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Critique is Not Enough


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color:black”>Mills, of course, was speaking more than half-a-century ago. In search of a more contemporary take on the matter, I spoke with Henry Giroux, a former professor at Penn State and currently the Global Television Network Chair of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. Professor Giroux is author or co-author of more than 50 books, including The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Paradigm, 2007) and his newest work, Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future(Paradigm, 2013). Professor Giroux calls the educational influence of mass culture “public pedagogy” and has over the years used the examples of Disney films and popular television shows like Mad Men to expose and critique the embedded pedagogy of popular culture. As he remarked in our interview, “The most powerful educational force in the US is not the schools, it’s outside the schools.”

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color:black”>SK: I just got back from San Diego, where my colleague and I spoke with young people who had been student activists in their high school. These kids and their peers had become radicalized after their principal cut back on their college-prep curriculum to make way for a JROTC unit.[1] These students – many of whom were Latino and from economically disadvantaged backgrounds – could no longer take AP Spanish, but they could learn marksmanship on the campus’s JROTC firing range. 
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color:black”>SK: Like this program I’ve been following: it’s called STARBASE. This is a Defense Department program that every year reaches around 70,000 students in over one-thousand schools – the majority of them in fifth grade. Pitched as a way to supplement school curriculum in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, there’s an insidious element of military marketing at work: soldiers “mentor” students enrolled in this program and most of the instruction takes place at military installations. As part of the program students are given plenty of time to horse around on “cool” military hardware. 
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color:black”>SK: Militarism in the schools is of course just one aspect of a larger culture of militarism in the U.S. And this gets at your notion of public pedagogy, doesn’t it? 
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color:black”>SK: But young people are resisting, in various ways. You were obviously inspired to write your latest book because you believe youth have a role to play in fighting and changing the system. 
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color:black”>SK: In reflecting on my own research I’ve seen examples of school administrators treating student activists in two distinctly different ways. In my area, Western Massachusetts, for example, there are high school students who are very heavily involved in organizing around issues of ecology and sustainability. They lobby for locally grown foods to be served in the cafeteria, install small garden plots for community members, school officials give them land on school property to grow vegetables, and so on. But then you have the students in San Diego that I mentioned before. Because they were fighting against the military presence in their schools they were seen as agitators. School administrators and police would conduct video surveillance of the students’ marches, and one of their leaders was prevented from taking part in the graduation ceremony with the rest of his class. What might explain the differential response here? 
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color:black”>SK: Here’s a paradox for you: How do you teach social change or resistance to authority within public schools – institutions that many have criticized for being authoritarian and resistant to change? 
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color:black”>SK: What would this look like in practice? One encouraging experiment I had the privilege of observing up close is taking place at the Emiliano Zapata Street Academy in Oakland. There, in an “alternative high school” within the Oakland Unified School District, student interns working with a group called BAY-Peace lead youth in interactive workshops on topics relevant to their lives: street violence, the school-to-prison pipeline, military recruiters in their schools, and so on. 
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color:black”>SK: Henry, we’ve covered a lot of territory. Is there anything we haven’t addressed that you would like to bring up before closing? 
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color:black”>Seth Kershner
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"Times New Roman";color:black”>Works Cited

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color:black”>Counter-Recruitment Movement.” Left Behind in the Race to the Top: Realities of School

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mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman";color:black”>Eds. Julie Gorlewski & Brad Porfilio. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2013, 257-273. Print.

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color:black”>Policy.” Be the Change: Teacher, Activist, Global Citizen. Ed. R. Verma. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2010. 183-214. Print.

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color:black”>      of C. Wright Mills. 
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color:black”>Notes.

[1] [1] The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program (JROTC) is now present in more than 3,000 high schools across the country, enrolling more than 400,000 14- to -18-year-old “cadets.” Students enrolled in JROTC – which the Pentagon describes as a citizenship training program, not a recruiting operation – receive classroom instruction in citizenship, history and “military science” from retired military personnel; practice military drill formation; and attend school in uniform once a week. Some JROTC units even have firing ranges on campus so that cadets can train to be … well … good citizens. For more on student-led resistance to JROTC, see Harding & Kershner and Lagotte. 

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