It’s been a while…
This post could have been called “The Arrogance of our Education”, or “The Trouble with Hirsch” or even “Giroux, the Hidden Hero of Education”, but instead I settled on “The Pedagogy of Freedom”, because we haven’t got it in the UK and we need it.
E.D. Hirsch claims that his conservative methods of teaching (much celebrated by our Secretary of State for Education) are necessary for “the oppressed classes to learn how to read, write, and communicate – and to gain enough traditional knowledge to understand the worlds of nature and culture surrounding them” (Hirsch, The Schools We Need). On initial reading it seems that Hirsch’s view of education is highly supportive and effective for the ‘oppressed’ classes. This may explain why he’s Gove’s ‘go to’ educationalist, why his methodology is much-lauded in many US states such as Massachusetts and certain London Academies.
Hirsch’s methodology and obsession of knowledge and intellectual rigour, separates facts from values, learning from understanding and emotion from intellect. I challenge anyone to argue, that as teachers we should surrender pedagogy to dull routine at the expense of spirit?
It seems bizarre that Hirsch labels Gramsci the ‘poster boy’ for his conservative thoughts on learning when Gramsci himself was extremely clear on the distinction between learning facts to develop an understanding of one’s perception in the social order and simply just gathering information. Gramsci believed that education should begin: “not from the point of view of the teacher but from that of the learner, and that the learning process is a movement toward self-knowledge, self-mastery, and thus liberation. Education is not a matter of handing out ‘encyclopedic knowledge’ but of developing and disciplining the awareness which the learner already possess” (David Forgacs, Working Class Education and Culture). Amazingly the writings of Gramsci; the definitive enemy of promise, has shades of Hattie, only, fifty years earlier. Not convinced? How about this: “the relationship between teacher and pupil is active and reciprocal so that every teacher is always a pupil and every pupil a teacher.” (Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks.)
The pedagogy promoted by Hirsch often becomes reduced to a transmission model of teaching which instills a culture of conformity and passive absorption of knowledge. It creates ‘cheerful robots’ devoid of critical thought, questioning and the desire to challenge the assumptions, practices, and outcomes taken for granted in dominant culture and in conventional education. But having a classroom full of or a school brimming with these pliable individuals makes everybody ‘equal’, ‘successful’ (using mathematical performance measures as a benchmark for academic success) and ‘useful citizens’ for the society that is dominated and controlled by the privileged few. Only through a critical educational culture can students learn how to become individuals and social agents rather than merely disengaged spectators who have their ‘part to play’ in the Neoliberal ideology of modern schooling.
“We must break the habit of thinking that culture is encyclopedic knowledge whereby man is viewed as a mere container in which to pour and conserve empirical data or brute disconnected facts…this form of culture is truly harmful, especially to the proletariat.”
He goes on to say: “It only serves to create misfits, people who believe themselves superior to the rest of humanity because they have accumulated in their memory a certain quality of facts and dates which they cough up at every opportunity to almost raise a barrier between themselves and others” (Gramsci, Socialism and Culture.)
Hirsch’s compilation of knowledge for and by the middle class fails to consider the values and beliefs of particular racial, class and gendered interests of our students. Students that enter the educational system at a disadvantage by virtue of their race, class or gender. If schools are to offer the knowledge and skills necessary for working class students and other subaltern groups (a group of people who are socially and politically outside of the dominant social group or hegemony – think about the difference between those in ‘power’ and the kids that you teach everyday) to succeed, they cannot and should not turn schools into “boot camps for the intellectually malleable” (Giroux, Rethinking Cultural Politics and Radical Pedagogy)
Instead we need a ‘Pedagogy of Freedom’, where the curriculum knowledge is designed for and by the students who make up the population of that particular school. These ‘place-based pedagogies’ are needed so that the “education of citizens might have some direct bearing on the well-being of the social and ecological places the students actually inhabit.” (Gruenewald, The Best of Both Worlds: A Critical Pedagogy of Place.)
We need schools that are prepared to embrace Critical Pedagogy and believe that each school should be: “A school of freedom and free initiative, not a school of slavery and mechanical precision. The children of proletarians too should have all possibilities open to them; they should be able to develop their own individuality in the optimal way, and hence in the most productive way for both themselves and society” (Gramsci, Men or Machines)
It’s fascinating that Hirsch (and other educationalists such as Entwistle) believe that schools are dysfunctional, not because they oppress students from these subaltern groups but because of their schools adopting forms of progressive education such as “project orientated, hands on, critical thinking and so-called democratic education, rather than a core curriculum of facts and information” (Hirsch, The Schools We Need.)
Instead, he argues that the real enemy of student learning is its failure to endorse rote learning, a core curriculum and uniform teaching. Hirsch’s (and any others who follow his lead or see him as a voice that needs to be heard in today’s educational world) need for information accumulation and apparent disregard of culture and power of our students, forces these subaltern groups to master the dominant culture as a way of reproducing and maintaining the social order. Allowing the curricular knowledge in our schools that only represents the white middle class cultural capital is blatantly wrong. We must afford all of our students regardless of their class or race the: “opportunity to read, write, and learn from a position of agency and to engage in a culture of questioning that demands far more than mere competency in rote learning.” (Giroux, Rethinking Education as the Practice of Freedom.)
Our students, all of them, need an education that prepares them with the knowledge, and the skills to act on that knowledge which allows them to connect with the problems and conflicts of their life and to develop a commitment of civic courage and responsibility which enables the students to make a positive change. Or as Gramsci puts it: “enable them to govern not just be governed.”
Hirsch is clear on this when he writes: “Children, particularly, the children of the poor, should not be encouraged to flourish ‘naturally’, which would keep them ignorant and makes them slaves of emotion.” (Hirsch, The Schools We Need – which brings a new perceptive to the title of this book if we consider who the WE actually are and why they have this apparent NEED).
Henry Giroux makes the point that Hirsch implies that “teaching working class children about the specificities of their histories, experiences and cultural memories would simply result in a form of pedagogical infantilism” he goes on to brilliantly say that “Hirsch wants to ‘save’ underprivileged kids by stripping them of their identities and histories.” (Giroux, On Critical Pedagogy)
Why have I written this post? Well, it needed to be written. I’m comfortable with the fact that my words may get overlooked for a post on ‘twenty things to do with a member of SMT’ or the musings of a celebrity blogger stating the bloody obvious. I also wanted the post to highlight the essential readings and thinking of great educationalists that promote Critical Pedagogy such as Paulo Freire and Henry Giroux. Finally, my school, like so many others, is in the initial processes of transforming our KS3 curriculum and assessment. It seems like an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed to develop a ‘Pedagogy of Freedom’ for our students.
Source for the Presentation: Critical Pedagogy in Dark Times, Giroux; from the book On Critical Pedagogy by Henry A. Giroux