Teaching democracy and revolution


by Angelo J. Letizia

The next dialectal step toward demolishing capitalism and bringing the next phase of the Enlightenment is brewing. As Marx noted, the present world contains the seeds to its own destruction. The present world is the womb of the new world. But this dialectic or historical movement is not immutable; we cannot sit around and wait for it to sweep us into the golden age of history like Marx prophesized (Zizek, 2009). We must take control of it and the first step to controlling the dialectic of history and the Enlightenment is through education, this includes higher education, secondary education as well as activism and even parenting.

Marx did not believe that education had the power to direct history, but his contemporary, another German socialist named Moses Hess thought differently. Hess declared that education is the means to change the world, and if a proper education system were implemented in his native Germany and all over the world, the world would be healed from the evils brought on to it by capitalism in two generations (Hess, 2004). Instead of teaching children to emulate the “gentlemen” of capitalism who were nothing but crooks and thieves, children must be taught cooperation, community and socialism. Hess, like Zizek, did not believe that the golden age of socialism would magically appear. Rather, he argued that human happiness lies in human hands (Hess, 2004). I concur with Hess. We have the obligation to create utopia. And the task now set before the hands of society is one that we cannot fail at.

Neo-liberalism has dialectally emerged from the Age of Enlightenment which began in the late eighteenth century, an Enlightenment which was meant to liberate humanity from oppression, intolerance, superstition, poverty and ignorance. Many Enlightenment thinkers ardently believed that it would only be a matter of time before these ills were permanently extinguished, and they would be extinguished by the power of human reason. These thinkers saw the entire history of humanity as a movement away from barbarism and primitiveness. But as many authors have made clear, neo-liberalism is a state of regression (Hill, 2012). We are becoming brutes but instead of clubs we have drones and nukes. Likewise, neo-liberalism, or the age of the “new capitalism” has also been the work of human hands, not some immutable force. It has been the work of thieves, crooks and corrupt officials, of elected thugs and demagogues. It has also transpired behind a wall of apathy, consumerism and fear. Scholars have the duty to now break through this wall and continue the dialectical movement and bring about the next phase of the Enlightenment through a program of radical and subversive education.  This is not just for educators; this is for professors, for activists, for parents and anyone concerned with the future.

Capitalism began its global reign after the French Revolution (Hobsbawm, 2012). Since that time, there have been many attempts to rectify its injustices, but they have failed. Some have ended into terror, some in state capitalism (Wolff, 2012). At yet their failures cannot be deterrents, only guides. The failed communist movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries cannot be abandoned; they cannot simply be episodes in the triumph of capital. These social experiments, as gruesome as they became, must be made right.  The way to correct them is to continue their successes and disdain their failures, to make their success dialectal steps toward finally ending capitalism. The lessons of these attempts must be integrated into educational systems the world over.


Education at all levels and all places cannot simply be subversive to the present order however, but rather, education must become dialectal. Dialectal education is not an abstract notion detached from the world; rather, it draws its power from the contradictions of the past, from the injustices of the present and promises of the future. Dialectal education is firmly situated in the historical context. Ultimately, the purpose of this dialectal education should be to “stop the train of history” as Zizek argues, it is to take hold of history and direct it to a better future. In order for this to occur, students must become dialectal beings; students must be imbued with dialectal capabilities and the potential for positive social change. The dialectic is not abstract, rather it is teaching, it is learning, it is activism, it is students. The dialectic is the interconnectedness of all reality, it is theory and action, and it is praxis. The dialectic is social movement and transformation (Jay, 1996). But as it currently stands the dialectic and the Enlightenment itself have become repressive and are in need of change.

