From the “Public Intellectual” series at Truthout.
By João França.
Sometimes it seems like we can only talk about education in the positive, but Henry Giroux also gives a name to what we want to leave behind, and for that reason he talks about the “pedagogies of repression.” “Education is not just about empowering people, the practice of freedom, it’s also in some ways about killing the imagination,” affirms Giroux. “We often see pedagogies that teach to the text, simply about accountability, objective standards, that are designed to undercut the possibility for students to be critical thinkers.”
As an educator, he is concerned about the fact that today, many of the debates on education are, above all, methodological. He considers this “pedagogical stupidity,” since focusing exclusively on methods ignores the fundamental question of education.
Education, in the final analysis, is really about the production of agency. What kind of narratives are we going to produce that students can understand, that enlarge their perspective not only on the world but on their relationship to others and themselves? To begin with methods is to completely ignore, probably, all the most fundamental questions about education: ideology, culture, power, authority.… How are these things constituted? What’s the basis for knowledge? In what way does it speak to a particular kind of future? Because all education is an introduction in some way to the future. It’s a struggle over what kind of future you want for young people.” Methods, he concludes, “contain a kind of silence on the side of the worst forms of repression… because they deny the very notion that students are alive.
Critical pedagogy puts on the table the idea that an education that can be considered ideologically neutral does not exist, but rather that the notion of neutrality hides what education really involves.
This defence of neutrality has always seemed to me to be the basis for a kind of fascist politics because it hides its code for not allowing people to understand the role that education plays ideologically, in producing particular forms of knowledge, of power, of social values, of agency, of narratives about the world… It is impossible for education to be neutral so those who argue that education should be neutral are really arguing for a version of education in which nobody is accountable. The people who produce that form of education become invisible because they are saying it’s neutral. So, you can’t identify the ideological, processes, politics, modes of power at work. That is precisely what they want, because power at its worst makes itself invisible, and the notion that education is neutral is one way of people who have dominant power making it invisible and making propaganda itself incapable of being seen.
A concept that permits understanding the importance of what is invisible is what is called the “hidden curriculum,” everything that is being taught in classrooms and not explained in the curriculums. “There are things that are taught but that are never talked about, and the real message is invisible,” Giroux tells us.
When you put children into a series of rows and tell them that they cannot talk and that they have to listen to you as teacher, the hidden curriculum that is being transmitted is that they do not have the right to talk, that they do not have the right to be part of the way of educating. When a teacher gets up and says that they have the authority in class and that nobody can question that, they are not saying that they are teaching them to be passive and not demand responsibilities of the powers, but that the hidden curriculum is very clear. If you examine what is really being taught there, you see that education is a way of silencing.
Henry Giroux experienced this in the first person at the start of his career, when he was a secondary school teacher. In the classroom, he would make his students sit in circles until one day a deputy headmaster told him to stop doing so, that he should make them sit in straight rows and teach them what authority was. “I couldn’t give a theoretical answer to what I was experiencing on a pedagogical level,” he laments. This changed a short time later when he was able to read Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire: “It changed my life…”