Sunday, October 11, 2015

Critical pedagogy from Henry Giroux

I just read an excellent essay by Henry Giroux opposing the totalitarian tendencies that predominate in much of US and world society, with the hope offered by critical pedagogy.  Quoth Giroux:

"At a time of increased repression, it is all the more crucial for educators to reject the notion that higher education is simply a site for training students for the workforce and that the culture of higher education is synonymous with the culture of business. At issue here is the need for educators to recognize the power of education in creating the formative cultures necessary to both challenge the various threats being mobilized against the ideas of justice and democracy while also fighting for those public spheres, ideals, values and policies that offer alternative modes of identity, thinking, social relations and politics."

Personally, my main concern about thought and education today, and perhaps the main thesis of this article, can be summed up in the quote: "an inattentiveness to the never-ending task of critique breeds horrors: the failures of conscience, the wars against thought, and the flirtations with irrationality that lie at the heart of the triumph of every-day aggression, the withering of political life, and the withdrawal into private obsessions".  I worry about a lack of critique in the world.  To this end, I make it my personal quest to always encourage critical thought in the people I encounter, especially kids.  The media offered to kids is so often little more than a marketing vehicle.  See for example the endless procession of movie remakes and sequels that are made not to elucidate or tell a good story, but simply because the producers calculated that the box office receipts and sales of associated merchandise (toys, lunchboxes, etc.) would offer a good return on investment.  In such an environment, it is easy for kids to limit their intellectual life to simply receiving, recognizing, and naming characters and logos.  In short, to mere consumption of symbols (and eventually of their associated sold products), when kids should really be creating their own symbols, characters, and narratives.  I can't tell you how many books we've seen in our library that consist in little more than page after page of "this is character XXX, he is defined by XXX traits".  It is a training for the brand recognition, categorization, and desire that underlie retail consumerism.

My wife's and my little contribution to this fight against unthinking consumption is that we keep our kids and others away from movies and other media whose aim is merely to sell junk.  And whenever we run across something that advances an antisocial message like thoughtless consumerism, sexism, racism, or selfishness, we work with those around us, especially kids, to question and criticize it, and in so doing to disarm its noxious effects.

Here's a closing nugget of wisdom from the article:  "Pedagogy is always political because it is connected to the struggle over agency. In this instance, making the pedagogical more political means being vigilant about those very 'moments in which identities are being produced and groups are being constituted, or objects are being created.'  At the same time it means educators need to be attentive to those practices in which critical modes of agency and particular identities are being denied."

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