Friday, February 10, 2012

Kushner and Schumacher on Education

Fifteen years ago, Tony Kushner delivered the keynote address to the assembled college theatre professors of the US at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) convention. His speech was printed in January 1998 in American Theatre magazine (back when they thought that opinion pieces had a place in their magazine, especially if they were provocative

opinion pieces). I urge you to read the whole essay; I'm rereading it today. And while I'm tempted to quote the whole damn thing, because the whole damn thing needs to be heard not only by the theatrical professoriat but by the artists as well, I will confine myself to just one paragraph, which reads as follows:
Just as the attack on public elementary and secondary education, in the form of the school voucher, and the attack on affirmative action are intended to defeat what's left of the African-American civil rights movement, and the slow whittling away at reproductive rights is intended to defeat what's left of the women's movement, and the Defense of Marriage Act and 36 anti-rights initiatives at the state level are intended to defeat what's left of the lesbian-and-gay-rights movement--and in every instance there's a great deal left--the transmogrification of liberal artseducation into vocational training is, I think, intended to destroy any possibility of a troublesome,restive student population. Not intended as in someone on the National Security Council sat around and planned it (though remembering Cointelpro and Iran-Contra, I wouldn't want to bet a lot of money that hasn't happened), but largely this lamentable state of affairs has come to pass through what Althusser calls "Ideological State Apparatuses." The fact that many of your students wouldn't know what an Ideological State Apparatus is, or what ideology means, and the fact that this general incomprehension is a rather recent development, is precisely what I am talking about. We are being dumbed down. We are being trained, but not trained to think; we are becoming more efficient, by which I mean more exploitable and cooperative laborers, but we are becoming less smart than we can afford to be. Too much action, too little thought: It's not just the formula for an Arnold Schwarzenegger summer blockbuster; it's the formula for what we used to call surplus labor, and for the lumpen-proletariat, before we all forgot what words like that meant....The vocationalization of the liberal arts undergraduate education echoes the loss in the world at large of interest in the grand dialectic of life, in all dialectics, in breadth, in depth, in thinking as a necessary luxury, in the Utopian. The vocationalization of undergraduate education is, I think, akin to all sorts of social malaises, all of which commenced or burgeoned simultaneously with the death of Utopia as a place about which serious adults devote serious thought; and its replacement by corporate-sponsored Never-Never Land, a place in the name of which Peter Pans and Inner Children, instead of reading, devote serious shopping time.
When you've read Kushner's essay, then get a copy of E. F. Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful and read the chapter entitled "The Greatest Resource -- Education." A quote: "know-how is nothing by itself; it is a means without an end, a mere potentiality, an unfinished sentence. 'Know-how' is no more a culture than a piano is music. Can education help us to finish the sentence, to turn the potentiality into a reality to the benefit of man? To do so, the task of education would be, first and foremost, the transmission of ideas of value, of what to do with our lives."

Then read "Buddhist Economics" and think about what Schumacher describes as the Buddhist attitude toward the purpose of work and the arrangement of an economy. Apply to the arts.

Read. Think. Apply, Reflect.

Think Again: Funding and Budgets in the Arts

Every once in a while, I think I'll post a link or two to posts written earlier in the life of Theatre Ideas that seem worth revisiting ...