The following is a commencement speech given by Professor Henry A. Giroux to the class of 2015 at Chapman University on May 24th, 2015.
I am very moved and humbled to accept an honorary degree on this important occasion today, and to be with all of you in sharing this wonderful achievement of graduating from Chapman University… I am especially honored to be in the presence of so many of you who have chosen education as a field of study. I can think of no generation for whom education is more important than it is for yours at this particular time in history. At a time when the public good is under attack and there seems to be a growing apathy toward the social contract, or any other civic minded investment in public values and the larger common good, education has to be seen as more than a credential or a pathway to a job. It has to be viewed as crucial to understanding and overcoming the current crisis of agency, politics, and democracy faced by many young people today. One of the challenges your generation faces is the need to reclaim the role that education has historically played in developing critical literacies and civic capacities. At the heart of such a challenge is the question of what education should accomplish in a democracy. What work does your generation have to do to create the economic, political, and ethical conditions necessary to endow young people with the capacities to think, question, doubt, imagine the unimaginable, and defend education as essential for inspiring and energizing the citizens necessary for the existence of a robust democracy? In a world in which there is an increasing abandonment of egalitarian and democratic impulses, what will it take to educate young people to challenge authority and in the words of James Baldwin, rob history of its tyrannical power, and illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through that vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”
Public and Higher education have always been fraught with notable inequities and anti-democratic tendencies, but it also once functioned as a crucial reminder of the pivotal role it might play in enabling students to take heed of, understand, and address social problems in the interests of pursuing a vibrant democracy to come. Understandably, this sounds anachronistic in an age when education is being privatized and instrumentalized. But John Dewey’s insistence that a democracy needs to be reborn in each generation, and education is its midwife, was once taken seriously by many political and academic leaders.Today, Dewey’s once vaunted claim has been either willfully ignored, forgotten, or has become an object of scorn.