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Coming to Critical Pedagogy: A Marxist Autobiography in the History of Higher Education

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Coming to Critical Pedagogy: A Marxist Autobiography in the History of Higher Education
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  Curry Stephenson Malott !!" $ " # $ %   Coming to Critical Pedagogy: A Marxist Autobiography in the History of Higher Education Curry Stephenson Malott West Chester University of Pennsylvania, West Chester, Pennsylvania, USA Abstract    In this essay Malott traces his journey to critical pedagogy focusing on a  significant element of his family’s ethnic and class background and its connection to his own educational experiences from public schooling to university. Drawing on Marx’s historical discussions at the end of Volume 1 of Capital Malott traces his own German/English background to the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe and how that process was connected to the American colonies and the emergence of capitalism in what would become the United States of America. Malott argues that this historical discussion both helps better understand the current neoliberal era of  perpetual budget cuts and austerity measures, and the true class position of most workers who wrongly self-identify as middle-class. In the end, this autobiography is intended to advance a proletarian class-consciousness and the movement to transcend capital it demands. Critical pedagogies emerge as direct responses to concrete material conditions and historical processes. For example, the word socialism first appeared in England in the nineteenth century as a socio-economic alternative vision to capitalism (Cole, 2008). Enslaved Africans in the southern region of what would become the United States forged a black liberation theology as part of the struggle to end slavery. Whereas  progressive education  in the United States was a liberal response to save capitalism from the economic crisis of the late nineteenth century, Paulo Freire developed what we know  Coming to Critical Pedagogy: A Marxist Autobiography in the History of Higher Education !!% $ " # $ %   today as critical pedagogy  during the 1960s in Brazil to challenge the illiteracy resulting from the impoverished social conditions stemming, in large part, from U.S. imperialism. My own experiences growing up in U.S. bourgeois society, relying on a wage to survive, led me to critical pedagogy. I believe this should be the case for anyone who is committed to the values of democracy but is forced to sell their labor capacity on the market as a consequence of not having direct, collective, access to the means of  production. That is, the vast majority are forced to sell themselves because of the many ways humanity has been primitively accumulated from the soil to create the conditions for capital, which has been developing since the 16 th  century; from the Enclosure Acts  beginning in England violently forcing former peasants from their lands creating the first  proletariat, to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the shameful legacy of men stealers , to the colonial expansion and conquest of the Americas and its First Nations, a process still  being contested; to British imperialism subverting the cotton industry in India and the opium-induced instability that eroded Chinese sovereignty leading to the first waves of Chinese immigrants coming to California, U.S.A. in the 1830s. However, coming to critical understandings and radical practices are not developments that happen all at once or immediately. In this essay I will discuss the experiences that led me to critical  pedagogy and how my own understanding of social class has changed over time. First, however, and throughout the essay, I outline my own family history situated in the larger historical context of the development of capitalism and the role of higher education in that process. Higher Education and the Post-War Boom The post-WWII boom in the U.S. provided the evidence for much of the working-class, and many baby boomers in particular, including my parents, aunts and uncles, that capitalism, and bourgeois society more generally, was delivering its promise of equality and freedom, which was not an unreasonable, irrational, or unfounded conclusion. For example, in the six years following WWII college enrollment “doubled its pre -war levels” (Cohen and Kisker, 2010, p. 195). Consequently, “the belief that everyone could go to college became firmly established in the minds of the American people; college was no longer reserved for an elite few” (Cohen and Kisker, 2010, p. 195). Underscoring the  Curry Stephenson Malott !!& $ " # $ %   movement of working class people into colleges is reflected in the growth of public institutions. That is, “by the first decade after the war,  expenditures for campus expansion in the public sector were running at least 50 percent higher than at the private institutions” (Cohen and Kisker, 2010, p. 200) boosted by the GI Bill and the more affordable tuition at state schools. Consequently, “publi c institutions rose from 35 to 44  percent of all colleges and universities, and public enrollments went form 49 to 79  percent” (Cohen and Kisker, 2010, p. 200). Reflecting this era’s substantial growth trend it is noteworthy that between 1945 and 1975 college enrollments increased by more than 500 percent, from 2 million to around 11 million (Cohen and Kisker, 2010). However, contrary to the popular belief that this “golden era” of higher education was marked by democratic commitments to equal access embodied in the first ever report on higher education, commissioned by President Truman in 1946, and that the corporate agenda for higher education did not emerge until the advent of the neoliberal era following the economic downturn of the 1970s, Truman’s repo rt, I am arguing, was actually responding to capital’s growing need for a larger supply of highly educated workers. The economic context of higher education is clearly a dominant theme in Truman’s 1947 report, despite its eloquent title,  Higher Education and Democracy: A  Report of the President’s Commission on Higher Education . Consider: As the