POLITICS OF EDUCATION ASSOCIATION YEARBOOK, 1996, 101-110
Catherine A. Lugg
New Brunswick, New Jersey
Within the profession of American education, there has been a movement towards embracing various notions of 'critical pedagogy' in the hopes of revitalizing fragile communities, especially in urban areas. Heartened by a possibly neo-progressive approach towards education, teachers, administrators, and especially academicians are exploring once again what it means to be an educated citizen in an increasingly heterogeneous democratic republic. Words such as 'community', critְical', and 'empowerment', while at times ill-defined, abound in the professional literature. There appears to be growing professional consensus that public education should inculcate the values of tolerance, understanding, and an appreciation of difference: seemingly uncontroversial norms considered vital to the health of democracy.
Much of this recent pedagogical work has been grounded in the tenets of critical theory, or the Frankfurt School (Hlebowitsh 1992). Critical pedagogy, an intellectual descendant, is specifically concerned with power and oppression and how they are made manifest within a given society. It examines and critiques how certain cultural groups learn to accept, engage in, and/or resist oppression as transmissed through the public schools and that broader society (Giroux 1983). Such a focus is, of course, educational. Critical pedagogy also contains immediate and profound political implications. If public education is to develop 'critical thinkers' who engage and dissect (deconstruct?) the myriad social constructions of 'reality', public education, in conjunction with like-minded individuals, has the potential of radically transforming the social and political landscape of the United States (Giroux 1992). If not explicitly a societal panacea (Perkinson 1991), public schooling might become a liberating tonic for historically marginalized groups, such as African and Hispanic Americans, poor people, gays and lesbians, to name just a few.
However, critical pedagogy fails to address the political depth and strength of the current dominant ideology, American conservative ideology. If schools of education are embracing one collection of political and educational ideals and their constituent symbols (i.e. critical pedagogy), the present political environment reflects quite another (i.e. American conservative ideology). It appears that a symbolic crusade is being waged for power and influence regarding the direction of US public education (Gusfield 1963), with professional educators and religious and political conservatives at philosophical loggerheads over what is meant by the term community. Additionally, schools of education appear to be strangely ill-equipped and unwilling to acknowledge their growing irrelevance in these increasingly rancorous political debates. Employing the methodologies of political historiography (Tuck 1991) and
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