March 1, 2011
Welcome to our first interview in the new NNEST site. This interview was a collaborative process to which all NNEST Blog Team members contributed in different capacities.
We have the honor to introduce you to:
Donaldo Macedo is a full professor of English and a Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is the Chair of the Applied Linguistics Graduate Department at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He has published more than 100 articles and books in the areas of linguistics, critical literacy, and multicultural education. His publications include: Literacy: Reading the Word and the World (with Paulo Freire, 1987), Literacies of Power: What Americans Are Not Allowed to Know (1994), Dancing With Bigotry (with Lilia Bartolome, 1999), Critical Education in the New Information Age (with Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux and Paul Willis, 1999), Chomsky on Miseducation (with Noam Chomsky, 2000), The Hegemony of English (with Panayota Gounari and Bessie Dendrinos, 2003), Howard Zinn on Democratic Education (with Howard Zinn, 2005).The Globalization of Racism (with Panayota Gounari, 2005), Media Literacy (with Shirley Steinberg, 2007) and Ideology Matters (co-authored with Paulo Freire, forthcoming). His works have been translated and published in Capeverdean, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish, and Turkish.
Donaldo Macedo received one of the most prestigious awards in education when he was selected as a member of the Laureate Chapter of Kappa Delta Pi – International Society in Education. Past recipients of this award include, among others, the following individuals: Albert Einstein (1950), Walter Lippman (1960), Margaret Mead (1962), Charles E. Skinner (1966) and Jean Piaget (1974). This is international award recognizes Donaldo Macedo’s scholarly contributions over the years and the influence that his work has had in both the United States and many other countries.
NNEST blog March interviewer: Ana T. Solano-Campos
Solano-Campos– In Literacies of Power (1994), you candidly talk about your experiences growing up in the United States as a bilingual learner. You describe the impact that your teachers had on you either via a pedagogy of exclusion or a pedagogy of hope. You also talk about the struggle to come to voice. Can you share one of those experiences with us?
Macedo – Let me first begin by saying that I am honored and humbled by your invitation to be interviewed in a forum that will reach thousands of teachers who can make an enormous difference in the lives of immigrant students whose dreams, aspirations, and desires are often bottled up in a temporary English language barrier. I say temporary because we all know that, given the opportunity and excellent instruction, all immigrant students can learn English since, as research has shown us, what distinguishes humans from other animals is the capacity to learn languages. This capacity involves not only one’s first language but other languages as well. The myth that Americans are not good at learning languages has a great deal more to do with social attitudes than with the biological capacity with which all humans are endowed. It is hard to believe that in most African countries even those individuals who have been excluded from schooling and literacy speak two or more languages. In what is referred to as “more developed countries” such as Germany and Sweden, most students graduate from high school speaking multiple languages. If fact, in these countries, one would be considered not well educated if one spoke only one’s native language. I provide this short background to highlight the impact of social attitudes on language learning and teaching. I am sure that Americans do not suffer from a language disability gene that causes the disease of monolinguism. What is operative is the lack of interest in other languages in the United States; this disinterest needs to be understood within the general xenophobia that is currently shaping the national dialogue where language is now the last refuge where one can practice racism with impunity. In other words, English only in schools is promoted as for your own good and not as a violation of one’s right to literacy in one’s language. What is important to highlight is the connection between English only policy, the anti-immigrant law that legalizes racial profiling, and the closing down of ethnic studies in Arizona. How would white Americans react if Arizona proposed closing down women’s studies programs? This is not too farfetched when you consider that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently declared that “women’s rights and gay rights are not protected under the U.S. Constitution.”
Against a landscape of language and cultural discrimination, most immigrant students do not feel welcome in either U.S. society or in schools. Hence, teachers who consider themselves agents of change and want to make a difference in their students’ lives need to factor into their pedagogy issues of language and cultural discrimination. If you accept that motivation is one of the most important factors in second language learning, teachers need to critically understand that a society that is so blatantly unwelcoming to immigrants cannot expect these same immigrants to be highly motivated to embrace a culture that, for many of them, particularly immigrants of color, devalues their cultural identity, their language, and too often their dignity. I always felt perplexed and disarmed when I was struggling to learn English because I wholeheartedly bought into the myth that the United States was a nation of immigrants that offered shelter, equality, and freedom, yet I never felt free to speak my native language openly, particularly in institutional contexts. My Capeverdean culture was summarily devalued through the constant pressure to assimilate, which contradicts the very ideals of democracy, equality, and freedom. In other words, it is an oxymoron to celebrate the ideals of democracy in a society that, at the same time, is pressuring you to stop being in order to be. That is, you are OK so long as you become like the rest of us, accept blindly our values even if these values mean accommodating racist attitudes and giving up your language and culture. In fact, there is often very little in school curricula that enables immigrant students to make sense of the ambivalence of their fractured cultural souls that yearn to make meaning out of the bitter-sweet existence of the diaspora. There is little in school curriculum that allows immigrant students to recapture moments of their childhood, which have been frozen in time and space. On the contrary, what the curricula offers is a forced assimilatory process reflecting society’s dominant values and that is a quasi cultural genocide designed to enable the dominant cultural group to consolidate its cultural hegemony. It is a process that, according to Amilcar Cabral, succeeds in imposing itself without damage to the culture of the dominated people—that is, it harmonizes economic and political domination of immigrant groups with their cultural personality.
