Journal of Educational Controversy


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Education Policy Blog: I blog because I teach

Education Policy Blog: I blog because I teach

For those new to our electronic journal and our blog or those new to blogging itself, I thought you might enjoy this thoughtfully-written reflective piece from the Education Policy blog. One of the goals of our journal and our blog is to encourage scholars, teachers and other educational professionals to enter into the public debate about education as "public intellectuals." Likewise, we believe that a vital democracy requires an informed and engaged public who enters into these serious discussions with those you spend their lives trying to live and understand the deeper meaning of the public purposes of education in a democratic, pluralistic society. As the , blogger in this piece writes, blogging can be a means for "connecting oneself to real debates in the real world."

Friday, December 12, 2008

What is the Real Pedagogical Value of the Obama Election?

Editor: Author William Lyne, whose article, "Beautiful Losers," appears in our winter 2008 issue of the journal, updates his thoughts in light of the Obama election. We invite readers to respond to his post or to his article from our Volume 3 Number 1 Issue. Watch for the upcoming video interview with Professor Lyne in our “Talking with the Authors” section of the journal.


“I want to know, Which side is the federal government on?”

John R. Lewis, in 1963, long before he went to Congress

When Congressman Lewis shifted his support from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama during the Democratic primaries, he said that he realized he had been on the wrong side of history. And certainly the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States is historic.

Obama is generationally, geographically, and philosophically not of the Civil Rights or Black Power movements. The most visible claims he has on neighborhood or movement street cred come from his wife and his former preacher. There was a telling moment at Obama’s first press conference after the election. The reporter who stood up to ask the obligatory “What kind of dog are you gonna get the kids?” question had her arm in a sling. Obama asked her what had happened and she said that she had hurt herself in the crowd in Grant Park on election night. Obama quickly reassured everybody that hers was probably the only injury in the park that night. Forty years earlier, Grant Park had been the site where police had arrested, beaten, and gassed demonstrators at the Democratic National Convention. Almost reflexively, Obama was doing what he had done throughout his campaign—letting people know that, while he might occasionally reach for the rhetorical figures of Martin Luther King or allude to Rosa Parks, he was not Bobby Seale, he was not the kind of Black president who was going to make the kinds of demands of a racist country that could lead to any kind of conflict. You needed a ticket to get into his Grant Park party.

And yet, once we get past the new president’s diasporic, multi-racial, and politically centrist identity, it is clear that personally he owes a great, great debt to the movements he distanced himself from and the hundreds of years of African American resistance, tenacity, and struggle that came before them. This guy is hard and he’s cool, an inheritor of Black American traditions that began with the Middle Passage. While every other politician in the presidential race (including Obama’s future running mate and his new Secretary of State) regularly put their foot in their mouth, some of them on a daily basis, Obama slipped up maybe twice. And one of those times, the time he talked about the people who express their internalizing of ruling class ideology by clinging to their god and their guns, he was both gracefully alliterative and right. The Obama campaign had a sleek, unsentimental discipline that was more reminiscent of the Tuskegee Airmen or the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment than it was of a U.S. mainstream political party. In order to beat the very formidable white structures of the Clinton machine and the Republican party, in order to succeed as a Black man in a very white institutional setting, Barack Obama had to be twice as good, three times as smart, and infinitely harder than anyone else. And he owes much of his ability to be all that to the many thousands gone before him in African American freedom struggles.

But as president, he’s not likely to end up much different from the rest of them. Sure, he will openly violate the constitution far less than Dick Cheney has, he won’t be the televised train wreck that Bush is, and he probably won’t have a weakness for blowjobs in the Oval Office. It will be refreshing to have a president who is thoughtful and smart and more competent staff will run government agencies and various social policies will move more toward the center. But at the end of the day, he’ll still be a president. And in our current political arrangements, no one gets within sniffing distance of a legitimate shot at the presidency without fully committing to the job description of steward of ruling class interests.

The only slim chance of genuine systemic change lies with the new electorate that played such a large role in Obama’s election. The millions of new voters who made Virginia and North Carolina blue and Karl Rove’s politics of hate irrelevant could not have been turned out without the reinvigorated infrastructures of various progressive political movements in this country that would not have worked as hard for any other candidate. The question now is, Will those movements who made Obama possible hold him accountable? And the answer is probably not. The energy that could bring real change began to dissipate in all those cathartic, teary celebrations on election night. Mardi Gras festivals are for letting the steam out of revolutionary engines. Instead of organizing in a forceful way to put real change on the table, the Obama electorate is punching its information into Obama databases, turning its eyes toward a symbol and chanting slogans of hope. And doing this in the face of overwhelming evidence that the new administration is going to be about business as usual. There is not one genuinely progressive or different face on any of the Obama teams. Eight years from now, we won’t still be fighting hopelessly stupid wars, but we will still have an imperialist and oppressive foreign policy. Health care will be a little bit more accessible, but it will still be driven by profit and millions will still not have it. There will be more jobs but they won’t be good ones. The bankers and CEOs will have retreated from their current embarrassment back to their corporate jets and private dining rooms. And in the genuinely immiserated regions of capital, the difference between Bush and Obama will not be noticeable.

