Conference to Restore Humanity 2022!: Keynote, Dr. Henry Giroux Critical Pedagogy in a Time of Fascist Tyranny

Chris McNutt
July 21, 2022
A transcript of our first keynote at Conference to Restore Humanity! 2022 with Dr. Henry Giroux.

The following is a transcription of a speech by Dr. Henry Giroux on July 25th, 2022 titled "Critical Pedagogy in a Time of Fascist Tyranny." The video can be accessed on YouTube.

Opening Remarks

Chris McNutt: Hi, and welcome to our first flipped keynote session at Conference to Restore Humanity 2022! This conference aims to inform, guide, and actionize teachers toward fixing problems in the classroom and advocating for a more just society. Our Keynote today will be followed by a Q&A session on Tuesday, July 26th at 11:00 AM Eastern, and we invite all of you to join the conversation.

Before we get started, I want to let you know that this conference and presentation is directly supported by Floop, the feedback-driven learning platform. Further, we are thankful for our friends at Rethinking Schools and City Lights Books for assistance and marketing. And finally, we are greatly appreciative to all of you for being here today and making this possible, as well as all of our supporters at Human Restoration Project for allowing us to continually serve this community.

Our guest today really needs no introduction and it's my honor to have a true legend in education here with us. Dr. Henry Giroux is a renowned scholar who has authored or co-authored over 70 books, including directly working with Paulo Freire on education and cultural studies. He's written hundreds of articles and delivered more than 250 lectures. He is a founding theorist of critical pedagogy, being foundational to the study as he literally coined the term. Starting off as a social studies teacher in Barrington, Rhode Island, Giroux has taught at many universities, served as the co-editor of educational journals, and has served on multiple boards. Today, he serves at the board of directors for Truthout, continues to publish more works, and is the Chair for Scholarship and Public Interest and the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar of Critical Pedagogy at McMaster University. Thank you so much, Dr. Giroux, for joining us.


Dr. Henry Giroux: I'm very grateful to be here. I want to thank Chris for inviting me. I think this is an enormously important conference and I'm hoping it'll make a difference, given the period in which we are now living, which to say the very least, is very threatening and poses a danger to public education and higher education unlike anything I have seen in my lifetime as an educator. I basically want to just say that I want to take up a couple of issues here and just forecast them. One is I want to talk about the state of society and the emerging authoritarianism that we now have to face in which education has become a prime target, that's absolutely crucial. Secondly, I want to talk about critical pedagogy and neoliberalism, and the forces shaping education outside of simply fascism. Thirdly, I want to talk about critical pedagogy, why I think it's basically important to understand and to begin to embrace in these dark times. And finally, I'm just going to offer some suggestions that hopefully will be useful in really thinking about creating a new language for education, that both invigorates its vision and provides the condition for people to be engaged critical agents, working collectively to engage in some form of resistance. The talk is really critical pedagogy in a time of fascist tyranny, which I don't think is an overstatement, so let me begin.

Education Under Siege

Across the globe, democratic institutions, such as the independent media, schools, the legal system, certain financial institutions, and higher education are under siege. The promise and ideals of democracy are receding as right-wing extremist breathe new life into a fascist past and undermine what I call the public imagination. Reinventing assorted fascist legacy with its obsession with racial purity, white nationalism, and the denial of civil liberties, white supremacists are once more on the move, subverting language, values, courage, vision, and critical consciousness. Education has increasingly become a tool of domination, as right-wing pedagogical apparatuses controlled by the entrepreneurs of hate attack workers, the poor, people of color, refugees, undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ people, and others increasingly considered disposable.

In the midst of an era when an older social order is crumbling and a new one is struggling to define itself, there emerges a time of confusion, danger, and moments of great restlessness. The present moment, once again, is at an historical juncture in which the structures of liberation and authoritarianism, fascism, and democracy are vying for a future that appears to either be unthinkable, an unthinkable nightmare, or a realizable dream. We now live in a world that resembles a dystopian novel. Since the late 1970s, a form of what I call gangster capitalism, or what can be called neoliberalism, has waged war on the welfare state, public goods, and the social contract. Neoliberalism believes that the market should govern not just the economy, but all aspects of society, all relationships are now commercialized.

