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Why Teaching People to Think for Themselves Is Repugnant to Religious Zealots and Rick Santorum

Democracy cannot function without an informed citizenry, and an ignorant public is just what Santorum and his allies count on.

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The current assault on young people, public education and critical thinking is first and foremost an attack not only on the conditions that make critical education and pedagogy possible, but also on what it might mean to raise questions about the real problems facing public education today, which include the lack of adequate financing, the instrumentalization and commodification of knowledge, the increasing presence of the punishing state in the schools, the hijacking of public education by corporate interests, the substitution of testing for substantive forms of teaching and learning and the increasing attempts by right-wing extremists to turn education into job training or into an extended exercise in patriotic xenophobia and religious fundamentalism. As the right-wing juggernaut destroys the social state, workers protections, unions and civil liberties, it is easy to forgot that a much less visible attack is being waged on young people and especially on public schools and the possibility of critical forms of teaching. Critical pedagogy, that arch enemy of fundamentalists everywhere, must be understood as central to any discourse about educating students to be informed, skilled and knowledgeable critical agents, but, more importantly, it must be understood as the most crucial referent we have for understanding politics and defending all aspects of public schooling as one of the very few remaining democratic public spheres remaining in the United States today.

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department. His most recent books include: Youth in a Suspect Society (Palgrave, 2009); Politics After Hope: Obama and the Crisis of Youth, Race, and Democracy (Paradigm, 2010); Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror (Paradigm, 2010); The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence (co-authored with Grace Pollock, Rowman and Littlefield, 2010); Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism (Peter Lang, 2011); Henry Giroux on Critical Pedagogy (Continuum, 2011). His newest books: Education and the Crisis of Public Values (Peter Lang) and Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability (Paradigm Publishers) will be published in 2012). Giroux is also a member of Truthout's Board of Directors. His website is