The Enlightenment, which was meant to free humanity, has now become the basis of its enslavement. Adorno and Horkheimer argued that by the middle of the twentieth century, the Enlightenment had dialectally transformed into its opposite; repression and the tyranny of reason (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1969). Neo-liberalism is the Enlightenment stripped of humanism, creativity and justice. Neo-liberalism is the “Enlightenment” of efficiency and standardization and the cold, brutal scientific method. Neo-liberalism is the highest phase of the Enlightenment, but not the Enlightenment of Rousseau or Condorcet, but of Adam Smith. Adam Smith married to industry and capitalism spawned neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism has taken Smith’s liberalism and its emphasis on the individual, the invisible hand and the market to an absurd and dangerous extreme. The social and communal bonds that humanity has worked millennia to establish have been almost completely shredded, and the individual is lost in a lonely world devoid of any happiness or justice save profit. After the “end of history,” neo-liberalism became hyperreal and beyond the reach of any scrutiny. It just “is.” It is naturalized and legitimated (Zizek, 2009).

Neo-liberalism raped democracy and turned it in to a bastardized version of itself; the consume-ocracy. The consume-ocracy is based on constrained choice, where predetermined candidates are sold to public consumers (Hill, 2012; Giroux, 2011). Real, subversive and revolutionary change is muted, and the only change that can be made is cosmetic. The only power in the consume-ocracy is the power of consumer choice, and all societal phenomena are turned into consumer products. But democracy is not a spectator sport. For a democratic system to function, citizens must participate. Giroux argues that a critical education is the cornerstone of a true democracy because it produces participatory and civically minded citizens (Giroux, 2011).


The essence of democracy is informed debate, criticism and participation and yet these notions are blatantly absent from modern day politics. Instead, at least in the United States and other similar industrialized nations, we have what Habermas has termed an administrative-technical republic (Habermas, 1973). This type of republic eschews true democratic debate. Instead, citizens are offered choices in different candidates. Citizenship is simply equated with choice (Habermas, 1973). In addition, this new republic is based on a structural understanding of events which means that all occurrences are cast as structural fluctuations of a neutral and impartial system, when in reality these fluctuations have their roots in class conflict (Edmondson & D’Urso, 2007; Habermas, 1973). Citizens are simply supposed to choose which candidate they think would fix the system more efficiently. This technical-administrative republic lays the political foundation for the consume-ocracy. It is also how neo-liberalism has become natural.

True pedagogical influence is in competition with what many theorists of critical pedagogy have called “public pedagogy” (Giroux, 2011; Kincheloe, 2007). The everyday existence of students and adults occurs on a surreal plane of images shaped by corporate interests (Kincheloe, 2007; Giroux, 2011; Zizek, 2009).

This public pedagogical function is the consume-ocracy; media, television, shopping malls, advertisers, cell phone companies, the entertainment industry and fashion designers to name just a few all “educate” students and adults in consumerism and personal pleasure (Giroux, 2011; Kincheloe, 2007). Students are bombarded with this public pedagogy from all angles and since it is rooted in personal pleasure and self-interest, it is much more appealing then true civic and democratic education (Kincheloe, 2007). This public pedagogy also serves to inculcate subservience to corporate interests because corporate interests of profitability are linked with self-interest (Kincheloe, 2007). Educators must realize the power of public pedagogy and expose it for what it is — one giant advertisement aimed to sell products and exert influence over the vulnerable minds of the young. True educators have nothing to sell; they only have knowledge to give and to inspire. Giroux forcibly argued that this consumer logic is antithetical to democracy (Giroux, 2011). It must be shown to students how public pedagogy can obstruct true civic participation because it is based solely on self-gratification and not communal interests.

Education was not always lacking in democratic and revolutionary fervor. In America, as well as in Europe and many areas in the Global South, the power of education has been and is still evident. American education, particularly higher education, at one time and not too long ago acted as a volatile catalyst for social change (Newfield, 2008). During the 1960s and 1970s, students and their professors challenged a racist, sexist and authoritarian capitalist America (Newfield, 2008). By the 1980s however, higher education underwent a drastic transformation. Conservatives, free-market advocates and even some liberals who witnessed the power of higher education sought to change it to a market-driven institution and a market-good in the global economy (Giroux, 2011; Hill, 2012; Newfield, 2008; Vestritch, 2008). They attacked the humanities and liberal arts as useless (Booth, 1977; Newfield, 2008). As a result, both secondary and post-secondary education during the 1990s and the 2000s has lost much of its ability to inspire social change as it is beholden to the global market. Students who go through this education are “half-educated” to borrow a phrase from Adorno and Horkheimer (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1969; Kincheloe, 2007).


