Genu(re)flections: Mathematics, Democracy and the Arts


Swanson DM (2010) Genu(re)flections: Mathematics, Democracy and the Arts. Educational Insights, 13 (1).

First paragraph: In her address at the November 2009 graduation ceremony of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Louise Richardson, made the following rather insightful remark in reference to the role of the university in the mandate of educating (,44179,en.html): In a somewhat unlikely statement, the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, once said: "The most common form of human stupidity is forgetting what we were trying to do." What are we universities trying to do? As John Stuart Mill memorably said in his inaugural address as Rector of St Andrews in 1867: "Universities are not intended to teach the knowledge required to fit men for some special mode of gaining their livelihood. Their object is not to make skilful lawyers, or physicians or engineers, but capable and cultivated human beings." Universities are not here simply to provide raw materials for the skills economy. Rather, universities generate understanding of where we have been, where we are, where we might go, and what it means to be human. The Arts are essential to that exploration. Her comment is equally applicable to contemporary education and modern society more broadly, most especially in recognition of our new era of neoliberal economic globalization. More and more standardized, efficiencies-based and surveillance-driven modus operandi are prescriptively defining the interests of the individual and collective in terms of market-driven imperatives in consonance with the demands of the nation state competing for resources, means and power on a global stage. Acting in accordance with ‘(inter)national' relations of exchange, this dominant thinking is reflected in the production of fact factories for the ‘New Knowledge Economy' through the increasing trend towards techno-scientistic corporatist economic utilitarianism in education[1], or rather, ‘learning' discourses[2]. This functionalism is concomitant with increasing privatization, standardization, instrumentality and commodification of curricula and educational environments. It is in this prevailing (structural) condition that the (ideological) rules of the game have been set in terms of the (ironic) assumption of ‘common/global good' by (uneven) capitalist relations of production and ‘market forces.' It is a normalizing condition pervading all aspects of our lives and is increasingly foreclosing the public sphere, in Arendtian terms[3], and leaching (imaginative and practical) capacity and disaggregating political will for resistance. It instigates the question: in our incremental accommodation of this general depoliticized "common sense" hegemony, our slow capitulation to a diminished public space, and our relinquishing of freedoms even with greater consumerist "choice" and networked transnational intercommunicative access, is this neoliberal spread a form of global "political evil"[4] as Patrick Hayden (2009) asseverates in drawing on the political thought of Hannah Arendt, or is it ‘merely' stupidity on our parts[5], in forgetting what we were trying to do?

Educational Insights: Volume 13, Issue 1

Publication date31/12/2010
PublisherUniversity of British Columbia
Publisher URL…anson/index.html