Dec 7, 2013
When Schools Become Dead Zones of Imagination
Posted on Aug 17, 2013
By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout
Education as a democratic project is utopian in its goal of expanding and deepening the ideological and material conditions that make a democracy possible. Teachers need to be able to work together, collaborate, work with the community, and engage in research that informs their teaching. In this instance, critical pedagogy refuses the atomizing structure of teaching that informs traditional and market-driven notions of pedagogy. Moreover, critical pedagogy should provide students with the knowledge, modes of literacy, skills, critique, social responsibility, and civic courage needed to enable them to be engaged critical citizens willing to fight for a sustainable and just society.
Critical pedagogy is a crucial antidote to the neoliberal attack on public education, but it must be accompanied and informed by radical political and social movements willing to make educational reform central to democratic change. The struggle over public education is inextricably connected to a struggle against poverty, racism, violence, war, bloated defense budgets, a permanent warfare state, state sanctioned assassinations, torture, inequality, and a range of other injustices that reveal a shocking glimpse of what America has become and why it can no longer recognize itself through the moral and political visions and promises of a substantive democracy. And such a struggle demands both a change in consciousness and the building of social movements that are broad-based and global in their reach.
The struggle to reclaim public education as a democratic public sphere needs to challenge the regressive pedagogies, gated communities, and cultural and political war zones that now characterize much of contemporary America. These sites of terminal exclusion demand more than the spectacle of cruelty and violence used to energize the decadent cultural apparatuses of casino capitalism. They demand an encounter with new forms of pedagogy, modes of moral witnessing, and collective action, and they demand new modes of social responsibility. As Martin Luther King, Jr. insisted, “We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy, for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.” We can update King’s speech to encompass the weak, voiceless, and victims of our nation who are now represented by the low-income and poor minority youth who inhabit both the public schools and increasingly the prisons. These are the throwaway youth of an authoritarian America; they are the excess who painfully remind the elite of the need for social provisions, the viability of the public good, and those principles of economic life in need of substantial rethinking.
Under neoliberalism, it has become more difficult to respond to the demands of the social contract, public good, and the social state, which have been pushed to the margins of society - viewed as both an encumbrance and a pathology. And yet such a difficulty must be overcome in the drive to reform public education. The struggle over public education is the most important struggle of the 21st century because it is one of the few public spheres left where questions can be asked, pedagogies developed, modes of agency constructed and desires mobilized, in which formative cultures can be developed that nourish critical thinking, dissent, civic literacy and social movements capable of struggling against those antidemocratic forces that are ushering in dark, savage and dire times. We are seeing glimpses of such a struggle in Chicago and other states as well as across the globe and we can only hope that such movements offer up not merely a new understanding of the relationship among pedagogy, politics, and democracy, but also one that infuses both the imagination and hope for a better world.
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