Education and the Crisis of Public Values

Challenging the Assault on Teachers, Students, & Public Education

by Henry A. Giroux (Author)
©2011 Textbook XII, 129 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 400


This book was awarded a CHOICE outstanding Academic Title and has received the Annual O. L. Davis, Jr. Outstanding Book Award from the AATC (American Association for Teaching and Curriculum) and the AESA (American Educational Studies Association) Critics Choice Award 2012.
Education and the Crisis of Public Values examines American society’s shift away from democratic public values, the ensuing move toward a market-driven mode of education, and the last decade’s growing social disinvestment in youth. The book discusses the number of ways that the ideal of public education as a democratic public sphere has been under siege, including full-fledged attacks by corporate interests on public school teachers, schools of education, and teacher unions. It also reveals how a business culture cloaked in the guise of generosity and reform has supported a charter school movement that aims to dismantle public schools in favor of a corporate-friendly privatized system. The book encourages educators to become public intellectuals, willing to engage in creating a formative culture of learning that can nurture the ability to defend public and higher education as a general good – one crucial to sustaining a critical citizenry and a democratic society.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Praise for the First Edition of Education and the Crisis of Public Values
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Reversing the Authoritarian Assault on Public Education
  • 1. In Defense of Public School Teachers in a Time of Crisis
  • 2. When Generosity Hurts: Bill Gates, Public School Teachers, and the Politics of Humiliation.
  • 3. Teachers Without Jobs and Education Without Hope: Beyond Bailouts and the Fetish of the Measurement Trap
  • 4. Chartering Disaster: Why Duncan’s Corporate-Based Schools Can’t Deliver an Education That Matters
  • 5. Dumbing Down Teachers: Attacking Colleges of Education in the Name of Reform
  • 6. Business Culture and the Death of Public Education: Mayor Bloomberg, David Steiner, and the Politics of Corporate “Leadership”
  • 7. Public Intellectuals, the Politics of Clarity, and the Crisis of Language
  • 8. Paulo Freire and the Pedagogy of Bearing Witness
  • Interviews
  • Predatory Capitalism and the Attack on Higher Education
  • The Specter of Authoritarianism and the Future of the Left: An Interview with Henry A. Giroux
  • Intellectuals in the Age of Neoliberal Terror
  • Heather McLean Interview with Henry A. Giroux
  • Henry Giroux on the Militarization of Public Pedagogy
  • Hardened Cultures and the War on Youth: A Conversation with Henry A. Giroux
  • Current “Reforms” Attempt to Drive Young People Out of Democracy: Interview with Henry A. Giroux
  • Index
  • Series Index

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I want to thank Chris Myers for urging me to do a second edition of this book. His support is always deeply appreciated. I also want to thank Ken Saltman and Donaldo Macedo for the many conversations we have had about education. Shirley Steinberg and Peter McLaren have always been enormously supportive of my work in ways that have proven very helpful over the years. Brad Evans is a model of what a colleague should be like. Susan Giroux is my intellectual companion and just brilliant in her interventions, ideas, help with titles, and in the end with the advice that often changes the way I think about issues. I don’t know how to thank her either enough or in a way that would match how appreciative I am. Maya, my assistant for almost a decade never fails to be professional, supportive, joyous, and just a wonderful person to be around. My graduate students Jenny Fisher, Clorinde Peters, and Tyler Pollard are a great source of inspiration, hope, and friendship. They are the best of the best.

Many of these interviews were published in Truthout and I am thankful for the support of Victoria Harper, Leslie Thatcher, and Maya Schenwar who have been enormously generous and helpful as my editors and friends.

Tyler Pollard’s interview is drawn largely from and first published in Pollard, Tyler J. (2014), “Hardened Cultures and the War on Youth: A Conversation with Henry A. Giroux,” Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 36(3), 180–192.

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Reversing the Authoritarian Assault on Public Education


By the time this introduction is published in the second edition of Education and the Crisis of Public Values, both the Senate and House of Representatives will be controlled by the Republican Party, one of the most extremist, anti-public education political parties in U.S. history.1 Coupled with the empty centrism of the Democratic Party, its ascendency does not bode well for public education or a host of other important social issues. Nor does it bode well for democracy. If we conjured up George Orwell and his fear of state surveillance, Hannah Arendt and her claim that thoughtlessness was the foundation of totalitarianism, and Franz Kafka whose characters embodied the death of agency and the “helplessness of the living,”2 it would be difficult for these dystopian works of literary and philosophical imagination to compete with the material realization of the assault on public education and public values in the United States at the beginning of the 21st century.

