Conference to Restore Humanity! 2022: Keynote Q&A - Dr. Henry Giroux

Chris McNutt
July 27, 2022
A transcript of our Q&A with Dr. Henry Giroux at Conference to Restore Humanity! 2022.

This transcript is a discussion with Dr. Henry Giroux from July 26th, 2022, and a follow up to a flipped keynote session available on YouTube.

0:00:00.0 Chris McNutt: I'm gonna go ahead and get things started here with some kind of introductory remarks, and then we're gonna go ahead and get started. So, hello everyone. Welcome to our Q and A session with Dr. Henry Giroux following his incredible keynote speech that we watched yesterday. Thank you again, Henry, for joining us today. Based off the conversations we had yesterday with folks, your speech was deeply resonated and led to a lot of great discussions. Before we get started, here's the format for today's session. First off, we kind of already did the formal introduction, so I imagine that this is directly following the keynote speech. Therefore we're gonna jump right into questions. We picture this as a semi-open and formal conversation to learn from one another. The way that you'll do this is feel free to either write your answer in the chat, if you do that, I'll just read it out loud, or raise your hand with the reaction button at the bottom of Zoom.

0:00:52.3 CM: In that case, I'll call on you to ask a question. Please make sure that you lower your hand afterwards so I know if it's a follow-up question or your hand's still up from before. Also make sure that you mute if you're not the person currently speaking. We'll do our best to ensure that all the questions are answered. In the event that a question's very similar to another question, we might go on to others. To give you all some time to consider your first question, I did wanna share this thing that Nick put together this morning, which is a summary of Giroux's speech, which he is sharing right now. So there's a little word cloud classic of what word or words would you use to describe Dr. Giroux's keynote?

0:01:32.7 CM: And we can see it's I hope the same exact thing is that are the goals of this conference and the folks that you are working through for the track, inspiring, hopeful, needed, democratic, challenging, and empowering, and powerful, and disruptive. All things that I think challenge us to meet the needs of the moment, and recognize the fact that this work is needed now more than ever. Something that we keep saying over and over again is that our current times are unprecedented and every day really is unprecedented, and it's gonna take the work of the grassroots of teachers getting together and talking about these things and doing better in order for us to change what's going on in education and in society at large. So, with that said, we're going to go ahead and jump into it. I have not prepared any questions whatsoever, so this is very much reliant on the community to come together and ask anything. Feel free to take a second, either write a question in the chat and or raise your hand and we will go from there. While we're getting ready here, Dr. Giroux, do you have anything that you wanna say?

0:02:46.2 Henry Giroux: Yeah. Refer to me as Henry. I would prefer that.

0:02:49.3 CM: Sure. Alright. Linx, you're first up. Go for it.

0:02:54.2 Linx: Hi. Can you hear me? Well, nice to meet you all. I'm very excited to be here. My name is Linx. I use he, him pronouns. I'm a trans educator in Panama. It was very exciting to hear all this keynote a very inspiring. There was a lot of discussion about teaching critical thinking, and critical thinking in relation to what is going on politically in the world. And I was wondering if you could share some of the methods or things you have found that are a useful way of teaching this critical thinking. I find that working with human rights education, sometimes it is a bit hard getting people to think critically about the nuance, and it's not as simple as simply exposing them to what is going on, it's also teaching the skills necessary to be able to interpret that and interpret the different forces that are at play. So I would love to hear some of the methods that are useful for teaching this critical thinking and agency.

0:04:02.4 HG: I think that the question of methods is important and I don't wanna downplay it, but I think we often fail to really understand the importance of what's at stake and what critical education and critical pedagogy is about by beginning with that question. I really think the question to begin with in order to enter into that consideration is, what's the purpose of schooling in the first place? You need some kind of theoretical political framework to understand ways in which you're gonna enter into that question in ways that resonate with approaches that are compatible with it. And they put that in a very general way. I think we can, sometimes we find ourselves being very critical about what education is and what it should do, but we engage in pedagogical methods that are dehumanizing. They're really at odds with the very vision that we bring to the classroom.

0:05:00.9 HG: So I think that's the first issue. The second issue is for me, it's always important to play around with a certain kind of tension in the classroom. And the first tension for me is to make students feel comfortable and safe. And not safe in the silly right-wing way that says that they shouldn't be disturbed, but protected in that they should be able to be able to speak without having to feel that in some fundamental way they're gonna be punished for it. Even when they're talking about issues that they're taking a chance and taking a risk and engaging it. And that often demands a second issue.

0:05:36.1 HG: And that is, how do we begin to learn a new language? How do we begin to challenge common sense with the language that's outside of the conditions that or the educations that many of these students get? And I think that what I try to do is I try to provide a range of resources for people to read and to watch. Image culture is very important for me in my teaching, 'cause I deal with a generation that's basically plugged into images. And so it seems to me that the resources that we use have to, in some way, resonate with the students that we're dealing with, have some connection to their lives, some connection to the world in which they live in. Secondly, it's very important around the question of voice for students to learn how to narrate themselves. Usually they're on the end of a pedagogy or subjected to a pedagogy, which they are basically kind of silenced, they don't really have much to say, they're told to learn for the test, they're treated as consumers and objects. And I always have students in some way be prepared...

