“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don't find myself saying, "Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner." I don't try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.” (Carl Rogers)

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Student as Producer and the Angel of History

This is my first foray (here) into this territory and I'll keep it short (for now). Student as Producer is a project developed within the University of Lincoln, instigated by Mike Neary and developed with the help of Joss Winn and other engaged academics at Lincoln. Student as Producer is deeply, persuasively theorised, practical and necessary. However, the question is how can it survive within an educational space driven by neoliberal priorities?
My wing is poised to beat
but I would gladly return home
were I to stay to the end of days
I would still be this forlorn
The extract is from a poem by Gershom Scholem, “Greetings from Angelus" [tr. Richard Sieburth], written for Walter Benjamin's 29th birthday. Benjamin is one of several key influences on the Student as Producer project, particularly his Author as Producer (1934) and he wrote the following about Paul Klee's painting (the same painting referenced in Scholem's poem), Angelus Novus:
Angelus Novus by Paul Klee (1920).
A Klee painting named Angelus Novus shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
The Student as Producer website also hosts the painting and Benjamin's words about it, and I think this says more about the concept than any number of academically-framed discourses. Still, that never stopped anybody, myself included, of course. Anyway, here's what the website itself says about the project (which I believe to be highly significant in the process of resistance to the neoliberal theft of higher education):
Student as Producer restates the meaning and purpose of higher education by reconnecting the core activities of universities, i.e., research and teaching, in a way that consolidates and substantiates the values of academic life. The core values of academic life are reflected in the quality of students that the University of Lincoln aims to produce. Student as Producer emphasises the role of the student as collaborators in the production of knowledge. The capacity for Student as Producer is grounded in the human attributes of creativity and desire, so that students can recognise themselves in a world of their own design.

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