A half educated person can read and write, can do arithmetic but cannot critically think or evaluate. Most importantly, a half educated person cannot see oppression originating in the social order. Instead, their education serves to make them obedient and pliant consumers, able to choose between competing brands as well as to make them knowledgeable employees in the professions that drive the global economy (Adorno & Horkheimer, 1969; Kincheloe, 2007). The half-educated student becomes the half-educated citizen in the technical-rational republic or consume-ocracy. Consumer choice replaces critical thinking and reflection and the people are not even educated enough to know the difference. This transition is then brutally reinforced by public pedagogy and logic of consumerism.

Any democratic pedagogy must seek to restore this volatility to secondary and post-secondary education the world over. It must further seek to instill the notion of human agency (Kincheloe, 2007; Zizek, 2009). The crisis in education is that this volatility and human agency in education has been suppressed. Students must be taught that they can fight injustice. History is not inevitable, it is an act of will and volition (Zizek, 2009). The fight to save democracy may have to be employed in a circumvential manner. Circumvential education encourages educators at all levels to simply teach around the system. Educators must obviously meet certain mandates imposed on them by state curriculums and expectations from administrators. These vary by institution and region of course. Yet, critical educators can pressure their particular systems, probe for weaknesses and face it when necessary. Educators must begin to realize their role and more importantly the role of education in a truly democratic society (Booth, 1977). Booth argued in the late 1970s that it was completely incomprehensible that a modern democratic nation like the United States claims that it cannot afford education in the form of taxes, yet the same citizens squandered their money on useless consumer goods such as high powered automobiles, boats and televisions (Booth, 1977). Booth argued, quite facetiously, that an educational tax should be imposed on all institutions and entities which peddle garbage to our children and make sickening profits from this (Booth, 1977). He cites advertising companies selling harmful products, screen writers of vacuous and mind-numbing television entertainment and overpaid professional athletes to name a few.

This notion of charging an educational tax is still in the realm of fiction or utopia for now, but it can begin to cultivate awareness in educators. The decreased funding and prestige of education at all levels, the attack on education and educators, the obscene amount of influence that Wall Street has on the operation of government should not be taken for granted. They are not structural occurrences of a neutral system (Edmondson & D’Urso, 2007; Habermas, 1973; Zizek, 2009). Rather, these occurrences are the result of power imbalances at all levels of society. Education, and specifically a humanist centered, critical education should be the number one priority of any nation which calls itself democratic because only critical reflective citizens can participate in a true democracy (Giroux, 2011; Hill, 2012). Here the citizens will have to discipline their governments. As Rousseau famously argued, the power of the representatives vanishes in the presence of the people assembled.


We cannot return to a more democratically conducive education of an idyllic past, but rather move forward and create a new democracy, one that is suitable to the information age. Citizens can no longer participate in their democracy, they must drive it. In order to influence and drive democracy, citizens must be armed with both quantitative and qualitative information, they must be able to influence their democracy at the school, local, state and federal levels, they must be able to pursue this influence both individually and in social groups and they must be able to understand and illuminate the interconnectedness of all reality and information and dispense with simplistic and superficial remedies. In addition, they must be able to use technology in the process of this civic engagement and liberation. And this can only be accomplished with a truly critical education.

