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The Scorched-Earth Politics of America’s Four Fundamentalisms
Posted on Mar 7, 2012
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
The influence of militaristic values, social relations and ideology now permeates American culture. For example, major universities aggressively court the military establishment for Defense Department grants and, in doing so, become less open to either academic subjects or programs that encourage rigorous debate, dialogue and critical thinking. In fact, as higher education is pressured by both the Obama administration and its jingoistic supporters to serve the needs of the military-industrial complex, universities increasingly deepen their connections to the national security state in ways that are boldly celebrated. As David Price has brilliantly illustrated, the university is emerging as a central pillar of the national security state. Unfortunately, public schools are faring no better. Public schools not only have more military recruiters creeping their halls, they also have more military personnel teaching in the classrooms. Schools now adopt the logic of “tough love” by implementing zero-tolerance policies that effectively model urban public schools after prisons, just as students’ rights increasingly diminish under the onslaught of a military-style discipline. Students in many schools, especially those in poor urban areas, are routinely searched, frisked, subjected to involuntary drug tests, maced and carted off to jail. The not-so-hidden curriculum here is that kids can’t be trusted; their actions need to be regulated pre-emptively; and their rights are not worth protecting.
Children and schools are not the only victims of a growing militarization of American society. The civil rights of people of color and immigrants, especially Arabs and Muslims, are being violated, often resulting in either imprisonment and deportment or government harassment. Similarly, black and brown youth and adults are being incarcerated at record levels as prison construction outstrips the construction of schools, hospitals, and other life-preserving institutions. As Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri point out in “Multitude,” war along with savage market forces have become the organizing principles of society and the foundation for politics and other social relations. The consequences of their power as modes of public pedagogy shaping all aspects of social life is a growing authoritarianism that encourages profit-hungry monopolies; the ideology of faith-based certainty; and the undermining of any vestige of critical education, dissent and dialogue. Abstracted from the ideal of public commitment, the new authoritarianism represents political and economic practices and a form of militarism that loosens any connections among substantive democracy, critical agency and critical education.
Education becomes severely narrowed and trivialized in the media, or is converted into training and character reform in the schools. Within higher education, democracy appears as an excess, if not a pathology, as right-wing ideologues and corporate wannabe administrators increasingly police what faculty say, teach and do in their courses. And it is going to get worse.
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In opposition to the rising tide of authoritarianism, there is a need for a vast social movement capable of challenging the basic premises of an ever-expanding, systematic attack on democracy. The elements of authoritarianism must be made visible not simply as concepts, but as practices. The Occupy movement and others arising in its wake need to build a network of new institutions that can offer a different language, history and set of values, knowledge and ideas. There is a need for free schools, universities, public spheres, and other spaces where learning can be connected to social change and understanding translated into the building of social movements. As I have written many times, young people, parents, community workers, educators, artists, and others must make a case for linking learning to social change. They must critically engage with and construct anew those diverse sites where critical pedagogy takes place. Educators need to develop a new discourse whose aim is to foster a democratic politics and pedagogy that embody the legacy and principles of social justice, equality, freedom and rights associated with the democratic concerns of history, space, plurality, power, discourse, identities, morality and the future. They must make clear that every sphere of social life is open to political contestation and comprises a crucial site of political, social and cultural struggle in the attempt to forge the knowledge, identifications, affective investments and social relations capable of constituting political subjects and social agents who will energize and spread the call for a global radical democracy.
Under such circumstances, pedagogy must be embraced as a moral and political practice, one that is both directive and the outgrowth of struggles designed to resist the increasing depoliticization of political culture that is one hallmark of contemporary American life. Education is the terrain where consciousness is shaped; needs are constructed; and the capacity for self-reflection and social change is nurtured and produced. Education across a variety of spheres has assumed an unparalleled significance in shaping the language, values and ideologies that legitimate the structures and organizations supporting the imperatives of global capitalism. Rather than being simply a technique or methodology, education has become a crucial site for the production and struggle over those pedagogical and political conditions that offer up the possibilities for people to believe they can develop critical agency—a form of agency that will enable them individually and collectively to intervene effectively in the processes through which the material relations of power shape the meaning and practices of their everyday lives.
Within the current historical moment, struggles over power take on a symbolic and discursive as well as material and institutional form. The struggle over education, as most people will acknowledge, involves the struggle over meaning and identity; but it also involves struggling over how meaning, knowledge and values are produced, legitimated and operationalized within economic and structural relations of power. Education is not at odds with politics; it is an important and crucial element in any definition of the political and offers not only the theoretical tools for a systemic critique of authoritarianism, but also a language of possibility for creating actual movements for democratic social change. At stake here is combining an interest in symbolic forms and processes conducive to democratization with broader social contexts and the institutional formations of power itself. The key point here is to understand and engage educational and pedagogical practices from the point of view of how they are bound up with larger relations of power. Educators, students and parents need to be clearer about how power works through and in texts, representations and discourses, while at the same time recognizing that power cannot be limited to the study of representation and discourse.
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