0:06:38.7 HG: I try to create a pedagogical situation in which they're gonna have to analyze and respond to issues in ways that would allow the class to join in. For instance, all my students have to write something, a page, a paragraph, because I want them to basically have a sense not only of their own voice and how important that is, but also to recognize that when we speak, there are consequences to what we say. And that we should engage that not as a threat, but as a way of enlarging the perspectives that we often bring to the classroom. Another issue is the question of culture. Look, all education is contextual. It's always contextual. And I think that while it's difficult given the conditions under which many of us have worked, and I was a high school teacher for over seven years, is that we have to be aware of the context in which we... These students emerge from, their histories, their communities, their deprivations, their strengths.

0:07:38.6 HG: I remember I had a student in high school once. We were taking a test, and this is a kid I kind of really resonated with, reminding me of myself in some ways, and I was giving a test and he put his head down some mail, and I said something like, I forget his name, I said, "Joe this is a test?" He says, "I'm sorry, I didn't eat breakfast this morning. I don't care." I mean, all of a sudden I realized something profound happened to me, and that was that the usual ways in which I had been taught to basically pressure kids didn't work. It didn't work. The test was not a threat he acknowledged. The notion of some kind of standard evaluation went out the window. I had to find other resources to talk to these kids, I had to find a language that was meaningful, that was critical, that was transformative, I had to find cultural elements that resonated with who they are and where they came from.

0:08:31.2 HG: I had to find ways to challenge them without putting their identities on trial. And I think we do that as I mentioned in the variety of ways that I've talked about. The other issue is I never simply... I was lucky when I taught, we didn't have curriculums imposed on us the way you do now. I didn't have that. So I put books in the library, I paid for them, I did all kinds of things that basically gave them options to deal with alternative sources. And that's really crucial. And also sources that they bring, the narratives that they often bring are often at odds with the narratives that we bring to the school or the school wants to impose on them. And so it seems to me there's a variety of ways there in which those kinds of issues emerge and were dealt with. I hope that helps.

0:09:23.4 CM: I think that connects well to a question that Steve asked in the chat, which is, given these different ways that we can impact the classroom, how do we go about navigating that? And how feasible is that underneath this concept of gangster capitalism?

0:09:41.4 HG: Well, I mean, I think there are a couple of things to consider. I think that because I use the term gangster capitalism, which always gets me in trouble, it basically suggests that you can't talk about schools outside of the broader socioeconomic context in which they exist, you just can't do that. At least I don't believe you can do that. And so to say that we operate within a system that privileges certain ways of looking at the world and certain ways in which we produce particular kinds of subjects. Right. And how we assign particular meanings, even when we have to be conscious of that, we have to be conscious of the forces that bear down on us so that we can make them visible and we can challenge them. That's the first issue.

0:10:22.7 HG: Secondly, it seems to me that we may live in a society that's moving towards fascism, which I truly believe it is, but that doesn't mean that you can equate power only with domination. I mean, there are always sites of resistance within these schools that can be negotiated, some more difficult... Clearly more difficult than others. But I don't think that we should ever do this alone. I don't think the issue is to close the door and say, "Look, I'm gonna work around these pedagogy, these issues, and try to do the best I can to educate students in spite of the pressures being placed on him or her or they, or whatever." I mean, I think that we have to learn to work with others in the school, we have to learn to work with outside resources like your organization. We have to learn to work with other kinds of social movements, and I think to fight this alone, I think we're in trouble.

0:11:16.5 HG: I think when we privatize that struggle, we sort of surrender the political to the personal, and I think that's a script for defeat. And as difficult as it might be to organize with others, you have to do it. It just simply has to be done. The other side of this and maybe the fourth issue is, we don't wanna despair because too much, to say the least, we wanna be vigilant, but that's different than despairing. And I think that we can look at history and we can look at the current moment of teachers who all over the United States right now and then surely... And in other places are really mobilizing. They've had enough. Whether we're talking about gun violence or teachers elementary, junior high, high school teachers who are working three jobs and making $21,000 a year, who are being told they can't talk about transgender issues, who are being told to ban books, who are being told that they only can teach patriotic education.

0:12:16.8 HG: I mean we're at a moment in our history where you can't look away, and this stuff really has to be challenged. And I think we see that happening, we see it happening with unions that are mobilizing once again, we see it happening with teachers who are walking out, who are in some ways bypassing even their unions, which sometimes tend to be enormously conservative in terms of these things. So I think something is going on in the midst of gangster capitalism that is hopeful and provides maybe blueprints in some ways for how we should deal with these issues.

