few are more qualified than Henry Giroux to speak about the troubles
and trials plaguing today’s younger generation. In fact, as Dr.
Giroux sees it, a war is being waged on this population, pillaging
everything they have to offer, in deference to a rabid model of
market fundamentalism and neoliberalism. The
education system, largely championed as the great equalizer, is,
as Giroux sees it, “in such dire trouble, that we now see schools
losing their public character, as a result of these private investments.”
Schooling, he contends, has now become “a sort of dead time. It
doesn’t speak of life anymore.” In this second installment, he
also speaks at-length on why the younger generation “must organize
and fight at every level to stop” the theft of their future:
“EDUCATION IS OUR PASSPORT TO THE FUTURE”: TOMORROW AND THE
REALITY OF TODAY
“As the university’s civic mission is imperiled by corporatization
and racial backlash, access to its resources are increasingly
predicated on whiteness and wealth, and the greater public good
is financially and spiritually starved [as a result].”
Is there a “crisis” in the democratic promise of education,
vis-à-vis students of color?
hard to even begin here. I think public education and higher education
are now suffering from two kinds of crisis: A “legitimation” crisis,
and a “political” crisis.
legitimation crisis stems from the fact that schools no
longer know what it means to align themselves with democratic
ideals. They have allowed themselves to slip away from any notion
that says public and higher education is central to democracy,
and so, modes of educational accountability are now aligned with
two things: A market notion of citizenship, and the punishing
means that, increasingly, schools are not only becoming privatized,
but militarized. And I think that the worst this poses, especially
for poor minority students, is almost overwhelming. I mean, schools
are now modeled after prisons and testing centers. And it seems
to me that the students who most bear the burden of this system,
are the poor ones - kids who are constantly losing whatever constitutional
rights they might have.
In Take Back Higher Education, you argue that private
interests - soda companies, media and merchandise giants - are
now capitalizing on the insufficient funding many public schools
receive, and are offering up “partnerships” with these schools,
to tap into the “52 million-strong market of public school students
now required to take tests every year from the third grade on.”
[p. 200] Please explain.
shameless. Let’s begin with an assumption that goes against common
sense: Schools are failing, not because they are inefficient,
but because they are public. That’s how the Right-wing sees this.
The attack on public schools is not because they don’t work. It’s
because they are public. And so every attempt - organizing
the curriculum to reflect corporate interests and values - to
turn over school spaces to advertising agencies (billboards, advertisements
in bathrooms, junk food in cafeterias) is to inform kids that
the only thing that matters is the relationship between knowledge
what is at stake here is not just the commercialization of schools.
It is the invasion of private interests into sacred domains. This
suggests two larger issues:
is what I refer to as: A seismic shift in the way society understands
schooling. Schooling, once understood as a public good, is now
understood as a private good. That is a shift of unbelievable
proportions that began in the 1980s.
schools are so underfunded, and in such dire trouble, that we
now see schools losing their public character, as a result of
these private investments. So, when we talk about public education,
we’re not talking about transforming the school system, we’re
talking about what is called, Starving the Beast. It means
taking money away from the government, and doing all that is possible
to create an increasing disinvestment in public education, so
they can simply be turned over to private investors.
you’re also getting at something else, which is that it’s also
producing new kinds of subjects in schools, new kinds of students:
for whom democratic values are relatively meaningless, because
they rarely have access to that discourse. Students
who don’t know what critical dialogue is about, because it doesn’t
take place in schools anymore. Students who can’t see schools
as improving their future anymore, but as a kind of stepping stone
into prison. Students who now see school, as you write in your essay,
as a source of pain.
becomes a sort of dead time. It doesn’t speak of life anymore.
In what direction must this fight go, to redeem the promise
of equitable education for all?
fundamental question here is two-fold:
central is education to democracy?
central are young people to the future?
we can address those two central issues, we’re going to fail.
In other words, there has to be a revolution - linguistically
and theoretically - in the way we talk about education and democracy.
It cannot simply be a marginal moment in what [President] Obama
is talking about. We need to talk about more funding. Education
must become more equitable. In my estimation, nobody should be
denied a decent education. There should not be a system where
there is Harvard, there is Yale, and then there is the rest.
There should not be a system that doesn’t recognize how the tax
burden is structured simply to privilege the rich. We cannot speak
of education in ways that disconnect the question of excellence
from equity. That simply cannot happen.
DISNEY, INNOCENCE, AND THE ESSENCE OF EXPLOITATION
“First, it must become clear that Disney is not merely about
peddling entertainment, it is also about politics, economics,
and education…. With every product that Disney produces, whether
for adults or children, there is the accompanying commercial blitzkrieg
aimed at excessive consumerism, selfishness, and individualism.”
Why did you decide to investigate Disney’s impact on kids?
think Disney is made up of a lie, a massive lie. And the lie is
that corporations such as Disney, which cater to children all
over the world, are basically about innocent, youthful entertainment.