These are dangerous times. Compromise and compassion are now viewed as pathology, a blight on the very meaning of politics. Moreover, in a society controlled by financial monsters, the political order is no longer sustained by a faith in reason, critical thought, and care for the other. As any vestige of critical education, thought and dissent are disparaged, the assault on reason gives way to both a crisis in agency and politics. The right-wing Republican Party and their Democratic counterparts along with their corporate supporters despise public schools as much as they disdain taxation, institutions that ← xi | xii → enable critical thinking, and any call for providing social provisions that would benefit the public good. Not only are both parties attempting to privatize much of public education in order to make schools vehicles for increasing the profits of investors, they are also destroying the critical infrastructures that sustain schools as democratic public spheres.

Teachers have been deskilled. Losing much of their autonomy to be creative in the classroom, they have been relegated to technicians whose sole objective appears to be enforcing a deadening instrumental rationality in which teaching to the test becomes the primary model of teaching and learning. Moreover, they are being demonized by the claim that the major problem with public education is lack of teacher accountability. The hidden order of politics here is that larger political and economic considerations such as crushing poverty, mammoth inequality, a brutalizing racism, and iniquitous modes of financing public education all disappear from the list of problems facing schooling in the United States. Teachers also serve as an easy target for the (un)reformers to weaken unions, bash organized labor, discredit public servants, and “argue that education can be improved if taxpayer money is funneled away from the public school system’s priorities (hiring teachers, implementing creative pedagogies, increasing teacher autonomy, reducing class size, etc.) and into the private sector (replacing teachers with computers, removing teachers’ job protections, replacing public schools with privately run charter schools, etc.).”3

These policies and practices echo the principles of casino capitalism or neoliberalism and are designed to enforce a pedagogy of repression, one that kills the imagination, sanctions a deadening mode of memorization, and instills in students the discipline necessary for them to accommodate willingly to existing power relations at the expense of developing their capacity to be critical and engaged agents. In this case, the aim of this pedagogy of repression mimics Hannah Arendt’s claim that “The aim of totalitarian education has never been to instill convictions but to destroy the capacity to form any.”4 Public schools are also being defunded as states increasingly develop policies that drain state budgets by giving corporations substantial tax breaks. Diane Ravitch elaborates on the right-wing agenda to destroy public education, which consists of a range of groups ranging from right-wing politicians to shadowy groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC. She is worth quoting in full:

Since the 2010 elections, when Republicans took control of many states, there has been an explosion of legislation advancing privatization of public schools and stripping teachers of job protections and collective bargaining rights. Even some Democratic governors, seeing the strong rightward drift of our politics, ← xii | xiii → have jumped on the right-wing bandwagon, seeking to remove any protection for academic freedom from public school teachers. This outburst of anti-public school, anti-teacher legislation is no accident. It is the work of a shadowy group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. Founded in 1973, ALEC is an organization of nearly 2,000 conservative state legislators. Its hallmark is promotion of privatization and corporate interests in every sphere, not only education, but healthcare, the environment, the economy, voting laws, public safety, etc. It drafts model legislation that conservative legislators take back to their states and introduce as their own “reform” ideas. ALEC is the guiding force behind state-level efforts to privatize public education and to turn teachers into at-will employees who may be fired for any reason. The ALEC agenda is today the “reform” agenda for education.5

The educational needs of students for many Republican and Democratic Party members, pundits, lobbying groups, and politicians rank low next to the financial needs of hedge fund managers, the ultra-rich such as Bill Gates, the Walton family, and the Koch brothers as well as the legislators who make up ALEC, and any number of major corporations. Individual achievement is invoked to justify education as a private right rather than a public good. The discourses of empiricism and standardized testing become the ultimate measures of achievement just as pedagogical matters concerning civic responsibility, engaged citizenship, thoughtfulness, and critical thought disappear from the vocabulary of educational reform.

