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12 Theses on Education in the Age of Neoliberalism and Terrorism

Posted on Sep 5, 2014

Image by Paradigm Publishers

By Jeffrey R. Di Leo, Henry A. Giroux, Kenneth J. Saltman, and Sophia A. McClennen, Paradigm Publishers

This excerpt from the book “Neoliberalism, Education, Terrorism: Contemporary Dialogues,” by Paradigm Publishers, first appeared online at Truthout.

1. Neoliberalism is one of the greatest threats to the future of progressive education in the United States.

The goal of neoliberal education policies is not to improve education, but rather to increase the profits of private corporations. Profit-driven models for education directly contrast the goals of progressive educators. The goal of progressive education is to educate students to be productive participants in democratic culture and to engage actively in critical citizenship. Such goals are not supported by neoliberal educational policy mainstays such as teaching to the test and standardized testing. Because neoliberal education policy tends to be data-driven it works against the development of a student’s ability to think critically, thereby undermining the formative culture and values necessary for a democratic society. As long as the United States continues to view educational policy and practice through the lens of market-based values, there is little hope that progressive education, with its aim of educating students for critical citizenship and social and economic justice, will survive.

2. The war on terror and the discourse on terrorism have intensified the militarization of education.

The military–industrial complex should not be the driving force of education in the United States. However, the reaction to the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, has become yet another excuse to allow the military-academic complex to drive United States educational policies, practices, and funding. Not only has funding been diverted from public education to support the war on terror, but there has also been a push to understand America and the world in a way that supports American imperial ambitions. The militarization of education encourages the rationalization of state-sanctioned violence as a social and political value and supports educational practices that validate this violence. The celebration of war as a sign of power and knowledge by the military-industrial complex obliterates the democratic values of equality, public debate of political problems, and respect for diversity. The militarized society eschews reasoned political resolutions to public problems in favor of eradication of the designated enemy/other. Hence, the war on terror is a war on democracy, difference, and thinking. Critical citizenship and democratic culture as the major goals of education cannot survive in a culture dominated by extreme fear and a war waged against an emotion, namely, terror.

3. The humanities are jeopardized by the rise of neoliberal educational policies and the discourse on terrorism.

Since 9/11 the humanities have suffered major defunding across institutions of higher learning. These cuts have been justified by arguments claiming the polemical (or biased) nature of humanities education - arguments aimed at questioning the value of humanities education. Consequently, the humanities have been the hardest hit among the disciplines in the defunding of higher education despite the fact that both the argument that humanities work is politically biased and that it offers students no value have been countered repeatedly by faculty and administrators. The impact of these cuts, though, has dire consequences for the development of a thriving democratic culture because humanities education teaches students the complex history of human interaction, conflict, and creativity while also encouraging students to develop their ability to critically analyze these developments. In short, the humanities teaches students to read and write about the world, a skill that is ever more necessary in a moment of worldwide crisis. It is unsurprising, then, that the humanities have suffered since 9/11 and that there has been a neoliberal turn in higher education, because the humanities is the one place in higher education that can teach students to question the cult of the market and the military.

4. Cultural Studies has been a major target of the attacks on higher education.

One of the major disciplinary accomplishments of the past twenty years is the institutionalization of cultural studies in the academy. Areas of critical inquiry such as gender studies, race studies, sexuality studies, disability studies, and many others would not be possible were it not for the emergence in the 1990s of cultural studies as a disciplinary mainstay in the academy. Area studies allow interdisciplinary inquiry into the formation of a wide variety of aspects of culture. However, neoliberal imperialism has created barriers to cultural and area studies by encouraging uncritical defense of the United States as the global center of all that is good and allegedly democratic. As a result, emerging area studies such as Middle-Eastern studies have become appropriated by the military-industrial complexes such as the Department of Homeland Security, and foreign language studies are supported primarily on the basis of their ability to provide intelligence for government agencies. Furthermore, the move by the state of Arizona to criminalize ethnic studies demonstrates the way that the neoliberal cult of the individual has worked in the post-9/11 atmosphere of xenophobic fear to deter the public from developing notions of solidarity and community. Arizona’s HB 2281 prohibits any courses or classes that “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.” Thus the continuation of the discourse on terrorism and neoliberal educational policies threatens to severely curtail the development of cultural and area studies in the academy. As well, the application of market logic to all aspects of public and not-for-profit colleges and universities has resulted in the vocationalization of higher education, the direct involvement of corporations in designing programs, and the eradication of programs that are not seen as directly contributing to corporate profits and corporate jobs.

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