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Giroux on ‘Education after Abu Ghraib’

March 17, 2013

Because school is one of the settings that structure adolescence (invent it, shape it, create it, etc.), I found what Henry Giroux wrote about ‘Education after Abu Ghraib’ interesting. For example, (drawing on Adorno,) he states that:

“…a reckless moralism that divides the world into good and evil has replaced the possibility of dialogue and debate. Within such a climate, blind authority demands as it rewards authoritarian behaviour so as to make power and domination appear beyond the pale of criticism or change, providing the political and educational conditions for eliminating self-reflection and compassion even in the face of the most sadistic practices and imperial ambitions.” (p.805)

“The discourse of empire must be deconstructed and replaced in our schools and other sites of pedagogy with new global models of democracy, models grounded in an ethics and morality in which the relationship between the self and others extends beyond the chauvinism of national boundaries and embraces a new and critical understanding of the interdependencies of the world and its implications for citizenship in global democracy. Memory must
serve as a bulwark against the discourse of empire, which is often built on the erasure of historical struggles and conflicts. Memory in this instance is more than counter-knowledge, it is a form of resistance, a resource through which to wage pedagogical and political struggles to recover those narratives, traditions and values that remind students and others of the graphic nature of suffering that unfolded in the aftermath of America’s claims for a permanent war on terrorism. Appeals to American exceptionalism and the obligations of empire building sound hollow in the face of the monstrosities they produce; yet, such appeals also legitimize a process of othering, demonizing those who are not included by appeals to human dignity, human rights and international law. At the heart of Adorno’s concern with education was the call to create pedagogical practices in which we supplement knowledge with self-criticism. Self and social criticism was for Adorno a crucial element of autonomy, but criticism was not enough. Agency as a political force mattered in that it was not only capable of saying no to abusive power, but also because it could [-p.807] imagine itself as a mechanism for changing the world. As a condition of politics and collective struggle, agency requires being able to engage democratic values, principles, and practices as a force for resistance and hope in order to challenge unquestioned modes of authority while also enabling individuals to connect such principles and values to ‘the world in which they lived as citizens’ (Said 2004, p. 6). Adorno’s plea for education rests on the assumption that human beings make both knowledge and history, rather than it simply washing over them. For Adorno, critical reflection was the essence of all genuine education as well as politics. Ongoing reflection provided the basis for individuals to become autonomous by revealing the human origins of institutions and as such the recognition that society could be open to critique and change. Politics is thus theorized as a practical effort to link freedom to agency in the service of extending the promise of democratic institutions, values, and social relations. The capacity for self-knowledge, self-critique and autonomy becomes more powerful when it is nourished within pedagogical spaces and sites that refuse to be parochial, that embrace difference over bigotry, global democracy over chauvinism, peace over militarism, and secularism over religious fundamentalism.” (pp.806-807)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Henry A. Giroux (2004): Education after Abu Ghraib, Cultural Studies, 18:6, 779-815


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