US: Critique is Not Enough

Interview with Henry A. Giroux, published on ZNet, by Seth Kershner, September 29, 2013.

… I talked with Henry last February about public pedagogy, the promotion of pro-military values in schools, and organized efforts by students themselves to resist these trends:

SK: I just got back from San Diego, where my colleague and I spoke with young people who had been student activists in their high school. These kids and their peers had become radicalized after their principal cut back on their college-prep curriculum to make way for a JROTC unit.[1] These students – many of whom were Latino and from economically disadvantaged backgrounds – could no longer take AP Spanish, but they could learn marksmanship on the campus’s JROTC firing range.  

  • HG: This is an important issue and symptomatic of a much larger problem. Public schools are not simply being corporatized, they are also subjected increasingly to a militarizing logic that disciplines the bodies of young people, especially low income and poor minorities, and shapes their desires and identities in the service of military values and social relations. For a lot of these young people, there are only a few choices here: you can be unemployed and hopefully be able to participate in some way in the social safety net, you can take a low-income job, you can end up in prison or you can go into the military. And it seems to me that increasingly the military is becoming the best option of all of those. So you have a whole generation which – by virtue of this massive inequality – really has very limited choices. But also you have these institutions that are basically there to socialize kids, telling them the only way to succeed is to join the military-industrial complex, and that there really are no other options, at least for them. Moreover, as these young people are subject to the warring logics of a militarized society, a society in which life itself is increasingly absorbed into a war machine, it becomes difficult for them to imagine a social order that can be otherwise, one that is organized around democratic values.

SK: Like this program I’ve been following: it’s called STARBASE. This is a Defense Department program that every year reaches around 70,000 students in over one-thousand schools – the majority of them in fifth grade. Pitched as a way to supplement school curriculum in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, there’s an insidious element of military marketing at work: soldiers “mentor” students enrolled in this program and most of the instruction takes place at military installations. As part of the program students are given plenty of time to horse around on “cool” military hardware.

  • HG: It’s mind-blowing. I think what we often forget – and this is something that you and others like yourself are trying to make clear – is that when you talk about the militarization of American society you’re not just talking about increasing the military budget or arming the police with military-style weapons and so forth. You’re also talking about the militarization of a culture in which military values and relationships permeate every aspect of what C. Wright Mills called the cultural apparatus – schools, fashion, movies and screen culture. Violence becomes the only shared relationship that we have to each other, the only mediating form through which people can now solve problems. More insidiously, it defines our sense of identity and personal liberation through violence both as a mediating force and as a source of pleasure and entertainment. It’s one of the reasons why the majority of people in the U.S. support state-sanctioned torture. How do you explain that? It’s really a culture that’s become so saturated in this military/violent mindset that it has lost any sense of critical thought and ethical responsibility and has little understanding of what a democratic society might look like.

SK: Militarism in the schools is of course just one aspect of a larger culture of militarism in the U.S. And this gets at your notion of public pedagogy, doesn’t it?

  • HG: I may be terribly wrong but I think the central issue here is that first of all you have to realize that the educational force of the culture represents the most important pedagogical force at work in the United States, Canada, and in many other countries. This is not to suggest that schools are not involved in the process of teaching and learning. But I think we commit a grave mistake when we assume that schools are the only place where learning goes on. I would be willing to argue – and I have argued – that the most powerful educational force in the US is not the schools, it’s outside the schools. Young people are awash in a public pedagogy that is distributed across numerous sites that extend from movies and the Internet, readily amplified through a range of digital apparatuses that include cell phones, computers and other electronic registers of the new and expanded cultural flows.  When schools fail to make a connection between knowledge and everyday life – between knowledge and these ever expanding cultural apparatuses – they fail to understand, interrogate, and question the educational forces that are having an enormous influence on children. The ongoing commercial carpet-bombing of kids through a range of ever expanding technologies–that make possible new social networks and information flows–is aggressively commodifying every aspect of their lives. Not to address this and make it pedagogically problematic, not to interrogate the massive violence kids are exposed to through screen culture and the new digital technologies is to do an enormous disservice to the way in which young people are being educated by the wider culture.

SK: But young people are resisting, in various ways. You were obviously inspired to write your latest book because you believe youth have a role to play in fighting and changing the system … //

  • … HG: It’s mind-blowing. I think what we often forget – and this is something that you and others like yourself are trying to make clear – is that when you talk about the militarization of American society you’re not just talking about increasing the military budget or arming the police with military-style weapons and so forth. You’re also talking about the militarization of a culture in which military values and relationships permeate every aspect of what C. Wright Mills called the cultural apparatus – schools, fashion, movies and screen culture. Violence becomes the only shared relationship that we have to each other, the only mediating form through which people can now solve problems. More insidiously, it defines our sense of identity and personal liberation through violence both as a mediating force and as a source of pleasure and entertainment. It’s one of the reasons why the majority of people in the U.S. support state-sanctioned torture. How do you explain that? It’s really a culture that’s become so saturated in this military/violent mindset that it has lost any sense of critical thought and ethical responsibility and has little understanding of what a democratic society might look like.

SK: Militarism in the schools is of course just one aspect of a larger culture of militarism in the U.S. And this gets at your notion of public pedagogy, doesn’t it?

  • HG: I may be terribly wrong but I think the central issue here is that first of all you have to realize that the educational force of the culture represents the most important pedagogical force at work in the United States, Canada, and in many other countries. This is not to suggest that schools are not involved in the process of teaching and learning. But I think we commit a grave mistake when we assume that schools are the only place where learning goes on. I would be willing to argue – and I have argued – that the most powerful educational force in the US is not the schools, it’s outside the schools. Young people are awash in a public pedagogy that is distributed across numerous sites that extend from movies and the Internet, readily amplified through a range of digital apparatuses that include cell phones, computers and other electronic registers of the new and expanded cultural flows.  When schools fail to make a connection between knowledge and everyday life – between knowledge and these ever expanding cultural apparatuses – they fail to understand, interrogate, and question the educational forces that are having an enormous influence on children. The ongoing commercial carpet-bombing of kids through a range of ever expanding technologies–that make possible new social networks and information flows–is aggressively commodifying every aspect of their lives. Not to address this and make it pedagogically problematic, not to interrogate the massive violence kids are exposed to through screen culture and the new digital technologies is to do an enormous disservice to the way in which young people are being educated by the wider culture.

SK: But young people are resisting, in various ways. You were obviously inspired to write your latest book because you believe youth have a role to play in fighting and changing the system.
(full text).

Links:

Henry Giroux on en.wikipedia and it’s External Links: …  is an American cultural critic. One of the founding theorists of critical pedagogy in the United States, he is best known for his pioneering work in public pedagogy, cultural studies, youth studies, higher education, media studies, and critical theory. In 2002 Routledge named Giroux as one of the top fifty educational thinkers of the modern period … (more);

Egypt’s public school system failing all tests, on ahram online, by Sara El Sheekh, Sherif Tarek, Sept 30, 2013: Education workers and parents say public education needs efficient spending, improved facilities and fair wages to tackle long-standing problems …;

(see also: Welcome to our new blog: politics for the 99%).

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