The sad reality is, even when you blindly assimilate and give up most of your cultural values and speak English flawlessly, you are really never accepted as fully American, especially if you are nonwhite. This total lack of acceptance is, for example, normalized in the English language, which requires hyphenation when referring to certain nonwhite cultural and ethnic groups. Hence, it is common usage in English to have African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, among other hyphenated Americans. Likewise, it would be uncommon to refer to European-Americans, German-Americans, British-Americans, and Belgian-Americans. In other words, the very imposition of assimilation is replete with false promises and limitations—false promises inherent in the myth that requires that once you give up your culture and language and assimilate then you can become fully American, a myth that is disconfirmed by the use of hyphenation and the continued segregation of nonwhite ethnic groups. The limitations are demonstrated by the fact that only people from white European ancestry enjoy the privilege of being called American without the use of hyphenation as a marker of unwashed ethnicity. Thus, the dominant ideology that imposes blind assimilation also requires that we become immune to the dehumanization implicated in the use of hyphenation, which, in turn, coerces the implementation of a cruel cultural and ethnic ranking that shapes and normalizes inequality. The cultural hegemony is successful when even the victims of the ranking see the process as natural and commonsense to characterize themselves as such. To do otherwise and forcefully claim to be American without the hyphenated cultural and ethnicity qualifiers can be regarded as either not necessary or unnecessarily making a political statement that does not sit well with the dominant white ethnicity group. Even my use of “dominant white ethnicity group” jolts people who consider themselves apolitical and, most probably, would raise the following question: “What do you mean by dominant white ethnicity group?
For example, even though President Obama is half white, he could not escape the hyphenation process, which, in turn, diminishes the authenticity of his citizenship as demonstrated by incessant questions about his place of birth and his religious affiliation. Even though Obama is the president of the United States, a sizable segment of the society expects him to constantly demonstrate his patriotism. Congressman Darrel Issa from California as “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times,” because of President Obama’s compromised patriotism, Sarah Palin quipped that he apologizes for America and sees “America [as] the problem . . . [rather than] as the solution.”
Given these contradistinctions, teachers need to be able teach more than correct English grammatical constructions. They need to also realize and share with their students that the bound grammatical morpheme ed marks more than past tense. Its misplacement, its absence in certain environments, and its misuse also marks one’s foreignness and otherness. Unfortunately, theotherness identification seldom valorizes; instead, it is typically used to devalue, demonize, and dehumanize. In essence, immigrant students who face this level of discrimination cannot just focus on the appropriate acquisition of the past tense marker. These students are confronted with a linguistic and cultural drama, as Albert Memmi so eloquently put it, which positions them to make imposed choices that, in the end, are really choiceless choices.
Having said all this, it is always possible to learn English and succeed academically but this success is often tied to the humanity and quality of teachers that one encounters in one’s English-learning journey. I was enormously fortunate that I crossed paths with John O’Bryant, the first African-American elected to the Boston Public School Committee. He was a guidance counselor at Boston English High School when I was a student there. When he heard that I had been told by my guidance counselor that I was not college material and that I should go to Franklin Institute to become a TV repairman, he approached me and said: “Pay no attention to him. You are going to college. I’m mad. Didn’t he look at your grades? Come to see me in my office after school—you are going to college.” That I spoke three languages and I had good grades mattered little to my guidance counselor. What mattered to him is the folk theory that equated my temporary English language difficulty with my intellectual capacity. Sadly, for example, high dropout rates among Latina(o) students (in some urban schools districts such as Boston approximately 65 percent of these students drop out in sixth and seventh grades) demonstrate that the same discriminatory practices about language, race, ethnicity, gender, and class continue to characterize the culture of most urban public schools. I always say that the fact that I am a writer and a professor today is an accident of history in that I was fortunate enough to have met John O’Bryant. Most of my friends were not as lucky and joined the ranks of school dropouts—a euphemism for those students who have been excluded from the school system. That is why I honestly believe teachers matter. They can make a difference, and I am who I am today because of one who did—John O’Bryant.
Solano-Campos – In a system where teachers are constantly demonized, how can educators gain the courage to counter-educate students and to create structures that would enable submerged voices to emerge (Macedo, 1994, p. 4)? What is your advice to the extraordinary individuals who are at the front line in our schools and classrooms around the world?
