Sunday, January 31, 2010

GIROUX, FREIRE, AND AMERICAN EDUCATION

In my immediately previous Post I had looked at the excellent Glenn Greenwald as yet a regrettable example of what happens when acute thinkers have to observe certain ideological boundaries in conducting their examination, whether for employment reasons or to keep their creds among a certain key demographic.

Greenwald, I had noted, was veering perilously close to a “last ten years” approach to the many profound ills now facing the country, as if it was all the fault of Bush the Egregious and his pack of ideological whackjobs; as if the ideological whackery of the past forty Biblical years of ‘liberal revolution’ and all its pomps and all its works were really just a bunch of ‘reforms’ with no downside (and consequently, the liberal-revolutionistas fondly hope, will be considered to be ‘the new normal’ by generations of American youth who have known nothing else and hordes of immigrants (legal or otherwise) from poor countries who have known only poverty and are just happy to be here).

Henry Giroux, an acute and perceptive and concerned academic who currently holds a Chair at McMaster University in Canada, writes often about the serious problems facing higher education – and he’s always well worth the read.

On the Truthout site he writes about the radical but deeply committed educator Paulo Freire, who tried to improve education in Brazil in the early Sixties, was exiled by the military junta in 1964, and continued his efforts – writing some hard-hitting books including “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” – until his death in 1997.

I want to look at Giroux the same way I looked at Greenwald: both for the tremendous value of the insights and ideas (many of them Freire’s) and for the substantial limitations placed on Giroux’s analysis either by his own ideological loyalties or by his professional need to keep his union card among Canada’s stunningly PC academic ‘elites’.

“Most schools and colleges”, he says at the outset, “are now dominated by conservative ideologies, hooked on methods, slavishly wedded to instrumentalized accountability measures, and run by administrators who lack either a broader vision or understanding of education as a force for strengthening the imagination and expanding democratic political life”.

As if decades of the Revolutions of the Identities – radical feminism, multiculturalism, diversity quotas, Political Correctness’s oppressive censorship of dissent and even skeptical inquiry (to avoid ‘harm’ and to be ‘sensitive’, doncha know?) – as they made their Long March through the academic institutions either didn’t exist or have had only the most beneficial of consequences and led only to the most utterly phantasmagoric best-case outcomes.

Surely the ‘Correct’ ideologies (you can hardly call them ‘liberal’) with their encourage-the-cadres rather than form-and-inform-the-students methods, their rigid adherence to quotas and thus to numbers (so ominously similar to Vietnam-era Pentagon body-counting), and their arcane manipulation of statistics to show how successful they are … surely all these are part of the lethal miasm that most surely does, as Giroux rightly sees, infect the universities and profoundly oppress their students.

And I am not about to accept that ‘conservative’ (however that is defined) administrators – with (perhaps Giroux wants to say) their adherence to some form of fact-based teaching and the expectation that students will exert themselves responsibly to learn – are worse than the equally stifling (and hardly genuinely ‘liberal’) Politically Correct faculty cadres for whom ‘facts don’t matter’ and whose visions are comprised of lethally fatuous anticipations of ‘revolutionary transformation and transgression’ and the near-term erasure of all the ‘oppression’ of men and the Western tradition and Western civilization and all their pomps and all their works.

But I most heartily endorse the goal of “understanding education as a force for educating the imagination and expanding democratic political life”. Indeed, the latter goal is utterly indispensable if We are to maintain the Republic; The People must be as competent as possible, in terms of a well-grounded education (but also a personal Maturity that encompasses achievement along the psychological, emotional, moral, and spiritual axes of the human Self as well).

To that end a well-mastered power of Imagination is hugely valuable, to envision how things might be or could be or how they should be (ah the nuances of verb moods – a shame that English departments have burned the grammar books for the agitprop PowerPoint and ‘personal stories’!)

