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Jodi Dean reads The Student Handjob

January 10, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Just received a couple of intriguing Minor Compositions books from the excellent Stevphen Shukaitis. Hope to read 19  & 20 Notes for a New Social Protagonism (as well another Minor Compositions book I recently got, Ben Noys’ Communization and Its Discontents) soon. Did have a chance to read (well, skim) Undressing the Academy, or The Student Handjob a collective product of the University for Strategic Optimism.

Gotta say–my first reaction is that the optimism is hard to find; it’s being deployed so strategically as to be barely apparent at all. I think for the authors–students–and likely readers–students the optimism might come out of a combination of the expressions of rage and despair in the book and the emphasis on responding collectively, whether through writing, squatting, or protesting–although the book is not naive about the efficacy of protests: it notes the failure of the last decades biggest protests (February 15 2003, globally, and March 26 2011 in the UK).

That said, I love the book as a rejoinder and anecdote to the stream of educational propaganda shoveled through my college’s listserv. We are constantly being told how to engage students, help them be responsive learners, how we should be co-learners, what skills we need them to develop so that they will become leaders (“leadership” is the new buzzword–but really? who is it kidding? as an object of pedagogical practice it’s another vehicle for extend corporate logics more deeply into society, grasping people at younger ages, and disciplining the curriculum). The cynicism and anger in Undressing the Academy are like having students stare blankly at an enthusiastic lecturer giving them guidelines for success and then take a massive shit in the middle of the class before walking out of room.

The overall critique of the education is its absorbtion within and continued production of capitalism. So this is not the 60s call for relevance, meaning, and authenticity. It’s more brutal. There’s no safety net of welfare to catch it; the result of education in contemporary conditions is prostitution and debt.

The book is like a cry for education free from capitalism, free from exploitation, competition, and the miserable conditions that leave students with no time to think open and faculty with no time to teach. Capitalism fundamentally destroys the relationship at the heart of education (even as unbearably lame experts try to provide us with compensatory tricks–like using clickers in large lectures so that faculty can see quickly whether students are learning; apparently the option of smaller classes and more professors is off the table).

I wonder if many faculty will assign it–too dangerous?–and if it will circulate as student samizat–among those who don’t have time to read? If the critique of the university in the 60s was that education was a factory, the critique in this book is that the workers are over-extended and the products are shoddy; the factory has broken down–its capitalist setting has shown its horrible face. Its filled with cheating, bribery, exhaustion, excuses, and all for the profit of the very, very few.’

http://jdeanicite.typepad.com/i_cite/2012/01/undressing-the-academy.html

 

You can purchase one here: http://www.minorcompositions.info/?p=272

Or read online version for free here: http://hutnyk.wordpress.com/2011/09/30/the-student-handjob/

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