Michael D. Yates on Teaching Workers

By Michael D. Yates
Karl Marx’s famous dictum sums up my teaching philosophy: “The philosophers of the world have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” As I came to see it, Marx had uncovered the inner workings of our society, showing both how it functioned and why it had to be transcended if human beings were to gain control over their lives and labor. Disseminating these ideas could help speed the process of human liberation. From a college classroom, I thought that I could not only interpret the world, I could indeed change it.

Thinking is one thing; the trick is bringing thoughts to life. How, actually, does a person be a radical teacher? How, for example, can students be shown the superior insights of Marxian economics in classes that have always been taught from the traditional or neoclassical perspective—taught, in fact, as if the neoclassical theory developed by Adam Smith and his progeny is the gospel truth? My college expected me to teach students the “principles” of economics: that people act selfishly and independently of one another, that this self-centeredness generates socially desirable outcomes. And further, that capitalism, in which we, in fact, do act out of self-interest, is therefore the best possible economic system. Had I refused to do this and taught only Marxian economics, I doubt I could have kept my job.
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