It is time to fight. Educators in higher education and K-12 must mobilize. Education is under attack. The general public and educators themselves are bombarded with information about how K-12 education and higher education is in a time of crisis (Giroux, 2012; Hill, 2012; Kincheloe, 2007). But there is no crisis. The “crisis” has been manufactured in an effort to discredit public education and restructure it as a market good in the consume-ocracy (Giroux, 2012; Hill, 2012; Kincheloe, 2007). This is the “shock doctrine” of capitalism (Klein, 2007). Capitalism is an economic system based on greed and accumulation (Klein, 2007). In order to perpetuate itself, capitalism and the capitalists must find newer and more destructive methods to make a profit (Giroux, 2011; Klein, 2007). Crisis, whether real or manufactured offers a great opportunity to accomplish this task. Natural disasters, armed conflict and tragedies are exploited and then milked for their ability to bring in profits. Klein argues the second Iraqi war of 2003 is a perfect example of the shock doctrine of capitalism (Klein, 2007). The tragedy of September 11th was exploited, and then the corresponding fear and anxiety over terrorism and weapons of mass destruction was then used as a pretext to invade Iraq. Iraq was then made into a “free market paradise” (pg. 101). Western contractors, private companies and entrepreneurs divided the spoils of Iraq and government tax dollars (Klein, 2007).

The same crisis pattern is being repeated with education. Education at all levels is said to be in a state of crisis, teachers are failing their students, schools are failing the country and public education needs new and creative solutions in order keep up with the times (Giroux, 2011; Hill, 2012; Kinchloe, 2007). The evidence is standardized test scores, tests which are made by testing companies for which they receive huge profits (Giroux, 2011; Hill, 2012; Kinchloe, 2007; Newfield, 2008; Rhoads & Torres, 2008; Vestritich, 2008). The solution we are told is the free market. Charter schools, vouchers and school choice are proposed remedies for public schools, while entrepreneurial endeavors, partnerships with private business and a pathological obsession with STEM disciplines for revenue generation are pushed for higher education across the world by the United States, the World Bank and the IMF  (Giroux, 2011; Hill, 2012; Peet, 2009; Kinchloe, 2007; Rhoads & Torres, 2006). All the while, private businesses, savvy investors, and entrepreneurs are dividing up the spoils of public education. Policymakers are re-routing public tax dollars toward for-profit, private, religious and virtual educational institutions and are severing funds to higher education, or at least only offering funds to potentially profitable disciplines like engineering and biotechnology and ignoring the arts, humanities and basic scientific research (Giroux, 2011; Hill, 2012; Kinchloe, 2007; Newfield, 2008; Rhoads & Torres, 2008; Washburn, 2005; Vestritich, 2008). Simply put, the crisis has been manufactured. Convince the public that there is a crisis so they will agree to fix it. With the proposed remedy, many stand to make a profit. The shock doctrine of capitalism is simple. Create a crisis, exploit it and make a profit from it (Klein, 2007). Educators and all activists must meet this manufactured crisis head on and expose it for what it is. Critical pedagogy offers the best way to do this.


Education is not a market good nor should it ever be. Education is a social, democratic institution and it must work to foster democracy and civic participation (Giroux, 2007; Hill, 2012; Kincheloe, 2007). Giroux argues that democracy is a perpetually unfinished project and education must work to complete it by creating critical and reflective citizens (Giroux, 2011; Hill, 2012). Education is only in crisis if it cannot perform its democratic functions, and the proposed free-market remedies are actually the root cause of the crisis of education because they impede its democratic potential (Giroux, 2007; Hill, 2012; Kincheloe, 2007; Rhoads & Torres, 2006; Vestritch, 2008; Wolfe & Zuvekas, 1997). Educators at all levels must work to restore the democratic potential of education. More than this, education at all levels must work to create a better democracy and truly establish the goals of the Enlightenment.

Educators must awaken the civic spirit in their students and teach them how to navigate and pressure the system. Of course, this had been made complicated by a parasitic entertainment and advertising industry, as well as corporations selling useless and even harmful products to children which distract them from civic engagement.