But Imagination is like a fire-hose: it’s only as effective as the firefighter controlling it. Otherwise the pressure of all that water is simply going to whip the hose – and its stream – around aimlessly, and dangerously. As happened to the Boomers, who sorta thought that if you were either mellow enough or outraged enough then your imagination would just automatically (‘naturally’ they might have said) show you the way to proceed. No tedious ‘thinking’, ‘analyzing’, or ‘calculating’ or ‘weighing of options’ or – the horror! – serious, sober and deliberate (auuuggggh!) consideration of ‘consequences’, especially of the unintended or pooh-poohed kind.

To the extent that PC – as content and method – has succeeded in the universities and seeped out to the wider public, then a) the Iraq War, b) the deregulated financial sector and its catastrophic meltdown, and c) the increasingly obvious downsides of Multiculturalism’s unfettered immigration and Radical Feminism’s ‘war’ on ‘men’ and Governance Feminism’s waging of that war through government regulation and Congressional legislation and the perversion of civil and criminal law … then all of the foregoing indicate that a huge transformation has indeed been achieved.

Although its consequences appear to be not as Totally Great as had been advertised when We were stampeded into buying the whole Program. Imagine that.

Who knew?

A bit confusingly, Giroux goes on to indict (and with no little justification) “the market-driven logic of neoliberal capitalism”. But again, his against-the-conservatives (however defined) stance undermines his footing here. Neoliberalism is, as the name says, a ‘liberal’ monstrosity, cobbled together like a Frankenstein’s monster by the Clintonistas in the 1990s because it offered a reely reely slick and kewl way to expand Tip O’Neil’s treacherously shrewd political strategy from the mid-1970s: pander to the Identities through the ‘culture wars’ while collecting cash from the corporations through the PACs (which Tip had invented for the purpose of shaking down the Big Money without having to walk around in the middle of the night to get stuffed suitcases from bagmen in raincoats).

So Governance Feminism got to play with the Constitutional ethos by gutting jurisprudence in the name of ‘sensitive reform’ and the corporations got to pay to play, and also call the shots of the games they devised.

Giroux’s somewhat 1960s’ approach to ‘capitalism’ and ‘big business’ – that they are creatures of the Establishment Right and the rich – is now a thoroughly inadequate map to the present realities of American politics: the Left-liberals are as soused with power and greed as the Right-conservatives; the Beltway has coalesced into an Augean Stable full of hefty, well-fed, crap-filthy oxen.

Dr. Hercules to the Stable stat! Paging Dr. Hercules …

He is right to note that there seems to be no public interest in genuine higher education, either by the public or by the government.

He’s right, but for reasons he can’t go into: neither the National Nanny State of the regulatory-preventive ‘liberals’ nor the National Security State of the patriotic, law-and-order ‘conservatives’ really have any need for a genuinely educated Citizenry, able to think, analyze, and deliberate. The Nanny State wants helpless children and ‘victims’ that it can assuage, and the Security State wants jingo-happy cannon-fodder. The corporations are looking for workers elsewhere and really don’t care any longer; they’ve gotten out of town while nobody was looking and Congress was well-remunerated to let them do it. (And how now to fix it without admitting you let it happen to begin with? And were well-paid for it?)

He bemoans the loss of “excellence” as an educational concern – and that is a perennially valid issue, but surely that is a consequence of the Left’s insistence that there should be no ‘standards’ and that it’s not whether you are capable but whether you ‘try’ … and anyway ‘achievement’ is such a macho-male sorta thing and that’s all over now. Grade inflation is as much as function of ‘sensitivity to self-esteem’ as it is a funds-besotted university seeing its students not as wards but as ‘consumers’.

His assertion that this is all because of “the corporate demand that public and higher education provide the skills, knowledge, and credentials that provide the workforce necessary for the United States to compete and maintain its role as the major global and economic military power” is – again – kinda Sixties. The corporations began long ago (coupla decades anyway) getting out of town, moving their operations and even their cash-flows overseas.

