich guy.' We think in order to have true democracy, the people have to be involved. The working-class people should be in the government themselves."
/*Shone Bracken*, 19, St. Jamestown/
# "I've read the Communist manifesto but I'm more geared toward socialist democracy than anything else. I have an interest in the league because I'm interested in the ideology. One of their objectives is to lower tuition fees, and every student wants that....It breaks my heart that so many people are homeless and have no resources.
"I don't think the youth today really care. They're more interested in having money to buy things for themselves or tuition. The Young Communist League, just the name, won't attract people. `Communist' has such a stigma. I remember in my Grade 7 and 8 classes, they made communism sound like fascism or totalitarianism."
/*Carmen Chan*, 18, Markham/
# "The biggest issue for me right now is that we don't have the right to vote till 18. It should be lowered to 16, which the YCL is working on....My family is generally opposed to communism, as are most people. They'd rather me be in the NDP than the Communist party. Sometimes, people will say the cliché `f---ing Commie.'
"Communism actually talks about youth issues and real change. I want a society where nobody lives in poverty and accumulates a majority of the wealth. Me and my friend operate a non-profit record label that distributes socially progressive music. We're very opposed to copyright, we support `copy left.' Everyone that wants music should get music and shouldn't have to pay for it."
/*Jeff Tomlinson*, 17, Ajax/
# "In high school, I had a moment where I wanted to be part of something good. I looked up communism online and found the YCL website. I like how communism is all about equality and helping each other out. A lot of youth are in middle-wage jobs, so if there's communism, everyone would be taken care of. Plus, they'd have more say of what the government does.
"I feel more comfortable around other Communists because they're more accepting. I feel like I'm having an impact because I'm helping out with campaigns. There should be a world revolution for communism.
"That's why we have /Rebel Youth /magazine to show young people that communism relates to their lives. I support the ideals of communism, I support it as a system and I want to make it work and that's why I'm part of the YCL.
"Capitalism is oppressive."
/*Taylor Rothbell*, 18, The Annex/
Rebel Youth is looking for hitchhiking stories, and also experiences with the challenges faced by women, trans people, hitchhickers facing racism, or stories of people with disabilities on the road... If you have a good hitch hiking tale, write a comment below or email us at Rebel Youth (at) ycl-ljc.ca
Most people you ask will tell you hitchhiking is dead, or so dangerous it’ll kill you the moment you get in your first ride. Those who have actually hitchhiked will tell a different story of this age old thrifty transport.
Last summer my girlfriend and I hitchhiked from Toronto, Ontario to Dawson City, Yukon. It took 7 days of travel to arrive at our destination, and 7 days to get back home. We’re both students, and without the dozens of free rides it would have been financially impossible to travel. We were not alone, we saw many other young people traveling like us, to one coast or the other. We also found that in many rural communities’ youth use their thumb to just get to the next town over. It was an unforgettable experience crossing this large country and I suggest it to everyone.
1. Safety. Always try to travel in pairs. Sometimes it is hard to get picked up as a single male, and even harder with double males. It is much safer to be in pairs, and we found it was easy to get picked up if you appear to be a couple. If you feel uneasy about your new chauffeur act as if someone knows exactly where you are. For example say your meeting someone in the next town at a certain time, or that you talked to your friend in the last town. For safety reasons always have each hitchhiker carry a knife.
2. Where to Stand. Though it is sometimes not totally clearly where the best place is to get picked up, the edge of town is generally a good rule. Make sure the car has room to slow down and stop, and has time to see you as well. Other good places are service centers/truck stops or even gas stations. There you can find dozens of trucks fuelling up. On the very busy 400’ highways of southern Ontario you will be stopped by police, but all other highways are fair game.
3. Trucks are perfect for long distance trips, though you have to figure out how far the driver wants to take you. Usually “truckers” appreciate company and will take you long distances. Some trucks have double bunks which they may or may not offer you to sleep in. (these beds are much warmer than sleeping outside).
4. Sign vs. Thumb. Personally I prefer using a cardboard sign with either the general direction of travel (e.g EAST, YUKON, etc), or the name of the next town on the road. Cardboard can be found littered at the side of any highway! Cars travel smaller distances and are more likely to pick you up if they know exactly where you’re going. Using your thumb can be good for inner city travel. If you’ve been dropped off somewhere far away from the edge of town you may need just any ride to get you somewhere better. For short rides the thumb is useful, but once you’re out of town drivers feel better knowing exactly where you’re going before they think of picking you up.
5. Sleeping. It isn’t good to hitchhike after dark unless you’re at a busy truck stop. So finding places to sleep will be necessary. There are campsites in nearly every town, and if you wait for the warden to leave, usually after 9 pm, and leave before 7am, you’re safe. If you didn’t pack a tent you have a number of options. The roof or door ways of schools are useful. Playgrounds with small “towers” with walls to protect from wind are also good. Sleeping in the backyard of Churches can also be relatively safe.
6. Traveling time. As I mentioned it took us 7 days from Toronto to Dawson City. From other travelers we heard that it takes about 5 days from Vancouver to Toronto. The Trans Canada Highway is the easiest way to get across the country, most truckers on this route are going to either Toronto or Vancouver.
7. Packing. It is always best to pack light, but these items are essential.
- Road map of travel area
- Sleeping bags
- Large Black Marker
- Can opener
- Thermos (for saving hot water for Tea)
- Knife* (for cutting and defense)
- Large bottles for water
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