Dismantling neoliberal education: a lesson from the Zapatistas

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by Levi Gahman
ROAR magazine

The story of the Zapatistas is one of dignity, outrage, and grit. It is an enduring saga of over 500 years of resistance to the attempted conquest of the land and lives of indigenous peasants. It is nothing less than a revolutionary and poetic account of hope, insurgency and liberation—a movement characterized as much by adversity and anguish, as it is by laughter and dancing.

More precisely, the ongoing chronicles of the Zapatista insurrection provide a dramatic account of how indigenous people have defied the imposition of state violence, oppressive gender roles and capitalist plunder. And for people of the Ch’ol, Tseltal, Tsotsil, Tojolabal, Mam and Zoque communities in Chiapas, Mexico who make the decision to become Zapatista, it is a story reborn, revitalized and re-learned each new day, with each new step.

It is with this context in mind that I provide a brief overview of how the Zapatistas’ vibrant construction of resistance offers hope to those of us struggling within-and-against the neoliberal university.

Before we dive too deeply into things, I have a confession to make. I have absolutely no faith whatsoever that the academic status quo will ever be reformed. Audre Lorde tells us that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” while Emma Goldman notes that “the most violent element in society is ignorance.” Most universities, after all, were assembled using an ignorant master’s racist and patriarchal logic. That is, the academy was broken to begin with, and remains that way.

Hence, when it comes to the existence of any entity or institution that emerges from the colonizer’s mindset, like neoliberal education, I agree with Frantz Fanon, who states that “we must shake off the heavy darkness in which we were plunged, and leave it behind.”

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