Marxists in Schools of Education Respond to NAS Article

Dec 29, 2009 |  Ashley Thorne

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Marxists in Schools of Education Respond to NAS Article

Dec 29, 2009 | 

Ashley Thorne

Crosspost from Two weeks ago I published an article about a Marxist journal that has seized authority in the education world. The Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies (JCEPS) is published by the UK-based Institute for Education Policy Studies (IEPS), “an independent Radical Left/Socialist/Marxist institute for developing policy analysis and development of education policy.” It takes its cues from Che Guevara and Paulo Freire. Articles from JCEPS are required reading in some ed schools, and the editorial advisory board has representatives from universities in eighteen countries. In posting the NAS article on JCEPS, I thought that simply calling the journal what it is would be enough to discredit it. I wrote:

While it is appropriate to study the now discredited but historically important ideas of Marxism in political science, philosophy, and economics courses, education schools have no need for radical ideology. Ed schools should be preparing teachers to train the minds of the next generation, not to arm them with socialist politics. To do so cheats both future teachers and their future students out of the sound, unbiased education they deserve.

I assumed that most people would agree that Marxist politics have no place in the classroom, and that the JCEPS folks would be reluctant to own their radical left agenda. I was wrong. Since the article appeared on the NAS website, apologists for the journal have been coming out of the woodwork. We seem to have secured the attention of some of the last remaining Marxists on earth. One commenter, who seems not to be a native speaker of English, wrote:

Definitely, education should be explicitly involved in struggles for equity and justice, especially at the current situation. Therefore, it’s very meaningful to arouse teachers and students’ critical consciousness, as Professor Peter McLaren does. School and society shouldn’t be separated. No matter it is in John Dewey’s mind “school is society”, or in other scholar’s essay “society is school”, schools have close relationship with society. George Counts once insisted that it was a great ideal that people should mainly focus on educating the children and care little about others, however, he thought that schools and teachers had to think about the injustice since the then unequal society greatly influenced teachers and students in 1930s. As for the current situation which is much worse than in 1930s in many aspects, the “ivory tower” ideal had gone and would never come back, colleges and universities are more and more involved in the society economically and politically, students have to fight for the equality, and teachers are forced to fight for their right they deserved. There are inequity and injustice in society, so it’s teachers’ responsibility to arouse their students consciousness to seek for the equity and justice. Those behind it are the ones who give up their responsibilities or the ones who own privilege, because they dare not to change the society or don’t want to give up their privilege. [emphasis mine]

Another person, ironically self-nicknamed “Cassiodorus” after the devout Christian who kept alive the flame of liberal learning after the fall of Rome, added:

Marxism isn't discredited anywhere, education isn't unbiased, and "radical" refers to the notion of examining the roots ("radical," from the Latin radix, or root) of everyday practice, something which should be done more often in schools.  The rest of this is a rather amateurish collection of soundbites on a number of subjects, the least understood of which is critical pedagogy. [emphasis mine]

This is a delightful bit of self-delusion.  Marxism isn’t discredited anywhere?  Marxism is discredited just about everywhere, but if “Cassiodorus” needs a for instance, I can testify firsthand that Marxism is discredited in Novokuznetsk and other parts of Russia where I have stayed.  From his nom de plume, I would think Cassiodorus is implicitly acknowledging this reality.  His “Rome” would appear to be the Soviet State and the nations it held captive.  He is keeping the holy flame of Marxism alive in an age dominated by the barbarian idea of human freedom. “Ferlaz” also chimed in:

In Argentina we are creating a new educational movement based on the critical pedagogies, especially the works of Paulo Freire, Peter McLaren. This article only serves to confirm that we are on the correct path of struggle. This educational movement is not intended to build ideological blocs but returning to education because their political neutrality is also a way of doing politics. This article ends endorsing own knowledge of the dominant classes, their ideologies and worldviews deny the possibility of conflict as natural and accepting the hegemonic discourse. From Argentina, from the popular schools for youth and adults in factories recovered by their workers shouted: Che lives!, As in Peter McLaren's page.

The grammar here is too shaky to figure out exactly what is making “ferlaz” so excited.  Che, the murderous thug of the Cuban revolution, is fortunately long dead.  He enjoys only the kind of immortality conferred by T-shirts and dorm-room posters. It does seem to me of absorbing interest that the great folly of Marxism—having burned through the twentieth century as a fire that killed more than 90 million people, enslaved countless others, and brought more misery and oppression into the world than any other political doctrine in human history—still has its proud defenders.  And they are in schools of education.

Sylvia Wasson

| December 30, 2009 - 8:13 PM

Not only does Marxism have many proud defenders within the walls of our universities, the sympathizers of Marxist/Communist ideology also richly inhabit journalism and the mainstream media. More shocking than their defense of this historical evil is often the “logic” that undergirds the defense itself.

Upon the publication of “The Black Book of Communism” in 1997, journalist Daniel Singer had this to say:
  “If you look at Communism as merely the story of crimes, terror and
    repression, to borrow the subtitle of the Black Book, you are missing
    the point”.....“The Soviet Union did not rest on the gulag alone.
    There was also enthusiasm, construction, the spread of education and
    social advancement for millions.”

The spread of what KIND of education? What, exactly, is Singer’s definition of “social advancement” under a Communist regime? And at “what cost” did this advancement take place?

Daniel Singer’s logic is that of someone saying that the Green River Killer should not be remembered as a serial killer alone, but also as a man who used to distribute cookies to his neighbors during Christmas time.


| December 31, 2009 - 3:44 AM

I’m all in favour of teaching Marx, Engels, Lenin, Christopher Caudwell, Che Guevara, Frantz Fanon, Paulo Freire, Amilcar Cabral, Issa Shivji, Mzala (Jabulani Nxumalo), Thomas Sankara and the whole on-going flow of literature that we have.

