What follows is a brief historical and intellectual review of the curriculum scholar Henry Giroux. I was first introduced to Giroux’s work a few years ago and continue to be drawn to his radical flair and passion for democratic education. While he is a leading figure in the fields of critical and public pedagogies, youth and popular culture, and neoliberalism (Morales, Pozo, & Rahmani, 2006; Robbins, 2009), Giroux has had a “long-standing radical interest in connecting formal and informal modes of education to the process of democratization and opening the culture of politics up as a site of politically transformative pedagogical activity” (Robbins, 2009, p. 432). Thus, the goal of this paper is to explain and elaborate on Giroux’s theoretical interests by providing a:
- Biographical overview followed by a discussion about his key theoretical contributions;
- Summary of selected writings;
- Discussion on how these are applied to the field of curriculum studies.
Henry Giroux was born on September 18, 1943, in Providence, Rhode Island. His mother had epilepsy, his sister was sent to an orphanage, and little is known about his father. Growing up in the postwar 1950’s and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s, Giroux’s early life was not without its challenging moments. At the age of eight he worked as a shoeshine boy along a nightclub strip that had separate white and black clubs. He recalls learning to negotiate, debate, and defend himself navigating the nightclub strip late at night. Giroux has been married twice and had three children (Kids for sale, 2000).
A former high school history teacher in 1977 he received his doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His previous academic roles include Professor of Education at Boston University (1997-1983), Professor of Education and scholar in residence at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio (1983-1992), and Distinguished Professor at the College of Education, Penn State University (1992- 2004). Currently, he is the Global Television Network Chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario where his current wife and writing partner, Dr. Susan Searls Giroux, is the Associate Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Associate Professor of English and Cultural Studies (Giroux, n.d.; Morales, et al, 2006).
Over the span of his career Giroux has authored, coauthored, edited, and co-edited more than 40 volumes, at least 280 scholarly popular press articles, 154 contributions to edited collections, and made numerous public speaking engagements. He has been presented with several awards and accolades such as the American Educational Studies Association (AESA) Critics’ Choice Award for The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (2008), Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree presented by Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland (2005), and was also named one of the top fifty educational thinkers of the modern period in Fifty Modern Thinkers on Education: From Piaget to the Present as part of Routledge’s Guides Publication Series (2002) (Giroux, n.d.).
A recent review of the literature exploring the use of the term public pedagogy and its divergent meanings found that Giroux’s contributions to the field account for a significant number of the overall total (Sandlin, et al, 2011). As Sandlin, O’Malley, and Burdick explain, “the public pedagogy literature has been influenced by the work of Henry Giroux, as his scholarship represents roughly 15% of the entire sample. Giroux was an especially large influence during the years 2001 to 2005, when his scholarship consisted of more than one third of the published work during that time period. Also, Giroux’s work accounted for approximately one third of the publications in the Dominant Discourses category across all time periods, reflecting his prolific publishing on the theme of neoliberalism as public pedagogy” (2011, p. 341).
Giroux belongs to a group of curriculum scholars who challenge the traditional notions of education that include the company of William Pinar, Roger Simon, Donald Macedo, Stanley Aronowitz, Lawrence Grossberg, William Pinar, Chandra Mohanty, and Peter McLaren to name a few. As Morales, et al. explain, these scholars offer a “new range of discourse about how pedagogy works in shaping power, identities, social relations, and inequality in the classroom” (2006, p. 8). These people have come to respect Giroux and the principles he stands for. Stanley Aronowitz has said of Giroux that, “he insists on thinking beyond the boundaries established by conservatives and depressed liberals. He is still alone” (Giroux, Preface, p. xvi, 2001a). Famed liberation theologian and scholar Paulo Freire has said, “…his thought does not allow those who approach him to be indifferent” (Giroux, Foreword, p. xiv, 2001a).
In spite of his contributions, Giroux has drawn criticism from both the left and right for his perceived radical views. As Robbins explains, “he has never been recognized by the American Educational Research Association, the most influential organization of his home field of study. However, if one goes beyond the U.S. academy, one finds that Giroux has been awarded visiting scholar awards and honorary doctorates, and he has given the prestigious Spencer lecture at Oxford, despite the bulk of his oeuvres having a decidedly North American focus” (2009, p. 429). His radical interests in democratizing education caused an intense tenure review while he was at Boston University (Robbins, 2009). In 2004, he left Penn State University and the US and moved to Canada because he and his wife “under the threat of antidemocratic tendencies moving at high speed in the United States…could no longer live under a government attacking every vestige of democracy” (Giroux, 2006, p. xi)
Beliefs and assumptions
Essentially, Giroux’s writings are based on the assumption that democracy is under threat, specifically in the US, and this threat impacts the educational sphere. He believes that “antidemocratic dogma furthered by market fundamentalists and neoliberalists attempt to destroy critical education as a foundation for an engaged citizenry and vibrant democracy” (Giroux, 2005a, p. xxi). He speaks out against market fundamentalists who contribute to the threat by using consumerism as the raison d’être for citizenship. Sandlin, et al. further explain that, “the overarching concern in Giroux’s more recent work is the articulation of the global, extensive operation of neoliberalism as a public pedagogy that reproduces identities, values, and practices, all under the sign of the market” (2011, p. 352).
