- Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post Civil-Rights Era
The role of higher education in public life continues to be a vigorously contested issue. In the midst of increased calls for education that promotes civic engagement among students, there is also ongoing support for the idea that colleges and universities should not pursue the possibility of social agency or responsibility with students. In Take Back Higher Education, Henry A. Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux make a strong case for institutions of higher education to be morally engaged, not only with social issues but also with the pursuit of justice. The book calls intellectuals to account, arguing that the ways those in the university articulate whom we represent and to whom we are responsible "has drastic implications . . . for the kind of society in which we live" (38). Indeed, educators must "relat[e] their work to larger social issues . . . offering students knowledge, debate, and dialogue about pressing social problems" (8-9). The authors' primary purpose is to provide "some speculation about and critical questioning of" the waning interest in national politics and growing skepticism toward education (1).
This commitment to moral engagement and justice has strong parallels with previous work by Giroux and Giroux. Scholarship by Susan Searls Giroux has addressed race, rhetoric, and discourse on civic education, while work by Henry A. Giroux has offered extensive attention over the last three decades to critical pedagogy, youth studies, film studies, and cultural politics. His recent books such as Public Spaces/Private Lives: Democracy Beyond 09/11 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003) and The Terror of Neoliberalism: The New Authoritarianism and the Attack on Democracy (Paradigm Press, 2004) offer critical attention to the systematic elimination of educational and democratic resources necessary for engaged citizenship, and to the ways in which market-driven values are obscuring the concept of citizenship. The arguments Giroux and Giroux articulate in Take Back Higher Education are in direct contrast to those who posit that the "main objection to moral and civic education in our colleges and universities is not that it is a bad idea (which it surely is), but that it's an unworkable idea . . . [D]emocratic values and academic [End Page 185] values are not the same and . . . the confusion of the two can easily damage the quality of education" (Stanley Fish, "Aim Low: Confusing Democratic Values with Academic Ones Can Easily Damage the Quality of Education," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/16/03). In Take Back Higher Education, Giroux and Giroux assert that the central task of higher education is to serve democratic values by educating students as critical and engaged citizens.
The book's three sections discuss the interlocking nature of education, politics, and democracy; the relationship of race to the liberal arts curriculum; and the threat of corporate values and neoliberalism to higher education's "commitment to future generations" (11). Chapter one makes important connections between attacks against the university and how the work of scholars supports students' civic capacities and participation. The authors discuss the university as agora, an ancient Greek concept of political organization that draws together public and private life in the interests of a democratic society. Chapter two relies on Pierre Bourdieu's work to discuss the concrete ways in which academics might act as engaged intellectuals, addressing, for example, the elimination of social programs and the almost total lack of public commitment to the well-being of youth. In chapter three, the authors examine cultural studies from a variety of angles: its strengths and weaknesses, its call for educators to be radically contextual, and the ways in which it has fallen short in terms of its lack of attention to reconstruction and non-academic sites. By the end of the first section, the authors have made explicit arguments regarding both what is at stake—vast inequality and the consistent elimination of the social contract—and how educators can redefine higher education as...