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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 3/26/18

Education as a Weapon of Struggle: Rethinking the Parkland Uprising in the Age of Mass Violence

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The Truth About Public Education!
The Truth About Public Education!
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Under the regime of Donald Trump, the role of education in producing the formative cultures in and out of schools necessary to support critical thinking, civic courage, and critically engaged citizens appears to be disappearing. Words that speak to the truth and hold power accountable are in retreat as lies become normalized and the relationship between the truth and the citizen is treated either with disdain or simply ignored. The democratization of information has given way to the democratization of disinformation as disimagination machines proliferate and corporate controlled cultural apparatuses colonize the media and political landscapes.

One consequence is that historical memory is not only vanishing in a culture of immediacy, sensationalism, and "fake news," it is also being rewritten in school textbooks so as to eliminate dangerous memories and align the past with narratives that reinforce anti-democratic ideologies and social relations. [1] In the current historical moment, memory has no place in the dark cave of civic depravity -- a space where freedom is abandoned in an educational ecosystem where nothing is true, and the basis for criticizing power collapses under the spectacle of presidential bomb throwing-like tweets, endless spectacles of diversion, and high-level stretches of newspeak illiteracy.

At a time when political extremists and war mongers have moved from the margins of politics to the center of power, a culture of fear and cruelty becomes the essence of politics reinforced by the denigration and erasure of any viable notion of morality and personal and social responsibility. As notions of social justice and political visions fall prey to draconian notions of unchecked self-interest, greed is elevated to a national virtue, and the ethical imagination withers along with the public spheres that make it possible.

In the age of "fake news" everything that matters disappears, and institutions that were meant to address crucial social issues and problems begin to vanish. Notions of honesty, honor, respect, and compassion are increasingly policed and those who advocate them are either muzzled or punished. How else to explain the collective silence of Vichy-like Republicans supporting Trump's reign of horror and the cravenly actions of the mainstream media, which refuses to engage critically a society that has fallen into the abyss of fascism?

This flight from the ideal and promise of a substantive democracy is especially dangerous at a time in which a broad-based notion of authoritarian education has become central to politics, particularly in a digital age in which there is an overabundance of information and a proliferation of educational platforms from schools to the social media. In the age of Trump, education has lost its alleged role in cultivating an informed, critical citizenry capable of participating in and shaping a democratic society. Lost also is an educational vision that takes people beyond the world of common sense, functions as a form of provocation, teaches them to be creative, exposes individuals to a variety of great traditions, and creates the pedagogical conditions for individuals to expand the range of human possibilities. Under the influence of corporate power and a growing authoritarianism in the United States, education in multiple informal and formal platforms operates increasingly in the service of lies, racism, unadulterated market values, and a full-fledged assault on critical consciousness and public values. Under such circumstances, democracy is cast as the enemy of freedom, and politics turns dark.

These anti-democratic tendencies are evident in the ways in which neoliberalism since the 1980s has reshaped formal education at all levels into a site for training, inundating market values, and imposing commercial relations as a template for governing all of social life. Every idea, value, social relationship, value, institution, and form of knowledge runs the risk of being economized, turned into either a commodity, brand, or source of profits, or all of the latter. Increasingly aligned with market forces, public and higher education are mostly primed for teaching business principles and corporate values, while university administrators are prized as CEOs or bureaucrats in an audit culture. [2]

In addition, students are viewed as clients and customers while faculty are treated like service workers. Public education is especially under assault with the appointment of Betsy DeVos as the Secretary of Education. DeVos hates all things public and believes that beyond privatizing public education, her role is to "advance God's Kingdom" through the school system. [3]

Under the Trump administration, the role of education as a medium of culture is reduced to a tool of management, conformity, and repression. Operating through a conservative social media and right-wing radio and television platforms, education under Trump has become a powerful weapon to produce and distribute hate, bigotry, and reactionary policies. Moreover, it has become a commanding tool to legitimate a range of right-wing policies that constitute an assault on the environment, transgender people in the military, and undocumented immigrants, among others. It has also become a bullhorn for spreading conspiracy theories including the ridiculous and caustic claim by a number of right wing pundits that the student leaders and survivors of the Parkland mass shooting are either "crisis actors," bankrolled by George Soros, or pawns of left-wing gun control advocates. [4]

