Tag Archives: Social Studies

New Book: Rethinking Social Studies: Critical Pedagogy in Pursuit of Dangerous Citizenship

I’m please to announce the publication of my new book Rethinking Social Studies: Critical Pedagogy in Pursuit of Dangerous Citizenship (Information Age Publishing, 2017).

The book is published as a volume in the series: Critical Constructions: Studies on Education and Society, which is edited: Curry Stephenson Malott, West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Brad J. Porfilio, CSU, East Bay. Marc Pruyn, Monash University. Derek R. Ford, DePauw University. Thanks to all the editors for their support of this project.

I would also like to thank Peter McLaren for writing the Foreword to the book. You can read of version of McLaren’s foreword to Rethinking Social Studies here: A Message to Social Studies Educators of the US in the Coming Trump Era.

Book Overview

Social studies is the most dangerous of all school subjects. Its danger, however, is a matter of perspective.

Like the schools in which it is taught, social studies is full of alluring contradictions. It harbors possibilities for inquiry and social criticism, liberation and emancipation. Social studies could be a site that enables young people to analyze and understand social issues in a holistic way – finding and tracing relations and interconnections both present and past in an effort to build meaningful understandings of a problem, its context and history; to envision a future where specific social problems are resolved; and take action to bring that vision in to existence. Social studies could be a place where students learn to speak for themselves in order to achieve, or at least strive toward an equal degree of participation and better future. Social studies could be like this, but it is not.

In practice social studies has been and continues to be profoundly conversing in nature. Social studies is the engine room of illusion factories whose primary aim is reproduction of the existing social order, where the ruling ideas exist to be memorized, regurgitated, internalized and lived by. If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding! If you do not memorize these facts, accept these myths as truths so you can pass these exams to get those credentials, then you will not get any pudding. That is the way the world works. And good social studies teachers are here to make the meat palatable because they want everyone to be able to have some pudding.

Social studies too often teaches myths instead of encouraging critical explorations of human existence. Schools are fundamentally authoritarian, hierarchical institutions, they produce myriad oppressive and inequitable by-products and social studies is an integral component in this process.

The challenge, perhaps impossibility, is discovering ways in which schools in general and social studies in particular can contribute to positive liberty. That is a society where individuals have the power and resources to realize and fulfill their own potential, free from the obstacles of classism, racism, sexism and other inequalities encouraged by educational systems and the influence of the state and religious ideologies. A society where people have the agency and capacity to make their own free choices and act independently based on reason not authority, tradition, or dogma.

Does that sound too idealistic to you? Utopian even? I would not be surprised if it did. Many of my students (and more of my colleagues) say the same. They argue for the importance of being “realistic” or “adjusting to circumstances as they are” as if the really existing social studies classes in all their boring and socially reproductive glory are natural phenomenon beyond human capacity to change. I can understand this point of view, but cannot embrace it. You can just throw up your hands or argue for being realistic, but in the face of a world filled with injustices I do not believe sustaining the status quo is an admirable goal and neither is sustaining a social studies that offers conventional (non)explanations of the world.

In 1843, Arnold Ruge overcome with revolutionary despair, wrote a letter to Karl Marx lamenting the impossibility of revolution because the German people were too docile: “our nation has no future, so what is the point in our appealing to it?” To which Marx replied “You will hardly suggest that my opinion of the present is too exalted and if I do not despair about it, this is only because its desperate position fills me with hope.” This is an example of what philosopher Giorgio Agamben has called “the courage of hopelessness.” The courage of hopelessness is an optimistic response to pessimistic circumstances. The equivalent of responding to the criticism that you are “being too idealistic” with “be realistic, demand the impossible!”

The hegemonic system of global capitalism dominates not because people agree with it. It rules because most people are convinced “There Is No Alternative.” Indeed, as I argue in this book the dominant approach to schooling and curriculum, particularly in social studies education, is aimed at indoctrinating students into this belief.

Utopian thinking allows us to consider alternatives, such as the pedagogical imaginaries which this book explores, in attempt to open up spaces for rethinking our approaches to learning, teaching, and experiencing the world. These imaginaries are necessary because traditional tropes of social studies curriculum (e.g., democracy, voting, democratic citizenship) are essentially lies we tell ourselves and students (because democracy is incompatible with capitalism; capitalist democracy creates a shallow, spectator version of democracy at best; democracy as it operates now is inseparable from empire/perpetual war and vast social inequalities).

