“Lessons” from OWS inside and outside the classroom

On her CNN Newsroom morning show (Feb 7), Kyra Phillips set up a segment about college courses on OWS saying that OWS “is not just in the streets but in the classrooms” and that “kids are writing papers about it.” She interviews Roosevelt University professor of political science, Jeff Edwards and a graduate student in his course, Ameshia Cross. Edwards, who is a social movement scholar, says it is worth having a course about the Occupy movement because it has changed the discourse of American politics and has “staying power.”  It also appeals to students because it is “youth led.” Cross, his student, is reminded of a comment a professor once made when she was an undergraduate – that the new generation is not interested in social movements. The discussion then moved to a comparison of OWS with “classic” social movements. All agreed that the Occupy movement is comparable to the civil rights movement and women’s movement. As Cross says, the Occupy movement “lives up” to that kind of comparison.  Phillips then asks Edwards whether a course on the OWS movement would be taught in 5 years. Edwards says yes. He suggests that effective movements last a long time, and presumably, the goals of the Occupy movement– no matter how loosely defined – will not be met any time soon and thus will have to play out over an extended period of time (see also The Occupy Movement Is Now Being Offered As A Political Science Course).

Back in December, I wrote about the relationship between elites and Occupy Seattle (OS), namely the Seattle Central Community College faculty and staff, and the Occupy camp on their campus (Elites, Media and Framing in the Occupy Seattle Movement). Indeed, sympathetic faculty at the college integrated what was going on outside into their classes. Early on, when some occupiers visited classrooms to speak about the movement, faculty did not know how to respond. Eventually, the general policy became one where faculty allowed, if not encouraged, activists to speak but on the condition that they integrate their discussion into the course curriculum. I am not sure how that may have played out in a chemistry class, but there was surely an opportunity in social science courses.

I would argue that teaching and learning about the Occupy movement, at least in the Seattle example, is also a movement tactic – one that has had especially long-lasting effects. For instance, as occupiers increasingly saw the local media as portraying activists in a negative light, and then linked these negative media frames to increasingly negative statements by college officials, occupiers used teach-ins as a way to persuade people otherwise. As I noted in my post, the Occupy Seattle Club at the college was established as a way to educate the community about the movement.  Teaching about OS did not prevent their expulsion, but it did leave an important impact on the college community. Even though the chancellor of the college refers to a “peaceful closure of the Occupy Seattle camp,” a sort of institutionalization of OS has occurred.  For example, a regular series of lectures and discussions are coordinated by faculty and staff which focus on student activism and education (a dialogue that originally began when OS came to the campus).  The college has also coordinated social justice teach-ins which focus on a variety of topics, including OS.

I am also reminded of the documentary series “Making Sense of the Sixties” where a host of activists, former college students, and academics describe the growing university social science curriculum in the 1960s that engaged students with the social change of the time. I wonder what Rick Santorum thinks in light of his recent comments (see the video). Any thoughts?

2 Comments

Filed under Daily Disruption

2 responses to ““Lessons” from OWS inside and outside the classroom

  1. Pat

    Who has what to gain from the Occupy movement, if at all, may be gleaned from those who participate. College professors may indulge the activism on campus, but if they are not a part of the movement, does it mean they are outside of it, capitalizing upon the corporate and government schemes that created the need for the Occupy movement?

    Isn’t this a common sense observation?

  2. Pat,
    I think you are correct to point out that objectives and goals can be, in part, understood by identifying who participants are and what their preferences are. Yet, “being part of the movement”, as you say, is as much an empirical question as what the goals of participation are supposed to be (rather than common-sensical). I wonder if participation only means being at the camp day night, or even on a part-time basis, or creating on-campus groups as an information clearing house or social justice seminars that link goals of OWS – as people may understand them – to other issues, in this case, cuts to higher education. Understanding whether individuals believe they are participating and why, understanding their involvement relative to others, and identifying individual preferences for involvement relative to their goals and broader movement goals, as well as whether individuals see a movement as a way to achieve certain goals, are general classic questions in the study of collective action. I appreciate the comment, Pat, and I hope it generates discussion!

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