So if the Obama election is going to have any pedagogical value at all, we must ground it in specific discussions of real American history, not a lot of empty blather about democracy, possibility, and hope. Instead of dumb liberal platitudes about transcending race, we should talk about the specific African American traditions, movements, and ancestors that made Barack Obama possible. We should put the Obama phenomenon in the context of slavery and rebellion, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Ida Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, and the Black Radical Tradition around the world. We should teach about American political power outside of individuals, charisma, and personality, showing that Barack Obama isn’t going to lead us to the promised land any more than Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves. And we should cast some light on the genuinely progressive movements that made Barack Obama possible and will inevitably be further undone by him. We need to clearly delineate what the sides are and show just exactly which side the federal government is on. John Lewis crossed over to the wrong side of history when he left SNCC for the DNC. Leaving the Clinton band to comp for Barack Obama didn’t get him back.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

From Poetry to Praxis—Even in Public Schools

A POST FROM AUTHOR, MAXINE GREENE, Teachers College, Columbia University

From Poetry to Praxis -- Even in Public Schools

That amazing Tuesday night not too long ago showed us a variety of human responses—all triumphant, but diverse and different. We were not seeing a mere crowd (massive as it was) but looking at-or looking with—and feeling our hearts go out to individuals. The young, shouting and waving their arms, resembled a rock concert audience, caught up in rhythms, in communal delight. The older people—John Lewis, Ophra Winfrey, Jesse Jackson, the hundreds whose names we could not know—were caught up in their memories. They were memories of marches, dogs, police clubs, fire hoses, beatings, moments of civil disobedience and the sound of "I have a dream." The poetry of the moment, the sense of possibility, even in a Birmingham jail. Dr. King said that he might not be with them when they reached the top of the mountain with its view of freedom beyond the gathering clouds and the deaths and suffering. There was the death of Dr. King, and the song that kept sounding; "Deep in our hearts we are not afraid; we shall overcome some day."

How little has been taught in most schoolrooms. How seldom has the very word "overcome" been heard? Teachers and their students may know the words, but the throbbing meanings are too often lost. Few have been freed to feel the histories embedded in those words or to consider what they have been called upon to do.

Too few have been awakened enough to think about playing a part in the "community in the making" Dewey called "democracy." I refuse to attribute this neglect to any sort of determinism, although I am aware of the corporate interests, the "buy out" deceptions, the stiffening "power elite." There are a range of contingencies, many of them dehumanizing. There are cultures of silence, "savage inequalities." President-elect Obama spoke eloquently of change and left its direction and particulars for us to define. "Yes, we can---" This is surely a responsibility of educators, those committed to enabling the young, through dialogue, through shared action, to choose themselves as persons, as members, as people with a sense of agency with a sense of new beginnings. "Becoming different," as Dewey said, "becoming human," Freire said, urging learners to name their worlds, to engage in reflective praxis—to transform, to change.

Editor: Many of you will remember our journal's very first prologue, "From Jagged Landscapes to Possibilities," that marked the inaugural issue of our journal in 2006. The article was written by Maxine Greene, who was the inspiration for this journal. We are pleased to announce to our readers that our upcoming winter 2009 issue will be dedicated to Maxine's life and work. The theme for the issue is: "Art, Social Imagination and Democratic Education."

From our first editorial:

"As my mentor and teacher at Columbia University, Maxine taught me to confront the complexities and contradictions of life with all our human capacities. Not only reason and rational inquiry but imagination, poetry, humane impulses, empathy, and the courage to choose and act in a context of uncertainty were all important in keeping our ideals and humanity alive. As the authors for this journal tackle individual controversies and dilemmas in future issues, Maxine gives us a larger framework within which to see the meaning of our work and writings. How do we live a life in a world of uncertainty, ambiguity and contradictions? What life are we preparing the young to live? How do we help the young to live a life of agency in a world of uncertainty? How do we help them to confront the inevitable controversies that life in a pluralistic, democratic society will present without falling into despair, apathy, or nihilism, or alternatively, clinging to a comfortable but illusionary certainty? Perhaps, in some small way, our journal will provide a forum for examining the complexities of teaching, learning, and becoming in the modern world."
Lorraine Kasprisin

Monday, November 10, 2008

Democracy and the Obama Presidency

As the editor of the Journal of Educational Controversy, I would like to welcome you to our new blog. Although our journal has a rejoinder section for formal, refereed responses, we thought there needed to be a public space for more spontaneous discussion. Our current issue on "Schooling as if Democracy Matters" appeared before the historic events of November 4th that saw the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. Henry Giroux, who wrote the article, "Education and the Crisis of Democracy: Confronting Authoritarianism in a post 9/11 America," for that issue of our journal has posted a follow up in light of the Obama election. We have decided to publish it as a separate post and invite our readers to contribute their comments and responses.


