In my conversations with young people in and around New York City, I have discovered that many have already embraced the Occupy movement–though, ironically, it seeks to devour their creative potential, their innate love of freedom, and their ability to reach great heights by virtue of nothing but their own personal hunger for success. It is imperative that we work actively to set the Occupy record straight.
Having recently interviewed Stephen K. Bannon about his upcoming film, Occupy Unmasked, I found myself somewhat immersed in the literature of the Occupy movement.
Years of working in education—as a teacher, Dean, and Student Adviser—instilled in me a heightened interest in academia, and I couldn’t help but be drawn to a column titled “Step 1: Occupy Universities Step 2: Transform Them” in the December 2011 issue of Tidal: Occupy Theory, Occupy Strategy. In that column, Conor Tomás Reed defines what the Occupy movement sees wrong with America’s educational system: “Competitive individualized learning, rigid demarcation of disciplines, shallow celebration of difference, grading systems that all-too-viciously distort self-worth—these are the pedagogical tools of the 1%.”
You see, competitiveness in the classroom, much like in the marketplace, drives ambition, highlights an individual’s strengths and weaknesses, and very often births a passion to succeed. Success, in turn, means one student may rise above another in a certain discipline, may get a better grade than another, and may ultimately grow up to earn more money than another. It also means that young people who earn a bad grade or recognize a personal weakness may strive to be better, overcoming that obstacle to discover greater personal potential than they ever imagined.
So, what’s the problem?
Well, an educational system where competition is allowed to thrive and drive one’s appetite for success is antithetical to Occupy’s reverence for collectivism and equality of outcomes. Occupy defines conventional grading mechanisms as vehicles “that all-too-viciously distort self-worth” because it detests the premise of personal responsibility. It abhors a system that highlights the power of the individual to shape his or her own destiny, and instead endorses one that features “…write-ins to produce ‘People’s Dissertations’ about the Occupy movement’s significance, with public writing times … After each dissertation is created, we can hand out P(eople)h(ave)D(dreams) certificates en masse, thus rupturing the emblems of intellectual prestige.”
Occupy loathes that which highlights our differences—differences in drive and ability, aptitude for one thing over another, passion or lack thereof to be the best we can be. It can’t tolerate our differences because they—and the individuality they represent—burst Occupy’s collectivist bubble.
According to Conor Tomás Reed, Occupy plans to take an active role in academia, “to occupy our schools with clear political purpose.” And exactly what will that occupation look like? As Reed reveals, “…we would do well to incorporate Occupy Wall Street’s methods of discussion in our classrooms and communities. How often do we carefully strive to create consent about complex positions and concepts? We’ve been taught to theorize like starving hyenas—tearing the throat out of each other’s ideas. Instead, an interrelated educational community that listens to one another, repeating word for word if needed, can inscribe the social work of scholarship with a shared sense of critical construction.”
In other words, he advocates for “consent” over robust debate, for “repeating word for word” rather than challenging each other and articulating one’s own ideas and opinions.
Much like competition, differing opinions are Occupy’s enemy. That which makes us unique yields a society where collectivism simply cannot flourish, a society driven by enterprise not guarantees, a society where one’s failures have the potential to make you stronger not weaker, and where personal responsibility—not victimhood—prevails.
Always remember that a movement that captures our youth captures the future of our country. This is one battle we can’t afford to lose.