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March Forth

Public education is under attack. Tuition is rising, teachers are getting laid off, programs are getting cut, and our schools are being run like corporations. The quality of our education is decreasing while student debt is rising and youth unemployment is at record highs. On March 4th, students and faculty around the country are participating in a National Day of Action to Defend Public Education, and we’re gonna throw down in College Park.

Our university administration thinks that a quality education can be defined by rankings in magazines, freshman SAT scores, and federal research grants. But we know that our education can’t be measured in dollars. We want to be equipped with the tools to fight for a world free of poverty, war and exploitation. On March 4th, we are walking out of class and creating a space that embodies the education we desire.

At noon on Thursday, walk out of class and find each other in the STAMP by the food co-op. We will march to Tawes plaza for a rally, and later move into the Art/Sociology building for discussions about hip hop and education, race and gender in the classroom, the corporate university, sports and education, and whatever else we want. Then we’ll have a general assembly to talk about the state of our education, and where we want to take it, ending the night with a sick dance party.



On Irrelevance

By Kiera Z, x-posted from Sonic Economics

The scene today in my Arabic literature class was frustrating. We were discussing Leila Abouzeid’s The Last Chapter, an autobiographical novel framed in Morocco’s emerging nationhood. A major theme is the interaction between Muslims who believe in sorcery/witchcraft/”mysticism” and those who do not. I suspect this existed primarily to offer some semblance of religious tension in Morocco, a country virtually 100% Muslim, to make the book more interesting. There are a few Muslims in the class; several of them began talking about Islam’s prohibition of witchcraft. One student claimed witchcraft was a cheap cop-out when life doesn’t go the way we want – if something goes wrong, blame it on magic. There’s no way to prove or disprove it, but it might make you feel less responsible for things going badly.

Naturally this statement prompted me to ask the difference between religion and witchcraft, or for that matter, a religion and a cult. When a tragedy occurs in a religious person’s life, that person can claim that it’s just part of God’s plan. It wasn’t meant to be. Similarly, success can prompt thankfulness to God. This is more or less exactly how the student in question described witchcraft. I brought up these points and got a few nods, some eye rolls, and several hands raised. Before the discussion could continue, my professor cut it off, citing limited time and irrelevance.

My question may have been too broad. The nature of religion is not completely relevant to Arabic literature, but it was certainly relevant to all of us. I’ve been thinking about this incident for the whole day, and I keep coming back to the same cliches: if not now, then when? If not here, then where? If not us, then who?

Discussions like the one that could have happened today are what a college education should be about. We should all be questioning authority, a category which religion is obviously a part of. So what if it’s not completely relevant to the course? A literature class is already pretty unstructured. Why not discuss something that people have strong, differing opinions on instead of an hour of everyone looking through their books and trying to think of something somewhat intelligent to say while not really listening to each other? There is no better area to discuss topics like the one I brought up today than in class, surrounded by people who don’t think in the same way (as opposed to at, say, SdS meetings, where we generally agree with each other and have similar worldviews). I want to learn to think, write, and discuss critically in general, not to limit myself to only what my professor deems directly relevant to Arabic literature.

For me, this is what March 4 is about. Teaching each other what we need to be talking about, getting what we can take as opposed to taking what we can get, taking charge of our own educations instead of being denied access to free discussion in the classroom – resist, reclaim, rebuild.

On an unrelated note, my cousin made a good pun today: if it’s not related to elephants, call it irrelephant. Lollercoaster.


Resist, Reclaim, Rebuild

On March 4, students across the nation will take action to reclaim education. The University as it exists is different than the University as we would have it exist. Students are the base of the University; we pay tuition, sit in classes, drive the buses, play sports and cheer in the stands. We provide whatever communal spirit exists. If the University exists as more than a series of buildings, then it begins with us. And yet, administrators and the state run our school as a business, draining more and more in tuition and fees out of students and their families while classes grow and the quality of our educational experience declines. We are not unique.

A national poll released this week reveals that  60 percent of respondents agree that “Colleges today are like most businesses and mainly care about the bottom line.” In 2003, the same number of respondents thought college was necessary for a person to be successful and that a college education is available to the vast majority of qualified motivated students. Today, 27 percent more believe the former than the later.

At Maryland, we don’t have to look far to see the national consensus confirmed. We’re told how lucky we are that tuition is only increasing three percent, while at the same time courses are cut and professors furloughed. Before a renegade band of students and faculty embarrassed the administration out of it, they planned to bulldoze some of the last wooded area on campus to build a bunch of private stores. Instead they paid $12 million for the Washington Post building. Funny how there’s always money for a shopping mall, even in a recession. When did we decide it was the school’s job to build a mall? This has nothing to do with education and everything to do with money.

The administration blames the Governor and the Governor blames the economy and we all admit that the economy is not subject to our control. Bullshit. Barack Obama has shown us what a brilliant, idealistic and inspiring president can do with a majority in both houses of congress and a popular mandate for change: not much. Bankers get bailouts and students get cuts. If our democracy can’t reflect the wants and needs of its constituents when they come into conflict with corporate interests, then our democracy is broken. If our University can’t reflect the wants and needs of its students when they come into conflict with corporate interests, then our University is broken.

The University exists from its charter for our education, and we have a duty to enforce that mandate. We know that the University as it exists cannot fix itself. The arrows are going the other direction, Maryland is getting less accessible to working class and minority students, focusing less on educational quality while paying its administrators more and its teachers less. We are told that this is the way these things go, that nothing is to be done.

When Dr. Cordell Black stood up for quality education, for looking beyond SAT scores and seeing students as people instead of piggy banks, the provost called him a relic and tossed him to the curb. It’s up to us to show that another way is possible. We must create the University we desire in the only place we have: the University as it exists. On March 4, we attempt to make it a reality. There is no organization behind the day’s plans, there are no official meetings, no one votes to approve actions. With federal, state, local and student governments all dysfunctional, we figure that one more committee isn’t going to turn the whole thing around. Call it art or politics or a party if you want, but the day’s gonna be all three. Think about the school you want, then get some friends and make it happen. Or find some of us. Get ready and stay tuned terps, it’s about to get exciting.

July 2018
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