The Zero Generation

Posted: December 10, 2013 in Critical Pedagogy, Punk Learning
Tags: , ,

I find it fascinating that supporters of Hirsch are extremely quick to argue that the pedagogy he promotes, does not lead to a reduced transmission model of teaching and that it doesn’t endorse a reductive view of accumulating information or rote learning. I also read endlessly from advocates of his work, such as Willingham, that a ‘Hirsch inspired curriculum’ will not instill a culture of conformity or passive absorption of knowledge.

They articulate these thoughts eloquently and passionately. However, their arguments about ‘what is taught’ i.e what is in the cultural literacy, the reasons behind it and the apparent lack of critical relationship between culture and power in the standardised curriculum, strangely absent. Perhaps, not so strange.

As Professor Henry A. Giroux points out there are a: “Growing number of progressive theorists who abstract politics from culture and political struggle from pedagogical practices.” How can we fail to acknowledge that pedagogical politics shape and therefore embed a cultural diversity within schools in the UK?

After reading Harry Webb write “middle class parents go to great lengths to try to ensure a middle class education for their children” I felt empty. I don’t teach many ‘middle class children’ in my school and I’m certainly not going to force feed my students a methodology of education that urges them to master the dominant culture as a way of reproducing the social order. Because, as Giroux points out: “If people don’t have an understanding of the nature of the problems they face they’re going to succumb to the right-wing educational populist machine.”

Can the power of pedagogy inform and shape students’ cultural practices and ideals? Of course it can and embedding a ‘common core’ (the clue is in the title) of knowledge through an authoritarian pedagogy will only lead to controlling the conditions of values, beliefs and ideals that our students are subjected to on a day-to-day basis.

The answer is to: “create organic intellectuals whose task is to identify social interests behind power; challenge traditional understandings of culture, power and politics; and share such knowledge as the basis for organising diverse forms of class struggle in order to create a socialist society” and as Giroux goes onto explain: “Class struggle or the goal of socialism couldn’t be more removed from Hirsch’s politics.” 

Isn’t this the argument or debate that needs to be considered, rather than bickering about how Hirsch’s toxin is delivered in the classroom?

I’m a teacher of science, I teach students stuff; but I feel it as a failure on my behalf if I don’t teach them how to become or encourage them to develop as individual and social agents that question what knowledge is of most worth, rather than simply regressing into becoming disengaged spectators or ‘cheerful robots’. I try relentlessly to embed pedagogical practices in my classroom that are capable of creating the conditions that allow students to become critical, self-reflective, knowledgeable and willing to make moral judgments and act in a socially responsible way. Because if I don’t, my students will fall into: “…being kept in a situation in which it is practically impossible to achieve a critical awareness, the disadvantaged are kept ‘submerged’ in a ‘culture of silence’” Paulo Freire.

By being submerged, schools will churn out students in the form of ‘economic fodder’ to support the neoliberal society of the UK. My outrage at how young people of Bradford were oppressed and packaged at a recent ‘Education, Enterprise and Employment’ conference, only fuelled my desire to see pedagogy as an integral part, of an always unfinished project, that must create a meaningful life for all students. In a recent interview, Henry Giroux said: “Young people represent a long-term investment, but this generation of neoliberal apostles only believe in short-term investments; they believe in quick returns. So young people are now a liability to them and the best way for them remove themselves from any sense of responsibility and conscious is basically to say ‘it’s their fault; that they’re lazy’ as Ziggy Bauman describes, this generation is the zero generation, zero jobs, zero hopes, zero future…and we blame them for that? I don’t think so!”

I am fully aware that these words may not be supported or agreed upon by the majority. I am aware that this piece may create more debate. I am aware that this is a long battle.

“Hope does not consist in crossing one’s arms and waiting. As long as I fight, I am moved by hope; and if I fight with hope, then I can wait” Paulo Freire

  1. […] students. And, we certainly shouldn’t be doing it under the illusion that if we bow down to Hirsch’s ‘common cultural literacy’ that it will improve the futures of students from a […]

  2. Hi Tait,

    Should a parent who doesn’t want a socialist society send their kids to a different school to the one you espouse? Or should all schools be socialist schools? Should ‘privileged’ children continue at Eton, Harrow, and other places and arm themselves for the insurrection?