We must find a way to break through the wall of apathy and consumerism. But more than simply showing students how to participate in their democracy, educators must follow Giroux’s claim that democracy is an unfinished project. In light of this they must guide students to create newer and higher forms of civic participation and involvement. This could take the form of new types of civic organizations, or make use of virtual means. We live in the information age (Bell, 1999). Production, dissemination and control of information are the source of power in the information age (Bell, 1999). Information is now the lifeblood of society and students must be taught this. This information includes not just technical information or news media but cultural, political and social information produced by academics in the arts, humanities, education and sciences. Of course most of this information is either ignored or suppressed because it can challenge the status quo (Giroux, 2011; Hill, 2012; Newfield, 2008). New interpretations of history, new philosophical doctrines, new political and economic frameworks created by academics have the potential to disrupt the capitalist machine and the market. Educators must seize on the accessibility of information and use this to create new democratic structures and they must lead students to do the same. Citizens must do more than simply vote, they must know, they must act and they must teach. Educators must work to create new citizens, citizens of the information age. These citizens would have knowledge of and access to a vast array of social, economic, cultural, political and technical information to challenge oppression and be the drivers of positive social change.

The American polity is cast as the highest pinnacle of democratic tradition. Yet, because of its corporatist nature and the bastardization of democratic elements, America is a socially static and conservative republic at best. More radical and subversive forms of democratic models are available. Educators must draw on these alternative models and use them to fashion new democratic structures. In the highest sense, a direct democracy essentially becomes communism or the rule of the community. Capitalism has dominated the world over the last two centuries, but the seeds of its demise have been present just as long. The French statesmen Maxemillian Robespierre was one of the first true opponents of capitalism. During the 1790s, he tried to build the republic of virtue, a republic based not on avarice but one built with democratic sentiments. He wanted to create a society where people’s lives were not subject to the market. His vision ended in blood. The Revolutions of 1848 and the Paris Commune of 1871 offer more peaceful examples of radical democratic polities in action. Worker’s councils peacefully instructed the French government and passed truly democratic laws during 1848. Instead of a society based on how much property a person owned as was (and is) the organizing principle in democratic bourgeois democracy, the organizing principle of the revolutionary Parisian government was what a person did, how they contributed to society (Sewall, 1985). Contribution to society, not ownership was the hallmark of a “rich” person. But the governments of 1848 and 1871 ended in blood and repression at the hands of capitalist armies.


V.I. Lenin helped to found the first communist state in the world. The democratic soviets or worker communes played an integral role in the early Russian revolution of 1917. Until 1918, these Soviets, which were composed of workers, peasants and students, were truly revolutionary organizations. This state was supposed to be the antithesis of the globalized imperialist capitalism that had led the world into the Great War. His vision ended in Stalinist repression. Mao Zedong took the next step in Asia. He forged a true communist state in the rural hills of China. He organized peasants into revolutionary networks. Perpetual education and criticism became the hallmarks of these networks. But this was more than a military revolution, it was a social revolution based on egalitarianism and community. His vision ended state capitalism. These episodes are usually taken as proof of the ineffectiveness of communism and the triumph of capitalism. The now infamous Hegelian phrase, the end of history, was used to describe the fall of the Soviet Union and the peaceful reign of global capitalism which was supposed to ensue during the 1990s (Hill, 2012).

The commune structure of Venezuela that emerged under the presidency of Caesar Chavez is also instructive (McLaren, 2007). Community government organizations — not sponsored by the state — developed and informed the state apparatus (McLaren, 2007). These communes are organized with and for the people. They deal with community issues and buck the state. The eventual goal is for the state to wither away and for power to truly be in the hands of the people (McLaren, 2007). Even in the US, examples of more radical and democratic governments are beginning to emerge. A recent article on Truthout examined the “Shadow Cabinet” of the Green government. Jill Stein and over 80 activists, scholars and progressives have assembled on the Green Party ticket. Whether this will amount to anything, we will see.