We certainly have plenty of fuel for our hopes. The challenge we face as social studies educators is to not warm our students’ hearts with empty hopes, but rather confront what are seemingly hopeless times for freedom and equality with a pedagogy and curriculum that come from a courage of hopelessness.

This book aims to rethink social studies so it becomes a site where students can develop personally meaningful understandings of the world and recognize they have agency to act on the world, to make change. Social studies should not be about showing life to students, but bringing them to life. The aim is not getting students to listen to entertaining lectures, but getting to speak for themselves, to understand people make their own history (even if they make it in already existing circumstances). These principles are the foundation for a new social studies, one that is not driven not by standardized curriculum or examinations, but by the perceived needs, interests, desires of our students, our communities of shared interest, and ourselves as educators.

*****

Rethinking Social Studies is organized into three parts. Part 1 – Redrawing the Lines, expands on the basic premises discussed above. Chapter 1 presents a description and critique of traditional social studies education. The chapter deconstructs the ideology of neutrality, which is frequently taught as part of social studies teacher education and examines the deleterious effects of conceiving of learning and citizenship as spectator projects. Chapter 2 presents a case study of right-wing think tank report on social studies as an example of the politics of the social studies and its connections to movement conservatism. By taking a close look at neo-conservative efforts to control the field and destroy the (at least theoretical) pluralism that has long characterized social studies we can better understand the normative nature of social studies and the inadequacy of adopting a neutral stance as social studies educators. Chapter 3, “Insurrectionist Pedagogies and the Pursuit of Dangerous Citizenship,” is in many ways the heart the book. This chapter presents an analysis of neoliberal education reforms in North America. Part of a Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), these corporate-driven reforms include three key strategies: (1) School choice and privatization; (2) human capital policies for teachers; and (3) standardized curriculum coupled with an increased use of standardized testing. The idea of “dangerous citizenship” is presented as a possible antidote to the stultifying effects of GERM on the freedom to think, learn, and teach social studies outside of a hegemonic worldview that is authoritarian and harbours racially, sexually, and class-based discriminatory traditions. Various possibilities for creative disruption of dominant assumptions and practices of social studies teaching and curriculum are presented as imaginaries for what might become insurgent pedagogies that foster dangerous citizenship.

The chapters in Part 2 ­– Social Education for Critical Knowledge for Everyday Life explore questions such as: What is the social justice? Chapter 4 takes a look at the relationship of social justice and power and argues that social justice requires much more that adopting a new vocabulary and socially and culturally inclusive curricula, rather it requires a revolution of everyday life.

Chapter 3 asks, What is critical pedagogy? Then takes a critical look at an approach that is filled with contradictions and too often comes across as either a theory-laden field for left wing academics or a radical idea that is domesticated by liberal teachers and teacher educators, or both. The chapter emphases the importance of everyday life and becoming as part of what it means to practice critical pedagogy.

Why is class an invisible concept in social studies? What would social studies look like if we put class at the center of the curriculum? Chapter 6, “Why Teaching Class Matters” describes both the invisibility of class in the social studies curriculum (and research) and presents an example of how class can be (and is) used as the organizing concept for a high school American Studies course. Chapter 7 analyzes the American empire – making connections between politics, foreign policy and the economy to illustrate the really existing class war in the United States (and the world) – as the context for the political and pedagogical project that is teaching and organizing for social change.

In an era marked by regimented curriculum, bureaucratic outcomes-based accountability systems, and corporatized educational aims, how do you keep your ideals and still teach? The answer to this question is multifaceted, but as argued in Chapter 8, there are at least two necessary, if insufficient responses. First, working in opposition to the mainstream of educational practice requires a question-posing approach. Secondly, collaborative thought and action are crucial to understanding and transformation of educational practices and social relations. Two counterstories are presented in this chapter. The first is based on the individual perspectives of two novice teachers. The second is the counterstory of a collective known as the Rouge Forum.