    • taitcoles says:

      As ever Martin, you make me think!
      Are you aware of Rudi Dutschke’s idea of the “long march through the institutions”?

      “The University is a critical institution or it is nothing.” – Stuart Hall

      • I am not aware of Rudi Dutschke’s idea, any recommended sources?

        Stuart Hall is another matter, I even met him once! (I love an idle name drop!) Of course Universities are critical institutions,way back when the trivium held sway, many universities were ‘dialectical’ institutions, studying the art of logic, argument etc. but in order to do this students needed a firm grounding in knowledge. Therefore schools were required to teach this knowledge, or grammar… Hence the title: ‘Grammar Schools’.

  3. kimberlykunstdomangue says:

    I teach kinders now but taught 2nds for 5 years. I have used Hirsch’s “What Your Child Needs to Know…” books to supplement for literature/ historical content. I also used them with my own two children, who would be best characterized as progressive humanists in worldview and behavior (they are high school students now). I think we should continue to fight against standardization; however, until the Ivory Towers and Halls of Power are willing to use other keys to admittance, I am compelled to teach “middle class” content. I do believe that how students are to critically ANALYZE the content from within and without is the domain of the teacher. THIS is where we VALIDATE the DIVERSITY and QUESTION the INFLUENCE of ARBITRARY POWER. Only my opinion. Enjoyed the post.

  4. “I am fully aware that these words may not be supported or agreed upon by the majority. I am aware that this piece may create more debate.”

    I think it’s more that it is very hard to identify a coherent argument in here, amongst the assertions about ideology.

    You are conflating the argument over ends (are all entitled to certain core knowledge?) with an argument over means (how are children to be taught?). The two are highly connected, and I suspect you are on the wrong side of both arguments, but as things stand you are refusing to actually listen to Hirsch’s argument (which is about ends) in case it interferes with the purity of the means. As a result almost everything you say will mean nothing to anybody who doesn’t already accept that the (progressive) means justify the ends (whatever they may be). If Hirsch’s ends are correct and they require means that you don’t endorse, then we should question your means, not Hirsch’s ends. I would certainly question your means, as while traditional “transmission” teaching might sometimes be authoritarian, laying out from authority what children should know; much progressive “student-centred” teaching is totalitarian, seeking to control how children think and feel.

    The nearest you have got to questioning Hirsch’s ends is quoting Giroux’s argument that he is not a revolutionary communist. This is, no doubt, correct. But where does that take us? Are you unwilling to listen to anyone who isn’t a revolutionary communist, even if they endorse liberating the working class through means other than revolution? That might be okay if you were willing to at least acknowledge those revolutionary communist writings that do favour of a knowledge-based curriculum, but you spent a large amount of time in your last post arguing that we only accept interpretations of Gramsci that contradict the things he wrote in favour of the teaching of knowledge. So how is anyone meant to conduct a rational argument with you? If you will only listen to the ideas of the ideologically pure, and anyone who disagrees with you is either not ideologically pure (or ideologically pure but misinterpreted), then what chance is there for debate? All you can actually do is say “Down with Hirsch” in as many drawn out ways as possible without actually putting forward an argument that could, even in theory, convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with you.

    • Colin Goffin says:

      I’d say writing that does nothing to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with you would be enough to get Tait referenced by Michael Gove and readily accepted into the brotherhood of education blogging. Shudder.

    • Colin Goffin says:

      On a slightly more serious note though isn’t it possible that we may be able to encourage students to think and feel without necessarily wanting to control what those thoughts or feelings are?

    • taitcoles says:

      Are “Hirsch’s ends” correct? I think that’s what the post is getting at.

      Let me know where I can find “revolutionary communist writings that do favour of a knowledge-based curriculum” because I want to explore my thinking even more on this subject.

