Those of us of a certain age remember when students played an important role in social change, starting on their college and university campuses. What about today?
It seems that institutions of higher education have not played a particularly prominent role in recent protests movement, from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street. The participants in those movements seem to have been more active in the streets and on-line than in classrooms and on campuses.
My sense is, on the other hand, some large percentage of the protestors have been students (either current students or recent graduates), and demands around education (against cuts and for better, more affordable education) have been central to the call for political, economic, and social justice.
Apparently, this contradictory role of students and universities was a theme in a recent education conference, as reported by David Wheeler [ht: ja].
The fact is, official academic administrators’ discourse within the corporate university has turned students into consumers. While that may mean universities and colleges are no longer the place for the kinds of discussion and activism occurring in recent protests movements, it may also be the case that students’ rejection of the role of customers is fueling those very same movements.
So, Wheeler may be right: we may be witnessing a “global shift in the way students see themselves.”