Monday, February 28, 2022

NO STUDY WITHOUT STRUGGLE, a different lens on an ongoing, increasingly urgent social issue

NO STUDY WITHOUT STRUGGLE: Confronting Settler Colonialism in Higher Education

Beacon Press
$24.95 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Examines how student protest against structural inequalities on campus pushes academic institutions to reckon with their legacy built on slavery and stolen Indigenous lands

Using campus social justice movements as an entry point, Leigh Patel shows how the struggles in higher education often directly challenged the tension between narratives of education as a pathway to improvement and the structural reality of settler colonialism that creates and protects wealth for a select few.

Through original research and interviews with activists and organizers from Black Lives Matter, The Black Panther party, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Combahee River Collective, and the Young Lords, Patel argues that the struggle on campuses reflect a starting point for higher education to confront settler strategies. She reveals how blurring the histories of slavery and Indigenous removal only traps us in history and perpetuates race, class, and gender inequalities.

By acknowledging and challenging settler colonialism, Patel outlines the importance of understanding the relationship between the struggle and study and how this understanding is vital for societal improvement.


My Review
: Universities are under siege from as many angles as there are. Activists have campaigned, more or less successfully, for disinvestment from socially irresponsible industries. They've made the possession of a racially insensitive mascot a lightning rod for criticism. These news stories are commonplace enough to be readily Google-able, and to have a selection of attitudes and viewpoints from which to choose.

I'd also recommend taking a few minutes to read Author Patel's Q&A on The Beacon Broadside's website for a trenchant, quotable précis of her thoughts on this difficult to dismiss subject. It is a clear statement of her purposes in writing this book.

What makes this a worthwhile read is that it requires the reader to re-evaluate every university activity. There comes first identifying then admitting prospects "worthy" of the opportunity, with the "right kind" of work ethic both within their schools and outside them. Next the institution busies itself with identifying, designing, and inculcating the capitalist dogmas that will serve the needs of the ownership class. And finally, the cruelest step: indenturing students with mountains of debt to that ownership class for the privilege of enjoying the experience, which serves to prevent the offensive-to-them class and ethnic mixing. The fear being that, unburdened by economic chains, their students will inevitably rise above their starting points and cause their owners' control to be diluted. Reading Author Patel's work will, I'm sure, give the students and their parents the perspective to see through a definitively different lens. What makes that a good idea is that many will experience a sudden and usually pretty painful awakening. Those who are screaming about "critical race theory" are calling this propaganda spreading, brainwashing, or just plain indoctrination. As always, examine the accuser's accusations for cues as to the real source of their rage: the examination Author Patel demands we her readers undertake will cause some number of us to reject our present indoctrination as the unfair, exclusionary artifact of an exploitive ownership class's control paradigm.

Since I've already had a pitcher of that Kool-Aid, this wasn't fresh stuff for me.

What I needed to learn about was Author Patel's encouragement of the University's students to interrogate everything they are being offered through the awareness of settler colonialism's existence, reach, and signals of control. Her book is a call to arm yourself, youthful learners, with skepticism and information, not simply and passively accept the way things are without understandig how they got that way and who wants them to stay that way.

What lowers my rating to four of five stars is my sense that the message, while complete and well-thought-through, isn't presented in such a way as to lead to action. In the world of young persons it's my experience that theory is best left to emerge from actions at the maxiumum possible number of times. I'd've been much more stirred and delighted had I seen some non-theoretical analysis..."when one sees this, then that is the likeliest cause; now, do this or that to draw attention to it with the aim of changing it." After all, Author Patel spoke to many whose lives of resistance and struggle included forging action agendas. Why not bring this facet, underpinning the work as it does, to the fore?

But never mind all that Monday-morning quarterbacking. The book that is here, that is available from the estimable Beacon Press, will offer you much. If your child is leaving for college soon, I want to push you towards the read with some extra fervor. If your child is in school now, please send them one. There is no bad or wrong time to give someone not yet ossified into a brittle psychic shape the chisels and files and rasps to add refinement and enhancement to their awareness.

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