Education under Siege: The Conservative, Liberal and Radical Debate over Schooling

By Stanley Aronowitz; Henry Giroux | Go to book overview

TWO

Teaching and the Role of the Transformative Intellectual

A STRANGE PARADOX haunts the discourse regarding the crisis facing public education in the United States. 1 On the one hand, this crisis is characterized as a failure of the schools to prepare students adequately for the ever changing demands of a sophisticated technological economy. It is also described by less vocal critics as the growing failure of schools to prepare students to think critically and creatively with regard to developing the sophisticated literacy skills necessary to make informed and effective choices about the worlds of work, politics, culture, personal relationships, and the economy. Underlying both sets of criticisms is the notion that schools have failed to take the issues of excellence and creativity seriously and in doing so have undermined the economic and academic possibilities that could be conferred upon both students and the larger society.

On the other hand, educational reformers have responded to the crises in public education by primarily offering solutions that either ignore the roles of teachers in preparing learners to be active and critical citizens, or they suggest reforms that ignore the intelligence, judgment, and experience that teachers might bring to bear on such issues. The call for excellence and improved student creativity has been accompanied by policy suggestions that further erode the power teachers have over the conditions of their work while simultaneously proposing that administrators and teachers look outside of their schools for improvements and needed reforms. The result is that many of the educational reforms appear to reduce teachers to the status of low-level employees or civil servants whose main function is to implement reforms decided by experts in the upper levels of state and educational bureaucracies. Furthermore, such reforms embrace technological solutions that undermine the historical and cultural specificity of school life and further weaken the possibilities for school administrators and teachers to work with parents and local groups to improve schools. Underlying the paradox at work in the discourse of school reform is a dual failure: first, there is the growing public failure to recognize the central role that teachers must play in any

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