These are large corporations that hide their corporate power behind
a mantle of innocence and pure entertainment. These are teaching
How has Disney contributed to the bargain of hyper-consumerism,
which, you argue, impinges on the innocence of millions of children?
turns young people into commodities. It feels their head with
junk, that the public sphere is primarily White and nothing else.
There’s nothing innocent about Disney, but what I think it points
to, in a larger sense, is the educational force of popular culture,
which does enormous damage in the ways it invades and shapes almost
every aspects of young peoples’ lives.
What must parents know, and do, about the risk factor that
comes with exposing
kids to 40,000+ Television ads a year?
think the point is to understand what conditions make corporations
like Disney possible, and how do we fight them pedagogically.
We have to get parents engaged in popular culture, so that kids
can not only analyze what they’re being shown, but can produce
and direct their own media. Corporations like Disney cannot be
avoided. They have to be engaged, critically analyzed, politicized
and, hopefully, transformed.
YOUTH IN A SUSPECT SOCIETY: BEYOND THE POLITICS OF DISPOSABILITY
“The relations between youth and adults have always been
marked by strained generational and ideological struggles, but
the new economic and social conditions that youth face today,
along with a callous indifference to their spiritual and material
needs, suggest a qualitatively different attitude on the part
of many adults toward American youth - one that indicates that
the young, especially under the Bush administration, have become
our lowest national priority.”
Is there a war being waged against today’s Youth?
When I talk about the war on youth, my argument is that something
incredibly new has happened within the last 20 years, which is
us finding ourselves in a society where kids are no longer part
of the equation of what it means to invest in the future. We have
an economic and political system that now sees kids as utterly
is a generation that is under constant surveillance. This is a
generation that is no longer seen as being troubled, but trouble
itself. This is a generation no longer at risk; they are the risk.
This is a generation we no longer invest in, because it constitutes
a long-term investment. And, as I write in my
new book, this is a generation now characterized as “suspects.”
And I think that when we talk about the war on Youth, there are
two kinds of wars:
the soft war: The war in which Youth are increasingly commodified,
and simply turned into a market. Their humanity is disregarded,
and the interest is simply making a profit from them and on them.
there’s the hard war, which is much worse: The war marked
by an increasing transition from schools to jails. It is also
marked by kids being tried as adults, by the criminalization of
almost all social issues kids face. This is a generation that
is, in a sense, being governed through the axis of crime. And
we’ve never since this before. This is not just a crisis. It’s
worse than that. This is going to cripple, if not stop, generations
of young people in unimaginable ways.
mean, what does it say when: One in three Black Youth in the U.S. between the ages of 18
and 27 at some point in their life will end up in prison; when
70% of all inmates in prison today are people of color. I mean,
this is just outright “State Racism.” There’s no other way to
talk about it.
is apartheid on speed, apartheid on coke. It’s a
silent apartheid of sorts, because it hides under the discourse
of “color-blindnes;” it hides under the discourse of “privatization;”
it hides under the discourse of “psychology” and “Racelessness.”
That’s why it’s so pernicious.
wife [Dr. Susan Giroux] constantly reminds me that it’s not just
an attitude framed in a psychology; it’s organized through a Youth-controlled
complex that is made up of an enormous number of social structures
and institutional forces.
What is the politics of zero-tolerance? And what are its
is a disaster for American schooling. It criminalizes school policies
in such a way that they are now taking almost entirely away from
principals and teachers, and handed basically to the police. There’s
a bifurcation currently at work in the school system, which suggests
that any behavior outside of the norm must be dealt with by the
punishing apparatus, over which schools now have very little control.
Kids are now being treated as prisoners.
How can this young generation engage the future in a way
that sustains its dignity?
think we now live in a time, unlike the past, where kids have
no sense of the future. So, Youths must organize and fight at
every level to stop this. I think they need to write about it,
and they do. They need to make it clear that the lives they live
in schools are of pain, injustice and, in many cases, cruelty.
They need to rebel against these absolutely horrendous testing
policies. And they need to do it across the country. I don’t think
there is currently a more important struggle going on, than that
over the war on Youth.
[This is part 2 of a 3-part series titled, “Let Us Make Haste
While We Can: A Conversation with Henry Giroux.” Click here
to read any of the commentaries in this series. Next week, Henry
discusses the promises, possibilities and perils of Obama’s presidency.]
more on the topic of Youth, see Henry Giroux’s upcoming book,
in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?.”
Columnist, Tolu Olorunda, is an activist/writer and a Nigerian
immigrant. Click here
to reach Mr. Olorunda.
Any BlackCommentator.com article may
be re-printed so long as it is re-printed in its entirety and full
credit given to the author and www.BlackCommentator.com. If the
re-print is on the Internet we additionally request a link back
to the original piece on our Website.
Your comments are always welcome.
If you send us an eMail message
we may publish all or part of it, unless you tell us it
is not for publication. You may also request that we withhold
Thank you very much for your readership.
Your comments are always welcome.