Operating in the service of a strictly instrumental rationality that erodes the boundaries between economic power and politics, enables a culture of racial exclusion, and furthers a politics of repression, education in a range of formal and informal sites is used to empty politics of any substance. With regards to higher education, students are not only inundated with the competitive, privatized, and market-driven values of neoliberalism, they are also punished by those values in the form of exorbitant tuition rates, crippling astronomical debt owed to banks and other financial institutions, and lack of meaningful employment. [5]

At the level of public education, too many students especially those marginalized by class and race are subject to disciplinary measures and oppressive forms of pedagogy that kill the imagination and increasingly criminalize student behavior. Solidarity, critical thought, and shared values are the enemy of Trump's notion of education and pedagogy, which serves largely to disdain public values while canceling out a democratic future for too many young people. All of these forces are exacerbated in the wider society through a notion of popular education that accelerates a modern day pandemic of fear, anxiety, anger, and despair.

What is often lost on the part of the left and progressives is that the educational force of the wider culture functions through a range of what the sociologist C. Wright Mills termed cultural apparatuses, which extend from the mainstream and conservative media to digital and online platforms that largely operate in the service of a commodified and authoritarian political media sphere that has become what Mort Rosenblum calls a "cesspool of misleading babble."[6] Trump has managed to shape the cultural landscape in ways that have unleashed a poisonous public pedagogy of sensationalism, easy consumption, bigotry, fear, militarism, and distraction. For instance, insightful and critical reporting is dismissed as "fake news," while corporate profiteers accelerate a culture of instant gratification and feed off spectacles of violence.

Against this backdrop of civic illiteracy lies Trump's 2018 budget, which adds $80 billion to the military's bloated machinery of death. All the while, Trump fills the Twitter world with an ongoing bombast of emotional drivel. Simultaneously, he appoints cabinet and other high ranking officials whose chief role is to dismantle those institutions central to a democracy: "its schools, courts, civil liberties, environment, natural wealth, and underlying morality."[7] Former chief strategist Steve Bannon makes visible and boasts about Trump's racist politics as he travels the globe proclaiming to his fascist friends that they should not be troubled if called a racist. In fact, he announced to a gathering of the National Front party in 2018 at their annual congress in France, "Let them call you racists. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor."[8]

Squandering America's moral authority, whatever is left, comes easy for Trump given his well publicized celebration of state violence and his endorsement of the use of torture. The latter provides a context for his nomination of Gina Haspel as the head of the CIA. Haspel once headed a secret "black site" prison in Thailand where Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was waterboarded three times. [9] Haspel "also participated in the controversial decision to destroy evidence of interrogation sessions in which detainees were subjected to waterboarding."[10] Another egregious example of Trump's militaristic and morally vacuous mind set can be seen in his appointment of John Bolton as Trump's National Security Advisor, whom Juan Cole has called a "war criminal."[11] Bolton is a jingoistic hawk and warmonger of the first order and resembles a mix between Brig. General Jack D. Ripper, the trigger-happy war loving character out of the film, Dr. Strangelove and the psychopathic, Patrick Bateman, the main character in American Psycho. Trump's facile appointment of militarists, war criminals, and his ruthless "law and order" policies point to both a rhetoric and set of practices that provide the ideological and political foundation for acts of domestic terrorism.

Domestic terrorism, defined in part as acts designed by the state "intimidate or coerce a civilian population"[12] now operates unapologetically at the highest levels of power as Trump rails against undocumented immigrants, advises police officers to rough up people they are arresting, and relentlessly cultivates "fear and contempt among ... white citizens against immigrants, indigenous people and people of color, who are placed on the other side of 'the law'."[13] In addition, Trump undermines the rule of law by attacking the courts and other legal institutions if they don't pander to his policies. Moreover, his implementation of his "law and order" agenda is highly selective, depending upon who is the perpetrator of the alleged crime, or who is considered a friend or enemy. If it is "illegals" or anyone in his target audience of "criminals," they should be roughed up by the police but if it is a friend such as Rob Porter, a former White House senior aide charged with abuse by both of his ex-wives, such accusations are simply dismissed by Trump.

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Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and dis the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books are America's Addiction to Terrorism (Monthly Review Press, 2016), and America at War with Itself (City Lights, 2017). He is also a contributing editor to a number of journals, includingTikkun, (more...)

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