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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2001

A Different Americas Is Possible

Tom Booth
On April 1, 2001, Dalton Camp wrote in the Toronto Star: "On the eve of the Summit of the Americas, at Quebec, there is also to be the alternative Peoples' Summit. The Summit of the Americas is, presumably, about trade, the expansion of it, and is an item in the agenda of the plan to make the world safe for corporatism. The other conference could be said to be convened in the interest of making a world safe for people."

In the contexts of the growth of corporate power and protection of corporate power against democracy, Camp goes on to say, "... while democracy has continued to grow, it is being overwhelmed, if not subjugated, by corporate power."

Reduction of the public sector by cutting back on public services like education is one of the imperatives in this subjugation of democracy.

While the leaders of governments from the Americas gathered to hold discussions in the context of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), delegates from countries across the Americas assembled for the Hemispheric Forum on Education at the second Peoples' Summit of the Americas in Quebec City.

Various cases of the impacts of "free trade" on students and teachers throughout the hemisphere were identified and discussed at the forum.

Delegates talked about corporate intrusion, privatization, diminishing accessibility and discrimination against women in education.

Failure to maintain, let alone promote, human, functional and structural integrity of educational facilities, government denial of its responsibility for education or outright denigration of educational service and government failure to provide educational opportunity were common concerns of all people from one end of the Americas to the other.

Alternatives and responses to simply treating teaching, learning and inquiry as 'services for trade' were proposed and discussed.

Prior to the forum, the Centrale des syndicats du Québec and the Canadian Teachers' Federation characterized the rapidly growing demand for education in the Americas. In the face of severe cuts to all levels of education, the demand for education remains unabated and predictions are for significantly increased attendance in the future.

In Latin America, popular education, based on collective experiences and cooperative work representing "education for the oppressed" designed to raise consciousness and produce social transformation, has partly met the drastically increased demand in rural areas.

Throughout the Americas cuts to education, decentralization, privatization, commercialization and concomitant corporatization have led to severe deterioration of teaching and learning conditions and asymmetry in both access to education and in the quality of education.

These conditions clearly indicate the importance of taking action to democratize education in the Americas.

The call is for actions to reverse and supplant current trends of privatization, corporatization and commercialization.

Writing on the consequences of the FTAA in Inside the Fortress: What's Going On at the FTAA Negotiations, author Marc Lee of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives states "... what is at stake is the ability of citizens to make democratic choices about how they want to structure their economy and society."

The Canadian ambassador to the World Trade Organization and chair of the WTO Council for Trade in Services recently stated: "Education is now an industry, Canada needs to approach the international marketplace for educational services with the same discipline and commitment that we bring to other sectors."

Through action in defense of public education and committed promotion of collegial governance and academic freedom, CAUT has a strong role to play in democratic transformation of education in the hemisphere. A fair and caring Americas requires no less than such action.