The point is that dissatisfaction is growing all over the world toward the neo-liberal order. However, this means nothing if this dissatisfaction is not organized and understood. Habermas argued that Marx did not go far enough in describing the revolutionary transition (Habermas, 1980). Marx, as far as Habermas was concerned, only foresaw the actual change in societal structures and he neglected the accompanying educational change that must be present. Proletariats cannot magically be expected to suddenly understand the social relations of a change society. Rather, Habermas argued that a new and more advanced educational or learning apparatus must accompany any major societal transformation so the people can learn, and can fully understand how to proceed in the new social context (Habermas, 1980). That is why education at all levels and across the globe must play a part in the next dialectal transformation of society; it must become the new learning apparatus to accompany social change. A revolution without understanding and wisdom can only end in repression. Similarly, a left-wing revolution without hope, compassion and love also degenerates into repression. McLaren warns of populism, action without corresponding thought processes and (McLaren, 2007). Much like the followers of Jesus leading the inquisition, this thoughtless action turns fanatical and into repression. Education, not violence, must be the backbone of any revolution because a truly critical education provides understanding, love and hope (Giroux, 2011).


Democracy can no longer be confined to the nation state, and it can no longer be confined to the realm of the political. If pedagogy is to promote the unfinished project of democracy, if it is to build new educational apparatuses, it must transcend its own narrow disciplinary confines and match the interconnectedness and complexity of the globalized world. This is the essence of the dialectic (Jay, 1996). Interdisciplinary pedagogy is the way to achieve this. Students cannot understand the political without understanding economics or history; students cannot understand science without understanding philosophy. The oppression and marginalization of certain populations in a global context is a complicated situation. It will take the combined insights of all academic disciplines to inform students and truly prepare them to be citizens in a democracy during the information age.

Instead of further specialization, faculty members and even K-12 teachers must begin to bridge across disciplines. Students must be made to realize the interconnectedness of society, only then can they truly begin to change it. In K-12, the drive for ever more standardized testing can be an obstacle in this. Nonetheless, schools can offer electives that achieve this bridging of disciplines; the ethics of modern science, the politics of the global economy, the cultural and economic roots of global conflicts and critical interpretations of statistical data to name a few suggestions. Academic disciplines must become inclusive of other disciplines and information in a better effort to understand the changing world. Students who are to become citizens must be taught about this complexity and then must apply it to the world.

One of the most sorely neglected aspects of this much needed interdisciplinary turn of the last thirty years has been the devaluation of the humanities (Booth, 1977; Engels & Dangerfield, 1998; Giroux, 2011; Newfield, 2008). Faculty members at universities and K-12 teachers must re-invigorate the flame of the humanities. The humanities are the backbone of a true education because the humanities are the story of the human condition, they teach values and morality but not dogmatic intolerant morality. The humanities allow us to question the world and its judgments, allows us to destroy dogmatism when necessary. Humanism is critical to democracy because it forces students — who are citizens in training — to think (Giroux, 2011). Yet humanism at all levels of education has been attacked in favor of a more mechanistic and vocational curriculum replete with standardized tests and the ability to drive the global economy (Giroux, 2011; Newfield, 2008; Spring, 2008). The humanities allow us to think rationally, to debate and to understand. Any interdisciplinary program must engage with the humanities. Every democratic society must be humanistic if it is to be truly democratic (Giroux, 2011).

The attempt to re-structure education is not merely for businesses to gain profit. In the widest sense, this re-structuring effort is an attempt to discipline the lower classes the world over (Rhoads & Torres, 2006). It is an effort to discipline the lower classes, people of color and all people without power (Newfield, 2008). Education must be turned into a non-subversive, non-critical and pedestrian institution reduced to rote memorization and job training for the global economy (Klein, 2007). A true democracy, where the people have power, can potentially topple neo-liberalism because the great inequality and wealth disparities will become obvious, thus it is imperative for the elites to suppress any educational activity that can be subversive (Giroux, 2011; Klein, 2007; Newfield, 2008). Ethical and moral problems that originate in the class divisions and society are cast as structural, as neutral. It is the responsibility of professors, activists, and researchers to recast these problems as ethical and class related. This is the essence of their subversion.