I often ask the social studies teachers to write about and examine the beliefs that inform their practice as educators. This task is useful in unearthing unstated assumptions that underlie our classroom practices and broader beliefs regarding the role of schools in society and reasons we teach what we teach. In Chapter 9, I have taken my own assignment and completed it, presenting a “my pedagogical creed” (based on the framework of John Dewey’s famously titled article). My hope is that you will be inspired to write your own pedagogical creed as a way analyzing and gaining insight into your practice as a social studies educator.

Part 3 – Beyond the Classroom, extends some themes from earlier in the book and provides an overview of key ideas found in Parts 1 and 2 (plus a few new ones). Democracy within the social studies curriculum is too often presented in its most weak and superficial form, that is, as process of electing of representatives and the functions of government. I say, “don’t vote, engage politics!” and Chapter 10 presents one approach to political engagement, writing for popular media. Chapter 11 is my own “educational autobiography,” another assignment I ask my students to complete, this activity aims to make sense of our current assumptions, thinking, and practices as educators by historicizing and analyzing their preconditions. The idea is that if we can better understand the sources of our present thinking and practice we can then better understand our present circumstances and more clearly envision how what we think and do today can help us achieve our goals in the future. The book closes with an interview conducted by Carlo Fanelli in which I discuss a wide-range of topics, including corporate education reform, critical pedagogy, and educational and politic activism. In many ways this interview is an overview and summary of ideas from the previous chapters.

*****

As researcher, teacher, book and journal editor I have had the privilege and honour to collaborate with many fine educators and scholars. When considering my work it is impossible to separate ideas and accomplishments that could be described as my own from those that are the result of collaboration with others. Mark Twain said,

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of coloured glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

Twain is right, but only up to a point. If we continue to manipulate that kaleidoscope at some point we will witness something entirely new, yet carrying forward aspects of what it was. We can understand and change the world and in the process we create ourselves anew. This is what I have experienced in my collaborative relationships with others and it is important for me to acknowledge those folks who contributed to who I am today as a person, a teacher, and a scholar.

This book emphases my collaborations with Kevin D. Vinson, Perry Marker, Rich Gibson, and Gregg Queen.

Kevin and I have had a long and fruitful collaboration as writing partners, but most importantly as friends. I came to now him when he submitted an manuscript to a journal I was editing and I like it so much I had to call him up and talk about it. That was, of course, back in the day when people actually called each other on the phone. Our interests and thinking has been so intertwined over the years that each of us has written pieces then given the other credit for writing. We allowed ourselves the conceit that our relationship was not unlike Lennon and McCartney, without the hits.

Perry and I met as graduate students when Ohio State University and Indiana University regularly held colloquia for social studies students and faculty, since then we have worked together on nearly twenty presentations, articles, and journal issues. Perry’s work as a social studies teacher educator and curriculum scholar is the exemplar of critical, democratic praxis and I have long admired his dedication to both the ideals of democracy and his students, but most of all I appreciate his friendship, particularly his willingness to engage with me in spirited discussions of politics and baseball, which are often fuelled by bourbon whiskey.

I was chairing the question and answer part of a conference session when this fellow wearing a black leather jacket stood up and asked a question that pulled the rug out from under the assumptions of all the prior presentations. Afterwards, I chased the guy down and found out his name was Rich Gibson and soon learned he was a full-time troublemaker and revolutionary. We began working together almost immediately, helping to found the Rouge Forum and writing articles for newspapers, political and academic journals, co-editing books and journals. He has been my mentor on Marx, martial arts, spaghetti westerns, revolution, and all things Detroit (and I reciprocate by sharing obscure blues, R & B, and rockabilly recordings with him).

Greg Queen is Rich’s former graduate student and in my mind he is one of the most unique and accomplished high school social studies teachers ever. He has provided leadership for social change in his community and nationally as the Community Coordinator for the Rouge Forum. His teaching embodies a critical, revolutionary spirit and he has been honoured for his dedication to teaching against the grain with the National Council for the Social Studies’ defence of academic freedom award. Greg does what most social studies teachers are afraid to do, objectively teach the unvarnished truth of United States history. When my students say nobody can teach that way and keep their job, Greg is the person I point to.

