May 20, 2013
Why Independent Thinkers Are Repugnant to Religious Zealots and Rick Santorum
Posted on Feb 22, 2012
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
The authority that enables academics to teach emerges out of the education, knowledge, research, professional rituals and scholarly experiences that they bring to their field of expertise and classroom teaching. Such authority provides the space and experience in which pedagogy goes beyond providing the conditions for the simple acts of knowing and understanding and includes the cultivation of the very power of self-definition and critical agency. But teacher authority cannot be grounded exclusively in the rituals of professional academic standards. Learning occurs in a space in which commitment and passion provide students with a sense of what it means to link knowledge to a sense of direction. Teaching is a practice rooted in an ethico-political vision that attempts to take students beyond the world they already know, in a way that does not insist on a particular fixed set of altered meanings. In this context, teacher authority rests on pedagogical practices that reject the role of students as passive recipients of familiar knowledge and view them instead as producers of knowledge, who not only critically engage diverse ideas, but also transform and act on them.(12) Pedagogy is the space that provides a moral and political referent for understanding how what we do in the classroom is linked to wider social, political and economic forces.
It is impossible to separate what we do in the classroom from the economic and political conditions that shape our work, and that means that pedagogy has to be understood as a form of academic labor in which questions of time, autonomy, freedom and power become as central to the classroom as what is taught. As a referent for engaging fundamental questions about democracy, pedagogy gestures to important questions about the political, institutional and structural conditions that allow teachers to produce curricula, collaborate with colleagues, engage in research and connect their work to broader public issues. Pedagogy is not about balance, a merely methodological consideration; on the contrary, as Cornelius Castoriadis reminds us, if education is not to become “the political equivalent of a religious ritual,”(13) it must do everything possible to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to learn how to deliberate, make judgments and exercise choice, particularly as the latter is brought to bear on critical activities that offer the possibility of democratic change. Democracy cannot work if citizens are not autonomous, self-judging and independent - qualities that are indispensable for students if they are going to make vital judgments and choices about participating in and shaping decisions that affect everyday life, institutional reform and governmental policy. Hence, pedagogy becomes the cornerstone of democracy in that it provides the very foundation for students to learn not merely how to be governed, but also how to be capable of governing.
One gets the sense that right-wing pundits, politicians and religious bigots believe that there is no place in the classroom for politics, worldly concerns, social issues and questions about how to lessen human suffering. In this discourse, the classroom becomes an unworldly counterpart to the gated community, a space for conformity and punishment as a tool for perpetuating dominant market-driven values and white Christian religious values. This is not education; it is a flight from self and society. As Eric Fromm has pointed out, this type of education embodies a flight from freedom, produces authoritarian personalities and punishes those who refuse to live in a society modeled as a fundamentalist theocracy. The outcome of this type of anti-enlightenment education is not a student who feels a responsibility to others and who feels that her/his presence in the world matters, but one who feels the presence of difference, if not thinking itself, as an unbearable burden to be contained or expelled. Santorum and his fundamentalist allies argue for a notion of education that supports the notion of the teacher as a police officer, clerk or pitchman for privatization rather than an understanding of educators as engaged public intellectuals. That is, as intellectuals and civic educators who work under conditions that enable them to embrace the authority, respect and autonomy necessary for making education worldly practice and critical pedagogy an empower experience.
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