Henry Giroux: The Necessity of Critical Pedagogy in Dark Times

Wednesday, 06 February 2013 00:00By Jose Maria Barroso Tristan, Global Education Magazine |


José María Barroso Tristán: You're considered as the father of a critical pedagogy. What is critical pedagogy for you? Henry Giroux: Actually, I am not the father of critical pedagogy. While I may have played a prominent role in its development, critical pedagogy emerged out of long series of educational struggles that extend from the work of Paulo Freire in Brazil to the work on critical pedagogy advanced by myself and Roger Simon, David Livingstone, and later Joe Kincheloe in the 1970s and 1980s. Critical pedagogy is a movement and an ongoing struggle taking place in a number of different social formations and places. To argue that there is such a thing as ―the father of critical pedagogy‖ devalues those struggles and the collective efforts that have been made to develop and build upon the diverse archives that make up critical pedagogy in all of its different formations. As Roger Simon once pointed out, the attempt to define a set of ―founding fathers‖ for critical pedagogy suggests that ―an authentic version could somehow be found in a patriarchal vanishing point.‖ First, I think it is best to think of critical pedagogy as an ongoing project instead of a fixed set of references or prescriptive set of practices–put bluntly, it is not a method. One way of thinking about critical pedagogy in these terms is to think of it as both a way of understanding education as well as a way of highlighting the performative nature of agency as an act of participating in shaping the world in which we live. But I think the best place to begin to answer this question is to recognize the distinction between a conservative notion of teaching and the more progressive meaning of critical pedagogy. Teaching for many conservatives is often treated simply as a set of strategies and skills to use in order to teach prespecified subject matter. In this context, teaching becomes synonymous with a method, technique, or the practice of a craft—like skill training. On the other hand, critical pedagogy must be seen as a political and moral project and not a technique. Pedagogy is always political because it is connected to the acquisition of agency. As a political project,

It draws attention to questions concerning who has control over the conditions for the production of knowledge. in what direction should one desire. and it illuminates how knowledge. it draws attention to the fact that pedagogy is a deliberate attempt on the part of educators to influence how and what knowledge and subjectivities are produced within particular sets of social relations. it takes seriously what it means to understand the relationship between how we learn and how we act as individual and social agents. values. identities. At the current 2 . and social relations in both the school and the classroom. Ethically. values. authority. and authority are constructed within particular sets of social relations. and what it means to know something. and skills. Finally. and what it means to be responsible for one’s actions as part of a broader attempt to be an engaged citizen who can expand and deepen the possibilities of democratic public life. It is the outcome of particular struggles and is always related to the specificity of particular contexts. and authority are constructed within particular sets of social relations‖. While power is never uniform either in its constellations or effects. and it illuminates how knowledge. it is concerned with teaching students how not only to think but to come to grips with a sense of individual and social responsibility. communities. subjectivities. it is true that within particular historical formations some modes of power dominate over others and often constrain the types of struggles and modes of governance involved in decisions regarding what counts as knowledge. Similarly. what has to be acknowledged is that critical pedagogy is not about an a priori method that simply can be applied regardless of context. available resources.critical pedagogy illuminates the relationships among knowledge. Most importantly. and power. that is. has control over the production of knowledge? HG: What this questions registers is how do power. and the diverse experiences and identities they inhabit. politics and knowledge connect in creating the conditions for the production of knowledge. values. critical pedagogy stresses the importance of understanding what actually happens in classrooms and other educational settings by raising questions regarding what knowledge is of most worth. actually. students. identities. the histories that students bring with them to the classroom. Who. and skills. JMBT: You note that critical pedagogy ―…draws attention to questions concerning who has control over the conditions for the production of knowledge.

