Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Cliff’s notes of Giroux’s Chapter #moocmooc


I love reading Giroux. I do. When I started discovering Critical Pedagogy,i read several of his books, devouring them, nodding vigorously, then… Coming out empty. No notes, no insights I could take back to my thesis. I put this down to my own stupidity, my ignorance of what he really meant, or what it implied for pedagogical practice. I thought I was learning something useful, that I could take back with me to my practice. Truth was, I learned a lot, I just didn’t know what to do with it. Yet. Near the end of my PhD I was better able to use parts of Giroux in my work, but here’s the thing: he writes a lot, but he doesn’t always say something new each time. He critiques neoliberalism and corporatization of education; he argues for transformative critical pedagogy. That pedagogy is a cultural politics, that pedagogical is always political as Sarah wrote recently. That teachers and academics are public intellectuals. This was all new to me back then, now it’s second nature for me to think this way, see the world that way.

I thought, am I really going to read another Giroux chapter for #moocmooc, or can I just ignore it and work with what i know of Giroux from years of reading (i ended up referencing 9 of his texts in my thesis)? Giroux wrote about resistance and agency way back in the 1980s (there is a really good article critiquing theories of cultural reproduction for lacking enough reference to resistance and agency – i’ll post the reference at the end).

The thing is, the chapter for this week has something special. It attempts to bridge the gap between critical theory, with its modernist grand narrative of empowerment, and postmodernism, with its appreciation of difference.

I particularly like the quotes he’s using by other authors, ones I had not read before. One of them an Egyptian postcolonial author, Samir Amin, which he quotes at the beginning, who explains his preference for the term ‘democratization’ to highlight the “dynamic aspect of a still-unfinished process” when using democracy is deceptive, as if the ideal exists.

I also really like the quote by Mouffe (p. 65 on my copy):

What we need is a hegemony of democratic values, and this requires a multiplication of democratic practices, institutionalizing them into ever more diverse social relations, so that a multiplicity of subject-positions can be formed through a democratic matrix.

Actually, I love that quote, but I hate it. I don’t feel comfortable calling the ultimate democracy of multiplicity a “hegemony” or to “institutionalize” it or make it into something as rigid-sounding as a matrix.

I do believe, in classroom critical pedagogy, in the idea of culturally relevant pedagogy (which i wrote about in my thesis and a recent EML article which I’ll republish openly soon). The basic idea is about seeking to empower students of different cultures by making classroom pedagogy relevant to their lives rather than having the teacher’s own or the school’s dominant culture be the arbitrator to what happens in class, what content is chosen, what process is used, etc. Having a more diverse student body would make any teacher realize they cannot achieve this alone, and so they need support from teachers of different cultures, but also more importantly of parents, and where possible to create space for students themselves to bring in their own cultures and interests into a classroom. This seems much more fluid to me than any matrix… That’s a way to address what Giroux refers to as a critical pedagogy project that serves real social needs (also Freire’s original ideas). Giroux also expands on it well on p. 67

Pedagogy must always be contextually defined, allowing it to respond specifically to the conditions, formations, and problems that arise in various sites in which education takes place.

I love that quote, agree with it, but am often left wondering why Giroux’s own writing is so often abstract and so rarely contextualized. Sure, the reader may contextualize the abstract for themselves… But i’m a critical/interpretive researcher – I like to create thick description and allow the reader to see my context fully before recontextualizing to their own needs. Because even though abstraction seems like it is less prescriptive, it also leaves the reader often bereft as to how to contextualize… How the theory applies in practice. Giroux’s writing makes a mistake he’s urging us to avoid. He’s urging us to see the big picture but not forget context, and yet he forgets to give us insight into his own context, which i am sure is rich and would be really insightful.

I’m sorry i won’t have time today to go into details of how i myself contextualize my critical pedagogical practice, but i’ve written about it a lot, here and here and here.

Most of what Giroux says in this whole chapter is what he says all the time. If you’re new to reading him, enjoy. If you’ve read him before…i’m not sure why he’s doing this. He’s making obvious points (for any critical pedagogue) about unequal relations of power and the responsibility of the teacher to not pretend they have no authority; to use their position to help students mediate critically the struggles beyond the classroom and in the world. Ok, maybe this reading was not meant for me 🙂 But i re-read other critical pedagogues like Freire, hooks and Ellsworth with much less resentment, i re-read the SAME texts with joy. This is one of Giroux’s that i had not read before and yet it seems to be saying little that’s new.

There is an interesting part where he cites Felman who talks about “resistance to knowledge”, and ignorance as a “desire to ignore” – and that the project of teaching is to deal with those. (P. 72 here).

So I am going to end this with a request – if anyone knows any of Giroux’s writing that focuses on his own pedagogy or practice, I’d love to see it. Maybe it’s out there somewhere and I missed it. But it seems to me that he just wrote a chapter on how to reconcile postmodern thinking with enlightenment grand narrative, but he wrote it as a grand narrative (even though i know he’s written more about postmodernism elsewhere) and did not, in fact, go into sufficient detail of how multiplicity of views would challenge the very grand narratives he’s seeking to untangle…

Or am I reading something wrong? Ann Gagne recently talked about access and accessibility, and it’s not about technology or access to books, it’s also about accessibility of one’s writing to readers, and even though Giroux’s texts are not difficult to comprehend, they’re not as accessible to my mind than they could be.

The reference I promised….
Giroux, H. A. (1983). Theories of reproduction and resistance in the new sociology of education: A critical analysis. Harvard educational review, 53(3), 257-293.‏


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