The student wing of the Occupy movement goes far beyond the issue of student debt. What is at stake are the language of politics and the nature of the university.
According to Henry Giroux, students are becoming the new public intellectuals,
using their bodies, social media, new digital technologies, and any other viable educational tool to raise new questions, point to new possibilities, and register their criticisms of the various antidemocratic elements of casino capitalism and the emerging punishing state.
As students question the existing economic and political structures—as they challenge, for example, the role of Wall Street and other large corporations in undermining the lives of working people and the democratic decisionmaking—they are also discovering and inventing a new language and practice of politics. They are learning the value of collective deliberation and action, as against merely engaging in individual voting, and they are transforming a resentment of the current state of things into a desire for a different economic and social order. In short, they are creating the possibility of another world.
And as students engage in a critique of the existing order, they are also challenging the professors and others within the colleges and universities where they are studying to defend or create within the institutions of higher education a space for critical knowledges and pedagogies. It’s an intellectual responsibility many of their professors have abandoned.
I am particularly curious to see what will happen in coming semesters within the discipline of economics, where many (but fortunately not all) of the professors spend their time teaching a theory and method that celebrates the institutions of capitalism and mostly ignores the kinds of issues—concerning inequality, the concentration of economic power, the value of the commons, and much more—students are increasingly raising. What students need and want is a different engagement with economic discourse, one that explores the history of the different theories in and through which economists—both economic and everyday—have made sense of capitalism and its recurring crises as well as the range of alternative economic institutions that have existed and can be created.
That’s the kind of economics students deserve, and which will they will probably only get if they succeed in occupying higher education.