So they only need just so many potential ‘executives’ and ‘knowledge workers’, allowing for the Politically Correct proportion of ‘diversity’ hires – women and all the other minorities. If there’s a ‘glass ceiling’ that ‘women’ face now, it’s not because of macho stubbornness as it is that while this and that variant of Feminism was waging its wars against ‘men’, the corporations got out of town quietly and tastefully. The real question is why feminists who claim to be concerned for women’s future – for which employment and jobs are essential to their recent ‘liberations’ – weren’t and still aren’t really concerned with neoliberalism’s pissing away of the industrial infrastructure of the nation (a stunning treachery by the elites that nobody dares to contemplate at this point).

Echoing Freire, Giroux asserts solidly and finely that pedagogy must be understood “as a deeply civic, political, and moral practice – that is, pedagogy as a practice for freedom”. I heartily agree.

But universities have been agin’ freedom since the earliest campus speech-codes of the 1970s; in Our modern American reality nowadays ‘freedom’ can only be exercised if it is Correct, and Correctness doesn’t require ‘independent thought’ – indeed, just the opposite: Correctness requires mastering the Party line and internalizing it (lest even in your sleep you might mumble something against Stalin in your bedroom and your voice be overheard by the watchers in the night).

Puh-leeeze. Universities haven’t been about ‘freedom’ in this country for quite some time. Correctness doesn’t need ‘freedom’ – only the appearance of freedom. That’s why ‘spin’ and ‘story’ are so important now, and ‘substance’ and ‘reality’ are considered passé.

And worse: now that there are cohorts upon cohorts of under-parented, under-socialized, under-Shaped kids coming along – whose ‘parents’ themselves have emerged from their own childhoods equally unripe – then how else to keep any civic order at all except by Regulation, Prevention, and using ‘education’ to compensate for the lack of parenting with “the narrow regime” of Indoctrination into Correctness? The Regulatory-Preventive State – and from the Left! – is now an outcome guaranteed by the success of the Left’s own core agendas! Conceptual incoherence can so often lead to hot ironies! Or maybe it was planned all along.

Kids are now coming along – and have been for several decades and age-cohorts – who are weak in a Sense of and Shape of Self because they have been ‘raised’ (however defined) by parents who themselves are much more hands-off in Shaping their children. And they are rudderless because not only their parents but their surrounding American society is Shapeless, far too fluid and – due to the needs of the ‘revolutions’ to preemptively undermine any grounds for opposing their agendas – bereft of any solid tradition or cultural norms. (Thus, through the anti-Constitutional and anti-cultural workings of Governance Feminism, the Shape must be provided in the form of government policing and the Regulatory-Preventive State; the weak and invertebrate young (many of them now approaching fifty) Citizens have no Shape and interior Self-Mastery of their own. This is a recipe for Constitutional catastrophe to the American polity.

So … Yes, We are in dire need of Freedom, and that means the internal individual Shape and Structure strong enough to ‘platform’ the practice and exercise of Freedom. In naval parlance, there’s no use having a big gun if you have installed it on a ship too small, light, or poorly constructed such that when and if your crew is even able to fire the thing, the ship itself is too fragile to absorb the recoil and immediately blows itself over. That sort of thing.

So if “too many classrooms now resemble a ‘dead zone’ where any vestige of critical thinking, self-reflection and imagination” are absent, then Indoctrination into Correctness is a major culprit. And if then the students are soused outside the classroom by “the corporate-driven media culture” then you also have to acknowledge that the Advocates and cadres of Correctness are now corporate-level entities themselves, and push the media to exemplify and ‘valorize’ Correctness as well as that equal if older demon, Consumerism. (Advertisers don’t need you to ‘think’; they need you to ‘buy’ – right now!)

And at this point, We have become a debt-and-consumption-driven economy rather than a productive one – a consequence of both Reaganomics and neoliberalism. So no Consumerism, no economy. And where does THAT leave Us?

Oy.