0:12:52.2 CM: Right. And I think this is perfect than leading into what Dustin and Skyler were talking about, which is growing those partnerships and basically who can we look toward partnering with? Dustin asked about the connections between critical pedagogy and democracy and who in the local state national and international communities we can look to ally with beyond the traditional education system. And then kind of expanding upon that, Skylar asked which people, movements and developments give you hope in this fight?

0:13:23.2 HG: Let me say something, probably actually name some movements. I mean clearly this is the Black Lives Matter movement, which is in the forefront, but there's also the ecological movements, there are youth movements, there's... In North Carolina there's the movement around questions of inequality and power. But I think that what is central to really address around this question is we have to be able to defend a notion of education that is not privatized, meaning that we not only have to be able to defend it as a public good, we have to be able to defend it as something crucial to democracy.

0:14:00.6 HG: So that means I need to be able to... We need to be able to talk to people whose kids are not in school and to be able to talk about the centrality and importance of education in a democracy. What's at stake here is not whether your kid's gonna go to college or get a good job, what's at stake here is whether democracy is gonna survive. And that makes it very clear how crucial public education is. And I put the word on public because let's be clear here. The attack on education is not because it's failing, the attack on education is because it's public.

0:14:35.4 HG: It's a public good. When you get representatives on the right now claiming that the public schools are socialism factories, or they basically teach communism at the expense of white Christian ideology, you know we're in trouble. And when I say we're in trouble, I mean that we don't wanna begin with the question of methods. We really wanna begin with the question of visions, we wanna begin with the question that really in some way ascertains how important school is as a public good. Not to get back to these movements, when you look at movements like the Black Lives Matter movement one in particular, which is not simply about racism, it's about inequality, it's about capitalism, it's about injustice, it's about a whole range of issues that it's trying to tie together, but not only that in the matter of let's say at Angela Davis, it's talking about how these struggles are international and how these groups, all of us have to learn from each other and find ways to come together under a larger banner in which our differences are important, but we can't allow them to be so siloed that they lose track of what it means or what the threads are that run through all these forms of opposition.

0:15:50.5 CM: And kind of this is a little bit of a shift, but I think it takes that then to a very local level. Shelly asks about the effective processes and strategies to foment a shift in culture. She says that she's at a small independent school and they may call themselves progressive, but she would describe it as being more of a multicultural curriculum and student focused and a lot less focused on explicit anti-racism or liberatory pedagogy or anything like that. So there is that focus on critical thinking, but the content presenter doesn't include some of the challenging issues that you bring up in your keynote. How do you take this style of thinking and begin to shift toward critical pedagogy at a local faculty level?

0:16:37.5 HG: I think we need to talk about... To talk to people about how the questions of representation are always tied to questions of history and to questions of power. And I think that once we inject the question of power into this discourse, something happens. We're not just talking about a Benetton notion of representation, the more colors we have, the more... The better off we are. We're talking about how these institutions in their own way, for instance, a complicitness with the very kinds kind of racism that they believe in some way, they falsely believe they're addressing, how do we... How do we in some way talk about what it means to talk about funding in public education? How do we talk about access? In other words, what are the mechanisms of power that gives a real meaning? The questions of representation when they're linked, the questions of justice, injustice, equality, and democracy, we need to expand that conversation by making clear what's not in it, what's not in it. What the absences are here. And the absence are what... Absences are often around questions of power, questions of race, questions of class, questions of gender orientations, questions of identity, questions of inequality.

0:17:50.7 HG: These are the issues that we really need to focus on. So we need to shift that conversation. I don't think we need to do it by simply dismissing it. I think we need to find ways to get into it, burrow into it. And all of a sudden make clear that its absences are more defining and far more important than the things that it focuses on and how inadequate they are if they really believe in justice. I mean you wanna take people at their word, right? When they say, "Well, we're from multiculturalism", you wanna say, "Well, what does that have to do with questions of racism? What does that have to do with questions of inequality? What does that have to do with class differences? And how does the question of power enter into here both in terms of how this institution is structured and what its relationship is to larger considerations, political, social, and economic institutions outside of the school? That's, by the way, not just simply a shift in culture, that's a shift in politics, that's a shift in the kinds of questions that we're raising here, and how culture is crucial as simply one element of that conversation.

0:18:54.4 CM: Right. And I... This is... I shifted in the question that I have as you're talking about this, which is, I'm sure many of us here, if not the majority of us, have been placed in a scenario where we've advocated for these things, and especially in the last two or three years as the culture war has yet again kinda set its sight on teachers, calling folks like us groomers and pedophiles and all these ridiculous things. As we bring up concepts of anti-racism or any kind of social justice type thing. These attacks come both through social media, but that stuff does cater into having meetings with administrators and families coming in and complaining about our practices. And it's very personal. And are kind of dangerous too. And violent. How do you feel teachers should respond when they are targeted in this manner for doing these practices.