The influences of Kevin, Perry, Rich, and Greg are easy enough to spot in the pages of this book, but I must acknowledge a number of others who have influenced my thinking and practice as an educator. As a social studies educator I am deeply indebted to my professors, particularly Richard C. Phillips (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and M. Eugene Gilliom (The Ohio State University) and my teachers at Independence High School in Charlotte, NC, the epitome, in a curricular sense, of the “shopping mall” high school.

I have learned much from many superb colleagues in the field of social studies education, including: Ceola Ross Baber, Jane Bernard-Powers, Jeffrey W. Cornett, Margaret Smith Crocco, Abraham DeLeon, Ronald W. Evans, Stephen C. Fleury, Four Arrows (aka Don T. Jacobs), Todd Hawley, Neil O. Houser, Gregg Jorgensen, Joseph Kahne, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Christopher R. Leahey, Merry Merryfield, Jack L. Nelson, Nel Noddings, Paul Orlowski, Valerie Ooka Pang, Marc Pruyn, Doug Selwyn, Özlem Sensoy, Walter Werner, Joel Westheimer, and Michael Whelan.

It has been a privilege to collaborate with many great scholars on a variety of projects including, Derek Ford, David Gabbard, David W. Hursh, Kathleen Kesson, Johnny Lupinacci, Curry Stephenson Malott, Gail McCutcheon, Stephen Petrina, Ken Saltman, Patrick Shannon, Larry Stedman, Ken Teitelbaum, John F. Welsh, and Mark Wolfmeyer.

All the people in, and around, The Rouge Forum have continued to be a huge inspiration to me as a scholar, teacher, and activist, most especially Brad Porfilio, Faith Agostinone Wilson, Gina Steins, Bryan Reinholdt, Joe Wegwert, Amber Goslee, Dennis Carlson, Peter McLaren, and Adam Renner (1970-2010).

Colin and Rachel continue to make me a proud father. And, as always, the person who provides my life with love, happiness, and excitement is Sandra Mathison.

Table of Contents
Foreword, Peter McLaren.
Acknowledgments.
Preface.
Permissions.
PART I: REDRAWING THE LINES
CHAPTER 1: Redrawing the Lines: The Case Against Traditional Social Studies Instruction.
CHAPTER 2: If Social Studies Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right (with Perry Marker). CHAPTER 3: Insurrectionist Pedagogies and the Pursuit of Dangerous Citizenship (with Kevin D. Vinson).
PART II: SOCIAL EDUCATION AND CRITICAL KNOWLEDGE FOR EVERYDAY LIFE
CHAPTER 4: Social Studies Requires a Revolution of Everyday Life.
CHAPTER 5: Broadening the Circle of Critical Pedagogy.
CHAPTER 6: Why Teaching Class Matters (with Gregg Queen).
CHAPTER 7: Education for Class Consciousness (with Rich Gibson).
CHAPTER 8: How Do I Keep My Ideals and Still Teach (with Rich Gibson, Greg Queen, and Kevin D. Vinson).
CHAPTER 9: Teaching for Change: Social Education and Critical Knowledge for Everyday Life.
PART III: BEYOND THE CLASSROOM
CHAPTER 10: Social Studies as Public Pedagogy: Engaging Social Issues in the Media. CHAPTER 11: A Sense of Where You Are.
CHAPTER 12: Critical Education and Insurgent Pedagogies: An Interview With E. Wayne Ross.
About the Author.

Reassessing the Social Studies Curriculum: Preparing Students for a Post-9/11 World

Wayne Journell, secondary social studies education professor at University of North Carolina at Greensboro, has put together a new book on social studies in a post-9/11 world.

The book, to be published by Rowman & Littlefield next year, examines social studies curriculum from a wide-range of perspectives (see the Table of Contents below). The book will be a unique contribution to the fields social studies and curriculum studies.

A draft version of my chapter is available to read at the link below.