It concentrates wealth in the hands of a financial elite and elevates unchecked self-interests, consumerism, deregulation, and privatization to the governing principles of society. At the same time, it ignores basic human needs such as healthcare, food security, decent wages, and quality and meaningful education. Neoliberalism views government as the enemy of the market, limits society to the realm of the family and individuals, and embraces what I call a fixed hedonism, and challenges the very idea of the public good. Under neoliberalism, all problems are personal and individual, making it almost impossible to translate private troubles into systemic consideration. This is clearly one of the most dangerous and probably one of the most persuasive elements of neoliberal thought. We live in an age when economic activity is divorced from social cause, meaning that we live in an age in which questions of social responsibility don't amount to much, while policies that produce racial cleansing, environmental destruction, militarism, and staggering inequality have become the defining features of everyday life, and also, to say the least, established modes of governance.

Clearly, there is a need to raise fundamental questions about the role of education in a time of impending tyranny. Or to put it another way, What are the obligations of education to democracy itself? That is, How can education work to reclaim a notion of democracy in which matters of social justice, freedom, inequality, become fundamental features of learning to live with in terms of dignity in a democracy? The growing authoritarianism in the United States as we all know, or I think we know, is now led largely by a far-right Republican party, that has revealed in all of its ugliness the death-producing mechanisms of white supremacy, systemic inequality, censorship, a culture of cruelty, and an increasingly dangerous assault on public and higher education.

We now live in an age in which authoritarianism has become more dangerous than ever. And of course this is evident as a number of red states have put into place a range of reactionary educational policies that range from burning books in critical race theory, to forcing educators to sign loyalty oaths, post their syllabuses online, forcibly force them to post it online, give up tenure, and allow students to film their classes and much more. Not only are these laws aimed at critical educators and minorities of class and color, this far-right attack on education is also part of a war on the very ability to think, question, and engage in politics from the vantage point of being critical, informed, and willing to hold power accountable.

More generally, it's part of a considered effort to destroy public and higher education, and the very foundations of political agency. Under the rule of this emerging authoritarianism, political extremists are attempting to turn public education into a space for killing the social imagination. A place where provocative ideas are banished, and where faculty and students are punished through the threat of force or harsh disciplinary measures for speaking out, engaging in dissent, and advancing democratic values. We all know that teachers who have spoken out against these far-right agendas are often threatened, their families are threatened, they're attacked at school board, school board members who defend them are now being threatened by far-right goons. This is all now public information.

Schools that view themselves as democratic public spheres are now disparaged by far-right Republican politicians who sneeringly define public and higher education, if you're ready for this, as "socialism factories." The growing threat of authoritarianism is also visible in the emergence of an anti-intellectual culture that derides any notion of critical education. What was once unthinkable regarding attacks on public education have become normalized. Under attack by the Republican Party legislators are teachers, parents, students and librarians who oppose book burning, support critical pedagogy, and refuse to remove books from the classroom and library. And as such, they're increasingly being harassed, threatened, and if you're ready for this, called "pedophile" by extremists on the right. Furthermore, calls for social justice, racial equality, and a critical rendering of history are disparaged as unpatriotic education.

Emancipatory Education & Education as Cultural Work

Ignorance is now appraised as a virtue. The right-wing assault on democracy is a crisis that cannot be allowed to turn into a catastrophe in which all hope is lost. It is hard to imagine a more urgent moment for educators to take seriously the necessary steps to make education central to politics. This suggests viewing education as a social concept rooted in the goal of empowerment and emancipation for all people. Especially if we do not want to default on education's role as a democratic public sphere. This is a form of education that encourages human agency by creating the conditions that enable students not only to be critical thinkers, but also critically engage social agents. This is a pedagogical practice that calls students beyond themselves and embraces the ethical imperative, the care for others, dismantle structures of domination, and become subjects rather than the objects of history, politics, and power. If educators are going to develop a policy that is capable of awakening our critical, imaginative, and historical sensibilities, it is crucial for us to remember, education is a project of individual and collective empowerment.

