Why Teaching People to Think for Themselves Is Repugnant to Religious Zealots and Rick Santorum


Why Teaching People to Think for Themselves Is Repugnant to Religious Zealots and Rick Santorum

The popular ideology of privatization is not politically neutral—though its proclaimed neutrality works to disarm the electorate and prevent people from seeing the most pernicious impacts triggered by privatization on educational policy and practices.

Privatization is increasingly being marshaled to suppress democracy and support a growing theocracy in North America by legitimating frightening projects—for example, the expansion of charter schools, the dismantling of the social support system, and the increasing inaccessibility of higher education—that marginalize the voices of so many individuals and risk giving power and authority to absolutist and authoritarian narratives.

In this article, Henry A. Giroux asserts that Republicans like Rick Santorum are working to further a right-wing agenda to steamroll democracy by limiting people’s access to critical education, democracy’s strongest pillar. This agenda is evident in the demand to privatize (and thus demolish) one of the few remaining spaces where critical thinking can be fostered among all young people regardless of privilege and wealth: the public school system.

Critical pedagogy is a huge part of the life force of democracy, because it teaches students not to accept anything without questioning, to value and use their own intellectual capacities to intervene in matters of public concern, and to recognize the impact public decisions have on their own lives and those of others. Critical pedagogy produces locally and globally minded citizens who embrace a sense of public responsibility, self-reflexivity, political and social engagement, and a commitment to further the ongoing project of shaping a truly democratic future.

Because critical education teaches individuals to question conventions rooted in tradition rather than rational inquiry, Santorum’s negation of the public school system is a call to suffocate the intellectual agency of citizens that would allow them to discredit the detrimental propositions and falsehoods Santorum and other Republicans endlessly market as “the truth” in order to validate their efforts to destroy the democratic edifice built on the separation of church and state.

Consequently, at a time when the permeation of a privatizing and punitive agenda in the public school system is causing the educator to be understood as “a police officer, clerk, or pitchman for privatization,” Giroux highlights the importance of teachers being “engaged public intellectuals.” Educators committed to cultivating students as thoughtful citizens should engage with broader public discourse over the vital importance of public education as well as the ongoing challenges besetting it. Critical educators should feel empowered to counter the intolerance and historical amnesia that inevitably result from a narrowing curriculum and deteriorating teacher autonomy in the classroom.

Everyone with a vested interest in safeguarding democracy has an opportunity and an obligation to support public school teachers by asserting their voices in order to defend both classrooms and media spheres as public spaces where critical abilities are nurtured, current issues are negotiated, and the authoritarian and market-driven ideologies and practices that seek to undermine democracy can be held accountable.

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