Recently I’ve been going back to the roots of who shaped my ideas and practice around pedagogy – Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Henry Giroux… I’ve left academic discourse alone for a long time (postmodernism, identity (de)construction, Derrida, Foucault), so there’s something refreshing about rediscovering the applicability of theory to reality.
Over the past two decades I’ve been so steeped in reality, that at times I’ve grown cynical about theories. There’s typically a huge chasm between people who pontificate about and love theories, and those who are steeped in choking realities that can seem to have little room or use for theories. Poor people are used to having theories - developed by those better off than them - applied to their lives, without their say. Poor Americans did not develop the welfare system. Those of us with more means, and with big theories, did. But poor people are then blamed for what (others) deem to be a failure of the theory’s application to reality. This happens again and again.
One of the things I love most about bell hooks is her often isolating stance that theory has a central place in the lives, ideas and struggles of those who are most marginalized in any society. She resists anti-intellectualism, which, because of even just the example above, is often a badge of honor amongst poor people - in this country in particular. But shunning intellectual thought and discussion, the seeds of theory, is a significant factor in what keeps people with common interests divided. It was precisely political and economic theories that bore the most effective class alliances across racial and ethnic lines in American history, from the rise of the Communist Party in Harlem during the Great Depression, to the evolution of the Civil Rights movement into a global human rights movement.
Henry Giroux can be alienating in his academic writing, but in an interview with Bill Moyers last year he speaks much more accessibly, and very compellingly, about what’s at risk with equating democracy with capitalism. Underneath the faux democratization of citizens’ voices via the rise of social media, we’re spiraling dizzyingly ahead towards previously unimaginable resource/wealth disparity and species demise. Yet despite the speed and power with which today’s brand of capitalism (an economic theory) has steamrolled its way into our collective psyches as a given, nothing is permanent.
Equally resonant as when she wrote the words twenty-five years ago, bell hooks speaks to an urge to be heard we all share: “’Yearning’ is the word that best describes a common psychological state shared by many of us, cutting across boundaries of race, class, gender, and sexual practice. Specifically in relation to the postmodernist deconstruction of "master" narratives, the yearning that wells in the hearts and minds of those whom such narratives have silenced is the longing for critical voice.”
exalt is designed to help students find and nurture their critical voices. Please join us Wednesday June 4th for our annual fundraiser at The Greene Space, and help us prove the theory that education, not incarceration, builds a democracy.