Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Era

Article excerpt


"When a society wishes to commit suicide, consumerism works quite well." This was one of the graffiti images I had recently noticed on my college campus, and it aroused my thoughts on the role of consumerism and the free market in public life. As I began to read Henry Giroux and Susan Searls-Giroux's book Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Era, I began to notice the role of market forces in controlling public spaces such as the university and how this control could, in turn, affect our future as a society and our notion of democracy. The graffiti writer's statement seemed to reflect much of what Giroux and Searls-Giroux speak clearly of in this timely read.

Take Back Higher Education is densely informative with topics spanning from civic education post 9/11 to the effects of neoliberalism on concepts such as democracy, higher education, and liberal arts education, to the role of cultural studies in the academy, the politics of the war in Iraq, the social neglect of youth, and the conservative backlash to Black education in the post-Civil Rights era. In well-articulated arguments, the authors explain the implications for the radical and liberal educator alike. The future of democracy in America and public higher education as a democratic space relies on the ability of educators to understand the interconnectedness of the topics the authors discuss. I will focus my review on the challenge that the authors present educators, but urge readers to discover the book in its entirety.

Take Back Higher Education delineates America's skeptical view of public education, the demise of democracy in a neoliberal age, and the role that educators in higher education must play in fighting for democracy and in preparing students for active participation in a democratic society. The book is divided into three interrelated sections. In the first section Giroux and Searls-Giroux focus their analysis on attacks on the university post 9-11, the national and international impact of the wars in Iraq on today's youth, the role of intellectuals in sustaining democracy, and the role of cultural studies in resisting the influences of neoliberalism. The second section describes the historical conflict and demarcation of citizenship in American society and its implications for civic and liberal arts education. The section analyzes how embattlement over citizenship, particularly with regards to a racially ascribed notion of citizenry (where citizenship is a matter of being versus a matter of doing), has impacted Black education in the United States.

The third section deals with the breaking of the social contract between the youth and the adults of U.S. society. The authors suggest that, at one point, youth were viewed as a viable population worth investing in and fighting for, ensuring the future success of our society. However, the Reagan/Thatcher epoch introduced the idea that, in Thatcher's words, "there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families." One consequence of this is the demonization of youth. The authors explore how minority youth in particular are perceived as problematic, troublesome, and to be controlled. Moreover, the conservative solution to "fixing youth" is to reduce social problems such as economic inequalities down to an issue of personal irresponsibility. Instead of investing funds into social programs, neoliberalism aims to reduce or completely eliminate funding for social welfare programs and privatize all public institutions. The authors argue that allowing the hand of the market to determine the fate of the social good comes at the expense of democracy and civic responsibility. The university is one of many public institutions in jeopardy of privatization as a result of neoliberal policies. …


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