The Pressure Cooker Effect: On The Seduction of Common Sense

In the life of a free agent, there are significantly more opportunities to be in more than one place at a time. The resulting juxtaposition of events that inevitably becomes the backdrop of a free agent’s life also becomes the meat and potatoes of agency. The ability to link seemingly unrelated events in order to understand the bigger picture, to strategically present these events in a coherent way so that others who are limited to the inputs of only one context – can also begin to see that everything, yes everything is ultimately part of a whole. Unfortunately, we are often forced to live in tiny boxes, specializing in one field or another, traveling sometimes to and from these subjects but never really stop to understand how one is fundamentally interrelated and interdependent on the other. There is one pot, and it ain’t a melting pot, folks. New York is more like a pressure cooker, and all of us are in it. Quite frankly, I have been fascinated with the role of the relief valve.

Noam Chomsky, amongst others (hooks, Zinn, Macedo) often refer to the notion that in every society, especially one that purports democratic values needs to allow a space for educated citizens to contest the status quo. Within this space, there is an active and sometimes proactive dialogue that critically challenges the fundamental inequities that pervade our society – many of which neatly fall under the umbrellas of discussion labeled race, class, LGTB, religion, gender and so forth. All of these discussions center around identity politics, which suggest that some groups have greater or less access to resources. This is the space in which groups (most of whom have shared experiences of oppression) can debate the reasons why there is inequality, study how inequality behaves and propose strategies to fight for justice. However, while attending a book tour event where Kevin Kumashiro, Ph.D. spoke eloquently about “The Seduction of Common Sense” on how the Right has framed the debate on America’s schools, I realized that I had found myself in the middle of the relief valve that I had so much read about in scholarly texts. And, when discussant Gary Anderson, Ph.D. spoke about this “exciting new time” in which education scholarship is evolving to include not only discussions of the role identity and culture play in the schools but are beginning to include the role of politics as a significant variable in the education debate – a wave of incredulity swept over me. An “exciting new time?” A “new scholarship?” As I looked around the room and found others representative of my generation X, but many more in generation Y – I began to wonder if part of maintaining the status quo is making sure that those who participate in relief valve politics believe that the current issues that drive research and education today are in fact new and exciting. How is it possible for any educational scholar to believe that linking a political agenda to identity politics in America’s schools is a new and exciting endeavor? If we all live in a pressure cooker where the relief valve is necessary in order to prevent an explosion, how do you convince just enough people in each generation (in each ethnic group, in each class, in each sector) that their voice is unique even though in every generation there have been certain individuals who have been paid to say the same thing?

Further down town at City Hall this week, was a hearing on the rezoning of 125th street. According to Tony Avello, there were an equal number of supporters and opponents to the proposed plan in attendance. I couldn’t help focus on the people who were overwhelmingly alarmed by the fact that while there have been numerous meetings and committees set up at the local level in order to include the voice of the community – many community members did not feel that the community voice was being heard at all. There were three significant points raised that are worth mentioning. One was timing. How can the community feel involved in the development plans for 125th street when they were not at the table at the initial stages but several years later at modification hearings? Second was representation. Are the community board members whose job it is to be part of the decision making process actually representative of the community? And third, history. If we look at history, how can the community not be alarmed at what is going on when gentrification has always been a threat to indigenous communities in the United States?

Whether it be uptown on 125th street, downtown at City Hall or somewhere in the village in the heart of a powerful university, I can’t help think that inside the pressure cooker, alongside the meat and potatoes, is me. I am floating around and tasting the sauce, but when I look up, there is this extremely tight metal lid fastened firmly on all sides. I feel the heat beneath me and notice several bubbles bubbling over. And somewhere in the corner, I see a teeny tiny hole, that I know, when things get too hot, will release a stream of hot air into the air. The valve will begin to turn, slow at first and then faster and faster blowing a whistle of steam. Flowing outside, I see Kevin Kumashiro and Inez Dickens. I see those that vote for and those that vote against their own best interests. And then there is me. My first gut response is to aim for that hole. God, I want to be out there and fly and be free! But, then I stop to think about the pressure cooker that binds me. It is not new and it is not always exciting. It has been around since the beginning of time. I know this because it is our history. So while I want to feel unique and special and target the hole, I ask: Do I always have to work under such pressure? Will there always be just enough space for a selected few to find a way out, be free? How can I stop aiming for the hole and consider aiming for the
W-H-O-L-E?

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