Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Era was written by Henry Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux. This is my review for The Freechild Project.
In Take Back High Education, Giroux and Giroux take a continuing analysis of the neo-liberalization of American education one step further by going for the heart of the academy. They begin this journey by acknowledging that schools should not be narrowed out as “the key to revitalizing a waning political democracy.” However, consistent with more than 25 years of critical reflection, the authors contend that higher education should be partners in the struggle for social justice, and that academics have a responsibility to engage young people in that struggle.
Giroux and Giroux charges the reader to look farther than schools by openly wondering “How do we invent a language of community or dare to asset a notion of public good…?” Throughout this book they return to this question, offering challenges to students, academics, and professors alike. The authors readily call on educators to build courses by combining “democratic principles, values, and practices with… the histories and struggles of those often marginalized because of race, class, gender, disability, or age” (p99).
Giroux and Giroux portray colleges and universities as being more than neglected by a public that denies their relevance; because of that, higher education is surrendering academic freedom and judiciousness to the highest bidder: namely, the corporate gods of the US. This new education-market economy is turning once prestigious institutions into psuedo-companies, bent on the “bottom line” and profit margins. However, the responsibility for the “take back” of higher education falls equally on administrative, political, and academic shoulders. Giroux and Giroux call on educators to move beyond the land of academia and to integrate- personally and academically- into the larger spheres in the community, where culture and politics are truly learned and made relevant. They also implore educators to work collectively with other academics and with the larger community as partners- not experts- in important domestic problems. [In a particularly important honor to our work, Giroux and Giroux cite The Freechild Project as an example of academics becoming engaged as allies with resources to share (p115).]
Continually hammering the faults of profiteering in higher education, the authors write, “Neoliberalism, fueled by its unwavering belief in market values and the unyielding logic of corporate profit-making, has little patience with non-commodified knowledge or with the more lofty ideals that have defined higher education as a public service.” While this sounds specific to the settings of the community colleges, state colleges, and universities we might or have attended, there is truth within this statement that affects many workers in the nonprofit sector. The frightening indifference of neoliberalism to the mission of nonprofit service work has been tearing at the heart of this field in the last fifteen years that I’ve been in it. However, there is more on this in Henry Giroux’s next work.
At the end of the book the authors pose the question of whether there is a hope for democracy in higher education. After reading their thorough examination of the onslaught of neoliberalism against public goods, services, and civic freedoms in education, readers may think that Giroux and Giroux may think otherwise. Rather, they offer a different, more hopeful future. Highlighting the work of student activists across the nation, they offer the strikes, demonstrations, rallies, and other protests young people have led in the past ten years as evidence of the insurgent call for democracy in schools. Coupled with the allyship of professors and the larger community, there is a possibility for better higher education. According to Giroux and Giroux that possibility is none other than the “promise of an unrealized democracy – a democracy that promise a different future, one that is filled with hope and mediated by the reality of democratic-based struggles.” That’s the future that we work for everyday – and the reason why you should read this book.