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