Table of Contents

Foreword
Margaret Smith Crocco

Preface
Michael J. Berson and Ilene R. Berson

Introduction: September 11, 2001: The Day that Changed the World . . . But Not the Curriculum
Wayne Journell

Chapter 1: International Conflict and National Destiny: World War I and History Teaching
Keith C. Barton

Chapter 2: 9/11 and the War on Terror in American Secondary Curriculum Fifteen Years Later
Jeremy Stoddard and Diana Hess

Chapter 3: Including 9/11 in the Elementary Grades: State Standards, Digital Resources, and Children’s Books
Elizabeth Bellows

Chapter 4: How Patriotism Matters in U.S. Social Studies Classrooms Fifteen Years After 9/11
Mark T. Kissling

Chapter 5: National Identity and Citizenship in a Pluralistic Society: Educators’ Messages Following 9/11 and Charlie Hebdo
Lisa Gilbert

Chapter 6: The Courage of Hopelessness: Creative Disruption of Everyday Life in the Classroom
E. Wayne Ross

Chapter 7: Civil Liberties, Media Literacy, and Civic Education in the Post-9/11 Era: Helping Students Think Conceptually in Order to Act Civically
Stephen S. Masyada and Elizabeth Yeager Washington

Chapter 8: Role-Playing and Role-Dropping: Political Simulations as Portals to Pluralism in a Contentious Era
Jane C. Lo and Walter C. Parker

Chapter 9: The Psychology of Controversial Issues Discussions: Challenges and Opportunities in a Polarized, Post-9/11 Society
Christopher H. Clark and Patricia G. Avery

Afterword
Ron Evans

 

 

Master/Slave questions … for teachers (and others)

Rich Gibson, guest blogger, presents some starter questions that few teachers are willing to ask in serious ways.

 What is it to be free, fulfilled, and confident that you will be able to meet your human potential?

 Are we free? Are we free at work, at school, at play? If we are not free: What would we need to know, and how would we need to know it, in order to be free?

Are there people among us who appear to be much more free than others? If so, what is it that makes them different? What do they have in common, worldwide?

Who is less free? What elements do they have in common?

Is freedom achieved through isolation, or friendly connections with other people?

If we are not free, in part because we are isolated from each other, often in ways that we do not see (the normalcy of segregated schooling), then what might we do to be more free?

These questions rise from the Critique of Tyranny. This critique has been applied to every society, ever since the first food surpluses made inequality possible, and it became possible to make an argument that separation from others might be a good thing–in contrast to early societies where those who behaved the most collectively survived longest and best. The critique was the interrogation of domination that, in ideas, forged the US revolution. It is absent from most social studies textbooks.

The Critique of Tyranny leads to a question that can be asked of any society–to judge it: How does this society treat the majority of its citizens, invariably the workers, or slaves, troops, i.e., the common citizens, over time?

This reasonable question sweeps aside the notion that poisons conservative forms of postmodernism, which insist that there really is no rational way to judge any society, that one society or social movement or idea might be as good as the next, that all is mere viewpoint and, at the end of the day, maybe Mussolini was not such a bad guy after all.

Are teachers willing to ask these questions to students in their classrooms, not of abstract distant societies, but of their condition inside school? My experience is that most teachers are not willing to seriously pose the issue, in fear of lack of control.

Psychiatrist Robert Kaye says students in the world’s classrooms are not free, using a metaphor that suggests that compulsory attendance laws make them “incarcerated.” This would be a good place to start. Are we here because we want to be here?

Indeed, many teachers will insist that they live in a free society. But they will also agree that they cannot probe the question of freedom in school, or really speak their minds. The Bill of Rights, for example, stops at the door of most work places.

Most teachers are not free to interrogate the key issues of life:

  • Work–because it is illegal in most states to teach positive things about Karl Marx, about “all of history is the history of class struggle,” and it’s therefore impossible to say much about any labor movement.
  • Love–sexuality, because in most states it’s illegal to teach that sex is fun; rather it is taught as a matter of fear: STDs, unwanted pregnancy, exploitation.
  • Rational knowledge or reason as the Enlightenment can only be taught as an abstraction, one religion being as good as the next instead of “people make gods; gods don’t make people, there isn’t any magic and fairies are not dancing on the earth.
  • The relentless struggle for freedom and fulfillment–freedom non-existent in schools.

In examining a contradictory relationship, a unity and struggle of opposites in which unity is temporary and struggle perpetual, it is quite possible to not only probe historical reality, but the crux of how and why things change–as they do.

Here are some questions that students can work out themselves to, perhaps, better understand the foundation of most societies throughout history: The Master-Slave Metaphor.

