Education is in crisis. Fads such as, but not limited to, social activism, social justice, and even transsexuality appear to be en vogue, while such essential skills as reading, writing, numerical reasoning, higher order thinking, skill development, and intellectual attainment are on the wane. Woke indoctrination is in, while academic rigour is out.
Many are to blame for this disgrace, including the late Brazilian Marxist Paulo Freire, who was an adult literacy educator in Brazil in the late fifties and sixties and lectured at Harvard in the late sixties. Thankfully, American author, mathematician, and public intellectual James Lindsay (co-author with Helen Pluckrose of Cynical Theories), sheds additional light on this faux educator in his recent book, The Marxification of Education: Paulo Freires Critical Marxism and the Theft of Education (2022).
Strengths in Lindsays book are also weaknesses. He quotes extensively from Freire, whose word salads and gobbledygook in Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968, English translation 1970) and Politics of Education (1985) make for painful reading. But it also helps the reader understand what she is dealing with. One hopes Freires writings are clearer in Portuguese, but please dont bet the farm on that being the case.
Freire grew up in poverty, which may explain his affinity for Marxism. He made the unsubstantiated claim that precolonialism in his native Brazil and other cultures was largely idyllic. He adds that illiterate farmers were at the centre of their communities until colonialism brought education and values which upheld the worldview of the colonizers and marginalized the original inhabitants. His solution: “decolonize" the education system and, in so doing, liberate the natives.
Marxist consciousness and activism is required if this is to change. Freire believed educators must become “guerrillas" who eagerly apply the “activist wrecking ball to the existing society" (Lindsay quote, p. 96). Shakespeare is out and the Western canon is to be maligned - subordinated to "superior" Marxist consciousness. Mathematics becomes an opportunity to use statistics and word problems to emphasize radical politics, while historys focus should be on slavery and civil rights movements - never mind that slavery existed in all civilizations with the British Empire being first to abolish it and the United States being one of the first.
Anyway, there is much to criticize and Lindsay pulls no punches. He cites a critical 2007 study of Freirean pedagogy in Nigeria, courtesy of Deutscher Volkshochschul-Verband (DVV) International. Freirean emphasis was on radicalizing students by convincing them they were victims of oppression. Anger ensued to the point where students were demanding change and were no longer willing to partake in the learning process. A critical mass of the poorly educated might be able to destroy with the best of them, but will have no clue how to build back or even maintain a functional civil society. Even someone as frequently wrong as Herbert Marcuse correctly understood that his radical charges must familiarize themselves with the Western canon, if for no other reason but to know and understand what must be effectively combatted.
Bottom line: Freires society breeds activists and “guerrillas". Engineers, scientists, bureaucrats, and professionals, never mind skilled trades people, arent as necessary. Think about that. We become less capable of maintaining all of the mechanical, technological, medical, and scientific advances over the past several decades (and centuries) and things will be better (???). And while we are at it, lets abolish the security and stability of Western civil society and its institutions.
It doesnt get better. Freire actually believed that teachers and students were equals. Teachers should be renamed “educators" and students renamed “learners", with educators reduced to “facilitators" in an environment where learners are valid knowers in their own right. The intent is to supposedly flatten the hierarchy and thereby eliminate the power imbalance. How Marxist!! It is also absurd. The teacher is an authority in his discipline while the students, lacking knowledge, owe it to themselves to benefit from the teachers expertise. Its called getting an education.
Indeed, Lindsay adds that this “equality" destroys a crucial boundary, given that “adults and children are not equals, and it is professionally and developmentally inappropriate to engage in relationships as though they are" (p.183).
All of this notwithstanding, Freires anti-colonialist and Marxist biases earned him adulation from education faculties in the West who were only too happy to spread his gospel to malleable students seeking future careers as teachers. And the rest, as they say, is history.
According to Lindsay, Pedagogy of the Oppressed is the third most cited source in all of the social sciences and humanities and is revered in North American colleges of education. He adds that Freirean destabilization has spawned a number of counterproductive trends such as social emotional learning (SEL) and culturally relevant teaching that have prospered at the expense of academic standards. But much of his contempt is reserved for comprehensive sexuality education and the Drag Queen Story Hour for children craze, a cause championed by Calgary mayor Jyoti Gondek, and a “phenomenon" all too familiar to Calgary pastor Derek Reimer, who has concerns about sexual grooming (imagine that!!!). Reimer was literally given the bums rush when protesting one of these events at a Calgary library, then subsequently arrested and charged. No punishment for his assaulters, however.
In any event, contemporary American schoolchildren are, to a large degree, failing in basic competency in pretty much every subject at every grade level, even though they are well versed in identity politics, social justice, and cultural Marxism.
For example, Lindsay cites data from Rhode Island where 94% of students arent proficient in math and 86% cant read or write at grade level. Yet they, with encouragement from teachers, walk out of some Providence schools and lay down for three minutes outside the Rhode Island state legislature in support of “commonsense" gun legislation in wake of the horrible May 24, 2022 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
As an aside, most Canadian gun crimes are committed with illegally obtained firearms. But the “LibDips" idea of “commonsense" gun legislation is to whack farmers, hunters, collectors, and target shooters with registration fees and bureaucratic hoops, even though they commit no crimes. I digress.
Needless to say, we have reached the conclusion of Roger Kimballs “long march through the institutions". Radicals indoctrinated by faculties of education teach in the K-12 system, spew their propaganda, thereby indoctrinating their students in woke Marxism. Upon graduation, these pupils gravitate towards other venues, spreading their pernicious ideology in the process. Media, government, nonprofit, health, high tech, justice, policing, etc are all infected. Even corporations have gone woke (heres looking at you Target and Anheuser-Busch). Some become educators and perpetuate the cycle.
On a final note, James Lindsay is to be commended for valiantly exposing and fighting against a destructive ideology that has taken hold of our education system (and the broader society). Clearly, the education system must return to a time when academic rigour and the “three Rs" were stressed over and above everything else. It must also provide an honest and balanced account of our history and culture. Our civilization depends upon it. The proverbial clock is ticking.