]A project based on the search for truth and enlarging of the imagination and the practice of freedom. This is a political project, in with civic literacy infused with the language of critique and possibility addresses the notion that there is no democracy without knowledgeable and civically literate citizens. Such a language is necessary to enable the conditions to forge a collective resistance among educators, youth, artists, and other cultural workers, it seems to be, who are actively engaged in fighting this form of domination. Critical education on multiple levels and in diverse spheres is especially important in a society in which a democratization of the flow of information has been reduced to the democratization of the flow of misinformation. It's important for us, as educators, to note that in the current... The current era is one marked by the rise of dis-imagination machines that produce manufactured ignorance on an unprecedented level, and in doing so give authoritarianism a new life. Even worse, we live at a time when the unthinkable has become normalized, in which anything can be said, and everything that matters, unsaid.

Consequently, the American public is rapidly losing a language and ethical grammar that challenges the political and racist machineries of cruelty, state violence, and targeted exclusions. This is especially true at a time when historical and social amnesia have become a national pastime, further normalizing an authoritarian politics that thrives on ignorance, fear, the suppression of dissent, and hate. The merging of power with new digital technologies in every day of life, have not only altered time and space, they've expanded the reach of culture as an educational force. A culture of immediacy coupled with a fear of history and a 24/7 flow of information now wages war on historical consciousness, attention spans, and the conditions necessary to think, contemplate, and arrive at sound judgments. Under such circumstances, it's important to acknowledge that education as a form of cultural work extends far beyond the classroom and its pedagogical influence, though often imperceptible, is also crucial to challenge and resist. We must remember that education and schooling are not the same, and that schooling must be viewed as a sphere distinctive from the educated forces at work in the larger culture. Education is more than schooling and reinforces the notion of how important it has become as a general category, as a tool to shape consciousness, the public imagination, and agency itself.

One important pedagogical lesson to be learned at a time when language is under assault and stripped of any viable meaning is that fascism begins with hateful words, the demonization of others considered disposable, and moves on to attack ideas, burn books, arrest the dissident intellectuals, attack gender minorities, and expand the reach of the carceral state and the horrors of detention centers, jails, and prisons. This is more important to remember since education in the last decades, four decades, particularly since the election of Ronald Reagan, has diminished rapidly in its capacity to educate young people and others to be reflective, critical, and socially engaged agents.

Increasingly, the utopian possibilities formerly associated with public and higher education as a public good capable of promoting social equality and supporting democracy have become too dangerous for the apostles of authoritarianism. Public schools, more than ever, are subject to the toxic forces of privatization and mindless standardized curricula while teachers are de-skilled and subject to intolerable labor conditions, not unlike Walmart workers. Unfortunately, public and higher education now mimic a business culture run by a managerial army of bureaucrats, more suited to work as accountants in pencil factories than in schools. At the same time, all levels of education are under attack by right-wing politicians who are centering history, forbidding discussions about racism, eliminating tenure, and imposing enormous restrictions on teacher autonomy.

The current forces of white supremacy are not the only threat to public and higher education. Since the 1980s, conservatives and liberals have increasingly sought to model public education after a business culture, standardize curriculum, teach for the test, and flood teachers with one fit only models of teaching. This model was reinforced during the pandemic with its heavy emphasis on what I would call a crude instrumentalization of pedagogy. This could and continues to be seen in an endless emphasis on training exercises to familiarize teachers with, and students with Zoom, Teams, and other methods of online teaching.