In a “Let’s pretend” Master-Slave Relationship:

    What does the Master want?

    What does the Slave want?

    What must the Master do?

    What must the Slaves do?

    How do Masters Rule?

    How do Slaves resist?

    What does the Master want the Slaves to know?

    What does the Slaves want the Master to know?

    What does the master want the slaves to believe?

    What does the slave want the master to believe?

    Is truth the same for the Master as it is for the Slaves?

    Who has the greater interest in the more profound truths?

    What mediates the relationship of the Master and the Slaves-both in theory and practice?

    What elements within this relationship, as it exists, provide clues to how the relationship might be changed?

    How will the slaves get from what is, to what they think ought to be, without relying on magic?

    What will the Masters do in response to the struggles of the slaves?

    What would be the masters’ greatest victory–or the slaves’ worst defeat?

    Is it possible to end the relationship of Masters and Slaves, or are people trapped within this forever?

    What would be the Masters greatest victory?

    If people are not trapped in the Master-Slave relationship permanently, and if they should actually overcome it, what will preserve their common freedom?

Having conducted this exercise more than fifty times with college students, high school students, and veterans groups; the most difficult answer for most groups, the one they never get, is: What is the Masters greatest victory?

If you’ll do the exercise, send me what your group responds. I will be happy to send you expanded answers–if there are any.

References:

On Tyranny, by Leo Strauss (the classic in the field)

Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond

Phenomenology of the Spirit, Hegel

Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx (and all of the rest of Marx’s work)

Alienation by Bertell Ollman (why we are estranged from one another and how we might reason our way out).

The Politics of Obedience, the Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, Etienne De La Boetie

Rich Gibson is an emeritus professor at San Diego State University. He is a co-founder of the radical schools group, the Rouge Forum, which involves teachers, professors, students and community people in the English and Spanish speaking world. Prof@Richgibson.com

Your social studies teacher is wrong, the United States is not a democracy

No, this is not some arcane argument about democratic versus republican forms of government. Rather it is the conclusion of what has been described as the first ever scientific study of the question of whether the United States is a democracy.

The study, by Martin Gilens, a professor of politics at Princeton University, and Benjamin I. Page, a political scientist at Northwestern University, is titled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” and will be published in the fall 2014 issue of Perspectives on Politicsan APSA journal.

The study aims to answer the questions “Who governs? Who really rule? To what extent is the broad body of U.S. citizens sovereign, semi-sovereign, or largely powerless” by examining a huge data set that addresses thousands of policy issues.

Each of four theoretical traditions in the study of American politics – which can be characterized as theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy, Economic Elite Domination, and two types of interest group pluralism, Majoritarian Pluralism and Biased Pluralism – offers different predictions about which sets of actors have how much influence over public policy: average citizens; economic elites; and organized interest groups, mass-based or business-oriented.

A great deal of empirical research speaks to the policy influence of one or another set of actors, but until recently it has not been possible to test these contrasting theoretical predictions against each other within a single statistical model. This paper reports on an effort to do so, using a unique data set that includes measures of the key variables for 1,779 policy issues. (p. 2)

The findings provide “substantial support” for theories of Economic Elite Domination and Biased Pluralism, in short the U.S. is found to be an oligarchy. No surprise really, unless you’ve had your eyes wide shut for the past 40 years. While the political and media elites, capitalists and other oligarchs (along with social studies textbooks and teachers) continue to promote the fiction that the U.S. is a democracy, this study concludes that the average citizens’ influence on policy making is “near zero.” So, don’t bother writing that letter to your “representative.”

The researchers used a single statistical model to pit the predictions of ideal-type theories against each other using a unique data set that included measures for key independent variables on policy issues. Their “striking findings,” include “the nearly total failure of ‘median voter’ and other Majoritarian Electoral Democracy theories. When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy” (p. 21).

Despite the seemingly strong empirical support in previous studies for theories of majoritarian democracy, our analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts. Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise. But, we believe that if policymaking is dominated by powerful business organizations and a small number of affluent Americans, then America’s claims to being a democratic society are seriously threaten. (p.24)

While some critically minded observers may claim that this study only confirms what we already know, we should not underestimate the importance—and pedagogical power—of this empirical investigation of democracy in the U.S.. which puts a lie the most powerful trope of school curriculum and mass media propaganda. The U.S. is not democracy;  the central features of American democracy are illusory.

