Education is more than schooling.
Henry Giroux writes:
Schools represent only one important site where education takes place, where men and women both produce and are the product of specific social and pedagogical relations. Education represents in [Paulo] Freire’s view both a struggle for meaning and a struggle over power relations…
Education is that terrain where power and politics are given a fundamental expression, since it is where meaning, desire, language, and values engage and respond to the deeper beliefs about the very nature of what it means to be human, to dream, and to name and struggle for a particular future and way of life.
As a referent for change, education represents…the need for a passionate commitment by educators to make the political more pedagogical, that is, to make critical reflection and action a fundamental part of a social project that not only engages forms of oppression but also develops a deep and abiding faith in the struggle to humanize life itself. Henry A. Giroux, Introduction, The Politics of Education)
Too often, especially in the past few decades, we link education and politics in a negative way.
We speak as if all things “political” should be somehow kept out of classrooms, excluded from education, pretending education is or should be neutral.“Political” and politics become dirty words, associated with disruption, frustration, partisanship, and division.
But education is never neutral, nor should we pretend that it is.
Ira Shor writes:
No curriculum can be neutral. All forms of education are political because they can enable or inhibit the questioning habits of students, thus developing or disabling their critical relation to knowledge, schooling, and society. Education can socialize students into critical thought or into dependence on authority, that is, into autonomous habits of mind or into passive habits of following authorities, waiting to be told what to do and what things mean…the contents included and excluded in curriculum are political choices. (Empowering Education, pp. 12-13)
Shor goes on to argue that this political, empowering education fundamentally questions the status quo and intentionally develops a critical curiosity and habit of inquiry that are key traits in change agents who seek to transform individuals’ and society’s basic assumptions about our world (McLaren 1989). “Political,” then, becomes a stand-in not for divisive or disruptive but for an education that is engaged, inquisitive, and unaccepting of status quo explanations of the world in which we live.
The issue is that we have been trained by recent educational policy to think of education as the three R’s, as assessments, as graduation rates, and as facts memorized and skills learned.
This kind of education, as Shor and others have pointed out, socializes toward a life of acceptance, contentment, and complacency.
Quite the opposite, education that empowers socializes students and teachers for a life of inquiry, activism, and change making. Shor asserts that this type of empowering education is participatory, affective, problem-posing, situated, multicultural, dialogic, desocializing, democratic, researching, interdisciplinary, and activist (p. 17).
This project, Why Are Our Teachers Racist? , endeavors to hit all of these marks through an approach called Participatory Action Research and hopes to act as an example of an attempt toward empowering education.