Dead Zone of the Imagination & Pedagogies of Repression

The commanding visions of democracy are in exile at all levels of education. Critical thought and the imagining of a better world present a direct threat not only to white supremacists, but also to those ideologues who narrowly embrace a corporate vision of the world, in which the future always replicates the present in an endless circle in which capital and the identities that it legitimates merge with each other into what might be called a dead zone of the imagination and pedagogies of repression. One consequence is that the distinction between education and training has collapsed, and that the most valued educational experiences are geared for job preparation. What is clear is that corporate models of education attempt to mold students in the market mantras of harsh competition, unchecked individualism, and the ethos of consumerism. Young people are now told to invest in their careers, reduce education to job training, and achieve success at any cost.

It's hard to imagine a more sterile vision of education. It is precisely this replacement of educated hope with a repressive neoliberal project and cultural politics that also represents another dangerous assault on public and higher education. Under this corporate-based model of schooling, the destruction of schooling as a public good is matched by the toxic merging of inequality, social sorting, racial cleansing, and the nativist language of borders, walls, and camps. In the shadow of this impending nightmare, the lesson we cannot forget is that critical pedagogy provides the promise of a protected space within which to think against the grain of received opinion, a space to question and challenge, and to imagine the world from different standpoints and perspectives, to reflect upon ourselves in relation to others and in doing so to understand what it means, as educators, to assume a sense of political and social responsibility.

If the emerging authoritarianism and rebranded fascism in the United States is to be defeated, there is a need to make critical education an organizing principle of politics, and in part this could be done with a language that exposes and unravels falsehoods, systems of oppression, and corrupt relations of power, while making clear that an alternative future is possible. Hanna Haran was right in arguing that language is crucial in highlighting the often hidden crystallized elements that make authoritarianism likely. We often call that the hidden curriculum of schooling. Well, now we have the hidden curriculum of politics.

The language of critical pedagogy and literacy are powerful tools in the search for truth and the condemnation of falsehoods and injustices. Moreover, it is through language that the history of fascism can be remembered and the lessons of the conditions that created the plague of genocide can provide the recognition that fascism does not reside only in the past and that its traces are always dormant, even in the strongest democracies. The ongoing threat of fascist politics and its assault on the foundations of critical consciousness is one more reason for educators to make the political more pedagogical, and the pedagogical more political. Making the pedagogical more political is crucial to recognize that pedagogy is always political, and that it's first and foremost, a struggle over agencies, over identities, over desires, over values, over knowledge, while also acknowledging that it has a crucial role in addressing important social issues and defining the future. Making the political pedagogical in this instance suggests producing modes of knowledge and social practices that not only affirm oppositional ideas and pedagogical practices, but also offer opportunities to mobilize instances of outrage, coupled with direct mass action.

Malicious Ignorance

What I'm saying here is that to make the political more pedagogical is to take seriously that the political is never removed from acts of persuasion, it's never removed from what it means to make something meaningful in order to make it critical in order to make it transformative. That when we talk about making the political more pedagogical, we're talking about the struggle over identities and the language that educators need to use in which people can recognize themselves. They can in some way come to grips with the conditions in which they find themselves and be able to expand an analysis of those conditions in order to take it further than they ordinarily would. That's what it means to make the pedagogical more political. Ignorance now rules America. Not the simple alleged ignorance that comes from an absence of knowledge, but a malicious ignorance forged in the arrogance of refusing to think hard about an issue, to encourage, to engage language in the pursuit of justice. James Baldwin was certainly right in issuing the stern warning in No Name in the Street that, "Ignorance aligned with power is the most ferocious enemy justice can have." In the far-right fascist playbook thinking is now viewed as a threat, and thoughtlessness is considered a value, [chuckle] a value that it wants to impose on everyone.

As is well known, former president Trump's ignorance is still on display daily and lives through a Republican party which has been taken over by far-right extremists. A culture of lies and thoughtlessness now serves as a tool of power to prevent politics from being held accountable. In addition, ignorance is the enemy of critical thinking, engaged intellectuals, and emancipatory forms of education. To put it differently, ignorance is dangerous, especially when it defines itself as common sense while exhibiting a disdain for truth, scientific evidence, and rational judgements. However, there's more at stake here than the production of a toxic form of illiteracy celebrated as common sense, the normalization of fake news, and the emergence of a discourse of white supremacy. There is also the closing of the horizons of the political coupled with the explicit expressions of cruelty and a widely-sanctioned ruthlessness. What we have to think about is the war on women's reproductive rights so severe that laws are being passed now that claim that even if a woman's life is at risk while having an abortion, that she should die rather than have the abortion.

