A Keynote Address

Teaching and Learning*

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

* This is an excerpt from a keynote offered at the Teaching & Learning Conference at the University (2014), prepared at the request of local media.

The issue that occupies many of us today is war. I have been thinking only of this since I came here. I wrote many notes in my notebook about this war—between the Western powers and ISIS—being an example of teaching and learning gone wrong. To argue that would have taken us too far from the concerns of the conference at the University of Kwazulu-Natal: quality promotion and professional development. But there was one link that I did mention: the war teaches us how political economy, using the ideology of race, can destroy teaching and learning. In so far as decolonization takes the form of national capital formation, that same mechanism is at work. Today, the "rule of law" arises because barriers between national capital and global capital are removed, and the state is run to manage the global economy, rather than specifically to look after its citizens. That is the rule of unconstituted global law. The name of that is neo-liberalism. And it is this "rule of law" that dictates the kind of toolkits represented by the Quality Enhancement Project in South Africa. Because of this subsumption of national capital under global capital to produce governance by "rule of law," the role of the state and constitutionality in the current global formation is decimated.

Here is a description of the Quality Enhancement Project offered by Diane Grayson, in "The Quality Enhancement Project: A systemic intervention for improving teaching and learning," written for the Council on Hgher Education:

In 2009 an external evaluation of the HEQC recommended that in the next quality assurance cycle the focus should be on quality promotion ( february_2009.pdf). While the first cycle of institutional audits was being completed, the CHE held initial discussions with HEIs on how best to do this. This led to a consensus that there should not be another round of comprehensive institutional audits over the next few years. Instead, there should be a national focus on improving teaching and learning,  particularly at the undergraduate level, which accounts for over 80% of student registrations. This focus is necessitated by the combination of low participation rate, only 17% of 20 to 24-year olds in 2011, low throughput rates and stark racial bias in student success....

This is an excellent goal. But then we get a justification for choosing a certain model for "leading change:" "Although John Kotter's work was developed within a business context, much of it can be adapted to a higher education context." I think all teachers know that measuring success in business is not the same as measuring success in rearranging the desires of socially disadvantaged, often traumatized, youth.

Let me, then, quote words that I uttered to the world's most successful entrepreneurs, who want to work for social justice: the World Economic Forum, whose New Social Covenant also has a series of good goals. Indeed, as an enormous "non-profit," it has become an inchoate critic of the connection between fundraising "non-profit'' and the corporate world. In this larger context, the word "non-profit" -educational institutions, human rights initiatives, international watchdogs and large and small civil society and philanthropic undertakings—has lost its meaning. The World Economic Forum has realized that it is the "profit" sector that must be shifted. As a member of the Forum's Council on Values, I said:

Quality and development are compromised and existentially impoverished by a complete confidence in so-called toolkits and templates. The desire for such speedy solutions must be rearranged with the training of the imagination to understand that the toolkit closes off the contingent and therefore change. One must teach how to make toolkits as halfway houses to be undone by the contingent rather than offer toolkits for a solution to the problem of action.

"Why is there such an upsurge of interest in knowledge?" asks Laurence Prusak, editor of Knowledge in Organizations and cites the Pre-Socratics. Such a question ignores the plain fact that the word "knowledge" has changed since the Pre-Socratics. (There was of course no English at that time. And, if we are thinking the world, we must—absolutely—remember the many languages that make meaning for its peoples. As a doctor working in Kenya who refuses to be a top-down health worker remarked : "The people will understand Swahili, but you can't speak to their heart unless you speak their language : 'I'm getting what you're saying, but I'm not taking it in." That is a basic human value: talking to the heart. If you think it is inconvenient, as it is, indeed, don't dream of improving the world.) Real knowledge depends on cooking the soul with slow learning, not the instant soup of a one-size-fits all toolkit. The world is not populated by humanoid drones. You cannot produce a toolkit for "a moral metric," or if you do you will be disappointed.

Vol. 47, No. 18, Nov 9 - 15, 2014