Connecting Apple’s and Girioux’s Views on Democracy

Jen: Connecting Apple’s and Girioux’s Views on Democracy

            Both Girioux and Apple argue that schools need to take more action in examining social inequalities in their curriculum.  For example, Apple argues that in discussions of the September 11th attacks this central question needs to be examined: “How could one condemn the murderous events, give one’s students a historical and political framework that puts these events in their larger critical context, and provide a serious forum where disagreement and debate could go on fruitfully…and at the same time not be seen as justifying the attacks” (Apple, p. 493).  He promotes that Americans need to critically examine their society and what past policies put these events into context.  Apple views true democracy as critically examining one’s country’s actions and states that “democracy that welcomes dissent as itself is a form of patriotic commitment” (Apple, p. 497).

            Like Apple’s view on democracy, Girioux also sees true democracy as questioning the status quo and that schools should be a part of this.  Girioux wants teacher education colleges to focus more on “the critical study of power, language, history, and culture” (Girioux, p. 448).  Girioux sees “schooling as part of an ongoing struggle for democracy” (Girioux, p. 440) and believes that schools should help students become better citizens, address social inequalities, and exam how schools help to reproduce them (Girious, p. 446). 

            I find it interesting the way both authors view democracy. Often, democracy is seen in the United States as agreeing with whatever your government decides to show your patriotism.  I find it refreshing to read two articles in which patriotism is not defined as a blind following to a country’s leadership but that real patriotism is being a good citizen and being critical of your country’s decisions.  Often, Girioux’s and Apple’s view on patriotism is seen as lacking in loyalty.  However, how could critically examining the choices around you and advocating for the choice you believe is most equitable be unpatriotic?  The United States’ Constitution is founded in amendments that frame the different ways people can protest to create change and lay a blue print for a process for change and amendments to the Constitution to occur.  So how can following the processes that are laid out in our constitution be seen as unpatriotic?  I have many family members in the Marine Corps or the Army.  I support them and feel that since their job is to follow orders and they do not have the ability to weigh in on the decisions that they are forced to carry out, it is our job to take a critical look at country’s decisions since they cannot.

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Teacher Education and Democratic Schooling

In his article, “Teacher Education and Democratic Schooling,” Giroux lucidly delves into the debate regarding the philosophical purpose of education. Giroux firmly believes that educational institutions play a vital role in the ongoing struggle for democracy, in that they are agencies of equality and justice that call for a redistribution of power and authority while simultaneously cultivating cultural diversity. Disturbed by the “ideological surgery” currently being performed on our public schools, Giroux accuses “new conservatives” of “capitalizing upon the waning confidence . . . in the effectiveness of public schools” to initiate an educational reform that would recall public education’s traditional “utopian mission” in “favor of a narrowly defined labor market perspective.” Perceiving education as “economic rather than political” leads to defining schools by “measuring its utility against its contribution to economic growth and cultural uniformity,” where “authority derives from technical expertise and culture embodies an idealized tradition that glorifies hard work, industrial discipline, domestic desire, and cheerful obedience.” Taking on the role of “the other,” how often have you heard resistant students (and teachers) question: How will learning about “Canterbury Tales” help me get a job? or, I want to be a mechanic, what does learning about poetry have to do with my future? In a world of economic instability and cut-throught competition, it is hard to argue against devoting our time in school to equip our students with the skills they will need to gain employment and pursue the “American dream.” What good is being able to identify social oppression and the ailing maladies of our country, when you are unemployed and your most marketable skill-set is having a strong command of Old English? 

Giroux criticizes public school teachers “less than vigorous” participation in the current debate (perhaps because they are too exhausted as Todd noted), which has been isolated to the state level, preventing teachers from shaping the conditions under which they work. The result: systematized evaluation schemes, management-oriented policymakers, and “teacher-proof” prepackaged curriculum that can be applied to any classroom context. Consequently, “eroding the authority and intellectual integrity of the teachers” only reinforces the perception that teachers are merely “semiskilled, low-paid workers in a mass production of education” and reduces learning to “the memorization of narrowly defined facts and isolated pieces of information that can easily be measured and evaluated.” It is apparent that this philosophical model has taken hold of our current education system, as individual schools seem to be consistently reacting to omniscient policymakers who routinely adjust their increasingly systematic, standardized educational model (i.e. new teacher evaluation system, Common Core, MCAS), pushing the unique student aside and blatantly ignoring individual schools and their respective faculty. Yet, without measurable tools to assess our students, teachers, and schools, what is our alternative? How can administrators identify if students are making progress on a school, district, or national scale if all measures are qualitative?  

Giroux provides us with various ways to remedy this “ideological surgery” being performed on our national education system, particularly by addressing the role and the training of the educator within the teaching profession. In contrast to earlier perceptions identifying a teacher as a “routine worker” under the expert direction of various school administrators who would require forms of training that would “virtually undermine the development of teachers as critically minded intellectuals,” Giroux argues that teachers must be perceived as “transformative intellectuals,” referring to “one who exercises forms of intellectual and pedagogical practice that attempts to insert teaching and learning directly into the political sphere by arguing that schooling represents both a struggle for meaning and a struggle over power relations.” Schools of education, Giroux claims, are not intended “to serve and reproduce the existing society,” rather they must challenge “the social order so as to develop and advance its democratic imperatives.” 