national economy became industrialized and more complex, as production increased and national resources multiplied, the American people came in ever greater numbers to feel the need of higher education for their children. More and more American youth attended colleges and universities, but resources and equipment and curriculum did not keep pace with the growing enrollment or with the increasing diversity of needs an d interests among the students…Enactment of Public Laws 16 and 346, the “Veterans Rehabilitation Act”…increased…numbers…far  beyond the capacity of higher education in teachers, in buildings, and in equipment. i   It is discursively cleaver and deceiving to attribute growing college enrollments to the democratic will of the people because most parents obviously do want their children to have more opportunities and higher wages than themselves. However, what this argument ignores is the role of capital’s changin g needs in the post- war era as American capitalists’ demand for college-educated workers skyrocketed. The report does hint at this as it goes on to identify “science” as responsible for creating “new devices and techniques of  Coming to Critical Pedagogy: A Marxist Autobiography in the History of Higher Education !'( $ " # $ %    production” thereby altering t he necessary skills and educational attainment American capitalists required of many workers. Additionally, America’s growing responsibility in world affairs after WWII, the Report argues, required that more Americans gain “a knowledge of other peoples,” i ncluding economic, political, and cultural knowledge. We know, historically, that this has been central to colonialism, that is, to most efficiently manage the affairs and influence the thinking of the people of other nations. William Blum’s (2004) Killing Hope  documents the role of U.S. military and CIA interventions in making the world safe for democracy in the post-war era, which, in reality, actually meant, and continues to mean, the opposite of democracy. That is, the process of ensuring the world would provide first world capitalists stable markets in cheap labor ruthlessly disciplined by their own U.S. supported/propped up dictatorships. While the report is clearly situated within the context of the changing needs of U.S. global capitalism, its discourse celebrating the extension of democratic culture and minority access through “equal liberty and equal opportunity” invaluably served public relations campaigns in the Cold War. That is, the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for the hearts and minds of working people the world over surely  provided incentive for the Supreme Court’s overruling of Plessy in the 1954 Brown decision. Even though it has been argued that the Civil Rights era benefited from the context of the Cold War for this very reason, the sacrifice, courage, and tactical brilliance of Civil Rights leaders and activists should in no way be minimized. However, if capital’s needs can be met, and citizens believe their interests align with capital’s, hegemony can  be achieved with minimal disruption or instability. For example, both of my parents, in the post-war era, were able to go to college like millions of other mostly white working class youth, and achieve a degree of upward social mobility, which, in the brutally savage, classless, red-scare discourse of the Cold-War, was perceived not to be a way to shift power to the working-class ’s historic struggle against their subordination to capital, but, cynically, a way out of ignorance and into  enlightenment conceptualized as an individualistic project. Both of my parents earned doctorates and became university professors at large state universities, Miami of Ohio and Oregon State University, neither institution were unionized, which undoubtedly  Curry Stephenson Malott !'! $ " # $ %   contributes to such school’s  cultures, accommodating relationship to capital, and antagonistic history with the more blue-collar  communities many new professors were coming from. However, in my experiences even education workers at unionized universities have a tendency, perhaps less pronounced, to see themselves as not part of the working class (see below). In reality, as indicated above, what working class people were experiencing was not the flourishing of democracy, but a temporary global advantage U.S. manufacturers had as a result of having the only intact post-war industrial infrastructure, leading to an equally temporary spike in U.S. corporation’s need for a greater supply of highly educated workers; engineers, scientists, managers, and so on. Howard Zinn (1995) describes these  people as loyal buffers against trouble, those who are paid to keep the system going . This is what we think of as the middle class. For the purposes of developing a critical, class-consciousness we might therefore say that this middle-class is really just a temporarily elevated segment of the working-class. From Feudalism to Capitalism and the Conquest of Ohio Contributing to the sense that this was more than just a dream for American working class youth, including my family and the working class communities we come from, especially those living in recently industrialized areas, was the fact that many of their  parents had arisen from abject poverty with the expansion of factory jobs in the twentieth century. Prior to 1945 higher education was still primarily an elite institution whose student bodies, dating back to the seventeenth century, came from the sons of the rising class of wealthy slavers as well as from Native Americans  —  educating  Indians  brought handsome donations and investments from Europe’s bou rgeoisie fascinated by Rousseau’s  Noble Savage . However, the education of Native Americans seemed to have  been just a scheme for raising revenue, and was therefore never a serious intellectual endeavor beyond the most remedial basic instruction. Intimately entangled with the slave economy and the expansionist drive of an emerging global capitalist system, the Ivy league also became the place where arguments for slavery and compulsory assimilation were refined and refracted through the discourse of science (Wilder, 2013). The Ivy
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