This is unimaginable and really reflects an age similar to medieval times than it does the 21st century. But it also suggests how education has now become a tool to produce a form of mass consciousness rooted not just simply in ignorance, but also in cruelty and a basic destruction of what I would call democratic values. Under such circumstances of there's a full-scale attack on thoughtful reasoning, empathy, collective resistance, and what I would call the compassionate imagination. Words such as love, trust, freedom, responsibility, and choice have been deformed by a market logic that narrows their meaning to either a commercialized relationships or an exchanges or a reductive notion of self-interest. Freedom now means removing oneself from any sense of social responsibility so one can retreat into the privatized orbits of self-indulgence, and so it goes. The new form of illiteracy does not simply constitute an absence of learning, ideas, or knowledge, nor can they be solely attributed to what has been called the smartphone society. On the contrary, ignorance is a willful practice and goal used increasingly by the Republican Party, and I think this is crucial to actively depoliticize people and to make them complicit with the forces that impose misery and suffering upon their lives.

Given the current crisis of politics, agency, history and memory, and I think those categories are enormously important in terms of how they relate to each other, educators need a new political and pedagogical language for addressing the changing context and issues facing the world in which anti-democratic forces draw upon an unprecedented convergence of resources, financial, cultural, political, economic, scientific, military, and technological, to exercise powerful and diverse forms of control. If educators and others are to counter the forces of market fundamentalism and white supremacy, it's crucial to develop educational approaches that reject a collapse of the distinction between market liberties and civil liberties, a market economy and a market society. I'm not against the market per say, but I don't believe society should be basically modeled after a market, it should be modeled after democratic values. Human needs should take precedent over profit and financial needs, to say the least.

Building Coalitions & Pushing Back

Politics loses its emancipatory possibilities if it cannot provide the educational conditions for enabling students and others to think against the grain and realize themselves as informed, critical-engaged individuals. There is no radical politics without a pedagogy capable of awakening consciousness, challenging common sense, and creating modes of analysis in which people discover a moment of recognition that enables them to rethink the conditions that shape their lives. As a result, educators should do more than create the conditions for critical thinking and nourishing a sense of hope in their students. They also need to responsibly assume the role of public intellectuals and border crossers within broader social contexts, and be willing to share their ideas with other educators and the wider public by making use of new media technologies and a range of other cultural apparatuses, especially those outlets that are willing to address critically a range of social problems.

Capitalizing on their role as civic educators, educators can do more to speak to general audiences in a language that is clear, accessible, and rigorous. More importantly, as teachers organize to assert both the importance of their role as citizen educators in a democracy, they can forge new alliances and connections to develop social movements that include and expand beyond simply working with unions. We see evidence of this movement among teachers and students currently organizing against gun violence and systemic racism, and doing so by aligning with parents, unions, and other social movements in order to fight the gun lobbies and politicians who are bought and sold by the violence industries.

Education creates... Operates as a crucial site of power in the modern world. And if teachers are deeply concerned about safeguarding education, they will have to take seriously how pedagogy functions on local and global levels. Critical pedagogy has a key role to play in both understanding and challenging how power, knowledge, and values are deployed, affirmed, and resisted within and outside traditional discourses and cultural spheres. In a local context, critical pedagogy becomes an important theoretical tool for understanding the institutional conditions that place constraints on the production of knowledge, learning, academic labor, social relations, and democracy itself. Critical pedagogy also provides a discourse for engaging and challenging the construction of social hierarchies, identities, and ideologies as they traverse across local and national borders. In addition, pedagogy as a form of production and critique, offers a discourse of possibility, a way of providing students with an opportunity to link understanding and commitment and social transformation to seeking the greatest possible justice.