Under the regime of neoliberalism, community and working together are viewed as burdens because they are at odds with the neoliberal celebration of a survival-of-the fittest ethos. Paul Buchheit goes even further arguing that “Privatizers believe that any form of working together as a community is anti-American.”6 In this instance, the labeling community and caring for the other as anti-American has deeper political roots. As Robert Hunziker observes, “As for neoliberalism, its dictate of ‘survival of the fittest economics’ is really ‘bottom-feeder economics’ whereby the rich accumulate more and more and more at the expense of lower and lower and lower wages, less benefits, and crushed self-esteem. What could be worse?”7

As Aaron Kase reports, defunding for public education has gotten so out of control that one public school in Philadelphia asked parents to “chip in $613 per student just so they can open with adequate services, which if it becomes the norm, effectively defeats the purpose of equitable public education, and is entirely unreasonable to expect from the city’s poorer neighborhoods.”8 Equality, justice, and the search for truth no longer define the mission of public education. Economic policies that benefit the bankers, corporations, and the financial elite result in massive inequities in wealth, income, and power increasingly determine how the American public views both public education and the ← xiii | xiv → needs of young people. As market economies are transformed into market societies, the investment in human capital such as young people has been replaced by an overdetermined emphasis on investing in economic capital. Unchecked market fundamentalism now eats its own children while destroying any viable hope they may have for being included in the social and political infrastructure of democracy and a future that benefits them.9

Moreover, the rights of teachers and children are more difficult to protect as unions are either dismantled or weakened by the apostles of neoliberalism and privatization. Secondary education is no longer a right but an entitlement designed mostly to benefit the children of the rich who either flee from public schools to wealthy private schools or attend public schools in wealthy communities that more often than not resemble private schools in terms of how they segregate in class and racial terms, cater to the whims of the rich, and enshrine values that are consistent with the market. Schooling for poor minorities of class and color defined by the school-to-prison-pipeline has come to represent an appendage of the carceral state. This is not only an attack on public education but an attack on democracy itself. The infrastructure of education has been under assault since the 1980s with the advent of market fundamentalism in America and the growing disdain for the welfare state, the public good, and public values. By infrastructure, I am referring to the material, financial, and intellectual resources necessary for public schools to be able to function in ways that protect teacher autonomy, encourage viable unions, create curricula that are both critical and meaningful, and produce modes of critical pedagogy that truly embrace education as the practice of freedom and young people as critical agents and engaged citizens necessary for making democracy meaningful and substantive.

The shadow of Orwell now haunts public education and democracy itself as the political defenders of torture and state surveillance take control of Congress. As lawlessness and moral depravity infect all modes of governance, the push toward treating public schools, especially in low-income neighborhoods, as prisons and students as objects of surveillance and control has become more widespread. The presence of police, guards, cameras, and a host of surveillance and security apparatuses have turned schools into incubators for students willing to surrender their freedoms to the national security state. The ghost of Kafka disturbs any vision of democratic education as fear becomes the operative principle in organizing public education, especially for schools largely inhabited by poor minorities of class and color. For the underserved, education is designed not to inspire and energize. Nor is it designed to get students to think, reflect, or question. On the contrary, such schools disable the capacities of students to become knowledgeable, informed ← xiv | xv → speaking agents. Instead, it relegates them to the dreary pedagogical tasks of mastering low-level skills such as memorization, a willingness to conform, and a refusal to question authority. This is more than a pedagogy of repression, it is a pedagogy of helplessness that infantilizes students while dethroning any relationship between learning and social change.

Schools have become punishing factories subjecting students to zero tolerance policies that three decades ago were only tolerated in prisons.10 Security has been turned into a police matter rather than a term that points to pedagogies, classroom policies, emotional support, and modes of administration that provide spaces that dignify students, invest in their welfare, encourage them to expand their capacities for learning, and embrace pedagogies that are meaningful, critical, and transformative. Schools no longer are viewed as places that create dreams of greatness, extend the horizons of the imagination, or point to a future that refuses to mimic the present. On the contrary, they are increasingly held hostage both to the market values embraced by the corporate and financial elite and the fundamentalist ideologies of religious conservatives. It gets worse.


XII, 129
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2011 (July)
youth cultural studies pedagogy public values democracy public sphere Public Sphere Education Youth Cultural Studies Public Values Pedagogy Democracy
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2012. XII, 129 pp.

Biographical notes

Henry A. Giroux (Author)

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department. His primary research areas are in cultural studies, youth studies, critical pedagogy, popular culture, media studies, social theory, and the politics of higher and public education. In 2002, he was named as one of the top fifty educational thinkers of the modern period in Fifty Modern Thinkers on Education: From Piaget to the Present. He is on the editorial and advisory boards of many scholarly journals, and has published numerous books and articles. His most recent books include: The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex; Against the Terror of Neoliberalism; and Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?


Title: Education and the Crisis of Public Values