0:19:55.1 HG: Aggressively, [laughter] sorry. Aggressively. And I think they need to do it en masse and collectively. I don't think we should just sit back and just talk about this violence and then condemn it. I mean, it seems to me what they're saying has to be challenged. What they're saying has to be dealt with, with larger groups. What they're saying has to be dealt with, not just simply in the context of where it takes place, but also in the larger media. I mean, we just don't see enough people on the left and who are progressive talking about this stuff and challenging it. I mean, we really don't. I've been writing about critical pedagogy. I was born after Lincoln died. I've been writing about critical pedagogy for 50 years. And it seems to me that it's with the exception of very few groups in the United States, progressives in the left have never really taken this that seriously.

0:20:45.5 HG: I mean, it's always about schooling. It's not about education in the broader sense the culture as a form of education, for instance, and all the ways in which these messages, these right wing horrifically, violent messages are being produced, disseminated. I mean, the right does something we don't do, the left doesn't do or progressives don't do, is they understand the power of ideas being propagated through the mass media as a potentially an enormously powerful educational force. And so we need to link education in schooling. We need to understand how they operate in different spheres. We need to understand what it means to push back and we need to make clear what the consequences are for these kids. Think about it. I mean you often hear the argument. I don't want my kid being humiliated, made uncomfortable.

0:21:41.2 HG: Well, one of the arguments I make is, do you really want your kid to be in class where... In a classroom where if he or she are inundated with white supremacy ideology online, they have no critical tools to recognize it. [laughter], I mean, do we really want our kids to be stupid? Do you really want to make them vulnerable? If you're really talking about protecting kids, how does ignorance protect kids? You understand? I mean, these are really powerful arguments that basically go right at the heart of not just simply, are they uncomfortable? But in ways in which they're being damaged, [laughter] in ways in which they're being short changed, in ways in which this is not just simply saying we're erasing, for instance, the history of slavery and racism that we are erasing the possibility for your own kid to basically become an agent in the world and not be seduced by neo-Nazis. So it seems to me that there's a way of entering into that conversation. That's a lot different than being defensive. And I think we need to try to understand that more.

0:22:48.2 CM: Thank you. Thank you. Shifting over to David. David, do you wanna ask your question?

0:22:58.1 David: Yes. Thank you. You actually, the discussion between Henry and Chris basically took my question, which was, Henry you talked about gangster capitalism and on the TV last night was the godfather part two. And [laughter] it reminded me that you gotta punch the gangster in the mouth, right? So when you say, respond aggressively, I think when an organization in that right only values, power and values aggression, sometimes you have to be that. So my question is this, how, when you talked about in your keynote being one foot in the organization, one foot in the world, one foot, there's the tendency I think, especially movements like the progressive, education movement is that sometimes it can become cannibalistic in the sense that, we... When Michael Corleone grabs Fredo and says it was you. This betrayal, when people who go to the other side, the dark side, in a sense, and this has happened when some leaders in critical pedagogy, suddenly the outrage is, how could you betray the movement and to align yourself with these people and organizations that do harm, and maybe it's good to be the divergent in that area and to be as almost like a sneaky, divergent, and fix the problems within, but the problem is how that's accepted by the larger community outside.

0:24:31.4 David: So my question, I guess, is what happens when you are in a precarious situation and you want, you are given those, like you said, 50 years ago, you weren't given a curriculum. Well, let's say I am given a curriculum, and there's not a lot of wiggle room for me to be a troublemaker. What do you suggest those teachers who find themselves isolated from the movement by themselves, which the... Which the greater world wants to do to these teachers, right? Put them in isolation. How do those teachers make change when their jobs are at risk, or maybe even their lives are at risk from their reaction?

0:25:08.5 HG: No, no, it is a terrific question, David, and it points to three things for me. First of all, I get that question a lot from teachers who are actually in that scenario. And I think the first thing I tell them is, Hey, look, first of all, you gotta go. You gotta figure out and find those resources where other people are in the same situation and how they're doing it, how they're dealing with it, because you don't want to be alone, here.

0:25:35.3 HG: And while that may not be helpful in the most immediate sense of dealing with the monsters, so to speak, that are bearing down on you, you begin to gather resources, and you begin to get a sense of hope that other people are addressing this question and trying to find ways to deal with it. And in some way, offering solutions. I mean there's nothing, I think is more important in that initial stage where you're isolated, you're threatened, you're fearful, you're scared, when all of a sudden, you're part of another community that is saying, "Hold on, don't allow this to destroy yourself. Let's think about this. Let's look at the resources available. Let's see what we can do. How can we get together somewhere else in a conference? How can we begin to share resources and deal with that?" The second thing is, I don't ever wanna... As a working-class kid who grew up in enormous poverty, I have an enormous sensitivity to what it means to lose your job. And to be basically, not homeless, but without an income. That's a real threat. And I think we have to sometimes, in spite of the nonsense that you'll get from some left purist, we have to find ways to navigate this stuff. Navigate it to be able to keep our jobs, but never lose our dignity, you can never lose your dignity.

