31 October 2008

Learning in the Square

by Alana Lentin (from alanalentin.net)

All over Italy, students and academics are on strike. They have taken education out of the classroom and into the streets and piazze (squares) in protest against the cuts to education (across all levels) and research being proposed by the Minister for Education in Berlusconi's government, Mariastella Gelmini. Read more here.

Beyond these cuts, the reforms being proposed by the Minister also include separate schools for non-Italian children. This effort in effect to exclude immigrants from the education system is being likened to Apartheid by many Italian anti-racists.

My immediate reaction to the Italian protests is to ask what is it about British society which leads to the almost complete absence of protest regarding the brutal marketisation of education which has been steadily advancing over the last decades. Except for pockets of resistance, such as Sussex University itself, there is little outcry against fees for students, the introduction of student loans, the tyranny of the 'Research Assessment Exercise' or the hegemony of security studies and business studies over all else.

Britain differs fundamentally from other European countries. Italy in particular is witnessing a rise in what can only be thought of as fascism which is particularly worrying since the re-election of Silvio Berlusconi and his army of neo-fascists and anti-immigration secessionists. The death of two Roma girls while sun tanners looked on last July explains the deep seated hatred that many Italians have for non-Western foreigners and the Roma in particular. The government is actively encouraging Italians to believe that their security is threatened by the existence of immigrants in their midst, even sending troops out onto the streets in the summer of 2008 to quell citizens' 'fears' for their safety (although no direct threat was identified).

An atmosphere such as this naturally polarises the population more than one, such as is more prevalent in Britain where certain concessions to 'diversity' and multiculturalism have quelled the racial tensions of the past and consumerism (ongoing despite the credit crunch) has dumbed the potential for protest on any other issue. So what is preferable: a society where everyone sort of ambles along and accepts the fact that many students won't be able to go to University next year because the government messed up the figures and doesn't have enough money to pay their grants, but out-and-out fascism is unlikely, such as the UK? Or a more polarised society where immigrants are burnt out of their homes and their children thrown out of school, but hundreds of thousands turn out on the streets and demand democracy?

Answers on a postcard please...