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ALL AH WE IS ONE: Student consciousness

Tennyson Joseph

ALL AH WE IS ONE: Student consciousness

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One of the privileges of working in close contact with young people is the vantage point which it provides for gauging the level of political consciousness of the next generation.
More specifically, as a lecturer in political science, one is able to compare the students’ perceptions of their responsibilities to society, their relationship to concrete political forces at home and abroad, and their general ideological and intellectual motivations, to those of previous generations.
Such comparisons often reveal that 30 years of neo-liberal dominance has made it very difficult for students to think beyond considerations of individual self-interest and to act outside of calculations of market concerns. Their political choices are determined by “what’s in it for me?”, and their course and degree decisions are shaped by their assumptions, very often erroneous, about their employment prospects. 
Gone are concerns about “knowledge for its own sake”, education as a tool for collective emancipation and the idea of the academic as having a duty towards community and marginalised sections of humanity. These tendencies are no doubt buttressed by official endorsement of neo-liberal claims that “education is a business”.
No wonder the socially conscious activist selflessly providing service to humanity has been replaced by the paid political consultant interested only in his bank account. The age of neo-liberalism has indeed legitimised and facilitated the emergence of the intellectual harlot and mercenary.
As an illustration, when my political science students are asked about their future occupational plans, a vast majority indicate their interest to work as “political consultants” advising political parties. When asked which political parties, they answer “any one”. It is always a source of rueful amusement that their heroes are no longer Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela or Walter Rodney, genuine and bona fide scholar activists, but the better known Caribbean personalities who ply their trade as election consultants for the various regional political parties in the region. 
However, one of the positive features of the harsh impact of the global crisis and the local response to it is that it is forcing students to think and act in more progressive political ways.
A useful gauge of student consciousness is their annual election. Since the onset of neo-liberalism the guild elections were reduced to popularity contests no different from a carnival queen competition. One would search in vain for the “issues” around which student elections were fought and won.
This year, however, with the imposition of tuition fees on Barbadian students, a real issue emerged. A clear campaign was fought between those who had taken public stances against student fees and those who were unable to take a clear stance. Relatedly, issues surrounding the insulation of the guild from political party co-option also emerged. Following years of barren, student-centric routine elections, it was a refreshing development.
The trade unions should follow them.
Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, specializing in regional affairs. Email [email protected]