Dec 6, 2013
Marching in Chicago: Resisting Rahm Emanuel’s Neoliberal Savagery
Posted on May 24, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
In an age of irresponsible privatization, unchecked individualism, celebrity culture, unfettered consumerism, and a massive flight from moral responsibility, it has become more and more difficult to acknowledge that educators and other cultural workers have an enormous responsibility in opposing the current threat to the planet and everyday life by bringing democratic political culture back to life. Lacking a self-consciously democratic political focus or project, teachers are often reduced either to the role of a technician or functionary engaged in formalistic rituals, unconcerned with the disturbing and urgent problems that confront the larger society or the consequences of one’s pedagogical practices and research undertakings. In opposition to this model, with its claims to and conceit of political neutrality, it is crucial that teachers in Chicago and cities across the United States combine the mutually interdependent roles of critical educator and active citizen. This requires finding ways to connect the practice of classroom teaching with the operations of power in the larger society and to provide the conditions for students to view themselves as critical agents capable of making those who exercise authority and power answerable for their actions. The role of a critical education is not to train students solely for jobs, but also to educate them to question critically the institutions, policies, and values that shape their lives, relationships to others, and myriad connections to the larger world. Equally important is the task of teacher unions all over America to forge alliances with a range of social movements so that the struggle for education is connected to the struggle for social provisions, a new understanding of politics, and a the development of mass movements that can shut down the savagery of a neoliberal public pedagogy and economic machine that is the enemy of any viable notion of democracy.
Education is never innocent and if it is to be understood and problematized as a form of academic labor, educators must resist all calls to depoliticize pedagogy through appeals to either scientific objectivity or ideological dogmatism. Educational dogmatism now takes the form of blatant attacks on unions, the dissolution of public schools largely inhabited by poor minority students, the imposition of disciplinary apparatuses that criminalize the behavior of low income and poor students of color, and the development of curricula that deadens the mind and soul through a narrow pedagogy of test taking. What is happening in Chicago and other cities in the United States is the production of pedagogy of repression. This suggests the need for educators to rethink the purpose and meaning of education, the crucial importance of pedagogy in a democracy, and the collective struggles that will have to be waged against neoliberal racism and its attempts to dismantle the power of teachers to gain control over the conditions of their labor.
Education must be reclaimed as central to any viable notion of citizenship, civic responsibility, and democracy itself. What Rahm Emmanuel and his ilk fear is the potential of public education to enable students to think critically, hold power accountable, and imagine education as a form of educated hope. Education and pedagogy cannot be reduced to the dictates of an audit culture with its rendering of critical thought nil and void just as it elevates a mindless pedagogy of test taking as the ultimate pedagogical practice and the final arbiter over what constitutes quality teaching, learning, and what it means to be educated. What is lost in this pedagogical practice is a pedagogy that provides the conditions for students come to grips with their own power, master the best histories and legacies of education available, learn to think critically and be willing to hold authority accountable. And most importantly, the dangerous notion that changing attitudes is not enough and that students should also be pressed to exercise a fearsome form of social responsibility as engaged citizens willing to struggle for social, economic, and political justice. This is the last approach to education that the current Mayor of Chicago wants to see materialize in the cities’ public schools.
What Chicago public schools teachers fought for in their three days of demonstrations is the right to define teaching as a performative practice that is not only about teaching young people to be literate and knowledgeable but also to embrace the mutually informing modalities of power and knowledge so as to engage education as an act of intervention in the world, one that moves beyond simple matters of critique and understanding. At the essence of the brave struggles waged by the Chicago public school teachers is the recognition that any viable approach to pedagogy must acknowledge the crucial nature of the labor conditions necessary for teacher autonomy, cooperation, decent working conditions, safety of the children, and the relations of power necessary to give teachers and students the capacity to restage power in productive ways–ways that point to self-development, self-determination, and social agency.
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