And this need to ‘sensitize’ even elementary-age students, as well as to compensate for an upbringing they are not receiving from frazzled or ‘liberated and empowered’ parents (or whatever simulacrum of ‘family’ that it is their lot to be born into) means there’s no time for reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic (which in any case are so ‘male’ and ‘abstract’). And ‘study’? And ‘homework’? Come, come now.

Giroux gloriously quotes Freire that “literacy was not a means to prepare students for a world of subordinated labor or ‘careers’ but a preparation for a self-managed life.” And further, that such “self-management” could only occur when people have fulfilled three goals of education” which are 1) self-reflection, 2) an understanding of the world in which they live, and 3) to help set the conditions for producing a new life. Yes and yes.

But 'self management’ can also be seen as ‘self mastery’ – sort of like a Master and Commander. And ‘mastery’ is up on blocks in the national garage along with ‘excellence’ as being too macho and a vestige of the habits of ‘domination’ and ‘oppression’.

And you will need a Shape and Structure within the Self, at the core of the Self. ‘Sensitivity’ is all well and good but by itself it makes you kind of invertebrate. And if Correctness is your only ‘shape’, then, in terms of the Self, you have an exo-skeleton rather than an endo-skeleton and you will need a shell to hold together your mushy insides. Like a giant bug.

This is ‘liberation’? This is ‘empowerment’? This is human maturity and fullness?

More ominously, from a Western and genuinely Humanist point of view, and from an American Constitutional point of view, and a democratic point of view, you will need a government to give you your Shape – and THAT is so hell-and-gone from the American Founding vision and from Freire’s predecessors here like John Dewey, that all hope of sustaining a Republic “of the People, by the People, and for the People” is gone. And that Founding vision will indeed “perish from the earth”. O brave new world, to have such people in it! (A quote, of course, from the Bard – dead white European male that he is.)

And ditto do I support Giroux’s echoing of Freire when he says that “pedagogy at its best is about neither training, teaching methods nor political indoctrination [Political Correctness!] … but a political and moral practice that provides the knowledge, skills, and social relations that enable students to expand the possibilities of what it means to be critical citizens, while expanding their participation in the promise of a substantive democracy”.

Yes indeed! But you’re not going to get competent citizens from Indoctrination and the rote-memory of the current party-line, whichever ‘party’ it is.

And you can’t have a ‘substantive democracy’ only by imposing an elitist ‘outcome’ by those cadres ‘who get it’. Such a democracy requires a democratic process that will more slowly but deliberatively achieve a consensus. The democratic PROCESS is itself – as they like to say now – ‘performative’; it forms the deliberating individuals even as it seeks a certain desired outcome.

The whole problem with Our decades-longs ‘revolutions’ here is the same problem Freire ran into: you can’t impose this quickly. In his as well as the ‘revolutions’ eagerness and urgency to ‘get to’ such a glorious and good outcome, they threw the ‘baby’ of deliberative competence out with the bathwater of deliberateness. Too slow! So the revolutionistas screamed – the ‘evil’ we are seeking to eliminate is so baaad that we must impose the outcome through the efforts of our own cadres! The people – sheep and cattle that they are – will learn to accept ‘the new normal’ later. Or not; they’ll die off and the revolution will raise the young so that there will be no doubt or dissent.

Such ‘transformation’ – they transformed The People into sheep and cattle. This is progress?

Freire got mixed up with ‘revolution’ in the political sense, not wishing to be merely an ‘intellectual’, removed from the exciting – and arguably ‘moral’ – responsibility to create change for the good immediately, by imposing ‘transformative change’ root and branch.

This, I think, was where ‘liberation theology’ in his native South America started to go a bit off the rails in the Sixties: ‘God’ required ‘revolution’. It may well have been the only way to struggle against the political tyrannies of the assorted strong-men and juntas of that time and place .

But to import that paradigm into a mature and grounded democracy such as America (however imperfectly) was … THAT was fatuous and lethal frakkery.

And it has borne Us monstrous consequences.

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