Is America on the Verge of Theocracy? 4 Fundamentalist Ideologies Threatening U.S. Liberty
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Education becomes severely narrowed and trivialized in the media, or is converted into training and character reform in the schools. Within higher education, democracy appears as an excess, if not a pathology, as right-wing ideologues and corporate wannabe administrators increasingly police what faculty say, teach and do in their courses. And it is going to get worse.
In opposition to the rising tide of authoritarianism, there is a need for a vast social movement capable of challenging the basic premises of an ever-expanding, systematic attack on democracy. The elements of authoritarianism must be made visible not simply as concepts, but as practices. The Occupy movement and others arising in its wake need to build a network of new institutions that can offer a different language, history and set of values, knowledge and ideas. There is a need for free schools, universities, public spheres, and other spaces where learning can be connected to social change and understanding translated into the building of social movements. As I have written many times, young people, parents, community workers, educators, artists, and others must make a case for linking learning to social change. They must critically engage with and construct anew those diverse sites where critical pedagogy takes place. Educators need to develop a new discourse whose aim is to foster a democratic politics and pedagogy that embody the legacy and principles of social justice, equality, freedom and rights associated with the democratic concerns of history, space, plurality, power, discourse, identities, morality and the future. They must make clear that every sphere of social life is open to political contestation and comprises a crucial site of political, social and cultural struggle in the attempt to forge the knowledge, identifications, affective investments and social relations capable of constituting political subjects and social agents who will energize and spread the call for a global radical democracy.
Under such circumstances, pedagogy must be embraced as a moral and political practice, one that is both directive and the outgrowth of struggles designed to resist the increasing depoliticization of political culture that is one hallmark of contemporary American life. Education is the terrain where consciousness is shaped; needs are constructed; and the capacity for self-reflection and social change is nurtured and produced. Education across a variety of spheres has assumed an unparalleled significance in shaping the language, values and ideologies that legitimate the structures and organizations supporting the imperatives of global capitalism. Rather than being simply a technique or methodology, education has become a crucial site for the production and struggle over those pedagogical and political conditions that offer up the possibilities for people to believe they can develop critical agency - a form of agency that will enable them individually and collectively to intervene effectively in the processes through which the material relations of power shape the meaning and practices of their everyday lives.
Within the current historical moment, struggles over power take on a symbolic and discursive as well as material and institutional form. The struggle over education, as most people will acknowledge, involves the struggle over meaning and identity; but it also involves struggling over how meaning, knowledge and values are produced, legitimated and operationalized within economic and structural relations of power. Education is not at odds with politics; it is an important and crucial element in any definition of the political and offers not only the theoretical tools for a systemic critique of authoritarianism, but also a language of possibility for creating actual movements for democratic social change. At stake here is combining an interest in symbolic forms and processes conducive to democratization with broader social contexts and the institutional formations of power itself. The key point here is to understand and engage educational and pedagogical practices from the point of view of how they are bound up with larger relations of power. Educators, students and parents need to be clearer about how power works through and in texts, representations and discourses, while at the same time recognizing that power cannot be limited to the study of representation and discourse.