Home > Uncategorized > Henry Giroux Names the Crisis in Public Education: “…The Precondition for the Rise of an American Version of Fascism”

Henry Giroux Names the Crisis in Public Education: “…The Precondition for the Rise of an American Version of Fascism”

June 26, 2018

An opening sentence in a paragraph in a recent Truthout article by Henry Giroux, a reliably thought provoking writer, provides an accurate synthesis of the consequences of the neoliberal “reform” movement. He describes the last three decades as:

…a neoliberal script for the social abandonment of public goods, the termination of the democratic ethos and the precondition for the rise of an American version of fascism.

This succinct synopsis is presented in the context of the wildcat strikes that emerged during the past school year in West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma, wildcat strikes that not only regained some ground for the teachers in those states but also regained some public support for the work teachers do. He concluded that paragraph with this:

What is particularly promising about these widespread protest movements is that they have the potential to move public consciousness toward a wide-ranging recognition in which the assaults on public schooling will be understood as part of a larger war on schools, on youth, and on the very possibility of teaching and learning, and that these struggles cannot be separated.

Mr. Giroux senses that when States like AZ, WV, and OK ravage the wages, benefits and working conditions of teachers it resonates with those voters who have been similarly treated by the corporations that cast them aside in the name of profits:

Protests against the gutting of teacher salaries, pensions and health care benefits are not simply about school budgets. They are also about a larger politics in which big corporations and the financial elite have waged a war on democracy and instituted polices that produce a massive redistribution of wealth upward into the hands of the ruling elite. Energized young people and teachers are creating a new optics for both change and the future.

Mr. Giroux concludes his compelling essay with this call to arms that is at once radical and optimistic. His heading for the concluding paragraphs, which is the source of the excerpts provided below, is “A Mass Movement to Resist Neoliberalism”:

The teacher strikes and walkouts point to a grassroots movement that will no longer allow the apostles of neoliberalism, the Republican and Democratic parties, and the financial elite to ruthlessly take apart public education. Implicit in the current walkouts and strikes is the necessity of such groups to learn from each other, share power and work to create a mass-based social movement. This type of social formation is all the more crucial given that no one movement or group organized around singular issues can defeat the prevailing concentrated economic and political forces of casino capitalism. Given the public support the striking teachers have received, it is crucial that such a struggle connect the struggle over schools to a broader struggle that appeals to parents who still view public schooling as one of the few avenues their children have for economic and social mobility. At the same time, it is crucial for the striking teachers to make the case to a larger public that without a quality and accessible public education system, the protective and crucial public spaces provided by a real democracy are endangered and could be lost.

…If American society is to offset the deeply anti-democratic populist revolt that has put a fascist government in power in the United States, progressives and others need a new language that connects the crisis of schooling to the crisis of democracy while at the same time rejecting the equation of capitalism and democracy. The attack on public schooling is symptomatic of a more profound crisis that involves the extension of market principles to every facet of power, culture and everyday life. Public schooling is under siege along with the values and social relations that give viable meaning to the common good, economic justice and democracy itself.

Striking teachers have recognized that any radical call for educational reform demands more than a call for salary increases, adequate pensions and school resources. Demands for radical educational reforms also necessitate what Martin Luther King Jr. once called a “revolution of values.”

This would suggest a radical reworking of the language of freedom, autonomy, equality and justice that refused to be articulated with the neoliberal spheres of privatization, consumer culture, deregulation, and a politics of terminal exclusion, disposability and the acceleration of the unwanted. Schools can no longer be viewed as zones of political, economic and social abandonment.The striking teachers across the nation are making clear that everyone has the right to live in both an educated society and a democracy, and that you cannot have one without the other. Hopefully, they can learn from past historical battles while leading the struggle to merge a number of different movements for a radical democracy….

The striking teachers hopefully will turn a moment into a movement, and in doing so, make clear that there is no contradiction between the struggle for quality public schools and fighting other injustices such as poverty, mass incarceration, unchecked inequality, massive student debt, systemic violence, escalating militarization of society and the war on the planet…  The brutal neoliberal fascism of the moment can only be defeated if teachers, young people and grassroots activists develop alliances and develop new topographies for addressing the root causes of the current brutal despotism and loss of faith in democratic institutions — that means a strong anti-capitalist movement.

The struggle over public education has ignited new modes of criticism that contain the potential to build a mass movement from the bottom up and translate single-issue demands into wider expectations for social change and alternative visions for a democratically socialist United States. Hopefully, this movement will continue to be guided by the kind of energy and insight that Ursula K. Le Guin once articulated: “We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.

If we do not foster an environment of justice and freedom in our public schools, we will lost the ability of students to imagine such a world. We are already creating an environment in schools where teachers are expected to read from scripts to prepare students for standardized tests that are used to sort them into social classes. Can such an environment coexist with an environment where justice and freedom are taught?


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