Monday, June 05, 2017

(2 of 2) My comments at tonight's city council meeting, during public speaking time prior to A-17-02 (funding for One Southern Indiana).

What I'll be saying tonight during regular public speaking time for agenda items. It is a repurposed extract from a recent ON THE AVENUES column. Part 1 is here.

I’m a member of the Leadership Southern Indiana’s Discover class of 2017.

The presence of A-17-02 on tonight’s agenda is ironic, given that in May, One Southern Indiana’s President and CEO, Wendy Dant Chesser, spoke to our class during Community Leadership Day.

Ostensibly Dant Chesser was there to outline steps for effectively leading a non-profit organization. However, the second half of her presentation quickly digressed into the customary advertisement for 1Si, although this time with a twist.

According to Dant Chesser, the large manufacturing conglomerates most eagerly courted by 1Si (as opposed to independent local businesses and grassroots entrepreneurs, who must settle for trickle-down) prefer employees holding one of the six “top earner” university degrees, including subjects like engineering, computers and electronics.

However, according to her, higher education insists on disgorging twice as many graduates who’ve received the six “least useful” (and lowest paying) degree choices, like English, philosophy, geography, history and the like.

It would seem that both Dant Chesser and the often subsidized multinational beneficiaries of the local branch of the neoliberal order, upon whom 1Si depends to make payroll for 14 staffers, are very offended by this educational ratio.

She made no effort to conceal her disdain for people who might view education as something other than vocational training, or that differs from what employers want, and considering the fact that I wasn’t the only humanities major in the room, her summarizing anecdote of choice was tellingly misplaced.

She told us of a recent chat with an art history major who was having trouble in the job market. Well, she said, what did he expect? Art history? What sort of guidance counselor would recommend studying subjects as perennially useless as art history?

Perhaps those guidance counselors grasping that the object of education isn’t always to match obedient hamsters to their proper wheel, but to produce humans capable of thinking. The fact that “fake” news is such a concern these days might enter into this paradigm, wouldn’t you … think?

Seemingly nowhere in Dant Chesser’s narrowly defined world exists the type of broad, individually tailored choices of human aspiration that depart from economic development of the “we’ve always done it this way” variety, which by breathtaking coincidence is the type best calculated to advance the US Chamber of Commerce-approved, specific capitalist format to which 1Si attaches itself.

The real problem might just be that humanities majors have been made aware of trends in the history of thought that differ from hers and the oligarchs she serves, and as such, humanities majors are the ones most likely to question Dant Chesser’s premises.

Which I did, and am doing so again tonight. Because, how did I manage to stay in business 25 years without an engineering degree?

Dan Chesser also informed us that every Southern Indiana resident should unquestioningly accept – notice a pattern yet? – 1Si’s version of the Regional Cities Initiative, so as to provide unanimity in pursuit of a “collective” path forward – and yes, “collective” is precisely the word this crony capitalist enabler used, proving that while irony is dead, the Great Trumpolini didn’t kill it.

As a direct result of past concerns voiced by anti-establishment dissidents, at least the money 1Si is requesting tonight of our council will be put to a specific, directed use: WorkHub, a vocational training initiative.

But first we need to answer two questions: Is this vocational training available to art history majors, or must we collectively denounce the pursuit of non-vocational education before disbursing the dollars to applicants? Can art history majors be cured of their wayward choices, and restored to harmony with multinational corporations?

WorkHub probably is a good program, but absent a public apology by Dant Chesser to humanities majors, which I sadly know isn’t forthcoming, I’d recommend that council withhold the money until my questions are answered. You won’t, so instead I’ll urge you to think carefully about what 1Si is, and what it does. Not all your constituents view it as a panacea.

Thank you.

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