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.