Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn't break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aversion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resignation. The utopian moment in thinking is stronger the less it...objectifies itself into a utopia and hence sabotages its realization. Open thinking points beyond itself.
The attack against Middle Eastern studies as well as other engaged areas of the social sciences and humanities has opened the door to a whole new level of assault on academic freedom, teacher authority, and critical pedagogy. These attacks are much more widespread and, in my estimation, much more dangerous than the McCarthyite campaign several decades ago. Trading upon the ongoing corporatization of the university, its increasing reliance on non-government financial resources, and its vulnerability to outside criticism, a number of right-wing advocacy groups are now targeting higher education, alleging it is not only a breeding ground for cultivating anti-Israel and anti-capital sentiments but also a hot-bed of politicized pedagogical encounters considered both discriminatory against conservative students and un-American in their critical orientation. Invoking academic freedom is crucial for maintaining the university as democratic public sphere, but it is equally essential to defend critical pedagogy as a condition of civic responsibility and teaching as a deliberate act of intervening in the world as part of the goal of encouraging students to think about justice and to question "the ostensibly unquestionable premises of our way of life."
While most defenders of the university as a democratic public sphere rightly argue that the right-wing assault on the academy levels a serious threat to academic freedom, they have largely ignored the crucial issue that the very nature of pedagogy as a political, moral, and critical practice is at stake, particularly the role it plays in presupposing a view of the world that is more just, democratic, and free from human suffering. Robert Ivie has argued rightly that academic freedom in its basic form "means unfettered scholarly inquiry, a scholar's fundamental right of research, publication, and instruction free of institutional constraint." But it is pedagogy that begs both a more spirited defense and analysis so that it can be protected against the challenges that David Horowitz, ACTA, SAF, Campus Watch, and others are initiating against what actually takes place in classrooms devoted to critical engagement, dialogue, research, and debate. Pedagogy at its best is about neither training nor political indoctrination; instead, it is about a political and moral practice that provides the knowledge, skills, and social relations that enable students to expand the possibilities of what it means to be critical citizens while using their knowledge and skills to deepen and extend their participation in a substantive and inclusive democracy. Rather than assume the mantle of a false impartiality, pedagogy recognizes that education and teaching involve the crucial act of intervening in the world and the recognition that human life is conditioned, not determined. The responsibility of pedagogy amounts to more than becoming the instrument of official power or an apologist for the existing order. Critical pedagogy attempts to understand how power works through the production, distribution, and consumption of knowledge within particular institutional contexts and seeks to constitute students as particular subjects and social agents. It is also invested in both the practice of self-criticism about the values that inform our teaching and a critical self-consciousness regarding what it means to equip students with analytical skills to be self-reflective about the knowledge and values they confront in classrooms.
What makes critical pedagogy so dangerous to Christian evangelicals, neoconservatives, and right-wing nationalists in the United States is that central to its very definition is the task of educating students to become critical agents who actively question and negotiate the relationships between theory and practice, critical analysis and common sense, and learning and social change. Critical pedagogy opens up a space where students should be able to come to terms with their own power as critical agents; it provides a sphere where the unconditional freedom to question and assert is central to the purpose of the university, if not democracy itself. And as a political and moral practice, pedagogy should "make evident the multiplicity and complexity of history," as a narrative to enter into critical dialogue with rather than accept unquestioningly. Similarly, such a pedagogy should cultivate in students a healthy scepticism about power, a "willingness to temper any reverence for authority with a sense of critical awareness." As a performative practice, pedagogy should provide the conditions for students to be able to reflectively frame their own relationship to the ongoing project of an unfinished democracy. It is precisely this relationship between democracy and pedagogy that is so threatening to conservatives such as Horowitz. Pedagogy always represents a commitment to the future, and it remains the task of educators to make sure that the future points the way to a more socially just world, a world in which the discourses of critique and possibility in conjunction with the values of reason, freedom, and equality function to alter, as part of a broader democratic project, the grounds upon which life is lived. This is hardly a prescription for political indoctrination, but it is a project that gives education its most valued purpose and meaning, which in part is "to encourage human agency, not mold it in the manner of Pygmalion." It is also a position that threatens right-wing private advocacy groups, neoconservative politicians, and conservative extremists because they recognize that such a pedagogical commitment goes to the very heart of what it means to address real inequalities of power at the social level and to conceive of education as a project for democracy and critical citizenship while at the same time foregrounding a series of important and often ignored questions such as: "Why do we [as educators] do what we do the way we do it"? Whose interests does higher education serve? How might it be possible to understand and engage the diverse contexts in which education takes place? In spite of the right-wing view that equates indoctrination with any suggestion of politics, critical pedagogy is not simply concerned with offering students new ways to think critically and act with authority as agents in the classroom; it is also concerned with providing students with the skills and knowledge necessary for them to expand their capacities both to question deep-seated assumptions and myths that legitimate the most archaic and disempowering social practices that structure every aspect of society and to take responsibility for intervening in the world they inhabit. Education is not neutral, but that does not mean it is merely a form of indoctrination. On the contrary, as a practice that attempts to expand the capacities necessary for human agency and hence the possibilities for democracy itself, the university must nourish those pedagogical practices that promote "a concern with keeping the forever unexhausted and unfulfilled human potential open, fighting back all attempts to foreclose and pre-empt the further unravelling of human possibilities, prodding human society to go on questioning itself and preventing that questioning from ever stalling or being declared finished." In other words, critical pedagogy forges both critique and agency through a language of scepticism and possibility and a culture of openness, debate, and engagement, all elements that are now at risk in the latest and most dangerous attack on higher education.