and substitutes training for education while reducing the obligations of citizenship to the act of consuming. privatizes social relations. and a social Darwinism in which misfortune is seen as a weakness and a Hobbesian ―war of all against all‖ replaces any vestige of shared responsibilities or compassion for others. pedagogy. Within neoliberal ideology. the market becomes the template for organizing the rest of society. business culture organizes the governance structures of schooling. and commodities. JMBT: Your opinion on an actual teacher´s development is very interesting. and students are treated reductively as both consumers and workers. In effect. and knowledge taught in colleges of education as well as in public schools and university classrooms. cost-effective terms. seeking to gut the critical nature of theory. The production of knowledge in schools today is instrumental. any notion of the common good. or the public welfare. and major corporate elites. Everyone is now a customer or client. knowledge is viewed as a commodity. The organizational structures that make such knowledge possible enact serious costs on any viable notion of critical education and critical pedagogy. it is fair to say that the dominant mode of power shaping what counts as knowledge takes its cue from what can be called neoliberalism or what can be called unfettered free-market capitalism. wedded to objective outcomes. Market fundamentalism that not only trivializes democratic values and public concerns. but also enshrines a rabid individualism. The production of knowledge at the heart of this market driven regime is a form of instrumental rationality that quantifies all forms of meaning. Teachers are deskilled. and those public spheres not yet defined by commercial interests. and every relationship is ultimately judged in bottom-line. social justice. the welfare state. financial capital. but about the trade in goods. right wing and conservative educational theorists have both attacked colleges of education and called for alternative routes to teacher certification. dehistoricizes memory. privatized. largely reduced to teaching for the test. They have emphasized the practical and experiential. religious fundamentalists. an all-embracing quest for profits. Free market fundamentalists now wage a full-fledged attack on the social contract. Can you further explain the meaning of ―Teachers are deskilled‖? HG: Since the 1980s. and is largely geared to produce consuming subjects. Freedom is no longer about equality.moment. 3 . Knowledge is the new privileged form of capital and at least in the schools is increasing coming under the control of policies set by the ultra-rich.

practices. Reducing pedagogy to the teaching of methods and data-driven performance indicators that allegedly measure scholastic ability and improve student achievement is nothing short of scandalous. but not much more. if not classrooms in general. which is code for pedagogical methods that are as anti-intellectual as they are politically conservative. the insistence on banishing theory from teacher education programs. advocates of these measures do more than oversimplify complex issues. More crucially. all the while providing an excuse for a prolonged moral coma and flight from responsibility. According to conservatives.there is an attempt to deskill teaches by removing matters of conception from implementation. On the contrary. political. the great sin teachers colleges have committed in the past few decades is that they have focused too much on theory and not enough on clinical practice—and by ―theory. this technocratic agenda also removes the classroom from larger social. social. to think critically. and economic forces. This is a pedagogy useful for creating armies of number crunchers and for downgrading teachers to supervising the administration of standardized tests.‖ The conservative call for practicality must be understood as an attempt to sabotage the forms of teacher and student self-reflection required for a quality education. while offering anti-intellectual and ethically debased technical and punitive solutions to school and classroom problems. they have been reduced to the keeper of methods. By espousing empirically based standards as a fix for educational problems. cultural. or to be creative.‖ they mean critical pedagogy and other theories that enable prospective teachers to situate school knowledge. In addition. economic.‖ such a pedagogy produces the swindle of ―blaming inequalities on individuals and groups with low test scores. and political contexts. The model of teaching being celebrated here is one in which teachers are constructed as clerks and technicians who have no 4 . and removed from assuming autonomy in their classrooms. and modes of governance within wider historical. Rather than provide the best means for confronting ―difficult truths about the inequality of America’s political economy. implementers of an audit culture. Conservatives want public schools and colleges to focus on ―practical‖ methods in order to prepare teachers for an ―outcome-based‖ education system. Teachers are no longer asked to be creative. while promoting narrowly defined skills and practices is a precursor to positioning teachers as a subaltern class that believes the only purpose of education is to train students to compete successfully in a global economy.

