What does education do? How does the classroom experience inform, transform, or determine the life of the student? What roles do normative positions and subjective knowledge have in the modern classroom? This book answers these questions by drawing from intellectual history, educational research, and sociological theory. Giroux argues that teachers should be seen as transformative intellectuals because they can and should use knowledge and knowledge-practicesGiroux's alternative term for teachingto engage and change the lives of their students as well as the society in which they live. The book can be inaccessible at times, but enlightening at others, and is a worthwhile read for teachers who want to better articulate the value of the classroom.
Giroux reacts against approaches to education that treat the student as a product to be judged against competitors. These approaches claim to identify the factors that increase test scores and improve occupational outcomes; the society in which the schooling takes place is largely unquestioned, and the school itself becomes the chief mechanism for social reproduction. Against such approaches, Giroux argues that teachers and students should be the chief mechanisms for social change and that this change can occur only when the subjective positions of the students are taken seriously.
Exactly which students and which teachers he is discussing remains, unfortunately, an unanswered question. The book never directly identifies an audience. It is largely written for teachers of the social sciences and is rooted in their terminology, which may prove frustrating for teachers from other disciplines. Giroux seems most interested in secondary schooling, but many university-level teachers will find it applicable to the college classroom. However, the book has very little to say to the natural sciences and only addresses the humanities only to the extent that they are engaged in social research, such as cultural studies. The biggest problem with the book is that Giroux has collaborated with a variety of authors for several of the chapters and some of the chapters co-authored by others have very different voices and at times even seem to contradict earlier ones.
But the book also takes on very important and difficult questions in an interesting way. For instance, in a chapter on writing in the social sciences, Giroux makes a compelling argument for social studies teachers to stop deferring to departments of English to teach students how to write. Instead, he offers a model designed to help students of social studies "use their writing as a pedagogical tool to think more critically about the subject matter under study" (72). More generally, Giroux calls for teaching reform and proposes as an alternative the "critical pedagogy" named in the book's subtitle: a pedagogy that weds theory and practice to empower students to "think and act critically in the struggle for democratic social relations and human freedom" (xxi).
of Giroux's claims about the nature and purpose of teaching are heavily
contentiousnot every teacher will aspire to this modelthis
book is a good starting point for debates about the purposes and possibilities
of the classroom.