The narrative of “American democracy” promulgated in schools and in the media is distraction from the triumph of neoliberal capitalism and the rule of oligarchs.  If we—social studies educators—are truly committed to the principles and practices of social equality it requires engaging with our students in systematic analysis and inquiry into our present circumstances (as well as historicizing preconditions of the present). From that point we can start to pose questions and envision tactics, strategies, and grand strategies that point toward resolution of problems/contradictions our analyses identify. This study presents findings that will surely provoke dialogue about (and deconstruction of) of what currently passes for “democracy” in the U.S., and, one hopes, inspires not merely more powerful teaching, but actions to reclaim/remake the political landscape.

Education for Dangerous Citizenship—powerpoint slides

I had a great time at the University of Texas, San Antonio this week, where I gave a talk as part of the Educational Leadership & Policy Studies Distinguished Lecture Series.

The talk, titled “Education for Dangerous Citizenship”, drew from some of my recent work with Rich Gibson (e.g., “The Education Agenda is a War Agenda” and “No Child Left Behind and the Imperial Project”) and Kevin D. Vinson (“The Concrete Inversion of Life””: Guy Debord, the Spectacle, and Critical Social Studies Education” [pdf]). The talk covered some of the foundational ideas for a book Kevin and I are currently writing titled Dangerous Citizenship: A Theory and Practice of Contemporary Critical Pedagogy.

Thanks again to my colleague Abraham Deleon, who put things together at UTSA, and to the faculty and graduate students who participated in the seminar and came out for the lecture.

Powerpoint slides from the talk can be downloaded here.

The blurb can be found here.

New book: Critical Theories, Radical Pedagogies, and Social Education

Critical Theories, Radical Pedagogies, and Social Education
New Perspectives for Social Studies Education

Edited by:
Abraham P. DeLeon
University of Texas, San Antonio, USA
and
E. Wayne Ross
University of British Columbia, Canada

Critical Theories, Radical Pedagogies, and Social Education: New Perspectives for Social Studies Education begins with the assertion that there are emergent and provocative theories and practices that should be part of the discourse on social studies education in the 21st century. Anarchist, eco-activist, anti-capitalist, and other radical perspectives, such as disability studies and critical race theory, are explored as viable alternatives in responding to current neo-conservative and neo-liberal educational policies shaping social studies curriculum and teaching.

Despite the interdisciplinary nature the field and a historical commitment to investigating fundamental social issues such as democracy, human rights, and social justice, social studies theory and practice tends to be steeped in a reproductive framework, celebrating and sustaining the status quo, encouraging passive acceptance of current social realities and historical constructions, rather than a critical examination of alternatives. These tendencies have been reinforced by education policies such as No Child Left Behind, which have narrowly defined ways of knowing as rooted in empirical science and apolitical forms of comprehension.

This book comes at a pivotal moment for radical teaching and for critical pedagogy, bringing the radical debate occurring in social sciences and in activist circles—where global protests have demonstrated the success that radical actions can have in resisting rigid state hierarchies and oppressive regimes worldwide—to social studies education.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Acknowledgement: Through Collaboration, All Things are Possible

Introduction: On the Edge of History: Towards a New Vision of Social Studies Education
Abraham P. DeLeon and E. Wayne Ross

1. Anarchism, Sabotage, and the Spirit of Revolt: Injecting the Social Studies with Anarchist Potentialities
Abraham P. DeLeon

2. Embattled Pedagogies: Deconstructing Terror from a Transnational Feminist Disability Studies Perspective
Nirmala Erevelles

3. Ecojustice, Community-based Learning, and Social Studies Education
Rebecca A. Martusewicz and Gary R. Schnakenberg

4. Why have School?: An Inquiry through Dialectical Materialism
Rich Gibson

5. Gumbo and Menudo and the Scraps of Citizenship: Interest Convergence and Citizen-making for African Americans and Mexican Americans in U.S. Education
Anthony Brown and Luis Urrieta, Jr.