The attack on pedagogy is, in part, an attempt to deskill teachers and dismantle teacher authority. Teachers can make a claim to being fair, but not to being either neutral or impartial. Teacher authority can never be neutral, nor can it be assessed in terms that are narrowly ideological. It is always broadly political and interventionist in terms of the knowledge-effects it produces, the classroom experiences it organizes, and the future it presupposes in the countless ways in which it addresses the world. Teacher authority at its best means taking a stand without standing still. It suggests that as educators we make a sincere effort to be self-reflective about the value-laden nature of our authority while taking on the fundamental task of educating students to take responsibility for the direction of society. Rather than shrink from our political responsibility as educators, we should embrace one of pedagogy's most fundamental goals: to teach students to believe that democracy is desirable and possible. Connecting education to the possibility of a better world is not a prescription for indoctrination; rather it marks the distinction between the academic as a technician and the teacher as a self-reflective educator who is more than the instrument of a safely approved and officially sanctioned worldview.
The authority that enables academics to teach emerges out of the education, knowledge, research, professional rituals, and scholarly experiences that they bring to their field of expertise and classroom teaching. Such authority provides the space and experience in which pedagogy goes beyond providing the conditions for the simple acts of knowing and understanding and includes the cultivation of the very power of self-definition and critical agency. But teacher authority cannot be grounded exclusively in the rituals of professional academic standards. Learning occurs in a space in which commitment and passion provide students with a sense of what it means to link knowledge to a sense of direction. Teaching is a practice rooted in an ethico-political vision that attempts to take students beyond the world they already know, in a way that does not insist on a particular fixed set of altered meanings. In this context, teacher authority rests on pedagogical practices that reject the role of students as passive recipients of familiar knowledge and view them instead as producers of knowledge, who not only critically engage diverse ideas but also transform and act on them. Pedagogy is the space that provides a moral and political referent for understanding how what we do in the classroom is linked to wider social, political, and economic forces.
It is impossible to separate what we do in the classroom from the economic and political conditions that shape our work, and that means that pedagogy has to be understood as a form of academic labor in which questions of time, autonomy, freedom, and power become as central to the classroom as what is taught. As a referent for engaging fundamental questions about democracy, pedagogy gestures to important questions about the political, institutional, and structural conditions that allow teachers to produce curricula, collaborate with colleagues, engage in research, and connect their work to broader public issues. Pedagogy is not about balance, a merely methodological consideration; on the contrary, as Cornelius Castoriadis reminds us, if education is not to become "the political equivalent of a religious ritual," it must do everything possible to provide students with the knowledge and skills they need to learn how to deliberate, make judgments, and exercise choice, particularly as the latter is brought to bear on critical activities that offer the possibility of democratic change. Democracy cannot work if citizens are not autonomous, self-judging, and independent -- qualities that are indispensable for students if they are going to make vital judgments and choices about participating in and shaping decisions that affect everyday life, institutional reform, and governmental policy. Hence, pedagogy becomes the cornerstone of democracy in that it provides the very foundation for students to learn not merely how to be governed, but also how to be capable of governing.
