On April 8, 2010, Henry Giroux took on Roosevelt Auditorium at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, Michigan, to let out some frank truths about the world we live in and the future awaiting youth.
Giroux's talk, "Shattered Bonds: Youth in a Suspect Society and the Politics of Disposability," railed unambiguously against neoliberalism, against the "mindless, stupid" practice of teaching to the test, against the contempt with which society often treats youth (and more so those cut across class and color lines), against casino capitalism and against a culture of cruelty that insists "any form of dependency whatsoever is somehow a weakness."
In recent years, "democracy has taken a major hit." And for great study on how precarious matters are, Giroux urged attendants to look to the plights of youth. With zero-tolerance policies taking greater precedence - and financial resources - over the welfare of students, "punishing young people seems to be far more important than educating them."
In the name of school security and order, 5-year-olds are handcuffed and hauled out of classrooms for throwing tantrums. In the name of school security and order, 11-year-olds are suspended for swinging into school with "Tweety Bird" key chains. In the name of school security and order, 10-year-olds are slapped around and tasered for acting unruly and refusing to buckle under police officers' commands.
"I can't understand," Giroux complained, "where logic could possibly prevail to justify not just such a lapse in judgment, but an indifference to something as abusive as what Dick Cheney would have called an Act of Terrorism."
Evoking Claude Brown's classic work "Manchild in the Promised Land," Giroux spoke of man-children in an increasingly unpromising land: children suffering greatly from the stinginess of an affluent society, children "forced to grow up too quickly." One in four American children can't climb out of poverty; 13 million go hungry daily; one in three rank either obese or overweight - "and we bail out the banks."
In many public school curricula, the values upon which a livable and manageable society structures itself don't find much attention. In place of education for agency, students are drilled down with standardized testing. In exchange for critical thinking about social dynamics, students learn not to question authority if they desire good grades. In lieu of democratic engagement to nourish valuable educational experiences, students are confronted with a hierarchical complex in which their concerns don't register high.
"I mean, there is a thoughtlessness in education that has emerged with this emphasis on testing and stripped-down pedagogy and teacher-proof curriculum," Giroux lashed. "It's an assault on everything that is decent and basic about education. It's an assault on creativity. It's an assault on kids. And that method may be good for measuring the heights of trees, but it has nothing to do with education. Nothing!"
On the Obama education proposal: "Race-to-the-Top and jump off the building."
On the current secretary of education: "Instead of wise, philosophical intellectuals - Duncan: He doesn't know if he's on a basketball court or if he's in a classroom. He can't tell."
On the current president: "Obama is a lovely man, personally. But that doesn't count."
On expanding accountable democracy, addressing concerns of youth and reclaiming public values for civic participation: "I give him a D - on all three."
Giroux's thunderous talk, however, addressed far more than this short introduction documents. And in the midst of bleak realities, he called for hope, for critical hope, to inspire an awakening of the mind, heart and hands.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
April 8, 2010
Porter Chair Lecture
Eastern Michigan University