6. “The Concrete Inversion of Life”: Guy Debord, the Spectacle, and Critical Social Studies Education
Kevin D. Vinson, E. Wayne Ross and Melissa B. Wilson

7. Critically Examining the Past and the “Society of the Spectacle”: Social Studies Education as a Site of Critique, Resistance, and Transformation
Brad J. Porfilio and Michael Watz

8. The Long Emergency: Educating for Democracy and Sustainability during Our Global Crisis
David Hursh

9. Building Democracy through Education: Human Rights and Civic Engagement
William T. Armaline

10. Critical Reflection in the Classroom: Consciousness, Praxis, and Relative Autonomy in Social Studies Education
Wayne Au

11. The Radical and Theoretical in Social Studies
Stephen C. Fleury

Download PDF of book Introduction, Chapters 1 & 2 here.

Detroit, America’s Most Epic Urban Failure

[Above image: “Detroit Industry” – Detroit Institute of Arts ( Diego Rivera ) – View 1, from DetroitDerek’s Flickr photostream.]

Over the past decade or so, I’ve visited Detroit many times, so as I read Mark Binelli’s profile of this dying city in the most recent Rolling Stone (#1073) there was a lot of resonance with my Motown experiences.

The article, of course, focuses on the auto industry, the government bailouts and Binelli uses a visit to the Detroit Auto Show to explore the decline of the industry and the city. But the most compelling part of the article describes a tour of the deindustrial wastelands of downtown Detroit that Binelli takes with Detroitblogger John to see abandoned factories, houses, and office buildings; grassy fields, which used to be crowded working and middle class residential neighborhoods and are now homes to coyotes and other wild life.

Check out photos at DetroitBlog.org or KenTakesPictures “Detroit” Flickr photoset or Derek Farr’s “Detroit Ruins” Flickr photoset to get an idea of what Detroit looks like these days. (KenTakesPictures describes the areas around the old GM factories as resembling scenes from 28 Days Later and Mogadishu)

You can also explore disappeared Detroit here and here.

Binelli vaguely hints at but doesn’t explore Detroit’s spirit of resistance, which is too bad because the history of the city is in many ways a history of resistance. There’s no doubt that Detroit is ground zero of the urban crisis in the US, but it is also home to many people who have and continue to work against racism, labor exploitation, and other inequalities.

Detroit’s also the birthplace of The Rouge Forum, which drew inspiration for it’s name from Detroit’s River Rouge and the River Rouge auto factory, which at one time was the largest factory in the world.

“The Rouge is both nature and work. The Rouge has never quit; it moves with the resilience of the necessity for labor to rise out of nature itself. The river and the plant followed the path of industrial life throughout the world. The technological advances created at the Rouge, in some ways, led to better lives. In other ways, technology was used to forge the privilege of the few, at the expense of most–and the ecosystems, which brought it to life, The Rouge is a good place to consider a conversation, education, and social action.”

Join us at the Rouge Forum annual conference this May, we’ll be meeting at Eastern Michigan University in Yspilanti, close enough for a quick trip to Detroit.

[Rich Gibson has a good collection links that explore the urban, and particularly the educational, crises in Detroit at his web site.]

NCSS continues to advocate for government mandated high-stakes testing

Despite the research illustrating deleterious effects of high-stakes testing on teaching and learning, the National Council for the Social Studies continues to be an advocate for it.

NCSS, the largest group of social studies education professionals in the world, and it’s state level affiliates, use the perverted logic that the only way to preserve social studies courses in the curriculum is for those courses to be included in mandated high-stakes testing schemes.

The latest example of this perversion of education is in Massachusetts, where the state plans to either eliminate or delay required history and social science exams for 10th graders.

In response, the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies has started a campaign to the save the tests! And the NCSS Board of Directors has sent an letter to the Mass. Board of Education stressing the importance of implementing the proposed exams as scheduled.

The logic is apparently that state mandated high-stakes exams are a way for governments to show their commitment to social studies. But do we need social studies courses that narrow the curriculum to what is on the exam? That undermine teacher professionalism by turning teachers into clerks for the state, whose job it is to feed students exam answers?

The idea that NCSS’s raison d’être—the promotion of “democratic citizenship”—is advanced by students and teachers willingly participating in a scheme that reduces education to scores is absurd.