Dec 13, 2013
Angela Davis: Education and the Meaning of Freedom
Posted on Apr 11, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
This piece first appeared at Truthout.
At a time when higher education is under siege all over the globe by market mentalities and moralities, there is an urgent necessity on the part of the American public to reclaim the academy in its multiple forms as a site of critique and a public good, one that connects knowledge and power, scholarship and public life, and pedagogy and civic engagement. The current assault on higher education by the apostles of neoliberalism and religious fundamentalists makes clear that it should not be harnessed to cost-benefit analyses or the singular needs of corporations, which often leads to the loss of egalitarian and democratic pressures. Universities should be about more than developing work skills. They must also be about producing civic minded and critically engaged citizens - citizens who can engage in debate, dialogue and bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance. Universities are some of the few places left where a struggle for the commons, for public life, if not democracy itself, can be made visible through the medium of collective voices and social movements energized by the need for a politics and way of life counter to authoritarian capitalism.
We are living in a time in which democratic institutions and public spheres are being downsized, if not altogether disappearing. As these institutions vanish - from public schools to health care centers - there is also a serious erosion of the discourses of community, justice, equality, public values and the common good. We increasingly live in societies based on the vocabulary of ‘choice’ and a denial of reality - a denial of massive inequality, social disparities, the irresponsible concentration of power in relatively few hands, and a growing machinery of social and civil death.  More and more individuals and groups are becoming imaginary others defined by a free-floating capitalist class that inscribes them as disposable, redundant and irrelevant. The American public increasingly inhabits zones of hardship, suffering and terminal exclusion. This is all the more reason for scholars to address important social issues and for the university to defend itself as a democratic public sphere.
We live in a world in which everything is now privatized, transformed into “spectacular spaces of consumption,” and subject to the vicissitudes of the national security state.  One consequence is the emergence of what the late Tony Judt called an “eviscerated society”- one that is “stripped of the thick mesh of mutual obligations and social responsibilities to be found in” any viable democracy.  This grim reality has been called a “failed sociality” a failure in the power of the civic imagination, political will and open democracy. As the welfare state continues to be attacked and the punishing state increasingly criminalizes social issues, extending from homelessness and peaceful protest to dress code violations in public schools, academics and other cultural workers should not, under the guise of professionalism, remove themselves from ethical considerations and the power relations that impact them and the world. Nor should they claim disinterestedness at a time when the very concepts of justice, equality, freedom and democracy are actively traded for the forces of privatization, consumerism, unchecked individualism and “a political culture of hyper punitiveness.” 
The university likewise should not collude with the ongoing assaults against social provisions that are waged by policymakers who view marginalized populations as disposable, as waste products of a society that would rather warehouse its citizens, particularly poor minorities, in dilapidated schools and prisons than provide them with decent social protections, health care, jobs, a quality education and a future that matters.  Hence, one goal of those concerned about creating engaged citizens capable of struggling for a radical democracy is to develop new pedagogical practices and modes of civic literacy that connect rigorous scholarship to important social issues, such as the war being waged on youth today, the increasing militarization of all aspects of society, the attack on the welfare state, the growing assault on women’s civil and reproductive rights and the escalating destruction of the environment.
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