Robbins explains that in Giroux’s early work, he demonstrated a healthy respect for the work of key cultural theorists such as Raymond Williams, E. P. Thompson, Richard Hoggart, and Paul Willis (2009). Although it can be argued that Giroux was “top heavy” on Marxism in those early days, he sought to disrupt previously held assumptions about the relationship between the state, schooling, and the economy (Robbins, 2009). Later, he adapted the theoretical work of Stuart Hall, Antonio Gramsci and Paulo Freire to “illustrate that popular culture does not automatically reproduce dominant ideologies, but exists as a site of negotiation where hegemony is struggled for yet not always necessarily won; and to understand how the cultural realm can help create “a democratic politics that addresses the relations of power between youth and adults” (from Giroux, 2001b, p. 33, as quoted in Sandlin, et al, 2011). Giroux, like Stuart Hall, claims that we must acknowledge that cultural issues related to race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and class are interwoven; culture is an important pedagogical site where identities are constructed and transformed (Sandlin, et al, 2011).
Making the political more pedagogical
Sandlin, et al. indicate that public pedagogy includes both hidden and explicit curricula in three areas: a) formal learning sites such as such as classrooms, labs, museums, zoos, libraries, b) informal sites such as popular culture, media, the Internet; and c) “through figures and sites of activism, including public intellectuals and grassroots social movements” (2011, pp. 338-339). Giroux forwards the premise that public pedagogy is an outcome of conflict and struggles and not a teaching method or technique. In essence, pubic pedagogy “articulates and shapes the connection between power and morality” (Morales, et al, 2006, p. 8). Most of Giroux’s writings are both a critique and a warning that education as “a public pedagogy now generally functions to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning” (Giroux, 2005a, p. xxii).
In true democratic form, Giroux asserts that “public pedagogy can be used as a powerful resource for engaging people in robust forms of dialogue and activism” (Morales, et al, 2006, p. 4). In doing so, we need to critically explore how pedagogy works inside and outside of formal learning institutions so that we can apply academic thought to issues related to domination and shaping youth culture in an era of neoliberalism (Morales, et al, 2006). Hence, through critical pedagogy and democratizing education we can make the political more pedagogical (Giroux, 2004). Therefore, Giroux suggests that schools need “to be redefined as a “democratic public sphere” that “educate teachers to be publically engaged individuals” who address the “most pressing problems of their society as part of a wider politics and pedagogy of solidarity and democratic struggle, and rewriting the curriculum in order to address the lived experiences that different students bring to the school…” (Morales, et al, p. 5).
Review of selected works
Giroux, H. A. (2005b). Schooling, citizenship, and the struggle for democracy.
While providing an historical overview of a critical theory of citizenship, Giroux proposes a radical model of citizenship education. This citizenship model would have the following requirements:
- It should promote an emancipatory form of citizenship that strives to eliminate oppressive social practices (p. 6);
- Be a process of political meaning-making, moral regulation and cultural production, with particular subjectivities about what it means to be a member of a nation-state (p. 7);
- Include a process of ongoing dialogue and commitment in the hope of solidarity for the common good and power of the democratic voice;
- Provide alterative roles for teachers whereby they themselves becoming more activist and joining groups that are struggling with social issues, etc. (p. 35).
Citizenship, like democracy itself, is part of a historical tradition that represents a terrain of struggle over the forms of knowledge, social practices, and values that constitute the critical elements of that tradition…Once we acknowledge the concept of citizenship as a socially constructed historical practice, it becomes all the more imperative to recognize that categories like citizenship and democracy need to be problematized and reconstructed for each generation. (p. 6)
Giroux, H. A. (2004a). Cultural Studies and the Politics of Public Pedagogy: Making the Political More Pedagogical.
Giroux reminds us of the perils of neoliberalism that underline market gain and individualism while setting aside social needs. He asserts that neoliberalist views of power and economics undermine the basic functions of equality and social justice in a democracy. Hence, pedagogy must become a political practice illuminating the relationships between power, knowledge and ideologies.
Public pedagogy in this sense refers to a powerful ensemble of ideological and institutional forces whose aim is to produce competitive, self-interested individuals vying for their own material and ideological gain. Corporate public pedagogy culture largely cancels out or devalues gender, class-specific, and racial injustices of the existing social order by absorbing the democratic impulses and practices of civil society within narrow economic relations. (p. 74)
Giroux, H. A. (2004). Cultural Studies, Public Pedagogy, and the Responsibility of Intellectuals.
