Dec 10, 2013
The Educational Deficit and the War on Youth
Posted on Jun 20, 2013
By Leslie Thatcher & Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
This interview first appeared at Truthout.
Leslie Thatcher for Truthout: You have authored over 50 books, all of which deal with education in one form or another and most of which deal with the problems of youth; how would you define the specific focus of America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth?
The focus of this book is on the growing economic, political and cultural gap that has emerged in the United States between political leaders elected to govern and the citizenry whom they represent. It is also about the pernicious gap between ruling financial and corporate elites and the rest of society and how it has intensified the growth of a political and cultural landscape that is as anti-intellectual and devoid of a culture of questioning as it is authoritarian. I argue in this book that the deepening political, economic and moral deficit in America is inextricably connected to an education deficit, which is currently impacting young people most of all by starving them of both the economic resources and the formative educational experiences required to help them develop into knowledgeable and engaged citizens. The book begins with the premise that the crisis of schooling cannot be disconnected from the economic crisis - fueled by endless wars, a bloated military-industrial complex, and vast disparities in wealth and income. I argue throughout the book that as the United States proceeds headlong on a reckless course of civic illiteracy, which serves to legitimate and bolster a malignant gap in income, wealth and power, the end point is sure to entail the destruction of current and future possibilities for developing the educational institutions and formative culture that advance the imperatives of justice and democracy.
The book takes up the theme of the educational deficit by analyzing how recent attacks on youth can be linked to systemic attempts by a corporate and financial elite, conservative think tanks, and other right-wing forces to dismantle the social state and undermine opportunities for critical education, civic courage, and actions that make a world more just and democratic. These attacks range from the militarization of schools and the reduction in social services to the ongoing criminalization of a wide range of youth and adult behaviors and an increasing disinvestment in policies that would provide jobs, health care, and a future for young people.
Examining the regressive educational apparatuses, conservative politics, and cultures of cynicism that have dominated the United States in recent years, America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth describes and analyzes how American society is increasingly infused by real and symbolic forms of violence promoted by a range of intersecting forces, including neoliberal policymaking, militarization, religious fanaticism, corporate elitism, the violation of civil liberties, unconstitutional forms of surveillance, the disinvestment in public and higher education, and persistent racism. Despite widespread calls for electoral reform, the nation has arrived at such a crisis in governance that it cannot possibly begin to redress prevailing issues through political reform alone. Education must be taken seriously as a matter of primary importance among anyone who believes in the promise of US democracy.
You dedicate the book to teachers everywhere, but also to the memory of Roger Simon. How does that memory influence the book?
The book could not have been written without the presence of having Roger Simon as one of my best friends and colleagues for over thirty years. He was a brilliant scholar whose work extended from critical pedagogy and public memory to higher education and museum studies, among other fields. His archive of work, along with his book Teaching Against the Grain, which is one of the great classics of critical pedagogy and educational theory, have provided me with a rich theoretical framework over the past few decades. Roger taught me about humility and what it meant to approach one’s life and work with a high degree of self-reflection and a deep regard for others. He taught me that friendship was more important than one’s career and that the fullness of our lives should be played out in our compassion with and for others. And he taught me that justice and ethics were central not only to politics and pedagogy but also to how we understood who we were and what it meant to be in the world. All of these qualities have helped me to think through the nature of my own work and also the importance of addressing the suffering, deprivations and struggles young people now face and which they are engaging. We taught each other how to turn away from the poison of political purity, how to laugh, how to approach disagreements with each other as gifts rather than marks of enmity, and we were always reminding each other that the best conversations took place along with the taste of decent wine and the sensuality of good music. Dedicating the book to him was a small gift to a friend whose memory, work, words and friendship have left an indelible mark on me and whose presence I will never forget.
One of your constant themes, building on the work of Zygmunt Bauman, is the disposability of populations. How have neoliberalism’s expanding targets in the last 30 years demonstrated that everyone is ultimately disposable whenever anyone is?
Since the 1970s, there has been an intensification of the anti-democratic pressures of neoliberal policies. What is particularly new is the way in which immigrants, poor minorities and vast numbers of the working and middle classes are increasingly denied any social provisions as a result of an already eviscerated social contract and the degree to which they are no longer viewed as central to how the United States defines its future. Keeping up with the Joneses has been replaced with the struggle to simply survive - and mimics a neo-Hobbesian world in which the politics of disposability has replaced the most minimal elements of the welfare state. With the growth of finance capital, a global shift in power, and a move from a society of producers to a society of consumers, American society took a turn to the dark side, one that eviscerated any pretense to democracy and condemned millions of people to a life of perpetual suffering, hardship and misery. Under the dictates of a neoliberal society, not only are resources and consumer goods thrown away, but human beings are now also considered excess to be relegated to the garbage can of society. In other words, we do not just throw away goods but also people.
For instance, as I point out in the book, low-income and poor minority youth, in particular, are no longer the register where society reveals its dreams for a just and equitable future. On the contrary, such youth increasingly symbolize a space where neoliberal society reveals its nightmares and invokes a culture of cruelty that appears more savage than its full embrace of the ethos of greed. Within neoliberal narratives, youth are either defined as a consumer market, advertisements for such a market, or they symbolize trouble - a generation who do not have problems but are the problem.
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