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Henry A. Giroux: The Age of Neoliberal Terrorism

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Posted on Dec 2, 2012
Mickey van der Stap (CC BY 2.0)

The sign reads: “Grownups are obsolete.”

By Angelo Letizia, Figure/Ground Communication

This piece first appeared at Figure/Ground Communication.

Henry Armand Giroux was born September 18, 1943, in Providence, Rhode Island, the son of Armand and Alice Giroux. Giroux taught high school history in Barrington, Rhode Island from 1968 to 1975. Giroux received his Doctorate from Carnegie-Mellon in 1977. He then became professor of education at Boston University from 1977 to 1983. In 1983 he became professor of education and renowned scholar in residence at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio where he also served as Director at the Center for Education and Cultural Studies. He moved to Penn State University where he took up the Waterbury Chair Professorship at Penn State University from 1992 to May 2004. He also served as the Director of the Waterbury Forum in Education and Cultural Studies. He moved to McMaster University in May 2004, where he currently holds the Global Television Network Chair in Communication Studies. He currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada with his wife, Dr. Susan Searls-Giroux.

How did you decide to become a university professor? Was it a conscious choice?

I was a high school teacher for six years and as a result of that experience I wanted to be able to teach future teachers rather than limit my teaching to high school students. Hence, I decided very consciously to go back to college and get my doctorate and work in the field of education.

Who were some of your mentors in university and what were some of the most important lessons you learned from them?

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I had a number of very important mentors early on in my graduate and post-graduate experience. I was a research assistant for Professor Robert Sandels at Appalachian University in North Carolina and learned from him a new vocabulary for engaging matters of politics and power. My most important mentor in college was Professor Tony Penna, who was a brilliant intellectual and my dissertation advisor at Carnegie Mellon University. Tony was very helpful in my understanding of the history of critical education. I also learned a great deal from Stanley Aronowitz about critical theory and educational theory. Two other mentors that soon followed were Paulo Freire and Howard Zinn, both of whom taught me something about the relationship between education and social change.

In your experience, how did the role of university professor “evolve” since you were an undergraduate student?

In my early years as a professor, the university was more indebted to a liberal vision of education and provided a broader range of theoretical and pedagogical opportunities to teach, interact with students, and define one’s work as a public intellectual. There was more autonomy for academics and there were more full-time tenure track jobs. Today, the university is governed by a business culture: students are viewed as customers, knowledge has become valued as a commodity, and faculty have largely been reduced to the ranks of part-time and non-tenured track positions. They have less autonomy, power, and are deeply constrained by the imposition of a corporate culture which now has become the dominant mode of university governance.

What makes a good teacher today? How do you manage to command attention in an age of interruption characterized by fractured attention and information overload?

First, I think a good teacher has to know something about what they are teaching. They have to be intellectuals, knowledgeable not just in their disciplinary specialties but also about a wide range of issues that connect to their subject matter, research agendas, and their students’ lives. A good teacher works in multiple literacies ranging from print to the visual and knows how to make knowledge meaningful in order to make it critical in order to make it transformative. A good teacher also has to recognize that pedagogy is a project not a mechanistic set of rules and skills regardless of context. That is, a good teacher understands teaching as a moral and political practice that connects knowledge to power, ideas to the larger society, and understanding to the obligations of civic and social responsibility.

What advice would you give to aspiring university professors and what are some of the texts young scholars should be reading today?

I would suggest that aspiring university professors learn how to take risks, inspire students to become informed, critical, and engaged global citizens. Organize to fight neoliberal disciplinary apparatuses and modes of governing and use theory and disciplinary knowledge as a resource to address important social issues. Read all of Stanley Aronowitz on public and higher education; also read Zygmunt Bauman to understand the mutations taking place under modernity as a result of the force of privatization, deregulation, commodification, and militarization.  Read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Freedom for the best primer on critical education and David Theo Goldberg for the best scholarship on racism.

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan declared, in reference to the university environment that, “departmental sovereignties have melted away as rapidly as national sovereignties under conditions of electric speed.” This claim could be viewed as an endorsement of interdisciplinary studies, but it could also be regarded as a statement about the changing nature of academia. Do you think the university as an institution is in crisis or at least under threat in the information age?

The greatest challenges facing universities is not the consequence of the new technologies, though they are certainly altering how the academy views the production, consumption, and distribution of knowledge. The real threat comes from underfunding, raising tuition rates, the commercialization of all aspects of university life, and the growing instrumentality that corrupts all forms of critical thinking.


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