0:26:54.7 HG: Some of these steps are incremental for some of us and some of them are huge, depending upon the constraints that bear down on us. And we have to be supportive of those people who are basically operating under really terrible, really terrible, harsh conditions. We have to find ways to support them, to find ways to get the resources and to find ways to talk about how in some cases, you may have to move. Sometimes you find yourself in situations that are just incredibly intolerable. And we have to think about these questions. I mean it's... We can't always say, "Stay there suffer, good things will happen." Right? I mean that's fine. But it sounds a little pollyannaish to me. But at the same time, we have to think of the larger considerations about people's lives, how they lived. The worst thing that can happen to any of us, is when we become subject to a set of circumstances in which the only thing we're thinking about is surviving. When the politics of survival is the only politics you have left, you've been de-politicized. You've been de-politicized. And I think we need to resurrect this term and think about it in terms of the various conditions in which people find themselves who were being de-politicized, to questions of fear, and so forth and so on.

0:28:11.7 HG: It's one of the reasons why in your godfather analogy, I'm kinda smiling because when I say "We have to fight back." I don't mean we assume the tactics that they have. I mean, we just become very aggressive about what we stand for, and what we won't tolerate. That's important. The battle here, David, in one way or another, whether we like it or not, is about ideas. And it's about visions, ideas, and visions are connected to hope, and they're connected to possibilities. We have a vision that doesn't close down the possibility. That's the ground swell. It's not enough. Ideas have to be married to action, and action has to be married to social movements. So that's... I'm not sure that... David, your question is very important, very complex, and I don't wanna brush over it in some kind of general way, that doesn't really address that. But thanks for asking. It's terrific.

0:29:16.6 CM: Awesome, thank you. Thank you. Let's do, I'm gonna read out Rachel's, and then I'll get to yours, Trevor. So Rachel has a really important question here about students in the room and doing this pedagogy with them. She says that she was struck by a powerful point made in the keynote, that we need to engage in critical pedagogy that equips young people to "Unsettle power, trouble, consensus and challenge common sense." And Henry, she wants to hear what you think about this in the context in which those demanding open dialogue deny the trauma for folks with historically marginalized and minoritized identities. Basically, how do we honor the need for risk-taking, while still honoring that spaces have too often really caused harm to certain folks who aren't in positions of power? Another way of saying that is how do we ensure we're discerning discomfort versus harm to marginalized folks?

0:30:18.5 HG: I think the first thing that we wanna recognize is that trauma is not the basis for agency. I mean we have to be... We have to understand that we're more than victims. At the same time, we have to be sensitive to the histories that people have and where they come from in creating the kind of protective spaces where these issues can be talked about, without punishing or humiliating people who engage in those issues. I mean the one thing I don't wanna see happen around that issue is I don't wanna see the political collapse into the personal so that the personal becomes all there is and the only measure of how we talk about what we talk about. So it seems to me that in the first instance, you've got to create a supportive classroom, where people can basically operate off the assumption you can't humiliate others, you have to listen to what they have to say. And you have to be sensitive to what you say, in terms of who's in the room and what the context is, and what the histories are that are flowing through that room at the moment. And it seems to me if there's the possibility for a situation that's so overly dramatic, for any one particular person, we have to find ways to separate that person from the entire class in ways that we can make them feel comfortable and bring them back in so that their trauma doesn't shut off the possibility of talking about anything that could make somebody uncomfortable, or relate to a particular kind of history.

0:31:42.3 HG: And it's difficult. That's not an easy thing to deal with. The first issue is you have to be comfortable in that classroom. You have to learn how to take risks. You have to learn how to say things that are troubling, and you have to learn how to deal with them in a way that doesn't attack the identity of the person there. I mean the key is identities are not on trial here, what's on trial are ideas and how we navigate them and how they bear dominance and what their consequences are, and how they become something more than simply personal.

0:32:18.3 CM: And I want to call attention to... Hanna says in the chat that this is very affirming. She thinks about her experience in Ontario and how many educators who are doing this work are being labeled alarmists, by saying that like public education is being privatized and there's a very distinctive narrative that Canada's educational foundations are so vastly different from the States, which is not true. There are a lot of similarities, which I'm sure resonates with you Henry given that you live in Canada. So you have that context. Trevor, I believe you're up next, if you wanna ask your question.

0:33:00.2 Trevor: Yeah, thanks. So one of the questions that I have, is kind of, I think pulling out a thread that has been emerging in the conversation is, how can we sort of repair the divide that's emerging between theory and practice? So a lot of these ideas that we're discussing, both in the conference, and in this, discussion are, I think kind of emerging in academic journals, they've been presented at conferences. They aren't necessarily new. But a lot of the language that is used to present these ideas often is targeting other academics, funding, academic prestige, et cetera, instead of trying to reach practitioners. So what do you think it looks like to kind of build a coalition vertically, between classroom teachers and the academy, as well as horizontally, between teachers and educators in the classroom?