Another aspect of interdisciplinary studies that is crucial for a democracy is the notion of the individual. The individual, at least in the Western tradition, has always been viewed as a singular and abstract entity, separated from society and reality (Kincheloe, 2007). The rise of consumer capitalism has further transformed this abstract individual into a single minded consumer (Kincheloe, 2007). At the other end of the spectrum, some post-modern thinkers have argued for a “post-modern” self which views the “self” as an illusionary concept. Instead the self is composite of social forces (Kincheloe, 2007). For a true democracy to function, both of these positions must be rejected. The self is not lost among social constructions, and the self is not just a consumer (Giroux, 2011; Kincheloe, 2007). Rather, a new notion of the self must be put forth and taught; a self that is the member of a community. This new self must be seen as an autonomous agent whose actions affect the wider community. The new self must be invested with a sense of human agency to act politically and able to challenge injustice. Only a conception of the self that is autonomous but still rooted in a communal context can be a citizen in a democracy. As a function of interdisciplinary education, the new notion of the self must be approached from a variety of angles. Psychological, social, historical, biological, literary and economical visions of the self, and the interconnections between these academic disciplines have a crucial role to play in promoting a new type of citizen.

For a true interdisciplinary turn however, educationalists at all levels must tackle the numbers. As it stands right now, many times the general public is bombarded with facts and figures regarding the dismal state of education. Tests scores, graduation rates, supposedly inflated salaries and retention rates to name a few are used as bludgeons to persuade the public of how education is failing. Statistics are a powerful tool in the information age. Educators must begin to similarly use statistics. They must use statistics to enhance their arguments and criticism of the supposed crisis of education. There is so much raw data in the information age (Fullan, 2001). But raw data needs to be interpreted in order for it to have meaning (Fullan, 2001). Statistical analyses in the information age can provide a much needed critical and humanist interpretation of the raw data that we are surrounded by. Of course the numbers cannot be the sole driver of our arguments, but they can be a strong complement.

Statistics are more than numbers and percentages. The more advanced statistical procedures can actually begin to point to causality. A multiple regression analysis for example takes a number of independent variables and analyzes how much they can predict the movement of a dependent variable (Warner, 2013). Similarly, a path analysis looks at a number of independent variables and traces their impact on two or more dependent variables (Klem, 1995). Of course, no statistical procedure can ever definitively prove causality (Warner, 2013). Despite this limitation, these procedures can be very powerful tools. Educators can search for possible causes and drivers of important dependent variables such as graduation rates and academic achievement. A multiple regression and path analysis can actually put a number on the complex movement and interactions of reality.


The numbers however cannot substitute for a critical analysis. The actual data must be contextualized in the social, political and economic conditions in which they occur. Issues such as rising tuition, taxation and test scores do not occur in a vacuum. They are volatile political issues which are usually determined not by rational discussion but power, money and influence. The information in the information age is bountiful. A democracy in the information age cannot exist without a humanistic interpretation of that very information, both qualitative and quantitative that is at its foundation. Educationalists cannot neglect the numbers. Part of the interdisciplinary turn must include this attention to the numbers but not just the numbers in isolation. Rather the numbers must be understood in a holistic sense.

Another crucial tenet of interdisciplinary studies is engagement with technology. Heidegger and later Marcuse argued that technology has the potential to oppress and obliterate freedom (Marcuse, 1992; Suoranta & Vaden, 2007). Marcuse however held out hope that technology, once humanized could liberate mankind (Marcuse, 1992; Suoranta & Vaden, 2007). When students engage with technology, they must engage with its emancipatory possibilities. Technology cannot simply be a more efficient tool to accumulate profit, nor can technology be implemented for technology’s sake. There are a variety of ways in which technology can liberate mankind and it is beyond this paper to explore this in detail. However, some cursory remarks can be made here. Suoranta and Vaden argue that social media have the power of social liberation. For one, they point to the “second economy” of social media which works against the first capitalist based economy (Suoranta & Vaden, 2007). Online sites such as Wikipedia openly share information at no cost. In fact, their copyright is specifically designed to prohibit any private companies from making a profit or privatizing the information on their site (Suoranta & Vaden, 2007). They argue that participation in this anti-capitalist economy may hold the key to breaking the hold of capitalism in the information age (Suoranta & Vaden, 2007).