Obama and the Promise of Education

Needless to say, like many Americans, I am both delighted and cautious about Barack Obama's election. Symbolically, this is an unprecedented moment in the fight against the legacy of racism while at the same time offering new possibilities for addressing how racism works in a post-Obama period. Politically, I think it puts a break on many authoritarian and anti-democratic tendencies operating both domestically and abroad, while offering a foothold not only for a fresh critique of neoliberal and neoconservative policies but also an opportunity to reclaim and energize the language of the social contract and social democracy. While the Bush administration may have been uninterested in critical ideas, debate, and dialogue, it was almost rabid about destroying the economic, political, and educational conditions that make them possible. In the end, the Bush administration was willing to sacrifice almost any remnant of democracy to further the interests of the rich and powerful, especially those commanded by corporate power. The Obama administration will fail badly if it does not connect the current financial and credit crisis to the crisis of democracy and its poisonous undoing by commanding market forces. Corporate power, rather than simply deregulation, has to be addressed head on if any of the ensuing reforms undertaken by the Obama administration are going to work. Similarly, the social state has to be resurrected once again against the power and interest of the corporate state, and that battle is not just economic and political but also pedagogical. Of course, the last thing we need is to overly romanticize the Obama election. We don't need lone heroes offering a path to salvation and hope. Obama's victory is not about the gripping story of his personal journey and ultimate victory as a Black man, but about the emergence of a certain moment in history when not only small difference matter, but new possibilities appear for making real claims on the promise of democracy to come. What this historic event should make clear is the necessity for various progressive and left-oriented groups to get beyond their isolated demands and form a powerful progressive movement that can push Obama to the left rather than allow him to drift to the center and right. Of course, this means that progressives will have to do more than embrace a language of critique, they will also have to engage in a discourse of hope but a hope that is concrete, rooted in real struggles, and capable of forging a new political imagination among a highly conservative and fractured polity. This is an especially important time for educators. New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof recently argued that one of the most remarkable things about this election is that Obama is a practicing intellectual and that the era of anti-intellectualism so pervasive under the Bush administration may be coming to an end. Surely a message that resonates with anyone interested in the power of ideas. But there is more at stake here than an appeal to thoughtfulness, critique, and intelligence, there is also the need to rethink the relationship between education and politics, the production of particular kinds of subjects as a condition of civic life, and the ways in which new and diverse sites of education in the new millennium have proliferated into one of the most powerful political spheres in history. The most important challenge, especially for educators, facing the US in a post Obama period, is to make the pedagogical more political and take seriously the educational force of a culture that is central to creating a new citizen, one that is defined less through the hatred and bigotry of racism and the narrow commodified identities offered through market fundamentalism than through the values, identities, and social relations of a democratic polity.

Friday, November 7, 2008

What Did You Do on Nov. 5th?

Whether you were for or against Barack Obama, his election as the 44th President of the United States marks an historic moment of transition in the nation. In response to our issue on "Schooling as if Democracy Matters," we ask you, the teachers of the nation: what were you doing on November 5th? How was the classroom affected by the news? Did you have any activities to take advantage of that teachable moment? What kind of conversations took place? It is incredibly interesting--and telling--to discuss how students reacted to this election. Join in the conversation.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Welcome to the official blog of the Journal of Educational Controversy, an interdisciplinary electronic journal for dialogue about our nation's education. We are very excited about this blog and about the increasing debate, more lively than ever, that comes with each issue of our journal.

Aristotle said, "Anybody can become angry - that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way - that is not within everybody's power and is not easy." This journal attempts to create a common forum for change, a place in which we can get angry at the right time and for a right reason. All public matters are traced back to the purpose and practice of our public education. We need spaces for debate about education so that ideas can be produced, discussed and applied.

Our journal has received over half a million hits since we started in 2006. We publish across a variety of disciplines, and our editorial board includes professors of law, anthropology, education, sociology, English, philosophy and diverse cultural and ethnic studies. Each issue poses a different controversy that is related to teaching and learning in a pluralistic, democratic society. Previous issues' topics have included Schooling As if Democracy Matters, Jonathon Kozol's Nation of Shame 40 Years Later, and Liberty and Equality: Conflicting Values in the Public Schools of a Liberal Democratic Society. Our next issue, on Thinking and Teaching About Poverty and Class, will come out this winter.

You can read the journal here and the calls for papers here. You can also watch speeches by authors and presenters, roundtable discussions and see our rejoinder section, in which readers respond to the articles. (Rejoinders are up to 1500 words.) We hope you enjoy it, and become excited to contribute to the conversation.