0:33:46.2 HG: Yeah. Thanks Trevor. It's an important question that honestly has haunted my life for 40 years. How do we talk about overcoming the binary between theory and practice? Right. I mean, practice without theory seems to me uninformed, theory without practice seems to me to be dislocated, [chuckle] and out of touch. And it's central to me in that issue of a couple of categories that I hope will be helpful. One is I don't believe that the distinction between theoretical work and accessibility really is at odds with each other. I think we can talk in a language that's accessible. I don't care how complex it is. I completely reject the notion that ideas that are sophisticated have to be put into a language that is abstruse, arcane and almost unintelligible. Almost unintelligible.

0:34:42.7 HG: And that means that particularly for academics in this case, they have to learn how to be public intellectuals. I mean you're a public intellectual. You learn to speak to multiple audiences in multiple ways, and you learn that you have to be accessible and clear in order to be able to make sure that people resonate and recognize what you're saying, not only with respect to the problems they find themselves in, but with respect to who they are and what it means to engage those issues. So the question of clarity is crucial, absolutely crucial. The other side of this is that as public intellectuals, we have responsibilities and that responsibility means that we have to be able to talk to people in ways in which they can understand what we're saying. And I don't think the argument that this is too complex to be made accessible is workable.

0:35:33.2 HG: I mean, I don't think it's fair and I think it's wrong. And I think it's often a cover for people to talk in a language in which they only speak to five other people and they claim, "Well, that's what theory does." And that's not what theory does. That's what theory shouldn't do actually in my mind. Secondly, I think you have to be a border-crosser. You not only have to learn, the question often is who are you speaking for? Well, as crucial as that question is, I raise another question. That's who's listening. Who's listening here? Right. And how do we address that issue in some fundamental way? And if we're going to take that question seriously, then it's not that we speak for others, it's that we speak for democracy by talking about race, talking about class, LGBTQ issues, environmental issues, in ways that are both accessible and resonate with piece of people's histories and their cultures.

0:36:27.0 HG: We don't just speak for and about, we have to learn from people. And the question is, how do we enrich our own theories by basically expanding the possibilities of what they mean, how they're navigated and how they're expanded in dialogue with others? Because the theory action divide is often a one-dimensional divide in terms of its flows. I have the theory. I'll provide them from you. Well, that's just bullshit, to say the least. It seems to me, there are many many people who come into these issues with enormous experiences that they're theorizing and talking about. Gramps, she used to say, everybody's an intellectual. It's just that some people have the privilege of having a job in which their intellectual skills get... You get paid for that. But forgive me, I'll tell you a four-second story.

0:37:19.0 HG: I came home from college. My father was a truck driver and a mechanic. He was working on his car and I started talking about Niche, and he said, "What? Niche, are you kidding?" He said, "Look, do you know how to take this carburetor apart?" "Nope." He said, "Do you know how to change a muffler." "No." And it goes on and on. Right. And he said to me, "Let me tell you something. When you think your language is the only language that matters, you'll never learn anything in your life." And he got it. And that was a transformative moment in my life. Different people enter these conversations with different languages and different experiences. And I say to academics that don't understand that, "Grow up, just simply grow up." Really, the stakes are too high to believe that theory and practice are basically at a divide in which one operates in the academy, the other operates in the realms of everyday life, or that theory is so abstruse, it can't be translated in ways that are accessible and produce enormous, it seems to me, possibilities for expanding who we are as political and social agents. So border-crossing, accessibility, clarity, all these things matter. I don't know if that helps. Does that help at all? Of course. [laughter] thanks for the question really.

0:38:35.6 CM: Nick, go ahead.

0:38:39.0 Nick: Yeah, I'm hoping that to kind of balance out what can kind of be at the heavy part of my question with sort of the hopeful end, but so a couple of things, a lot of your writing lately has really dealt with the contemporary context for where we are in terms of democratic backsliding and of not just creeping authoritarianism at this point but barreling, we're on the downhill slide into that. And so I think I'm curious to hear from you on the one hand here, kind of what do you imagine is sort of the worst case scenario here? For the extrapolating on the political trends as you're seeing them currently, but then the flip side of this too, one of the things that I've grabbed onto over the last couple of years of the pandemic has been that notion of in times where nihilism and cynicism is the easy way out, that notion of radical hope could be something that we anchor ourselves to and we can anchor our work in as well. So how do we balance perhaps what you see as the worst case scenario for this with needing to anchor our work and our perspectives in hope, otherwise it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy?

0:40:03.9 HG: I mean, the worst case scenario we've already seen, and we saw it in the 1930s in Italy and Germany, and we saw it in Latin America, particularly in the Panache in Argentina and other places in the 1970s. The worst scenario is fascism. I mean I use that term and I don't use it lightly because I believe that fascism can emerge in different forms. It doesn't mean that it has to absolutely replicate in every possible way what we saw in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. I think that's absolutely nonsense. Hannah Arendt has written about that their Primo Levi. I find it hard to debate that point anymore. So yes, what I see coming is unlike anything I've seen in my lifetime, and that's for sure. These people are very dangerous. I think they will put people in jail. I think they'll turn schools into something that we might have seen with the evangelicals who were creating these schools to groom people to be absolutely mindless.

