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6 Occ u p y Ba s i c W r i t i n g DOI: 10.7330/9781607324454.c006 Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity Susan Naomi Bernstein Every Academi c’ s Wo rst Ni g h tm are To imagine pedagogy in the wake of austerity, imagine bearing witness to suffering. Imagine the promise of occupying hope for the future by creating ephemeral if imperfect communities that foster hope and connection. This fostering presents a pedagogy of non-attachment. Not detached pedagogy, but unattached—ego surrendered. Educators become united as much as possible with the cause of students in pursuit of education. The work of this pedagogy began for me long before Occupy Wall Street, through teaching and theorizing the teaching of Basic Writing at the University of Cincinnati and the City University of New York (CUNY). Basic Writing served as a metaphor and material reality for creating a better world through collective responsibility for active and engaged learning, described in Adrienne Rich’s recently recovered papers from her experiences in Mina Shaughnessy’s SEEK program at CUNY (Reed 2014; Rich 2014). Yet in higher education—even as colleagues argued that Basic Writing and open admissions were “cash cows” that couldn’t be touched—Basic Writing became one of austerity’s first victims. CUNY served as one of the early testing sites for corporate and philanthropic grants to “accelerate remediation.” My professional identity and personal passions were so deeply intertwined with Basic Writing that when austerity began, hydralike , to make its presence felt, I wrestled with twenty years of hard work seemingly coming to an end. A timeline of these events might resemble the timelines of many others who lost their jobs after the crash of 2008. My personal situation often seemed to call up every academic’s worst nightmare. But the details, in the wake of the material realities Occupy Basic Writing   93 of economic inequality made visible by Occupy, offer a broader, more historical context for understanding job loss. An acquaintance from Queens, a woman who had emigrated from the former Soviet Union, said to me in the midst of it all: “People are living in the streets—in America. Now we can see what we have become.” Timeline 2007 In the spring of 2007, representatives of the faculty union at the University of Cincinnati met with the faculty of our successful developmental education program. They told us that if the program was cut (already the rumors were flying), we could not be guaranteed our jobs. The union could neither save us nor fight for us. I was offered a position at CUNY, which I decided to accept. 2008–2009 Just after the crash of October 17, 2008, I received a “letter of concern” regarding my employment at CUNY. In the spring of 2009, the beginning Basic Writing class, to which I had devoted the largest share of my time, was eliminated. Meanwhile, back in Ohio, a dear friend in the developmental program won an award for Tutor of the Year. He was so devoted to the students, and so modest about his own gifts and accomplishments, that I would not find out about this achievement until well after the fact. 2009 In the fall of 2009, CUNY eliminated open admissions at the community colleges, a surprise move which gave New York City high school counselors no time to prepare their students for alternative choices. My tenure-track contract was not renewed, and my initial appeal to the president was denied. Conditions at CUNY remained toxic for Basic Writing, undermined by a severe testing regime that served a gatekeeping function intertwined with race and class. I decided not to appeal my case. 2010 In the next year, CUNY outsourced Basic Writing to staff whose hourly pay was much lower than adjunct pay, not to mention assistant professor salaries. Accelerated classes, funded by corporate sponsors, were offered to first-time enrolled students with test scores that just missed the cutoff for English 101. Everyone else received the regular test-prep courses, with no beginning classes for students who needed additional preparation. In Ohio, the developmental education program , including my friend’s writing center, was cut. 2011 In the fall of 2011, I faced a second academic year without employment. That summer, my friend, who had lost his writing center job in Ohio when the developmental program closed, killed himself. The national news spoke of permanent unemployment for people over fifty. On September 17, Occupy Wall Street...


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