who are yet to become engaged with the work of Henry
Giroux are missing out - big time. He is an accomplished scholar
in the fields of education, media, cultural studies, critical
pedagogy, and entertainment. As author of more than 35 books,
very few public intellectuals can lay claim to the kind of expansive
career Henry has nurtured for over four decades. But he’s hardly
amused by academic accomplishments. Henry’s devotion to the transformation
of the education system, and the cultivation of democratic values
in this age of market-driven control, has often put him at odds
with a system he describes as “The
University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic
Complex (The Radical Imagination).”
Henry Giroux is also known as a confidant and colleague, for almost
two decades, of the late, legendary Paulo Freire. Giroux’s work
with Freire helped ignite a fiery passion in him, forever burning
until the day the promise of a quality existence is extended to
the hands of every living, breathing child.
was privileged to engage Henry in conversation on several topics
threatening the future of our democratic society. Included in
the discourse were questions of democracy in the context of an
emerging omnipresent neoliberalism, in which “the relationship
between the private and the public has absolutely collapsed”:
CRITICAL PEDAGOGY, AGENCY, AND THE STRUGGLE FOR RADICAL DEMOCRACY
“Critical pedagogy argues that school practices need to be
informed by a public philosophy that addresses how to construct
ideological and institutional conditions in which the lived experience
of empowerment for the vast majority of students becomes the defining
feature of schooling.”
Thanks for joining us, Dr. Giroux. I think it’s appropriate
to commence this discourse by defining what critical pedagogy
is - a field you are largely credited as founding.
pedagogy was an attempt to, in a sense, remove the question of
teaching from an overwhelming, complex method of limited accountability.
In other words, it was an attempt to not only politicize pedagogy
itself, but to expand the parameters of what it actually does,
and why it’s important. In many ways, one of the things that we
were concerned about, is the relationship between knowledge and
power: What does it mean to talk about pedagogy as a moral and
political practice, and not merely as a technique? We wanted to
say: Pedagogy is directive. It’s basically about the construction
of different kinds of subjectivities and particular kinds of agents.
And we wanted to link that notion of subjectivity to a notion
of learning that expands the possibilities for democracy, social
justice, equality, and a future that doesn’t merely imitate the
market or the past. In essence, it was a notion of pedagogy that
took the question of justice and agency as inextricably connected
In your texts, you’ve consistently explained agency
as the only medium through which citizens can concede demands
from power. Where does the concept of agency fall, in this information
is meant to connect questions of self to the collective
social. To be an agent is to be reflective. To be an agent
is to have a certain understanding of the relationship between
the self and the other. To be an agent is to be able to recognize
the certain skills that are demanded of citizenship. To be an
agent is to have access to information, and able to make judgment
and be thoughtful. In this new age, in which culture is the primary
educational force, agents must construct dialogues around these
sites of learning that are not simply limited to being consumers,
that are not limited to this absolutely gilded age which is being
subjected to market-driven logic and rationality.
As a self-described “radical democrat,” what is your assessment
of the current political structure?
is inherently authoritarian. It has a legacy of democratic ideals.
It’s embodied in a tradition of possibilities. But, increasingly,
the reality that pushes against those promises has become a cause
of much alarm. We see it in the rise of Militarism, which Obama
seems to be simply reinforcing. We see it in a kind of religious
fundamentalism, which is always a dire force and threat to Democracy.
We see it in the assault on critical thinking, which has been
unleashed in ways that surprise everyone. Also, we see it in a
kind of market fundamentalism that actually is driven by a contempt
for democracy; a contempt for all citizens that are not driven
by the obligations of consumerism; a contempt for all public spheres
that are not driven by the logic of the commodity; and a contempt,
basically, for any form of human dependency that used to be seen
as safety nets and safety contracts that were essential to democracy.
I will never suggest that we have moved into something like the
Fascism seen in the ‘20s and the ‘30s, what I will suggest, is
that Totalitarianism takes different forms at different historical
moments. And I think we are as close to that moment - the totality
of a kind of break down, a dysfunction in democratic values and
social relationships - unlike we have ever seen before.
