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?