Friday, June 4, 2010

Stanley Fish, Arizona and the Depoliticized Classroom

Dr. Stanley Fish has an interesting post on one particular element of the new Arizona anti illegal immigration efforts, Arizona the Gift that Keeps on Giving. Arizona now wishes to ban ethnic studies classes in public schools, which are designed to promote "race consciousness." One of the things that I admire about Fish is his willingness to stand up for a depoliticized academia and he is on form in this piece as he attacks the pedagogical theories of Paulo Freire and the Mexican American Studies Department of the Tucson Unified School District for using them as the basis for their Social Justice Education Project. Fish, though, turns around and attacks the new law for proposing "that public school pupils should be taught to treat and value each other as individuals and not be taught to resent or hate other races or other classes of people."

As readers of this blog know, I am an opponent of any attempt from either the left or the right to politicize education. When I teach history, I teach the historical method of thinking and use it to consider the who, what, when, where and why of history; I do not teach moral or political values. I see this as part of the bargain we strike together to allow us to have the sort of free society in which one can receive the sort of meaningful education that might down the road turn someone to the right or left. My objection to someone like Freire has little to do with what I might think about the existence of hegemonic cultures and thought structures and their malicious influence. My problem is that Freire not only attacks proponents of these hegemonic cultures, who we have to assume are real people and not just theoretical constructs, but delegitimizes them as well. If these proponents of hegemonic cultures are as dark and as dangerous as Freire claims, then there can be no meaningful discourse with them. Any time you take discussion off the table you have put guns on the table. In essence the pedagogy of Freire is a call for the disenfranchisement, political slavery and even murder of ideological opponents like me, all while being hypocritical enough to deny this fact and having the gall to ask people like me to financially support my own destruction.

While I support widening the circle of people whom, while I may disagree with them I still view as legitimate, as much as possible, there are going to be people who fall outside this circle, who believe things that not only go against the free society but make it impossible for them to take part in it and still have a free society in any meaningful sense. This leads to a situation where the free society must insist, as the price of admission, on the acceptance of certain beliefs. This is no different than the situation of rational skepticism, which allows you to question everything else, but the premises underlying itself. This is the price of belief you pay in order to be a skeptic. As a Jew, I am not capable of ever debating whether or not I am a member of an Elders of Zion organization. I ask that you accept on faith that I am a good American citizen and give me the benefit of the doubt and in return I agree to give you the benefit of the doubt. Since American society has decided to accept people like me into its bosom, it has had no choice but to expel white supremacists from its midst and banish them to places like rural Idaho. This would even apply to the government. I could not be an equal part of an American politics in which white supremacists are also allowed to take part in a meaningful way. As such having me in the system means that we are forced to use all means, Constitutional and extra-Constitutional to make sure white supremacists are not. Nothing personal against white supremacists, but our views are so mutually exclusive that we have no choice, in essence, but to kill each other.

Because I recognize this sort of bargain we make with each other. I have no objection for the government to come in and openly insist on certain ground rules in order to take part in the system. Particularly, everyone has to accept the authority of the government, obey the law and respect the legitimacy, as opposed to liking or agreeing with them, of all other signers of this pact. In a multi-racial United States, one has to be willing to accept, at least ex post facto, that people of all races can be legitimate American citizens. This is all of course superfluous since I oppose government funded education in the first place. I would, though, support similar language in a bill targeting who can run for public office. Yes it would be an ideological test, but one, in essence no different than swearing to uphold the Constitution.


Clarissa said...

I don't think that education can possibly be "depoliticized." How can I teach my students to have opinions and express them well, if I never express my own opinions in class? How can I expect them to learn to be good citizens, if I never offer any information about politics?

Izgad said...

As an undergraduate, I had a really good political science professor Dr. Ruth Bevan. One of the things that so impressed me about her was that to this day I have no idea what her politics are. Her goal in teaching was to get us to open up and read everyone from Hobbes, Locke, Marx, and Mill to Foucault and Derrida. I think that one of the advantages of history is that it allows us to step away from our modern pre-conceptions and spend time in a different world. Let us spend forty minutes away from Arizona immigration laws and talk about the Spanish Empire in the New World.

Clarissa said...

Well, the trick is to make your point about the idiocy of what Arizona is doing without ever mentioning Arizona. :-) That's the approach I use.