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Role of Higher Education

From: Henry A. Giroux | Thinking Dangerously: The Role of Higher Education in Authoritarian Times,    Truthout. June 26, 2017.  Oped.


“Authoritarian societies do more than censor; they punish those who engage in what might be called dangerous thinking. At the core of thinking dangerously is the recognition that education is central to politics and that a democracy cannot survive without informed citizens. Critical and dangerous thinking is the precondition for nurturing the ethical imagination that enables engaged citizens to learn how to govern rather than be governed. Thinking with courage is fundamental to a notion of civic literacy that views knowledge as central to the pursuit of economic and political justice. Such thinking incorporates a set of values that enables a polity to deal critically with the use and effects of power, particularly through a developed sense of compassion for others and the planet. Thinking dangerously is the basis for a formative and educational culture of questioning that takes seriously how imagination is key to the practice of freedom. Thinking dangerously is not only the cornerstone of critical agency and engaged citizenship, it's also the foundation for a working democracy.

Education and the Struggle for Liberation

Any viable attempt at developing a democratic politics must begin to address the role of education and civic literacy as central to politics itself. Education is also vital to the creation of individuals capable of becoming critical social agents willing to struggle against injustices and develop the institutions that are crucial to the functioning of a substantive democracy. One way to begin such a project is to address the meaning and role of higher education (and education in general) as part of the broader struggle for freedom.

The reach of education extends from schools to diverse cultural apparatuses, such as the mainstream media, alternative screen cultures and the expanding digital screen culture. Far more than a teaching method, education is a moral and political practice actively involved not only in the production of knowledge, skills and values but also in the construction of identities, modes of identification, and forms of individual and social agency. Accordingly, education is at the heart of any understanding of politics and the ideological scaffolding of those framing mechanisms that mediate our everyday lives.

Across the globe, the forces of free-market fundamentalism are using the educational system to reproduce a culture of privatization, deregulation and commercialization while waging an assault on the historically guaranteed social provisions and civil rights provided by the welfare state, higher education, unions, reproductive rights and civil liberties. All the while, these forces are undercutting public faith in the defining institutions of democracy.”

An excellent essay.  Read the entire piece. Truthout.org.

The essay is a good reflection on why we have the Institute for Democracy and Education. 


Also see:

Higher Education and Neoliberal Temptation: An Interview With Henry A. Giroux  Monday, May 09, 2016 By Almantas SamalaviciusEurozine | Interview

Almantas Samalavicius: The neoliberal agenda that came into being a few decades ago in the northern hemisphere, and was eventually globalized, now seems to threaten systems of higher education worldwide. The persistence of this phenomenon has become alarming to many who care about its social consequences. As you have correctly and insightfully observed in your 2014 book Neoliberalism's War on Higher Education, "a full-fledged assault is also being waged on higher education in North America, the United Kingdom and various European countries. While the nature of the assault varies across countries, there is a common set of assumptions and practices driving the transformation of higher education into an adjunct of corporate power and values." Why is this agenda taking over societies that are so different from each other? What makes neoliberalism so overwhelmingly powerful and resistant to criticism as well as to social action? Why do governments give themselves up to neoliberal ideology, even if they claim to represent quite different ideological positions?

Henry Giroux: For all of its differences, neoliberalism brings together a number of elements that makes it appear almost insurmountable, if not universal, in its ability to normalize itself and convince the rest of the world that there is no alternative as Margaret Thatcher once argued.

First, it has created a new set of power relations in which power is global and politics is local. The financial elite now operate in the global flows of capital and have no allegiance to the nation-state or to the social contract that mediated between labour and capital in the post-war period. This separation points to a crisis of agency on the part of the state and a crisis of politics in terms of the ability to develop social formations that can challenge capital on a global rather than simply a local scale. The nation-state can no longer make concrete decisions on the economic level or create social provisions necessary to limit the effects of the market and offer the most basic services for people.

At the nation level, state sovereignty has been transformed into economic sovereignty. Governments don't give themselves up, they have been hijacked by the institutions, power and wealth of the global elite. There is no way for states to challenge global forms of governance. We must remember that neoliberalism is very powerful not only because of its economic structures but also because of its pedagogical and ideological power. It not only consolidates wealth and power in different wars for the ultra-rich, it also controls all of those cultural apparatuses and pedagogical sites that function to produce identities, desires and values that mimic the market. In this sense it is a mode of governance that controls all of social life and not simply the market.

As a mode of governance, it produces identities, subjects and ways of life free of government regulations, driven by a survival of the fittest ethic, grounded in the idea of the free, possessive individual and committed to the right of ruling groups and institutions to accrue wealth removed from matters of ethics and social costs. As a policy and political project, neoliberalism is wedded to the privatization of public services, the selling off of state functions, the deregulation of finance and labour, the elimination of the welfare state and unions, the liberalization of trade in goods and capital investment and the marketization and commodification of society. As a form of public pedagogy and cultural politics, neoliberalism casts all dimensions of life in terms of market rationality.

As public higher education withers in a number of countries, either various policies of privatizing higher education are introduced or the logic of the market takes over. More and more universities and other institutions of higher education are being run as if they were large multinational companies seeking immediate profit; politicians and administrators speak out for efficiency, marketability of knowledge, institutional sensitivity and adaptability to the market, etc. What do you think will be the social and cultural price if this tendency continues to retain the upper hand? And do you see any possibilities to resist this global transformation of universities as well as higher education in general?

If this tendency continues, it will mean the death of critical thinking and higher education will simply become another ideological apparatus dedicated to training rather than education, stifling critical inquiry rather than nurturing it -- and will narrow if not kill the imagination rather than cultivate it. One consequence will be that knowledge will be utterly commodified, students will be defined in utterly instrumental terms and the obligations of citizenship will be reduced to the private orbits of self-interest, consumption and commodification. This nightmare scenario will reinforce one of the central tendencies of totalitarianism; that is, a society dominated by thoughtlessness, stupidity and diverse modes of depoliticization.

In the United States and in many other countries, many of the problems in higher education can be linked to low funding, the domination of universities by market mechanisms, the rise of for-profit colleges, the intrusion of the national security state and the lack of faculty self-governance, all of which not only contradicts the culture and democratic value of higher education but also makes a mockery of the very meaning and mission of the university as a democratic public sphere. Decreased financial support for higher education stands in sharp contrast to increased support for tax benefits for the rich, big banks, military budgets and mega corporations. Rather than enlarge the moral imagination and critical capacities of students, too many universities are now wedded to producing would-be hedge fund managers, depoliticized students and creating modes of education that promote a "technically trained docility."

Strapped for money and increasingly defined in the language of corporate culture, many universities are now driven principally by vocational, military and economic considerations while increasingly removing academic knowledge production from democratic values and projects. The ideal of the university as a place to think, to engage in thoughtful consideration, promote dialogue and learn how to hold power accountable is viewed as a threat to neoliberal modes of governance. At the same time, higher education is viewed by the apostles of market fundamentalism as a space for producing profits, educating a docile labour force and a powerful institution for indoctrinating students into accepting the obedience demanded by the corporate order.

Again. Recommend that you read the entire interview.  Use the link at the top.