Higher Education Reading Project at Nonstop


Nonstop begins an exploration of alternative higher-educational possibility this Friday afternoon in the form of our Education and Public Intellectual Practice Reading Group, which we intend as a small step in our efforts at liberal education engagement and practice. Many of us here in Yellow Springs already hold some appreciation of the precarious circumstances facing higher education today. Certainly in recent years members of this community have moved to reject those ever-present but bleak promises for more-of-the-same to somehow produce better results, and instead have directed energies to the pursuit of creative paths outside tired orthodoxies. In these respects our suggestion that the pursuit of higher educational alternatives might prove useful, necessary, or worthwhile is hardly a new idea but it is a timely one.

Taking-up this proposed practice of shared reading, we believe, recommends itself for the production of informed action. Significant traditions of educational thinking precede this moment, and the opportunity to situate ourselves in relation to dialogues started by others across varied institutional and historical circumstances both complicates and enriches the questions we might pursue. Particularly in relation to our intended focus on the dynamic potential of reading, our hopes for this project are to approach these engagements of word and world with the aim in mind of our mutual empowerment.

While both public media and professional academic literature today provide abundant representation for apologist of the status quo, we instead intend to favor the critical and creative voices that challenge established orders. Along with a growing number of similarly concerned colleagues in higher education, we feel that we have had more than enough of that brand of current-day ‘leadership’ fixated in its mercantile preoccupation and incapable of recollecting its own complicity in the creation of the puffed-up economic mirages that have put present and future public well-being in such serious jeopardy. The present-day widespread neo-liberal predilection to frame the current circumstances in higher education by implementing draconian measures with exigency as cover for the pursuit of selfish ends recommends our closer attention to both history and detail. After all, despite the media’s preference for the dramatic, very few of life’s significant socio-culturally situated occurrences fall unexpectedly from the sky. Rather, our social practices and institutional forms have histories of influences and causes that beg understanding in finding meaningful alternatives and solutions.

Our January 29th meeting focuses its attention on the first three chapters of Bill Readings’ oft cited 1996 classic, The University in Ruins . Readings insightfully identifies and engages a number of troubling developments for the situation and practice of the University, which have by and large only intensified in the decade and a half since. But aside from finding many of the author’s rather dire assessments holding-up persuasively, Readings takes all of this not as a signal for retreat but rather as a call for imaginative reconsideration outside the lines of prevailing preconceptions concerning both institutional purpose and socio-cultural necessity. The ‘ruins’ Readings speaks of are not so much a declaration about wreckage as they are a reference to certain Western modern ways of seeing tied up in our habits of understanding and expressing expectations about the world. The University is a child of these habits, and the question ahead of us turns on how we might creatively and constructively inhabit and maintain the space of social discourse in a time when old rationales and public will have been problematized and derailed, not simply as badly damaged but perhaps as founded in contradiction to begin with.

The Education and Public Intellectual Practice Reading Group, as a liberal learning initiative of Nonstop, welcomes participants from YS and surrounding communities who maintain an interest in progressive, socially conscientious educational possibility to join us this Friday (and on alternating Friday afternoons) for reading-based discussion. Advance information on schedule and selected texts will be posted on our “Reading” link at nonstopinstitue.org/nonstop-reading/, or for more information feel free to contact dan.reyes@nonstopinstitute.org.

[originally printed in Yellow Springs News,  as “Nonstop on higher ed plight,” January 28, 2010.]