Of course you must teach this.

Dr. Sylvia Wasson

| December 31, 2009 - 2:49 PM

There is a major difference between “teaching about” and “advocating for” a particular political theory.

I agree with “Domza” that competing ideas on ALL schools of thought—both past and present—ought to be legitimate topics of discussion in America’s classrooms. The National Association of Scholars has a solid record of supporting the free exchange of ideas. However, it also has a solid record of opposing “indoctrination.” It does so by exposing the many manifestations of the inculcation of “one-sided ideas” and “trends” (e.g. diversity, sustainability, etc.)in today’s academy.

The NAS is not “afraid” of ideas being taught, let alone being discussed. It does, however, insist that such discussion—in the tradition of American liberty and
Freedom of Speech—be unfettered, open, and free of bias.

The NAS is a beacon of hope in dark times in higher education. I am immensely proud to be one of its members.


| January 01, 2010 - 5:01 AM

Paulo Freire (invariably identified in the third-party literature as a Christian, by the way) and the school of critical pedagogy that he founded, of which Peter McLaren is the best-known exponent in the world today, focuses on precisely this problem of which you have written, more than any other problem, Dr Sylvia.

In Freire’s “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, the “banking theory of education” (a.k.a. “bucket-and-tap”) is strenuously opposed. Also opposed is the cocooning of the classroom away from the oppression evident in the world. Withal, Freire presents a morality aimed towards the restoration of the historical human subject, as an individual and as a socially-co-operating individual.

We all arrive with our preconceptions, but for all Peter McLaren’s personal devotion to Che Guevara, as it may be, it is he, and not you, that has a credible worked-out theory of how not to impose his ideas, and exactly why it is hopeless and counter-productive to impose such preconceived ideas.

It is Freire who has actually charted the “major difference” that you identify between “teaching about” and “advocating for”. It is Freire who describes the traps and pitfalls that await the well-intentioned. It is Freire who has designed a pedagogical practice with proven capability of cultivating freedom. Peter McLaren is above all Freire’s prophet, which is to say a prophet of honesty and morality in teaching and learning.

Peter can answer for himself, but I would expect him to confirm the principle that you, as a student or as a teacher can take or leave his feelings about Che Guevara, Marx and Lenin, but you can’t do without critical pedagogy if you want to be dealing with the oppressed (which is to say, with the greater part of humanity).

The fact that Peter McLaren wears his preferences on his sleeve is part of the method. Likewise, in my Freirean practice, I come to it as myself, with all of my pre-existing judgments, which I do not impose, and in that way I licence you and all others involved to do the same - to be yourselves.

Critical pedagogy is a dialogic form of pedagogy. There is no prescription, and there is no closure.

If I may quote a similar sentiment of Frantz Fanon’s: “There are no innocents, and there are no onlookers”.

Dr. Sylvia Wasson

| January 02, 2010 - 6:53 PM

Domza (Sir/Madam?):

Where to start?? I have long abandoned the illusion that academic admirers of the likes of Marx, Castro or Che Guevara are capable of engaging in an intellectually honest discourse regarding the true evils of Communism. And why should they bother?

Securely entrenched in tenured positions, and protected by their Constitutionally guaranteed right to Free Speech, they can safely espouse from behind their lacterns their sanitized version of Marxist/communist ideology—conveniently ignoring the horrors of its historical praxis. These horrors—may they be in the form of Castro’s “rat holes”, the Soviet Gulag, or any of the other murderous methods practiced by Communist regimes—are no less real than those of the Holocaust. And you would not deny the Holocaust, Domza, would you?

When I think of the face of Communism, I think of the face of Peter Fechter. He was the 18-year old who was shot to death by East German Guards in 1962 for attempting to jump across the Berlin Wall into the free West. He was the first victim of the repressive East German regime after the erection of the Wall a year earlier. I was thirteen at the time, a mere five years younger than Peter Fechter. I will always remember my father, pointing at our TV screen where this horrific scene played out live only a hundred miles from where Peter Fechter was actually dying an agonizing death. My father screamed: “Murderers, murderers!” Then he pulled me close, pointing his finger at our TV screen, and said, his voice trembling: “Look at this! Don’t you ever forget this! This is Communisim! This is the face of evil!”

So much for Frantz Fanon’s “there are no innocents.” Peter Fechter was one of the millions of innocents who perished under Communist regimes. And I never forgot. I never will!

And, lest you think that I am unfamiliar with “Critical Pedagogy”, I am not. The framework of my doctoral dissertation was “Critical Theory” (the Frankfurt School) and “Hermeneutics.” The only difference between you and me—a major difference, one might say—is that the more I read the works by Paolo Freire, Frantz Fanon, and yes, your “prophet” Peter McLaren, the more I came to value the American Constitution and the unique values and liberties it enshrines.

There is simply no excuse for the grand scale of the Communist tragedy.


| January 03, 2010 - 4:41 AM

I am afraid you are a bit prejudiced, Dr Sylvia.

Sylvia Wasson

| January 04, 2010 - 5:02 PM

Oh my, but I am hardly surprised. Let’s just agree to disagree.

Manuel Zapata

| January 10, 2010 - 7:08 PM

Dr. Wasson, there is no doubt in my mind that you won the debate against Mr./Ms./Mrs.? Domza. Your reply to Mr./Mrs./Mrs. Domza is the masterpiece of an extraordinary sane and logical mind. I would highly recommend to use it against the ever increasing liberal hordes who think Communismn is the answer to our problems and a panacea for humanity. With affection, your friend Manuel Zapata.