This suggests one of the most serious challenges facing teachers, artists, journalists, writers, and other cultural workers, which is the task of developing discourses and pedagogical practices that connect what my former and late friend Paulo Freire said was a critical reading of the word and the world in ways that enhanced the creative capacities of young people to provide the conditions for them to become critically-engaged agents. In taking up this project, educators and others should attempt to create the conditions that give students the opportunity to acquire the knowledge, values, and the civic courage that enable them to struggle to make desolation and cynicism unconvincing, and hope practical. Educated hope is not a call to overlook the difficult conditions that shape both schools and the larger social order, nor is it a blueprint removed from specific contexts and struggles, on the contrary, it's the precondition for imagining a future that does not replicate the nightmares of the present for not making the present the future.

Educated Hope

Educated hope provides the basis for dignifying the labor of teachers, it offers up critical knowledge linked to democratic social change, affirms shared responsibilities rather than shared fears, and encourages teachers and students to recognize ambivalence and uncertainty as fundamental dimensions of learning. In this case, educated hope is tempered by the complex reality of the times, and viewed as a project and condition for providing a sense of collective agency, opposition, political imagination, and engaged participation. Without hope, even in the most dire times, there is no possibility for resistance, dissent, and struggle. Agency is the condition of struggle and hope is the condition of agency. Hope expands the space of the possible and becomes a way of recognizing and naming the incomplete nature of the present.

In the end, there is no democracy without informed citizens and no justice without a language critical of injustice. Democracy begins to fail and political life becomes impoverished in the absence of those vital public spheres, such as public education, in which civic values, public scholarship, and social engagement allow for a more imaginative grasp of the future and take seriously the demands of justice, equity, and civic courage. Without financially robust schools, critical forms of education, and knowledgeable and civically courageous teachers young people are denied not just simply the knowledge of citizenship, but the habits of citizenship, critical modes of agency, and the grammar of ethical responsibility. Democracy should be a way of thinking about education, one that thrives on connecting pedagogy to the practice of freedom and social responsibility to the public good. I want to conclude by making some suggestions, however incomplete, regarding what we can do as educators to save public education and connect it to the broader struggle of democracy itself.

Conclusion: Public Education & the Struggle for Democracy

First, I'm at the current assault on public and higher education, educators can reclaim and expand its democratic vocation, and in doing so, align itself with a vision that embraces its mission as a public good, not simply an economic good.

Second, they can also acknowledge and make good on the claim that there is no democracy without informed and knowledgeable citizens. What does that mean? That means that education is not simply a public good, it's a vital public good. It's absolutely crucial to democracy. It's not just about educating our children, our individual children, it's about saving a society so that it always aligns with the virtues of democracy.

Third, education should be defined as a crucial public good and funded through federal funds that guarantee a free quality education for everyone. The larger issue here is that education cannot serve the public good in a society marked by staggering forms of financial inequality. Inequality is a scourge and a curse and must be overcome if public and higher education are to thrive as a public good, and that cannot happen, it would... I would argue, under gangster capitalism.

Fourth, in order to keep alive the critical function of education, educators should teach students to engage in multiple forms of literacy, extending from print and visual culture to digital culture. Students need to learn how to become border crossers and think dialectically. Moreover, they should learn not only how to consume culture, but to produce it, and they should learn how to both be cultural critics and cultural producers. This is especially important at a time when culture is dominated by corporate interests. We need to educate students to be able to be cultural producers, to create radio stations, to create films, to create alternative schools, and at the same time, to work in those dominant institutions with one foot in and one foot out, to know not just simply how their goals are, but how they work and how that could be transformed in the interest of something much broader, much more democratic, and much larger.