One gets the sense that conservative educators from Lynne Cheney to Ann D. Neal to David Horowitz believe that there is no place in the classroom for politics, worldly concerns, social issues, and questions about how to lessen human suffering. In this discourse, the classroom becomes an unworldly counterpart to the gated community, a space for conformity in which the meaning of education is largely reduced to respecting students' "comfort zones" and to perpetuating current governmental and social practices, however corrupt and antidemocratic. This is a form of education, as Howard Zinn notes, where scholars "publish while others perish." This is not education; it is a flight from self and society. Its outcome is not a student who feels a responsibility to others and who feels that her presence in the world matters, but one who feels the presence of difference as an unbearable burden to be contained or expelled. The importance of academics as engaged intellectuals, the necessity of making education worldly and pedagogy a moral and political practice, has been captured in a different context by Edward Said in his discussion of the role of the public intellectual. He wrote:
So in the end it is the intellectual as a representative figure that matters--someone who visibly represents a standpoint of some kind, and someone who makes articulate representations to his or her public despite all sorts of barriers. My argument is that intellectuals are individuals with a vocation for the art of representing ... And that vocation is important to the extent that it is publicly recognizable and involves both commitment and risk, boldness and vulnerability. ...The intellectual ... is neither a pacifier nor a consensus-builder, but someone whose whole being is staked on a critical sense, a sense of being unwilling to accept easy formulas, or ready-made clichés, or the smooth, ever-so-accommodating confirmations of what the powerful or conventional have to say, and what they do. Not just passively unwilling, but actively willing to say so in public.
Given the seriousness of the current attack on higher education by an alliance of diverse right-wing forces, it is difficult to understand why liberals, progressives, and left-oriented educators have been relatively silent in the face of this assault. There is much more at stake in this attack on the university than the issue of academic freedom. First and foremost is the concerted attempt by right-wing extremists and corporate interests to strip the professoriate of any authority, render critical pedagogy as merely an instrumental task, eliminate tenure as a protection for teacher authority, and remove critical reason from any vestige of civic courage, engaged citizenship, and social responsibility. The three academic unions have a combined membership of almost 200,000, including graduate students and adjuncts, and yet they have barely stirred. In part, they are quiet because they are under the illusion that tenure will protect them, or they believe the attack on academic freedom has little to do with how they perform their academic labor. They are wrong on both counts, and unless the unions and progressives mobilize to protect the institutionalized relationships between democracy and pedagogy, teacher authority and classroom autonomy, they will be at the mercy of a right-wing revolution that views democracy as an excess and the university as a threat.
The current assault on the academy is first and foremost an attack not only on the conditions that make critical pedagogy possible, but also on what it might mean to raise questions about the real problems facing higher education today, which include the increasing role of adjunct faculty, the instrumentalization of knowledge, the rise of an expanding national security state, the hijacking of the university by corporate interests, and the increasing attempts by right-wing extremists to turn education into job training or into an extended exercise in patriotic xenophobia. Pedagogy must be understood as central to any discourse about academic freedom, but, more importantly, it must be understood as the most crucial referent we have for understanding politics and defending the university as one of the very few remaining democratic public spheres in the United States today.
1 Theodor W. Adorno, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, ed. J. M. Bernstein (New York: Routledge, 1991), p. 292.
2 See Joel Beinin, "The New McCarthyism: Policing Thought about the Middle East," in Academic Freedom after September 11, ed. Beshara Doumani (New York: Zone Books, 2006).
3 Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), p. 5.
4 I have taken up the issues of critical pedagogy, democracy, and schooling in a number of books. See most recently, Henry A. Giroux, Border Crossings (New York: Routledge, 2005); Democracy on the Edge (New York: Palgrave, 2006); The Giroux Reader, ed. Christopher Robbins (Boulder: Paradigm, 2006); and Henry A. Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux, Take Back Higher Education (New York: Palgrave, 2006).
5 Robert Ivie, "Academic Freedom and Political Heresy," IU Progressive Faculty Coalition Forum (October 3, 2005), http://www.indiana.edu/~ivieweb/academicfreedom.htm
6 Jacques Derrida, "The Future of the Profession or the Unconditional University," p. 233.
7 Edward Said, Reflections on Exile and Other Essays (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 501.
8 Stanley Aronowitz, "Introduction," in Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom (Boulder: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998), pp. 10--11.
9 Zygmunt Bauman and Keith Tester, Conversations with Zygmunt Bauman (Malden: Polity Press, 2001), p. 4.
10 Chandra Mohanty, "On Race and Voice: Challenges for Liberal Education in the 1990s," Cultural Critique (Winter 1989-1990), p. 192.
11 Cornelius Castoriadis, "Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime," Constellations 4:1 (1997), p. 5.
12 Howard Zinn, On History (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2001), p. 178.
13 Edward Said, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Pantheon, 1994), pp. 12--13, 22--23.
Henry Giroux is Global Televbision Network Chair in Communications at McMaster University.