0:41:06.3 HG: So the threat is real but at the same time, in terms of your latter question, the way I enter that discourse is that without hope there's no agency, without hope there's no sense of being able to imagine how to fight this stuff and what a different future might look like. Without hope there's cynicism and despair. So in the long run, you can't have politics without hope, and I'm not willing to give up politics, and I'm not willing to suggest this is not a political question anymore. I don't wanna reduce this issue to an existential question. And I think that we have a long history of people who have resisted, even in the camps they resisted. As my partner and my wife Ranya reminded me the other day in the camps people even fell in love. I mean, which is not to, in some way, downplay the horror here, but I'm always amazed at what it is about human beings, even in the worst of times and their ability to resist and their ability to fight back, their ability not to look away.

0:42:15.0 HG: I'm always moved by that and it seems to me that when I put it into a larger context, it's very simple, the choice is between hope and de-politicization, the choice is between hope and the possibility of a better world, the choice is between hope and cynicism, the choice is between hope and the ability to imagine that resistance matters. And I'm not talking about a notion of hope that in some fundamental way we see in Disney, right? I mean hope is different, hope is... It assesses the realities of what we have to face and then addresses those realities. So I mean even in the world of Disney, I mean, can you imagine, they actually forced... The LGBTQ people forced Disney to reverse its position around what of course DeSantis was doing, who was to me, one of the most dangerous people in the United States, moreso than even Ahmed.

0:43:16.1 HG: So I think that that question of hope is not just important. I think it's crucial. And I think we have to rescue it from its often depoliticized Pollyannaish. Oh, let's all pray together after a school shooting, we'll pray together. Well, not really. Let's act together. [laughter] Not pray together. Simply act together. If you wanna pray, that's fine, but let's act together. Let's do everything we can to address these issues, mobilize, stop them and confront these issues in ways that in some way suggests there are no guarantees. There are no guarantees of what we're all doing here. And the only way in which you can take that question seriously is to imagine a politics that's infused with struggle and hope. That's it. I don't know if we're gonna win, but I know this, the stakes are too high not to win. That's the key. Does that make sense?

0:44:06.9 CM: So we have about 10 minutes left here. Feel free again to either raise your hand and or ask a question in the chat. I do have a quick question here and then Linx, I'll have, I'll turn it over to you. This kind of relates back to Trevor's question. The folks here are mostly educators, but there's also authors and researchers, professional developers or any combination of those things. When we blend teaching and business to keep the doors open, the dangers of embracing funding, to grow our reach and spread these ideas in this very neoliberal space. How do you and folks that are spreading their ideas go about doing that at a mass scale. When the things that you're talking about aren't necessarily easily marketed, whether it be us getting like a grant or publishing ideas through a publisher, whatever it might be, how do we spread our ideas without kind of being corrupted by the institutions?

0:45:12.5 HG: I think the first thing you don't want to do is be a purist. I mean, the first thing you don't wanna... I would reject is by saying corporations are evil and therefore we won't accept money. And that said, I'm sorry. People are being thrown under the bus. And I think that we need to make a distinction between what I would call acceptable reforms and the strategies that emerge from them and what I would call the necessity for a radical transformation of the existing society. If I can convince a corporation with no hands, no attachments, to provide endless amounts of money in order to make sure that the kids are coming to my school, have school lunches. I'm sorry, I'm gonna do that. And I'm not gonna respond, overly respond to the stupid criticism that I've sold out. Right? It's one thing to get the money with no qualifications and tell these corporations they're really great citizen corporations. That's fine. But at the same time, I know in the back of my head, they have to go, [laughter] that in the long run, I don't want corporations that dominate politics under any fundamental way.

0:46:19.4 HG: And that that's an argument against capitalism. That's what that argument is. But I need to be able to understand the context and the separations for these arguments in ways that allow us to be more flexible and to help people who in the most immediate sense need that help. The urgency of the issues should dictate the degree to which we're willing to step and have one foot in and one foot out. And when sometimes that one foot in is absolutely essential, it's essential, right? Corporation says, I want to give cameras to kids. Can you... Will you do that? You bet, I will. As long as they don't dictate what the curriculum is, and as long as they don't dictate what I have to say, and as long as they don't dictate some fundamental and position on the autonomy that I might have as a teacher to produce what I'm doing, both in my class and outside of it.

0:47:11.8 CM: Awesome. Thank you. Thank you. That's a perfect answer. We probably have time for two more or maybe three more questions. Linx, go ahead.

