need not be said, though I find it necessary to restate, that
Henry Giroux is one of the most important public servants the
last 100 years have produced. In
his expansive three decade plus academic career, Henry has written
over 35 books, contributed to countless scholarly journals, and
received numerous educational honors.
perhaps what most makes this former high school basketball star
distinct is his tireless advocacy on behalf of the frail, the
vulnerable, the disposable.
has focused much of his writing over the fragile existence disenfranchised
populations are largely relegated to. Giroux’s “critical sympathy”
to the often forgotten, as Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson
once mentioned, is what pushes him time after time to engage issues
many of his peers would rather stay far away from - for fear of
sanction, resentment, or job loss.
that spirit of deep moral determination and fervent conviction,
comes his latest work: Youth
in a Suspect Society, which, above all else, is an attempt
to interrogate the increasingly hostile future our society is
preparing, with no sense of shame or irony, for its next tenants
- young people.
wastes no time condemning the “assault against youth” being waged
by all those blind to the radical realities of reproof youth,
and especially those of color, are being confined to by way of
policy and legislation. An example of this is provided in
the case of Deamonte Driver, a seventh grader from Prince
George’s County, Maryland, who “died because his mother did not
have the health insurance to cover an $80 tooth extraction.”
the Lyndon Baines Johnson administration, Giroux writes, there
was at least a “willingness to fight for the rights of children,
enact reforms that invested in their future, and provide the educational
conditions necessary for them to be critical citizens.” But all
advancements made in that era were rolled over as one neo-conservative
administration after the other found its way into the White House.
And the most devastating of them, in theory and practice, Giroux
insists, was the 43rd one.
government alone isn’t responsible, he notes, because anti-Youth
legislations couldn’t be established as law without a media complex
that has “habitually” reinforced representations, however false,
of young people as “variously lazy, stupid, self-indulgent, volatile,
dangerous, and manipulative.” It’s important to note that these
suggestions “do more than degrade young people and resonate with
their underlying marginality and disposability”; they also “legitimate
the passage of draconian measures, policies, and laws at the highest
levels of government.”
it then makes sense when schools become transformed into secondary
stations for police officers, military personnel, and other agents
of the State.
message: Kids and, especially, Youth are a threat to society -
a threat which must be watched with close scrutiny, dealt with
diabolically, and, when necessary, punished with the power of
are, as a result, targeted and treated as potential criminals,
paving way for a society in which “children who commit a rule
violation as minor as a dress code infraction or slightly act
out in class can be handcuffed, booked, and put in a jail cell.”
in a Suspect Society, Giroux also takes special time out
to dive deeper into the challenges confronting children, as they
try to navigate a world where giant corporations see them as nothing
but disposable commodities - to be bought and sold.
Dr. Giroux writes, “constitute the primary index through which
a society registers its own meaning, vision, and politics.” And
today’s children are having to become more accustomed to a speed-driven
society; a society that treasures punctuality over poignancy,
and impatience over incandescence. Thus, kids are being encouraged
to revel in “the suspension of judgment, the inability to think
critically, [and] the avoidance of responsibility.” (Never mind
that these very kids are still ultimately barraged with blame
for low test scores or poor performance on state standardized
would also have to get used to “a society that measures its success
and failure solely through the economic lens of the Gross National
Product (GNP)”; a society unable to “define youth outside of market
principles determined largely by … market growth and the accumulation
society, children should be aware, sees them not only as an “expansive
and profitable market but as the primary source of redemption
for the future of capitalism.”
of such thinking abound in Youth
in a Suspect Society. Giroux’s meticulous research unearths
numerous reports of kids being selected by toy companies to act
as representatives (unpaid employees), such as a GIA-sponsored event,
Party in a Box,” which enlists “agents” to “invite their friends
to an overnight party, hand out free products to them, and then
provide ‘feedback through quizzes’ to GIA headquarters.” Corporations
have found kids and pre-teens great resources - peer pressure
power - to use in expanding their brand - even if it commodifies
the non-market value of friendship.
also turns a sharp gaze on pro athletes like Michael Jordan and
Tiger Woods, who, he says, appear more interested in inflating
their bank account figures than “using their celebrity status
for educating young people about character, hard work, the value
of sportsmanship, and the sheer joy of athleticism.”
there’s another angle to this, which hasn’t gotten as much press
among progressive circles. As Giroux writes:
war on terror and drugs, Giroux asserts, has added
a new target: Youth.
war, unlike the more glamorous cross-national disputes, doesn’t
necessarily involve two sides in contentious combat. This war
is characterized by “4th grade reading scores and graduation rates
[being] used to determine how many prison cells will be built.”