major corporations have a huge impact on what gets published. especially religious fundamentalists also exercise an enormous influence over what text will be distributed in schools and have a significant impact on corporate controlled book publishing because if such texts are adopted for classroom use. distribution. they embrace the long view and nurture the kind of critical perspectives that look far beyond the present. In the U. and standardized texts and teacher proof text books and it becomes clear that such books are also an attack on the autonomy and creativity of teachers. Drew Gilpin Faust. and critical memory work. In authoritarian societies the logic of routine. But in neoliberal societies. and circulation is generally in the hands of the government. or pedagogy might assume for the world and the future they offer to young people.S. This extends to critical thinking and is inclusive of education as a human right. is right in insisting that ―even as we as a nation have embraced education as critical to economic growth and opportunity. or what might be termed traditional modes of political sovereignty.‖ JMBT: There is considerable criticism. Conservatives. historical analyses. of technocratic teacher development that fails to recognize the individual processes for each student and situation. teachers. there are enormous profits to be made. which we share. living and surviving. how it is distributed.need for a public vision in which to imagine the democratic role and social responsibility that schools. Unlike perhaps any other institutions in the world. especially the public schools. and standardization eliminates the need for critical thinking. Dialogue disappears from such 5 . the current president of Harvard University. Add to this the push for standardized testing. control over the production. The end result of this controlling regime of finance capital and religious and conservative fundamentalism is an all-out cleansing of critical thinking from most educational books now being used in the schools. we should remember that [public schools]. sovereignty is often in the hands of major corporations that now have power over not only the production of knowledge but also over the implementation of policies that bear down on matters of life and death. and exercises an enormous influence over what type of knowledge is legitimated. standardized knowledge. conformity. Are school texts edited by corporate enterprise promoting the dissociation between teachers and the reality of society? HG: In authoritarian societies. colleges and universities are about a great deal more than measurable utility.

television programs. the Internet. and social relations produced and legitimated in these sites are driven by the imperatives of commodification. and indifferent to human suffering. a particular view of the present and future. The educational force of the wider culture is now the primary site where education takes place. the knowledge. mediated. JMBT: In your opinion. and legitimation of particular forms of social life. It is 6 . values. cell phones. freedom. govern. JMBT: What are the first steps for education based on a respect for human rights. shopper. education has been refigured both ideologically and structurally. autonomous. and its deformation of democratic social bonds. and other commercial sites. And the pedagogy that promotes these values and produces this subject is authoritarian and ruthless in its production of savage economic relations. consuming. values and desires. preparation for. has education been devalued in mass-media and the capitalist-culture? HG: The role of democratic education has been devalued in favor of a pedagogy of commodification and repression. Another task would be to recognize how education and pedagogy are connected to and implicated in the production not only of specific agents. At the same time. but also how knowledge. Education as a democratic project always presupposes a vision of the future in its introduction to. and circulated through a range of educational spheres extending from the new media and old broadcast media to films. identities.texts and teachers are reduced to mere clerks teaching what is misrepresented as objective facts. and struggle for a radical democracy. privatization. and largely free from any social obligations. One could say that capitalist culture has produced a predatory culture of control and cruelty that promotes vast forms of suffering and repression and it does this increasingly through cultural apparatuses that promote widespread symbolic violence. At stake here is the creation of a human being that views him or herself as a commodity. newspapers. a culture of cruelty. This is a human being without ethics. and social relations are always implicated in power. and deregulation. a concern for others. what I have called public pedagogy—modes of education largely produced. and a philanthropic vision? HG: The first step would be to see education as a crucial foundation for creating the agents necessary to live in. Ideologically. cable TV.

As a moral and political practice. We need a new language for understanding new global power formations as well as new international modes of politics to fight them. Henry A. critique. the problems facing us today are global and not merely local. and share with each other our thoughts and strategies for change and social and economic justice. 7 . Power is global and politics is local. and civic courage necessary to imbue young people with the knowledge and skills needed to enable them to be engaged critical citizens willing to fight for a sustainable and just society. it must be acknowledged that such inequalities undermine every aspect of democratization and that education plays a crucial role in any viable politics willing to confront such global inequities. education produces the modes of literacy. a language of critique and possibility. Do you have any advice for us in these missions? HG: First. Giroux is amember of Truthout's Board of Directors. we need a language that is both critical and hopeful. That must change. sense of social responsibility. JMBT: Global Education Magazine promotes an educationally-conscious social reality and strives to eliminate the tremendous inequalities in the world. Second.utopian in its goal of expanding and deepening the ideological and material conditions that make a democracy possible. Social movements must move outside of national boundaries and join with others across the globe to fight the savagery of neoliberal global politics and central to such a task is the work of intellectuals. JMBT: Thank you very much Henry. artists. do you have any additional comments for our readers? HG: I just want to thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak to such an informed and critical audience. Finally. cultural workers. JMBT: And finally. connect. and other educators who can fashion new tools and social movements in the fight against the current anti-democratic threats being imposed all over the globe in the name of austerity and market driven values. Our struggles cannot be separated and we must open up as many channels of communication as possible to talk.

org/news/item/14331-a-critical-interview-with-henry-giroux 8 .http://truth-out.

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