We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Friday, August 23, 2013

When Schools Become Dead Zones of the Imagination: A Critical Pedagogy Manifesto

Click here to access article by Henry A. Giroux from Uncommon Thought Journal.

This rather lengthy article is an example of a liberal critique of education in the US. This academic writer, Giroux, provides the most articulate of what passes as left social criticism in our country today. It also profoundly reflects a middle class perspective on contemporary issues of education which is focused on the latest onslaught against public education by the ruling class. 

Because of major advances in technology, today this class is promoting the latest version of capitalism, neoliberalism, which is a much more aggressive, slicked up version that intends to transform the entire world into material and labor that ruling classes can use to accumulate more wealth and power.  A part of this project is to "reform" or streamline education so that it directly meets the needs of today's corporations. They now need only a relatively few highly skilled people who are completely indoctrinated in the tenets and values of neoliberal capitalism. Privatized schooling can meet these needs--so why support public education anymore? Thus, most students will be left in prison-like schools to flounder as best they can. 

So, a fundamental question I think needs addressing is: what is this middle class perspective and what informs this perspective? And, why is it deficient in its critique of neoliberal educational policies? 

If one examines history from a radical perspective, one knows that the capitalist class rose to ascendency through a compromise with workers, or rather, with one section of workers--a fairly broad sector made up of highly skilled workers, managers, and professionals. (Disregarding the many false uses of the term "middle class" used by media propagandists, these workers are quintessentially the middle class.) That informal compromise is referred to by historians as "the social contract". The following description, from an Israeli source, is the most accurate (after decoding it), succinct description that I have ever encountered:
One of the basic assumptions...is that democratic [capitalist] society is based on a tacit social contract between the state and its citizens, according to which, in return for the citizens abiding by the state’s laws and agreeing to fulfill their duties to it (like paying taxes and serving in the armed forces), the state has an obligation to guarantee and actively promote individual and collective social security, social justice and effective forms of social solidarity. Besides direct assistance to the weaker parts of the population, the state is expected to ensure that its middle classes are able to obtain affordable housing and maintain a decent standard of living.
Any radical knows that capitalists often use the word "democracy" (or "democratic") as a code word for capitalism, and the "state" is one in which they control. By translating these code words, we can now fully understand the meaning of the social contract. By this contract the ascendant capitalist class bought off the allegiance of these workers. But, it was only expedient and necessary up until now. With the advances in technology many workers in today's middle class are being threatened with the loss of their jobs because they have been automated out of existence. The capitalist system no longer needs nearly as many "middle class" workers to function. That is the fundamental reason why they want to "reform" education.

A liberal critique of education such as this one clearly implies that past educational policies were perfectly fine. Therefore, we just need to return to the past. A radical critique would suggest that while past educational policies were better, they still served the needs of a ruling class and not those of workers or fully participating citizens. And, there is no return to the past simply because of the addiction of capitalists to wealth and power, and they can satisfy this addiction even better under neoliberalism--at least, until they destroy human habitat. But, addicts never worry about the long term.

The only real solution is the transformation of society into one where there are no classes, where no members are given special rights such as the current class of capitalists who can derive wealth/power from the work of others through the legal framework of private "ownership" of socially produced wealth.