Saturday, December 17, 2005

Venezuela, Bolivarian Revolution, and Chavez

"The trust of the people in their leaders reflects the trust the leaders have in the people." --Paulo Freire

The social improvements made in Venezuela over the last six years need to be thoroughly investigated and then appropriately recognized. Bringing more attention to the achievements of this "socialist" revolution are essential for the greater struggle for social justice in our world. It is easy to be cynical about the usually predictable reaction many Americans have towards socialism. For instance, most can't accept fact that "socialism" is capable of rewarding the widest section of any society with more equality, freedom and dignity than capitalism. (Furthermore, the material comforts that Americans have experienced through the capitalism of the U.S. has always come at a very high cost for masses of people who are intentionally obscured without a voice). However, I have also found that many non-socialist Americans are presently poised to listen because of growing dissatisfaction, the relentless campaigns of socialists around the world, and the shining examples being provided in countries such as Venezuela and Cuba. Many Americans are so disaffected by the politics and economic reality within the U.S. that such a discussion at this point in time is more possible than usual. In order to help translate the outrage masses of Americans feel towards the reality that they can't get basic health care, a dignifying job with a dignifying wage, etc., revolutionary leaders and educators must begin with what Paulo Freire describes as an essential faith that people will sense their oppression and work to overthrow it. Such faith is "essential" since most people will live up to the expectations the leaders have of them. Freire said that we must help people understand that their "ontological vocation is to become more fully human," but the first step is to exhibit a faith in people that they are capable of realizing such an existence. Finally, the quesiton remains as to how to counter the negative propaganda that Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution face in order to amplify the message of positive gains being made by --gasp-- socialism! How do we get those Americans that are "too" comfortable to listen?

While it may be more effective to relate working class struggles here to the improved dignity experienced by peasants and working class of Venezuela, what issues are the middle class of the U.S. likely to be sensitive to in order to improve their hearing? I recently got into a discussion with a teacher from a very conservative area of Montana that began as a discussion of the overly-punitive nature of our schools and led to a full-blown discussion of Socialism. What I found was that this teacher was very intrigued and inquisitive about alternatives to tried, tested and failed attempts of market principles to solve the problems of equality in the U.S. What else can revolutionary leaders do to improve their chances of reaching out to more people? Interestingly enough, I have found that my family is the most difficult set of people to communicate these seemingly obvious facts about socialism to despite their own tendency towards socialist thinking.

Is it easier to get people to listen to the concrete examples emerging from Venezuela and be sensitive to the overuse of terms such as socialism bearing in mind the conditioning most Americans have towards "socialism"? That is, should we let Venezuela, Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution's positive gains speak for themselves and then set the hook that what is happening down there is socialist? As an educator, finding points of access to my students is as important as any information and evidence I have compiled. I find this access through listening which is not always easy in public education that demands so much rote assessment. But I tend to agree with Freire that as my faith in my students wanes, so does their faith that they can change anything in their future. The result is inevitably that they stop caring.

How do we talk about the growing socialist movements of the world? What else beyond maintaining faith in people would Paulo Freire have to say?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Self-Managed Behavior vs. Typical Behavior Plans

Morality cannot really be imposed on a child, but must instead arise out of his/her own trials and tribulations. Likewise, this principle applies to behavior. A child must not be expected to intrinsically appreciate “appropriate” behavior that they have not manifested to be “appropriate” from within themselves. Building “Social Contracts” with peers through trial and error, while at the same time providing an emotionally safe environment to discuss what is and is not working, are essential needs for fostering the growth of intrinsically-motivated children. Therefore, formulaic behavior management plans employed by public schools throughout this country must be scraped onto the heap of Skinnerian Behaviorism that has only led to failed attempts to control and “manage” human lives. Conversely, “self-management” is logically the only approach to child-rearing and classroom management to have any long-term positive effect since it is generated from within; and at the same time, a child/student’s self-selection of an “appropriate” behavior is clearly the least coercive and least harmful, hence, the most desirable. Finally, only self-management can claim a genuine belief in the much-hoped-for goal of educating youth to be “self-reliant, independent, and critical-thinking.” It is necessary to state that there are instances when the assertion of authority is legitimate and not capricious: SAFETY. Such cases need only be discussed within context. If a child were about to run out into a street it is easy to prove that the assertion of authority was not arbitrary but legitimate.

When is the Resort to Violence Acceptable?

A new society rises out of the actions that are taken to form it… Noam Chomsky

Blogging has helped me grow. Through an extended debate on my last post concerning the moral validity of violence as a means to achieve revolutionary hopes, I was provoked and challenged by thoughtful bloggers that contributed to the debate until I finally stumbled upon a parallel debate on violence that Noam Chomsky had with Hannah Arendt and Susan Sontag, et. al. The debate truly opened my eyes and expanded my thinking on the moral dilemma of violence within a revolution. Although a perfect answer remains elusive even to the likes of these brilliant intellectuals, the argument provided by Noam Chomsky is the most rational discussion I have ever encountered on the topic. I strongly encourage a thorough read of this debate and would welcome any further discussion on this complex issue.

To read this debate, go to:

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Don't Listen to Corporate Media

Chris Matthews called violent protestors in Argentina "idiotic". He called them idiots for destroying their "own" town. Matthews is not alone in such short-sightedness. Most of the mainstream media portray corporate property as somehow beneficial to the general public. In fact, most Americans would likely agree with this point of view despite reality. That is, we somehow stumble blindly through life believing "our towns" belong to us. However, look closely at what these "idiots" were destroying: multinational banks, Burger King, McDonalds, etc.

The "piqueteros" of Argentina (the large majority of the violent protestors) have been struggling since the dramatic collapse of the Argentine economy in December 2001. Their means of protest became control of the streets and highways with blockades. Through these blockades they have been able to pressure their government to face problems that capitalism and neoliberal institutions have caused. they have forced an otherwise moderate politician in Nestor Kirchner to respond to their pressure. However, these protests also represented an opportunity for the "piqueteros" to step up the pressure with an international audience watching.

To the "piqueteros" the Fourth Summit of the Americas (Mar de Plata, Argentina 11/04-11/06) represents everything that has gone wrong in Argentina and Latin America in a "race to the bottom." Noting the outrage most Latin Americans feel towards the neoliberal plans that emerge from these summits and that has led to widespread increases in poverty, it is not hard to understand these riots. What's more, the property these Argentines are destroying is definitely not theirs. In fact, such property is an affront to the working class around the globe. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon reminds us that "property is theft." So where Chris Matthews sees the breaking of corporate glass as "idiotic", I say it is a necessary step towards recognizing the negative effects of corporate greed. We can only hope that this is the start of an ever-intensifying pressure on the glass-ceiling of capitalism.