Aronowitz and Giroux on Postmodern Education

Stanley Aronowitz is a professor at the City University of New York and Henry Giroux is a professor at the Pennsylvania State University. In 1991, they wrote a key book which introduced to education notions of ‘postmodernism’ had developed in the field of cultural studies.

Aronowitz and Giroux explain how the ideas of postmodernism can be applied in the curriculum:

[P]ostmodern educators believe the curriculum can best inspire learning only when school knowledge builds upon tacit knowledge derived from cultural resources that students already possess. For example, electronically mediated popular culture … is treated by postmodern education as a legitimate object of knowledge. In contrast to practices that uncritically transmit apparently unrelated disciplines of math, literature, geography, and history, organized in discrete time periods of the school day, the teacher attempts to integrate these knowledges within a series of projects chosen jointly with students. The project may be a study of rap music, sports, the Civil War, neighborhoods, youth in society, race relations, sexuality, or almost anything else …

[T]he construction of meaning, authority, and subjectivity, is governed by ideologies inscribed in language, which offer different possibilities for people to construct their relationships to themselves, others, and the larger reality. What meanings are considered the most important, what experiences are deemed the most legitimate, and what forms of writing and reading matter, are largely determined by those groups who control the economic and cultural apparatuses of a given society. Knowledge has to be viewed in the context of power, and consequently the relationships between writers, readers, and texts have to be understood as sites at which different readings, meanings, and forms of cultural production take place. In this case, reading and writing have to be seen as productive categories, as forms of discourse that configure practices of dialogue, struggle, and contestation. This position strongly challenges the dominant view of literacy, which reduces reading and writing to an essentially descriptive view of literacy, that tacitly support forms of pedagogy emphasizing individual mastery and the passive consumption of knowledge and skills …

For example, in an American literature class it would seem appropriate to use not only texts that have played major roles in shaping the history of American literature, but also those texts that have been ignored or suppressed because they have been written from an oppositional stance, or because they were authored by writers whose work is not legitimated by a dominant Eurocentric tradition. What we are arguing for here is a deliberate attempt to decenter the American literature curriculum by allowing a number of voices to be read, heard, and used. This approach to reading and writing literature should be seen as part of a broader attempt to develop pedagogically a politics of difference that articulates with issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and sexual preference from a position of empowerment rather than from a position of deficit and subordination …

For educators, postmodernism offers new theoretical tools to rethink [the] contexts in which authority is defined … [T]he project of radical democracy can be deepened by expanding its sphere of applicability to increasingly wider social relations and practices; encompassing individuals and groups who have been excluded by virtue of their class, gender, race, age, or ethnic origin. What is at stake here is the recognition that postmodernism provides educators with a more complex and insightful view of the relationships of culture, power, and knowledge …

Border pedagogy confirms and critically engages the knowledge and experiences through which students author their own voices and construct identities. This means it takes seriously the knowledge and experiences that constitute the individual and collective voices by which students identify and give meaning to themselves and others, and draws upon what they know about their own lives as a basis for criticizing the dominant culture … At issue here is the development of a pedagogy that replaces the authoritative language of recitation with an approach that allows students to speak from their own histories, collective memories, and voices while simultaneously challenging the ground on which knowledge and power are constructed and legitimated …

We live in a postmodern world that no longer has any firm boundaries … It is a time when reason is in crisis, and new political and ideological conditions exist for fashioning forms of struggle defined in a radically different conception of politics. For educators, this is as much a pedagogical issue as it is a political one.


Aronowitz, Stanley, and Henry Giroux. 1991. Postmodern Education: Politics, Culture and Social Criticism. Minneapolis MN: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 15, 93, 101, 81, 128–129, 133. || Amazon || WorldCat


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