0:47:23.3 Linx: Thank you. Thank you very much for the space. It has driven me to challenge myself a lot, and I think my question is alongside, how do we challenge neoliberal thinking? I live in a context where there is barely any left. And so the existence is the far right, and then neoliberalism and this idea, and this is where you find any kind of democratic values or human rights values. And so a lot of the people I work with as an educator are neo-liberalists, and I'm very interested in how to bring the understanding that these problems are not personal, not individualistic. I was very interested. There's a little saying that is said a lot in LGBT education, which is that the personal is political. And it is interesting the way that has been used to turn the political into personal as if simply existing outside the norms of society is enough resistance. And we don't have to do anything beyond that. And so I'm interested in how do you challenge those ideas? How do you have that conversation or where do we start this conversation?

0:48:46.0 HG: Sure. And it's a terrific question. And I think that first of all, neoliberalism has to be named, you have to know what its ideas are. You have to know what the assumptions are that basically drive it. And you have to come to grips with in very vivid ways about how democratic undemocratic it is. I mean, it has nothing to do with democracy. It basically undermines democracy, whether we're talking about it's the core, the claim that self-interest is the only thing that matters. How do you have a society when self-interest is the only thing that matters? How do you have a society that sanctions money drives... Driving politics? How do you have a society that privatizes everything and hates the public good? How do you have a society that claims in some fundamental way that the only purpose of the government is to basically protect markets when market values have nothing to do basically with human needs.

0:49:33.4 HG: So I think that what you have to do here is you have to build a case to make clear how this ideology, since the 1970s has caused massive amounts of damage, in terms of staggering inequalities, the flight from any sense of social responsibility, the denial of the importance of human needs over the accumulation of capital and human profits. You have to name it. You have to break it down. You have to make clear how anti-democratic it is. And you have to make clear why we need to fight it if we believe in public goods, if we believe in the social. You can't have a society that makes a claim to democracy when it denies the social, it just simply denies it. When it denies public goods, when it denies in any fundamental way and sees as cruel... I mean, sees is a disadvantage, compassion and justice. [chuckle]

0:50:28.5 HG: I mean, look when you look at people from Hayek to Friedman now, Milton Friedman, when you look at these people, the one thing that stands out in their neoliberal hysteria is that the one thing we should divorce ourselves from is any sense of social responsibility. The second thing they say is all problems are individual problems. Think about it. You individualize everything and you utterly depoliticize people. You really wanna solve the ecological problem. Make sure your green bin is full. Make sure you use a green bin, right? Thirdly, they prevent in that ideology by privatizing everything, they prevent the possibility, it seems to me, of translating private troubles into larger systemic issues. When neo-liberals say they're in favor of a freedom but not justice, think about it.

0:51:29.9 HG: Think about what freedom means in this case. It means you can ignore science and kill your grandmother, if not your children. Right. By claiming, "Oh no. It's all about my freedom." Well, that's not what freedom is about, it's not just about self interests, it's about the public good, it's about the common good, it's about the social contract. And my argument about neo-liberalism is that it destroys the social contract, destroys democracy and destroys all the elements, so that when you say to me, as you mentioned that the political of now, the person who's political now that's been turned around, that's a neoliberal ideology. It's an ideology that individualizes everything even the political and says to you, "Yeah, that's interesting, you're right." That's all there is, is the personal. Right. We have to know when we're inhabiting a neoliberal ideology and not aware of it, and not even be aware of how seductive that can be in terms of the issues that are being posed and the way we respond to them.

0:52:34.0 CM: Thank you. Thank you. This has been incredible, and the hour went by so quickly. Before I address some upcoming things going on at the conference, again, thank you, Henry, for being here. Do you have any closing remarks or closing statements you'd like to make to the group before we wrap up?

0:52:51.8 HG: Yeah. I'd like to say, first of all, thank you for inviting me, I'm very honored, and I can't tell you how important I think our jobs are as educators, I mean, you're the last line of defense, and I mean that, you're the last line of defense. We need to defend what we do, we need to defend the importance of education, we need to link at the questions of democracy, we need to make clear that all education is a struggle over our identities, it's a struggle over regency, it's a struggle over hope, and it's a struggle over the future. So don't give up hope, fight as hard as you can, never allow yourself to be... Feel completely alone and take some hope in the sense that the outcomes of what we're seeing saying are not guaranteed here, sometimes history changes in a way that's often inexplicable and not anticipated and that's where we wanna go.

0:53:50.8 CM: Thank you. Thank you so much, seriously, it's an honor to have you here with us and to share these ideas with us. And I wanna remind everyone that today, there is a video released of Dr. Denisha Jones, keynote, which connects almost too well to Henry's speech. She is the co-editor of Black Lives Matter at School, and a member of the Black Lives Matter at School steering Committee, make sure you watch that because we'll have a Q and A session with her tomorrow at 11 AM Eastern. And then if you want, in about an hour or so, you can join David Buck who's with us in the Zoom call talking about growing the movement in online spaces and what we can do kind of logistically to organize ourselves online. And so, again, Henry, thank you for being here with us, it's been awesome, and we'll talk to you all really soon.

0:54:39.5 HG: Thank you, Bye-bye.


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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