In the most far-reaching sense, Suoranta and Vaden liken the internet and emerging forms of social media as a method to create what Lenin called the “General Intellect,” or what he saw as a massive democratic cognitive apparatus which can guide and direct the production of goods in society, and the general strictures of society itself (Suoranta & Vaden, 2007). In a sense, the emerging social media can connect human beings in ways hitherto undreamed of before. All can participate in the creation of new knowledge and critique the old with the new social media (Suoranta & Vaden, 2007). It is participatory and democratic. This is why it must be an integral component of any interdisciplinary studies program. Students cannot merely use online tutorials to better remember historical dates or take a standardized test; rather they must be shown how to use technology to connect to each other. Again this would be easier in a higher education setting then a K-12 setting. Nonetheless, professors, teachers and even parents, when implementing technology in their disciplines and more importantly across disciplines, must enhance its revolutionary and subversive potential for radical critique. Students can be introduced to this “second economy” and even contribute to it. They can learn to critique information and produce knowledge in all academic disciplines and help to bridge these disciplines. Student and faculty participation in critical knowledge creation and the second economy, not simple rote exercises, can help to realize Marcuse’s dream of using technology for liberation (Marcuse, 1992).


The German word Wissenschaft, which is usually translated as science, perhaps holds the potential for the liberation of technology. The term Wissenschaft, employed mainly by Hegel and while having no true English equivalent, means something along the lines of “poetry and science” (Pinkard, 2000). Technology, which has the power to completely structure society, must be humanistic, it must be moral (Giroux, 2011; Marcuse, 1992; Suoranta & Vaden, 2007). It must be infused with creativity and poetry for it to truly be a tool of liberation. This is the crucial step to drive the next phase of the Enlightenment, for surpassing Adorno and Horkheimer’s repressive dialectic of the Enlightenment. The creation of newer and more radical democratic structures, the humanization of quantitative information and technology, and an all around critical education may be one of the necessary keys in the creation of Habermas’ educational apparatus, and in a wider sense, to achieving the promises of the Enlightenment.

One of the greatest benefits to education is its inter-generational impacts (Bowen, 1996; Greenwood, 1997; McMahon, 1997). The children of more educated parents live happier lives, have higher civic participation rates, volunteer more, and are healthier and more successful. With a program of radical pedagogy, the children of more educated parents may also be more dialectical. Parents must imbue their children with the dialectic, with the propensity for positive social change. They cannot simply train better capitalists to compete in the same system. The massive inter-generational effects of all types of education must be harnessed in the construction of the new world. The new educational apparatus cannot last one generation, it must perpetuate.

Teaching, and not just in formal pedagogical settings, but all teaching and instruction must be synonymous with action. Teaching is action. Educators cannot just teach about democracy, but must teach democracy. In its purest form, radical democracy (which blurs the line between communism) is participation, activism and social justice; it is the individual’s understanding of him or herself embedded within a wider social and political context. This should not be subversive, at least not in a country that claims to be democratic. But it will be subversive because neo-liberalism is antithetical to democracy (Giroux, 2011; Klein, 2007). We must create a new educational apparatus to guide social change. Of course not every student can be imbued with revolutionary fervor, in fact most students probably cannot. But as the nineteenth century anarchist Bakunin argued, it only takes a few well positioned people in an organization, or society to cultivate necessary change (Bakunin, 1999). These knowledgeable people can act as silent facilitators, spreading the message of revolution through the wider rungs of society, from the bottom up. Marx would scoff at this method and call me naïve and perhaps I am. But educators, both formal and informal, the world over, imbuing their students and children with democracy, with the dialectic, may just be the birth pangs of a new age.



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[Thank you indeed Angelo for this contribution]

The writer is a doctoral student in higher education.

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