In this article, Giroux discusses the strengths and weakness of the project of cultural studies. Cultural studies support a better understanding of the world and its interrelationships; it is contextual producing different solutions and different problems in context; hence pedagogy is contextual supporting context-dependent learning. Cultural studies can also be a largely academic discourse whereby theorists need to be more self-critical with others, working collectively across networks.
As a critical practice, pedagogy’s role lies not only in changing how people think about themselves and their relationship to others and the world, but also in energizing students and others to engage in those struggles that further possibilities for living in a more just society. (p. 64).
Giroux, H. A. (2005c). Postcolonial Ruptures/Democratic Possibilities.
Giroux outlines a number of theoretical considerations for recognizing border pedagogy as a viable educational theory. Border pedagogy illuminates the historical and socially constructed borders that frame our discourses and social relations. It poses the need for students to write and speak in a language that is inclusive and multi-accentual. Students must be given opportunities to develop counter discourses that push the boundaries of established knowledge boundaries.
Border pedagogy is attentive to developing a democratic public philosophy that respects the notion of difference as part of a common struggle to extend the quality of public life. It presupposes not merely an acknowledgement of the shifting borders that both undermine and reterritorialize different configurations of culture, power, and knowledge. It also links the notions of schooling and the broader category of education to a more substantive struggle for a radical democratic society. (p. 20)
Henry Giroux encourages educators to consider culture as a pedagogical site where opportunities to interrogate and disrupt patterns of domination and oppression can occur. For Giroux, our very praxis should centre on democratic discourse and democratization of problems and issues in their content and across language boundaries. Giroux, as well as other cultural theorists, have claimed that curriculum in North America has historically been written from dominant Anglo-Protestant, European, and Western knowledge/cultural positions (Kincheloe, 2008; Kanu, 2003). As curriculum developers, we can now consider these theories and negotiate pedagogical texts and curricula that are inclusive of the Other and provide curriculum space for movement across identity, gender, cultural, political, or ideological borders.
The goal of this paper was to explain and elaborate Giroux’s theoretical interests by providing a biographical overview followed by a discussion on his key theoretical contributions, a summary of selected writings, and a discussion on how these are applied to the field of curriculum studies. In this very brief review, it is evident that Henry Giroux is passionate about democracy, social justice, and equality between individuals. His legacy as a cultural theorist challenges our own pedagogical sensibilities and calls us to activism in our own areas.
Giroux, H. A. (n.d.) Henry Giroux Website. Retrieved on June 8, 2012, from http://www.henryagiroux.com/index.html
Giroux, H. A. (2001a). Theory and resistance in education: Towards pedagogy for the opposition. Westport, Connecticut: Bergin & Garvey.
Giroux, H. A. (2001b). Stealing innocence: Corporate culture’s war on children. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Giroux, H. A. (2004a). Cultural studies and the politics of public pedagogy: Making the political more pedagogical. Parallax, (10)2, 73-89.
Giroux, H. A. (2004b). Cultural Studies, Public Pedagogy, and the Responsibility of Intellectuals. Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies. (1)1, 59-79.
Giroux, H. A. (2005a). Introduction: Democracy’s promise and education’s challenge. In
Giroux, H. A. Schooling and the struggle for public life: Democracy’s promise and educational challenge (2nd Ed.). (pp. xi-xxxviii).Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.
Giroux, H. A. (2005b). Schooling, citizenship, and the struggle for democracy. In Giroux, H. A. Schooling and the struggle for public life: Democracy’s promise and educational challenge (2nd Ed.) (pp. 3-36). Boulder: Paradigm Publishers.
Giroux, H. A. (2005c). Postcolonial ruptures/Democratic possibilities. In Giroux, H. A. (2005). Border crossings: Cultural workers and the politics of education (2nd Ed.). (pp. 11-30). New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.
Giroux, H. A. (2006). Preface and acknowledgement. In Giroux, H. A. America on the edge: Henry giroux on politics, culture and education (pp. ix-xi). New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Kanu, Y. (2003). Curriculum as Cultural Practice: Postcolonial Imagination. Journal of the Association for Curriculum Studies, 1(1), 67-81.
Kincheloe, J. (2008). Critical Pedagogy and the Knowledge Wars of the Twenty-First Century. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy [Electronic version], 1(1), 1-22.
Morales, M., Pozo, M., & Rahmani, S. (2006). Interview: Henry giroux on critical pedagogy and the responsibility of the public individual. In Giroux, H. A. America on the edge: Henry giroux on politics, culture and education (pp. 3-20). New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Penn State University. (2000). Kids for sale. Penn State Online Research, May 2000, Volume 21, Issue 2. Retrieved on June 20, 2012, from http://www.rps.psu.edu/0005/kids.html
Sandlin, J. A., O’Malley, M. P., & Burdick, J. (2011). Mapping the Complexity of Public Pedagogy Scholarship: 1894–2010. Review of Educational Research, (81)3, 338–375.
Robbins, C. G. (2009). Searching for politics with henry giroux: Through cultural studies to public pedagogy and the ‘‘terror of neoliberalism.’’ The Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 31:428–478.