Fifth, educators must defend critical education both as the search for truth and the practice of freedom. Such a task suggests that critical pedagogy should shape not only the way people think, but encourage them to work to shape a better world in which they find themselves. As a practice of freedom, critical pedagogy arises from the conviction that educators and other cultural workers have a responsibility to unsettle power, trouble consensus, and challenge common sense. This is a view of pedagogy that shouldn't make people comfortable. It should disturb them. It should inspire them. It should energize them. It should organize a vast array of questions that allow them to think outside and within in order to challenge the worlds that they occupy. Such pedagogical practices should enable the students to interrogate common sense, their own common sense, understandings of the world, take risk with their thinking, however difficult, and be willing to take a stand for free inquiry in the pursuit of truth, multiple ways of knowing, and mutual respect.

Students need to learn how to think dangerously. And if I may put it in a way that may not sound too agreeable, they need to learn, as Bowen once said, how to be troublemakers. They need to learn, as bell hooks once said, how to talk back. They need to have enough confidence in their own knowledge and their modes of self-determination, to feel the energy of what it means to be an agent and not just a consumer. They need to know what it means to be a subject and not just an object. They need to see education not as something that molds them, but as something that energizes them, as something that they can use as a tool in which they can understand a world so that they can learn how not to be governed, but how to govern. It would seem to me that these are the tools of education that not only make people uncomfortable, they make them joyous. In the uncomfortableness there's a joy. There's a joy about learning, about growing, about advancing, about understanding the world in a more complex and complete way about, if I may put it differently, being in control of your own sense of social and political agency.

Sixth, educators need to argue for a notion of education that is inherently political. Let's do away with the nonsense that education should be neutral. Let's do away with the nonsense that neutrality is a virtue. It seems to me that there is no way that we can deny the political function of education, and in doing that, we need to embrace a distinction that I think is crucial. And the distinction is between what I call a political education and a politicizing education. A political education is that students learn about power, they learn about social relationships. They learn how society bears down on them in ways that shape them. They learn what the elements of truth are in a world in which we need to make a distinction between good and evil. That's a political education. It's an empowering education. A politicizing education is the education of indoctrination. It's an education which says, "This is my way or the highway." It's an education which says, "We live in a world of certainty, I'm giving you the tools for certainty. Shut up or you'll be humiliated, or you'll be thrown out of school, or you'll be in some way viewed as unreliable and we will ruin your sense of self-esteem and your own sense of political agency."

You can't believe in something critical and be what I call a pedagogical terrorist. You can't do that. You need to understand that the theories that we bring to these classrooms have to embody a practice that's empowering and not one that simply references a rear outside of the conditions that would enable students to actually question who we are and what we believe in and what we're talking about. Finally, I want to suggest that in a society in which democracy is under siege, it's crucial for educators to remember that alternative futures are possible and that acting on those beliefs is a precondition for making change possible, radical social change.

At stake here is the courage to take on the challenge of what kind of world we want. What kind of future do we want to build for our children? The great philosopher Ernst Bloch insisted that hope taps into our deepest experiences and that without it reason and justice cannot prevail. In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin, my favorite novelist, adds a call for compassion and social responsibility to this notion of hope, one that is indebted to those who follow us. He writes, "Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them. The moment we break with one another, the sea engulfs us and the lights go out." Now more than ever, educators must live up to the challenge of keeping the fires of resistance burning with a feverish intensity. Only then will we be able to keep the lights on and the future open. My friend, the late Howard Zinn, rightly insisted that hope is the willingness, "to sustain, even in times of pessimism, the possibility of surprise." In addition to that eloquent appeal, I would say that history is open. It's time to think differently in order to act differently, especially if, as educators, we want to imagine and fight for alternative futures and build new horizons of possibility.

Thank you.

Chris McNutt
Chris McNutt is the co-founder and executive director of Human Restoration Project, a nonprofit organization focused on student engagement, well-being, and motivation. His work centers on realizing systems-based change, examining how progressive pedagogical shifts (e.g. PBL, ungrading) reimagine school to best suit the needs of students and teachers alike. He was a public high school digital media & design educator who focused on experiential learning, portfolio-driven assessment, and community involvement.
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