Critical Pedagogy

Is our children learning?

Yeah. They’re learning to be passive, non-critical thinking consumers who don’t know anything about history. As radical intellectual Noam Chomsky, notes.

“Our kids are being prepared for passive obedience, not creative, independent lives.”

This is not a bug, but a feature of the American educational system. It simply will not work to teach critical thinking in a system where the inequalities are becoming so striking. What we get here in the US is a caste, or perhaps feudal, system of education. On one hand, we have the best education in the world for our young elite. On the other hand, the education system for the lower classes is designed to warehouse and control.

Henry Giroux, one of the foremost contemporary writers on critical pedagogy, schooling, higher education, neo-liberalism and the condition of vulnerable young people, outlines this new trajectory of the American educational system.

“We see the criminalization of disadvantaged youth, instead of the social conditions which they are forced to endure. Behaviors that were once handled by teachers, guidance counselors, and school administrators are now dealt with by the police and the criminal justice system. The consequences have been disastrous for young people.”

This assault on education is part of a massive backlash against the liberalization brought about by the 1960’s. To the American elite, it was a “Crisis of Democracy.” Noam Chomsky, articulates how much of a problem this represented.

“The crisis that they perceived was that there was too much democracy. The system used to work fine when most of the population was silent, passive, apathetic and obedient. The American rapporteur, Professor Samuel Huntington of Harvard, looked back with nostalgia to the good old days when “Truman had been able to govern the country with the cooperation of a relatively small number of Wall Street lawyers and bankers,” so that democracy flourished, with no crisis.”

Something happened in the 1960’s. American’s got it in their heads that all that rhetoric about democracy and American exceptionalism actually applied to them.

Good Lord! What were they thinking?

This outbreak of critical thought is why we are bombarded with negative connotations about the decade. Think about the dominant narrative of the 1960’s–Dirty hippies wallowing in the mud at Woodstock.

Again, if you have not read Chomsky, or for that matter, even heard of him, use the Google. He is a national treasure–a public intellectual who is not afraid to critique US economic, and foreign policies. As a noted linguist at MIT, he effortlessly deconstructs the language that is employed to control us. He has much to say about the elite response to the outbreak of organic American democracy. All this activism in the 1960’s led to calls for a transformation of the American educational system. Chomsky articulates the concerns and recommendations of the Trilateral Commission, formed in the wake of this “Crisis of Democracy.”

“One leading concern of the Trilateral scholars was the failure of the institutions responsible for the “indoctrination of the young” — the schools, the universities, the churches. They’re not indoctrinating the young properly. That’s why we have these uprisings in the streets and the efforts of the special interests to press their demands in the political arena. The Trilateral scholars therefore urged more “moderation in democracy” if the national interest is to be protected, and more effective indoctrination of the youth.”

How has the effort to indoctrinate proceeded? Very well, thank you. Our bi-partisan, anti-democratic elite have developed a model where they defund public education, push for charter schools, or some variant, and relentlessly attack teachers. Chomsky, again, deconstructing this sham educational reform.

“If you want to privatize something and destroy it, a standard method is first to defund it, so it doesn’t work anymore, people get upset and accept privatization. This is happening in the schools. They are defunded, so they don’t work well. So people accept a form of privatization just to get out of the mess.”

But what would a educational system that trained critical thinkers look like? Chomsky, who grew up in Philadelphia, attending a progressive school that emphasized student self-actualization, articulates an Enlightenment vision of education.

 “One image is of education as being a kind of vessel into which you pour water. As we all know, it is a pretty leaky vessel. Everyone has gone through this. You memorize something for an exam, and a week later, you can’t remember what the subject was. The other image is that teaching ought to be like laying out a string along which the student can progress in his or her own way. Education fosters discovery, not memorizing. The structure is designed so that the process of gaining understanding and gathering information is a creative, individual activity, often in cooperation with others.” 

How do we develop this sort of critical pedagogy, where students are encouraged to think for themselves? Is it even possible in the neo-liberal, market driven world we live in?

Professor, Henry Giroux laments the disappearance of the public intellectual, and offers a view of education as a social value instead of a commodity.

“Where students develop consciousness of freedom, recognize authoritarian tendencies, and connect knowledge to power and the ability to take constructive action.”

Giroux firmly believes that we should be educating students as critical citizens, as a means to bring about a more democratic nation. Giroux’s thinking and  work on critical pedagogy was: “…influenced by the works of Paulo Freire, arguably the most celebrated critical educator. According to his writings, Freire heavily endorses students’ ability to think critically about their education situation; this way of thinking allows them to “recognize connections between their individual problems and experiences and the social contexts in which they are embedded.”

Like liberation theology, critical pedagogy challenges status quo and hierarchy, and as such is to be ignored, ridiculed or dismissed as impractical. In our highly unequal society, education and spirituality are to be used for control, not as a means for the serfs to get any ideas about an alternative to neo-feudalism.

Remember: there is no alternative.

Update: Here’s a great example of how the privatization gig works.


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1 Response to Critical Pedagogy

  1. Jeff Nguyen says:

    You had me at Paulo Freire.

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