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

By Stanley Aronowitz; Henry Giroux | Go to book overview

SEVEN

Curriculum Theory and the Language of Possibility

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN school culture and power has suffered traditionally from the unwillingness of conservative and critical educators to give serious consideration to how schools as political sites both repress and produce subjectivities. The key term here is “both,” a term that suggests that schools not only constitute subjectivities through language, knowledge, and social practices, but also function in a related fashion to discredit, disorganize and dismantle specific ways of experiencing and making sense of the world. Conservative educators, for example, have focused on the production and maintenance of what is legitimated as a universal set of symbolic values and knowledge forms. 1 This defense of, call it high culture, classical culture or simply a common culture has also found support among many progressive educators who have criticized schools less for reproducing it in the curriculum than for failing to democratize dominant school culture to make it accessible to all students.

On the other hand, the leading tradition within radical educational theory has argued that curricula and school culture share a particular relationship with ruling class forms of social life and function to primarily repress those active forms of cultural capital that express and affirm the histories, languages and social practices of subordinate groups. In this view, culture becomes a political category linked to the power of a ruling class to define its own values and practices as universal and beyond reproach. 2

We hold that both of these pedagogical positions share a view of power and curriculum theory that disables rather than enables critical learning and social transformation. Power is something that either works through the curriculum in a way that goes unquestioned, specifically as it defines what counts as legitimate forms of school knowledge, or is seen as a negative instance of social control that represses the possibilities for struggle and resistance. In either case, power loses its dialectical quality as a positive and negative force that works both on and through people. Consequently, the notion of historical agency in both positions (and their

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