CAPITALISM, NEOLIBERALISM, AND THE FUTURE OF MARKET-DRIVEN
“Within the discourse of neoliberalism… issues regarding
persistent poverty, inadequate healthcare, racial apartheid in
the inner cities, and the growing inequalities between the rich
and the poor have been either removed from the inventory of public
discourse and social policy or factored into talk-show spectacles.”
How serious is the danger posed by public intrusion into
question has been on my mind for the last 10 years. Central to
any notion of politics is the notion of translation. What I mean
by that is, we have to be able to understand how private considerations
translate into social concerns, and vice versa. But I think that
what has happened, and what has made our Democracy so dysfunctional,
is that in the 1970s, and especially in the 1980s with Ronald
Reagan, we saw the emergence of a kind of market fundamentalism
in which the relationship between the private and the public has
absolutely collapsed. In that, the public now becomes understandable
almost entirely in the realm of a privatized notion of the world.
when we talk about racism, we don’t talk about a racial state,
we don’t talk about systemic racism; we talk about prejudice,
we talk about racism as though it’s an issue of individual psychology
- it has nothing to do with power, it has nothing to do with the
organization of resources, it has nothing to do with institutional
and social modes of exclusion.
we talk about poverty, we don’t talk about vast inequalities caused
by a market system in which 1% of the population owns 22% of household
income and 44% of the national wealth. We talk about people being
incompetent and lazy, that they refuse to work, that they don’t
have the right psychology.
the public sphere now becomes simply an outlet for private rumblings,
and we have no way to understand how unemployment, homelessness,
poverty, racism, and environmental issues, have to be understood
by large sets of connections or social matrixes.
What effects has neoliberalism had on public discourse, private
concerns and, of course, policy?
me, it is central to the question of politics: What neoliberalism
does, is it operates off the presupposition that society should
be tied entirely to the logic of the market, and that questions
of privatization, deregulation, and choice, are entirely economic
decisions to be left in the hands of corporations, and have absolutely
nothing to do with a larger set of democratic values and concerns.
it means that the social state should be cancelled, that safety
nets should be eliminated. It means that the government should
deregulate the market. It means that efficiency, cost effectiveness,
and the bottom line, are the only kinds of values that matter.
It destroys every notion of the public sphere, of the common good,
of sociality, that gives democracy its vibrancy and worth. And
it seems to suggest, by the reality TV shows that mirror its most
outrageous assumptions, that we live in a world marked by all
against all. And that notions of compassion, love, trust,
honesty, integrity and justice - those spheres driven by non-commodified
values - simply don’t matter - because they don’t generate profit.
it does something more: It makes entire generations utterly disposable
- because they are flawed consumers, because they are outside
of the logic of the market, because they’re a drain on the economy.
This notion of neoliberalism has no language for justice; it has
no language for compassion, it has no language for equality. It’s
very pernicious. And we’ve seen the effects of it on the economy.
What is incumbent upon progressives, to restore common sense
in this age of market-driven values?
think there are a number of things. I think that common sense
is at the heart of one of the most abusive forms of political
violence that we now see. We are surrounded by a media and educational
system that seems to suggest that neoliberalism is the only alternative
- that’s all there is. And I think we need to once again start
talking about democracy and what it means. We need to understand
that at the heart of any democratic system, is not simply the
promise of a greater democracy, but institutions that are questioning
of power and supportive of cultures. And these institutions need
to be struggled over.
need an educational agenda that respects critical thought, and
that respects solidarity. In the name of “common sense,” the worst
crimes are committed. And we need to understand what it means
to break into that. We need to make people more thoughtful; to
provide more critical understanding of what it means to be in
the world; to resurrect a sense of agency that is not just privatized,
but is social, collective and engaged to take on the responsibilities
of what is means to be a real citizen in a democracy that has
[This is part 1 of a 3-part series titled, “Let Us Make Haste
While We Can: A Conversation with Henry Giroux.” Next week, Henry
discusses the intertwining issues of education and media, as they
affect today’s Children and Youth.] Click here
to read any of the commentaries in this series.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Tolu Olorunda, is an
activist/writer and a Nigerian immigrant. Click here
to reach Mr. Olorunda.
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