Building Education for the Commons
We often think of education as a necessary, but mostly benign institute that passes knowledge on from one generation to the next. But when a society has accepted its government and social norms as functioning in ways that no longer represent the will of the people, the most powerful institution in that society, one that can foster a revolution, is educational institutions.
I recently visited one of the world’s most prodigious institutes, The Polytechnic Institute, or the National Technical (think of the the M.I.T. of Europe) in Athens, Greece where the best students studying theory, architecture, and design come from all over the world to study. This institute is also known for the student’s bravery, when on November 14, 1973 they took a stance, not against their professors, but against the dictatorship–the Junta. This became known as the Polytechnic Uprising. The dictatorship was headed by Georgios Papadopoulos, who ordered his soldiers to attack the students who had taken over the Polytechnic. Soon a tank rolled over the front gate and students were killed. This resulted in the Greek people rising up and soon the Junta was brought down.
Too often we take education for granted, not taking seriously how universities are spaces in which students can stand-up for democracy, and create a better future.
You can see here the bullet holes in the side of the main university building, one of the most famous neo-classical buildings in the world. But what do we see, when we peer into these holes made by lead bullets designed to kill students. Here on a basic level we literally see how the state attempts to wage a war against learning, against a building that houses thinkers, minds that learn about history in order to create a better future, in the present. When a state attacks the university, it attacks the future, it attacks thinking, it attacks a certain challenge to their power. The bullet holes are a visible sign that attempts to kill difference, to kill questioning, to murder ideas.
So next time when you think education is benign, remember these bullet holes and let them remind you that because of the blood of courageous students in Athens, a mighty military dictatorship was brought down. And too, remember, that so long as there’s courage and principle, the power harnessed in education can be unleashed and give birth to a new world.
It’s time we lived into this power, to birth a new democratic world, together hand-in-hand.