      I don’t “only listen to the ideas of the ideologically pure”, I do listen to and read opposing views; it’s just that I don’t agree with them.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • “Are ‘Hirsch’s ends’ correct? I think that’s what the post is getting at.”

        My point is that the whole argument about teaching methods provides an argument for wishing they are not correct, rather than an argument that they are not correct.

        “Let me know where I can find “revolutionary communist writings that do favour of a knowledge-based curriculum” because I want to explore my thinking even more on this subject.”

        That was a reference to Gramsci, whose arguments on the matter you seemed to want to write out of the picture in your previous blogpost.

        “I don’t ‘only listen to the ideas of the ideologically pure’, I do listen to and read opposing views; it’s just that I don’t agree with them.”

        Then why include a complaint about Hirsch’s lack of socialist credentials? This is what I am getting at about your failure to engage with the substance of his argument. It’s a lot easier to dismiss Hirsch on grounds of ideology or pedagogy than actually make a case that working class kids should be left lacking knowledge that middle class kids will get and use to get on.

        • taitcoles says:

          Thanks for the comment.

          In my previous post I wrote this: “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” I may be wrong, but I don’t think that indicates that I’m, as you say wanting to “write out of the picture”

          It is a deluded idea that anybody, including me, would want to promote a curriculum that isn’t knowledge based. I’m writing to hopefully ignite a debate that perhaps we should be considering what that ‘knowledge’ actually is and who determines it.

          • I think, in that interpretation of Gramsci, you are writing out of the picture some of the more concrete things he wrote about the importance of knowledge. I can go find quotations if you like, though they tend to have featured in Hirsch’s work already.

            Anyway, if you are not now opposing a curriculum that’s knowledge based then I’m not sure what any of your criticisms of Hirsch amount to. Far from starting a debate about what knowledge is important, you don’t seem to have addressed anything he said about that, only caricatured him for wanting the teaching of knowledge.

            • taitcoles says:

              I think we’re going around in circles here, but I am enjoying the discussion.

              I’ll leave you with this, from a previous post:

              “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).”

              • We’re going round in circles because you keep referring back to what you said but not addressing my criticism of it. I know you interpreted Gramsci so as to ignore his support for knowledge and his critique of progressive education. My point was that this doesn’t help matters, it simply ignores the possibility of a revolutionary communist having those views it doesn’t suggest that they couldn’t.

                • taitcoles says:

                  It’s fascinating, at least I think so, that you are dwelling on my words about Gramsci rather than Hirsch, who I was critiquing in the post.

                  From what I’ve read on Gramsci, there is a theory that his apparent support of “conservative/traditional” education as opposed to “progressive” education was only written in his Prison diaries (Selections from the Prison Notebooks) to get past the beurocratic censors of the institute he was being held in. His theories on education are somewhat confusing and can (like many other things) be misinterpreted.

                  I like this quote from Gramsci, again from his Prison Notebooks: “to create a single type of formative school (primary-secondary) which would take the child up to the threshold of his choice of job, forming him during this time as a person capable of thinking, studying and ruling – or controlling those who rule”

                  My argument, and I accept that you disagree, is that Hirsch’s ‘Common Core/Cultural Literacy’ doesn’t promote, allow or encourage the last of those aspirations. Espcecially, not only, but especially when the methodolgy doesn’t allow this.

  5. You just teach the children the science well. If you do that you can do whatever else you want. The point is that we do have to teach them well – that requires we observe the constraints of working memory. That requires that we do not provide distractions that would delay or impact negatively on the learning process. If you manage all that then you can do what you want.

    • colingoffin says:

      Not sure I read you right Peter. Are you saying that developing them as thinkers as well as students of whatever subject we may teach is a distraction?

    • taitcoles says:

      I’m not sure if that first sentence is encouragement or a recommendation! It depends how educators define what a ‘distraction’ is. For me, developing opportunities so my students become critical, self reflective, knowledgeable and willing to make moral judgements and act in a socially responsible way, is not a distraction to learning.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s