Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Academic Excellence and The Costs of Universal Public Education

By Faculty Regent Judy M. Taguiwalo

That thousands upon thousands of students and academic workers flooded the streets to oppose the 2011 reform budget of the Aquino regime is nothing short of historical. And in making history, we always go back to the wager that has always united laboring people everywhere—the wager for life as opposed to the fatal logic of neoliberalism. When we took to the streets, we were up against the wall that bars us from a movement forward to where basic rights are enjoyed by all, an alternative to our current mode of living that reduces people to bare life or one that subjects us to the most violent forms of death.

We’ve been told that the struggle has waned, and that the youth sector is no longer a force to reckon with. But the series of protest actions and strikes led by student activists attest to the veritable strength of the youth against policies that threaten to reinforce the privatization of education to make it ever more flexible to the demands of the market, as opposed to the necessity of universal public education. United with academic workers, the students proved that collective action is the most effective means by which concrete gains are accomplished. The great November 25 UP-Diliman Strike and the subsequent mobilizations are now sources of inspiration and strength for other sectors in society who clamor for genuine change through organized and collective action. While the additional funding for the education budget announced on December 1 when students trooped to the senate is clearly not adequate, it is enough proof that we did not fight in vain.

The attempt to reinforce the false binaries between student activism and academic excellence weaves into technocratic thinking that fragments knowledge; compartmentalizing modes of learning that are otherwise part of a holistic education. There is a truism in the claim that education extends beyond classrooms. In everyday life, students learn their lessons in malls, the internet, television, and other media—spaces where the lesson of individualism is taught so well and reigns supreme.

So when the youth decisively walk out of their classes to strike at the state’s abandonment of education, when student activists mobilize their fellow students to act upon matters of social and political importance, these are expressions of how much they value education and their future. These sacrifices, like the ones before that made history, can never be reduced to reckless disregard for good grades, nor do they deserve tirades from those who insist upon fallacies that can only divide solidarity, much like the tactics of bureaucrats that deny the reality of budget cuts. Most of all, these sacrifices cannot compare to the hardships undergone by the majority of the youth who, on account of privatization of social services, do not even have access to higher education.

The unjust exclusion of those who cannot pay for education is the goal of privatization, and the budget cut to education is one of the means. This is why the costs of universal public education are high, and they fiercely defy commodification. We persist in the fight for greater state subsidy to education that concretely translates to our struggle against budget cuts because education is not for sale, we are not for sale!

It is only by struggle that the youth of today have recaptured their concrete identity. Their struggle defines them: the empowered youth is the youth that dares to struggle, the same youth that dares to win.

(University of the Philippines Faculty Regent Judy M. Taguiwalo is a Professor from the College of Social Work and Community Development, U.P. Diliman. This article is uploaded with her permission).

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