This war is against the growing population of “pint-size nihilists”
amongst us. Extinguish them!
of being viewed as impoverished, minority youth are seen as lazy
and shiftless; instead of being recognized as badly served by
failing schools, they are labeled uneducable and pushed out of
schools; instead of being provided with decent work skills and
jobs, they are either sent to prison or conscripted to fight in
wars abroad; instead of being given decent health care and a place
to live, they are placed in foster care or pushed into the swelling
ranks of the homeless.
enemies of our peace are then rightfully placed in schools
where the squeaking sound of metal detectors is omnipresent, where
police forces are dominant, where arrests, suspensions, and expulsions
are as commonplace as being frisked, cussed-out, or strip-searched
by security officers on your way to class. These
enemies of our peace might be too young to legally “marry,
drive a car, get a tattoo, or go to scary movies, but not too
young to be put in prisons for the rest of their lives.”
while we’re at it, let’s make sure they’re excluded from “various
forms of student aid,” post-conviction, including but not limited
to “welfare payments, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, food stamps,
and… public housing.”
it so heartwarming to know that young people growing up have such
a splendid future awaiting them?
calls on “intellectuals” of great courage to “take a stand” against
these “collective problems” putting at risk “not only young people
and adults… but the very possibility of deepening and expanding
democracy itself.” But how many of these intellectuals wouldn’t
have to be summoned from the dead?
he rightly notes, the university has witnessed a radical shift
in vision this past decade. Through hysteria whipped up by right-wingers
following 9/11, many liberal or left-leaning professors have been
silenced or fired to quell the paranoia expressed by some students
that they’re being brainwashed. Their professors tried to force
upon them “Marxist” and “Socialist” values - values that go by
such scary prospects as critical thinking, intellectual freedom,
and independent reasoning.
young people, Giroux writes, have been bamboozled by the likes
of David Horowitz, president of the Center for the Study of popular
culture, who’ve “hijacked political power and waged a focused
campaign against the principles of academic freedom, sacrificing
the quality of education made available to youth in the name of
out of an enlightening educational experience, Giroux contends,
are young people, who, in exchange for being provided the tools
to “critically engage what they know and to recognize the limits
of their own knowledge,” are infantilized by appeasing academics.
They are denied “opportunities to engage knowledge critically…
[and] assume responsibility for what it means to know something.”
hopes are for a “larger public dialogue about how to imagine a
democratic future,” in the context of a Youth-centered pedagogy.
Unfortunately, “We have entered a period in which the war against
youth, especially poor youth of color, offers no apologies because
it is too arrogant and ruthless to imagine any resistance.” Nonetheless,
this ambassador of hope reassures: “… [P]ower as a form of domination
is never absolute, and oppression always produces some form of
though the laborious work of resistance must engage all sectors
of society, Giroux’s call to young people is direct: “[G]o out
into the world and actively try to change it.”
in a Suspect Society is an unnerving prophetic call to
action. Through tedious research and meditation, Giroux has provided
a blueprint that all concerned can use in restoring the faith
Youth once had in society - faith planted in the soils of non-privatized,
faith, however, has been uprooted by years of indifference and
antipathy, callousness and bellicosity.
are now much too aware of the degree of disregard society disses
them with. And they respond to it in ways that anger some and
the concrete work of restoring this faith has hardly been addressed,
let alone acted upon, before the publication of Youth
in a Suspect Society.
recommend it with inestimable gratitude to Dr. Giroux for his
moral vigor and matchless vitality.
BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Tolu Olorunda, is a Nigerian native and cultural
critic. Click here
to reach Mr. Olorunda.