Furthermore, Giroux demands that teachers know more than the subject matter they will be teaching (i.e. the sociology of school cultures, the meaning of the hidden curriculum, a politics of knowledge and power, a philosophy of school/state relationship, and a sociology of teaching). In defining public schools as “democratic public spheres” dedicated to self- and social empowerment that centers its activities on critical inquiry, meaningful dialogue, and the discourse of public association and civic responsibility, Giroux states that teachers must grasp “cultural politics” to be successful educators. This entails concepts relating to power, language, history, and culture. Teachers must, Giroux recommends, take the problems and needs of the students themselves as a starting point, and provide students with a sense of voice and identity, as well as the critical knowledge and skills necessary for them to examine their own particular lived experiences and cultural resources. This allows students to draw on their own language and histories, and ultimately validates students’ experience in order to empower them. To accomplish this, teachers must become aware of both the transformative strengths and structures of oppression of the community and develop this awareness into curriculum strategies designed to empower students toward creating a more liberating and humane society. 

There are many teachers who agree with these statements, but there are also a number I have spoken with who do not. What of the teacher who love the subject they teach, and do not wish to be catalysts for change. What of the “mediocre” teacher who comes in and simply teachers his or her content? What of the teacher who does not with to connect with the community of the students, but had a strong command of the classroom and the material? What of the teacher who believes that students must master specific skills and class time should not be spent selfishly examining their own lives? Are these teachers to be fired? Are teachers with these ideals to be blacklisted? 

 

  • What kinds of knowledge can educators provide to empower students to understand and engage the world around them as well as exercise the courage needed to change the social order where necessary?
  • What is the philosophical purpose of education? Is it an either/or question? Is it possible to equally value the economic and the political? Should one even consider attempting to blend the two?
  • Is the idea of a prepackaged, measurable curriculum a negative ideal? Assuming flexibility is permitted, would a prepackaged curriculum focused equitably on the political/economical spectrum be an aspirational ideal for public education?
  • How does one measure/assess a “democratic public sphere”? self- and social empowerment? public association? civic responsibility? 
  • Must teachers be connected to the communities in which they teach in order to become “transformative intellectuals” and effectively address the political struggle their students face? Does being connected mean physically living within the community? Is it possible to be connected if you are physically separated from the community? 

“Patriotism, Pedagogy, and Freedom”

In his essay, “Patriotism, Pedagogy, and Freedom: On the Educational Meanings of September 11,” Apple addresses the role of an educator in the aftermath of September 11. He discusses the need to balance the emotional responses of students with the need to critically examine the context of the event. He writes that, though the gut reactions after such a disaster may lead to anger, nationalism, and even jingoism, it is still important to engage in discourse about the events and policies that led to 9/11. This includes the question of why people would want to attack us. By looking at the event from multiple perspectives we can better understand (though not necessarily condone) the actions of the attackers. This critical discourse also prevents us from overly nationalistic or hyper-patriotic displays that ignore or attack anyone who disagrees with the government.

 

I think that Apple makes some interesting points about the way that democracy is changing in the wake of 9/11. In his description of the Madison, WI school board vote to uphold the school board’s decision to play the music of “The Star Spangled Banner” (without the militaristic words),  Apple describes the intimidation and animosity with which voters were met when they supported the school board’s decision. He describes how voters endured “quite personal attacks on their patriotism” as a result of them voicing their opinions (495). This election, Apple claims, forces upon people a certain brand patriotism, leaving no room for people who disagree with the militaristic overtones of the national anthem or for people who disagree with the country’s politics. This enforced patriotism Apple argues, flies in the face of true democracy; enforced patriotism lends no voice to dissent, despite the fact that democracy means debate and dialogue with other schools of thought. According to Apple, these “nationalistic, anti-immigrant, anti-cosmopolitan, anti-communist, promilitary” and religiously conservative views crop up during times of crises(495). Based on Apple’s (brief) description of the historical and political context leading up to 9/11, these narrow viewpoints create a vicious cycle in which people become desperate to get their point across, even when making that point can seriously harm others.

 

Overall, I think Apple makes a good argument for teachers to not only address the emotional aspects of what students are experiencing after a crisis such as 9/11, but also to examine the context and framework of the event. If democracy truly allows for dissent, students should be able to examine the situation from all sides in order to form and advocate for their own opinions while also engaging in dialogue with others. By teaching this democratic system, as opposed to relying on enforced patriotism, we can perhaps work to minimize the need to intimidate or attack opponents, both on a local and a global level.

 

Some questions:

 

Do you think enforced patriotism is the new democracy?

 

How can we, as teachers, create a safe space in our classrooms to discuss events such as 9/11 or the marathon bombings? Do you believe that we should discuss these events in our classrooms?

What does Apple mean when he says that “democracy and freedom both act as sliding signifiers” (496)?

-Jessi