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A Peek at Henry A. Giroux’s ‘Education and the Crisis of Public Values’

Posted on Sep 30, 2011
Gottfried Helnwein

“We are more than a nation in decline; we are a nation moving toward the bittersweet simplisms, policies and values of a new form of authoritarianism,” writes Henry Giroux, in an article adapted from his new book on America’s shift away from democratic values toward a rigid, market-driven uniformity. —ARK

Henry A. Giroux at Truthout:

Since the early 1970s, the rich, corporate power brokers and right-wing cultural warriors realized that education was central to creating a viable populist movement that served their interests. Over the last 40 years, the financial elites and their wealthy accomplices have not only mobilized an educational anti-reform movement in the name of “reform” to dismantle public education and turn it over to hedge-fund managers and billionaires; they have also taken a lesson from the muckrakers, critical public intellectuals, left-wing journals, progressive newspapers and educational institutions of the mid-20th century and developed their own cultural apparatuses, talk shows, anti-public intellectuals, think tanks and grassroots organizations. As the left slid into organizing around mostly single-issue movements since the 1980s, the right moved in a different direction, mobilizing a range of educational forces and wider cultural apparatuses as a way of addressing broader ideas that appealed to a wider public and issues that resonated with their everyday lives. Tax reform, the role of government, the crisis of education, family values and the economy, to name a few issues, were wrenched out of their progressive legacy and inserted into a context defined by the values of the free market, an unbridled notion of freedom and individualism and a growing hatred for the social contract.

At the heart of this movement was a culture of cruelty and vulgarity that used education to produce a new form of political illiteracy in which there was no difference between opinions and arguments, reason and emotion and evidence and false statements. In this culture of illiteracy, science became a liability, thinking became an act of stupidity, anti-intellectualism became a virtue, social protections were described as a pathology and the social contract was dismissed as socialism. While social critic Michael Kazin does not mention the notions of education or public pedagogy in a recent New York Times article, he is right in stressing the centrality of education to the current right-wing-Christian-extremists takeover of almost every aspect of political and economic life in America - extending from the Supreme Court to the federal government to the dominant media-cultural educational apparatus. He writes: “Like the left in the early 20th century, conservatives built an impressive set of institutions to develop and disseminate their ideas. Their think tanks, legal societies, lobbyists, talk radio and best selling manifestos have trained, educated and financed two generations of writers and organizers. Conservative Christian colleges both Protestant and Catholic, provide students with a more coherent worldview than do the more prestigious schools led by liberals. More recently, conservatives marshaled media outlets like Fox News and the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal to their cause.”(1)

Education has become the political weapon of choice for conservatives, and they have had astounding success in using the mainstream and new media to drown out the voices of more progressive critics. The evidence is everywhere. For instance, The New York Times is currently advertising its Watch Education Take Center Stage initiative and the keynote address is being given by the politically and morally discredited champion of neoliberal education, Lawrence Summers. Given his failed presidency at Harvard, his utterly shameful role in contributing to the financial crisis of 2008 and the failure of Obama’s economic policies and his crude instrumental view of education, why would The New York Times select him as an educational leader and beacon of hope for any kind of educational vision designed to address future generations? Other speakers include the likes of Chester Finn, whose views on public education are as politically reactionary as they are theoretically bogus. Another example can be found in the ongoing Education Nation series sponsored on a number of platforms by NBC. It’s endorsement of market-driven anti-public education policies are evident in its parading of the likes of Bill and Melinda Gates and their utterly anti-public, charter school, privatized and technocratic vision of education. Also included are the usual list of charter school, corporate funded anti-union, public school cheerleaders for defunding and privatizing American education. Of course, missing from these dog-and-pony shows are progressive public school reformers such as David Berliner, Stanley Aronowitz, Jonathan Kozol, Marian Wright Edelman, Donaldo Macedo, and others who have been fighting for real educational reform for the last few decades. Nor is there any mention of the many local struggling social movements fighting for public education and the ever-dissolving protections of social contract inherited from the legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society programs. Education at all levels is firmly in the hands of the rich, reactionary and the powerful. Is it any wonder given how invisible progressive forces are in this country that young people are not in the streets as they were in the sixties, refusing the future being offered to them by Wall Street and the moralizing Christian fundamentalists?

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, October 1, 2011 at 8:09 am Link to this comment

Education is intrinsically authoritarian, so the education industry is relatively easy prey for rightists, that is, the party of authority, the hard cops.  I don’t think it will be easily recaptured by the soft cops, although the labor unions will probably put on a brave struggle about their jobs for several years.  The constructive response will probably be to allow the education industry to destroy itself, and seek local alternatives like home schooling cooperatives.  Unfortunately this will be laborious and difficult, but that’s the kind of social order we have, until enough of you want to change it.

It is amusing that the abominable New York Times is promoting the abominable Larry Summers.  I wonder how many of you read the Times, thus supporting this compound abomination.

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By kerryrose, October 1, 2011 at 7:39 am Link to this comment

Mr Giroux is one the most eloquent progressive voices in education today.

But he is an academic.  No matter how many books or articles he writes… they will change nothing because the only people that read them are other progressive academics.

This is why I became disillusioned when pursuing my doctorate in educatiion.  Nice ideas going nowhere.

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Egomet Bonmot's avatar

By Egomet Bonmot, October 1, 2011 at 6:49 am Link to this comment

It amazes me when writers like Giroux mistake the greatest upwelling of personal autonomy in human history for its opposite.

Which isn’t to say that public ed hasn’t been in the hands of corporations since its inception.  If you want to read a treatment of the subject in English, as opposed to tortured-prose tracts such as the above, try John Gatto’s “Underground History of Education.”

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By gerard, September 30, 2011 at 6:42 pm Link to this comment

It could be that corporate/military capitalism’s excesses are actually making it easier for us to bring about changes necessary for better balanced systems of management. When autocratic power becomes top-heavy, it eventually breeds constructive democratic alternatives—though not painlessly, to be sure!  The top-down control of politics, media and money is presently unsustainably and precariously unbalanced, and shows no sign of ability to self-correct. Giroux points to where the emphasis should be placed:
  “At issue here is the need for a new vocabulary, vision and politics that will unleash new democratic movements, institutions and a formative culture capable of imagining a life and society free of the dictates of endless military wars, boundless material waste, extreme inequality, disposable populations and unfounded human suffering. Central to “Education and the Crisis of Public Values” is the belief that no change will come unless education both within and outside of formal schooling is viewed as central to any viable notion of politics. If real reform is going to happen, it has to put in place a viable, critical, formative culture that supports notions of engaged citizenship, civic courage, public values, dissent, democratic modes of governing and a genuine belief in freedom, equality and justice. Ideas matter as do the human beings and institutions that make them count and that includes those intellectuals both in and out of schools who bear the responsibility of providing the conditions for Americans of all ages to be able to think critically so they can act imaginatively - so they can embrace a vision of the good life as a just life, one that extends the values, practices and vision of democracy to everyone.”
  The innovations brought about by the Internet are indicative of great possibilities, and the fact that millions of young energetic people are far more “net savvy” than their authoritarian forebears, is encouraging. Millions of them are wide awake.
  Perhaps one hugely important value is missing:  Imagination—the ability to embody humanistic expectations and demands in tangible, workable forms(of the people, by the people, for the people) and the political courage and sensitivity to propose them, support them, and help give them birth.
  We cannot see the future, but in the immediate present are strong signs that authoritarianisms are not filling the needs of a truly human future—in fact, may actually succeed in killing off the human race.  It’s that serious. And the opportunity for constructive change is thrilling.

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