Fifty Modern Thinkers on Education: From Piaget to the Present Day

By Joy A. Palmer | Go to book overview

HENRY GIROUX 1943-

Radical pedagogy needs a vision-one that celebrates not what is but what could be, that looks beyond the immediate to the future and links struggle to a new set of human possibilities. 1

Few academics in recent educational history have succeeded like Giroux in combining stunning, inspiring polemic with rigorous academic scholarship. His compelling arguments and dazzling language, Nietzschean in its aphoristic power, hold out the possibility for radical, critical pedagogy to further equality, democracy and humanity, which he sees as currently under threat across the world.

Henry Giroux received his doctorate from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1977, writing on curriculum theory, sociology and sociology of education. He taught at Boston University from 1977-83, and then at Miami University from 1983-92, being Professor of Education and Renowned Scholar in Residence. From 1992 he has been the Waterbury Chair Professor of Secondary Education at Penn State University.

There are several key focuses in his major works, for example: equality, democracy, cultural politics, critical pedagogy, teachers as transformative intellectuals, the promotion of human dignity and the reduction of oppression in various forms. It is notable that Giroux not only returns to these focuses repeatedly throughout his work, but that he expands the field of their embrace over time, moving to a recognition of the connectedness between education and multiple other sites of cultural production and struggle. For Giroux, education has to break beyond the confines of schooling; that immediately inserts education into the public sphere and renders it intensely and inescapably political.

Giroux's early work draws heavily on the Frankfurt School, particularly Horkheimer, Adorno, Marcuse and Habermas. He critiques the dominance of the controlling and dehumanizing mentality of instrumental reason for its perpetuation of inequality in society. He argues that education is more than a site simply of cultural reproduction 2 which serves to empower the already-empowered in society and to maintain the marginalization of the disempowered. Rather, he suggests, schools should be sites of resistance, contestation, agency, cultural struggle, challenge to a cultural hegemony which stigmatizes, marginalizes, oppresses and excludes significant portions of the population. He argues against reproduction theorists such as Bowles and Gintis and Bourdieu, whom he criticizes for their mechanistic views of social reproduction through education and their neglect of the possibility for intervening in, or breaking the cycle of, reproduction. He sees in these authors an overdetermination of structure at the expense of an adequate account of human agency.

Schools, in Giroux's view, should be sites of cultural production and transformation rather than reproduction; they should be sites of empowerment and emancipation of individuals and groups within a just society, enabling individual and collective autonomy to be promoted in participatory democracies that embrace a diversity and plurality of cultures and social groups. This is a view of democracy as a celebration of difference and diversity rather than as serving the agenda of an élite, powerful minority or

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