Macedo – My advice to teachers is that they need to critically understand that they matter. However, it is not enough to say that teachers matter. To matter means taking on responsibilities beyond the contractual agreement to teach the content area. To matter means that teachers become politically aware that not all students are treated in schools with the dignity and respect they deserve. To matter also means that teachers realize there are always needs, desires, dreams, and aspirations beyond their students’ temporary English language barriers. Teachers need to lovingly reject the dehumanization of high-stakes testing and announce that behind each standardized test score there is always a human face that yearns to become and that needs a safe pedagogical space to reflect on the tensions, fears, doubts, hopes, and dreams that are part and parcel of living in a borrowed cultural existence—an existence that is almost culturally schizophrenic. That is, being present and yet not visible, being visible and yet not present. It is a condition of immigrant life that invariably presents itself—the constant juggling of two worlds, two cultures, and two languages that are always marked by asymmetrical power relations. It is a process through which we come to know what it means to be at the periphery of the intimate yet fragile relationship between a dominant and a dominated cultural world. Hence, our job as teachers is to defend students from the oppressive conditions they face in schools, as well as teaching the content we are charged to teach. Our job and also our duty as teachers includes constantly protecting the dignity of all students so as to prevent them from falling victims to the discriminatory educational bell curve that often parades under the guise of science and democracy.
Solano-Campos– As you have pointed out, the demonization of immigrants is a worldwide phenomena and the assault on bilingual education is fundamentally political (Macedo, 1994, p. 63). Most recently, Arizona’s immigration law has resuscitated nativist tendencies against Latino immigrants, attacking Latinos not only because of their immigration status but also because of their language and cultural history. The ban on ethnic studies and the explicit discrimination against teachers with heavy accents in Arizona is an affront to the Latino community in the United States and throughout the world. How can we explain such discriminatory policies in a time where the word diversity is part of most institutions’ mission statements and goals? What can teachers and students do about this?
Macedo – You are absolutely right. The demonization of immigrants is a worldwide phenomena that manifests itself differently in different world contexts and, in the case of United States, these phenomena have long historical roots. What we need to understand is that the current assault on the Latina(o) population in Arizona is not dissimilar to the deportation of Roma people in France. We need to be able to connect the dots and see a parallel between closing down ethnic studies in Arizona and preventing the building of a Muslim mosque in New York. These assaults are not merely reflections of extremist politicians and groups in a particular country, state, or city. These assaults are part and parcel of a racist ideology that is not confined to the United States but is an insidious global phenomenon. What we cannot do is to claim that racism is worse in Europe with frequent bombings of mosques and the constant assaults on immigrants while rationalizing that, although racism remains a problem in the United States, race relations are much better as indicated by the election of Obama to the presidency, signifying that we have arrived at a post-racist era. A more honest evaluation of racism both in the United States and elsewhere is not to merely compare degrees of racism in different geographical and cultural contexts but, instead, to always unveil the hidden structures of racism that inform and give rise to outbreaks as witnessed in Arizona, France, or Germany. We need to understand, as Jurgen Habermas has suggested, how dominant nations have “been roiled by waves of political turmoil over integration, multiculturalism, and the role of ‘Leitkultur,’ or guiding national culture. This discourse is in turn reinforcing trends toward increasing xenophobia among the broader population . . . that have been apparent for many years in studies and survey data that show a quiet but growing hostility to immigrants. Yet it is as though they have only found a voice:
The usual stereotypes are being flushed out of the bars and onto the talk shows [in the United States we have Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, among others], and they are echoed by mainstream politicians who want to capture voters who are otherwise drifting toward the right.” This is the case, for example, with the sudden formation of the Tea Party in the United States and the vitriolic discourse about “taking our country back,” which really means making America again the illusionary homogenous white country of yesteryear.
Given the complexity of the interconnectedness of the strong drift to the right, the economic insecurity of both white middle and lower classes, the pauperization of large segments of U.S. society in order to grotesquely enrich the oligarchs, it is important that we understand how the interplay of these economic and political factors exacerbate the racist foundation of our society. According to The Nation, “the top 1 percent of the population now owns 35 percent of the total wealth of the nation . . . The next 4 percent owns 27 percent of the total wealth. So together, the top 5 percent owns 62 percent of the total wealth of the country.”
The challenge for teachers is to understand how the dominant power uses education to partially legitimize economic and political policies that give rise to unbridled racism and pedogogies of exclusion. For instance, teachers need to comprehend how racism manifests itself in high-stakes testing and the lethal consequences that these tests have in the overrepresentation of minority students among school dropouts. For those minority students who stay in school, they are usually sentenced to labels such as “special needs” and “at risk.” Here “at risk” functions as a euphemism for minority students and, by and large, we seldom question, “Who is at risk?” and “Who put these students at risk?” What universities and schools generally do is to create programs staffed by “experts” in risk prevention in order to offer a quick educational fix while leaving unexamined the inherent ideology that informs, shapes, and maintains the oppressive material conditions that put students at risk to begin with. These credentialed “experts” in risk and prevention programs, who are mostly white, middle-class individuals, are never encouraged in their studies to engage in analysis of “at risk” reality and the ideology that informs it, which prevents them from developing a critical understanding of the interdependence between the “at risk” designation and the socioeconomic and sociocultural realities that give rise to the categorization in the first place. By not questioning the interconnections between the sociocultural and socioeconomic reality and the label “at risk,” teachers (irrespective of their good intentions) can easily become focused on “management” rather than education of these students. This may enhance teachers’ economic interests but do little to prevent these students from joining the ranks of dropouts.
Solano-Campos-People in the NNEST Blog Team are also curious to know your impressions of Paulo Freire. How was working with him? What are your most vivid memories of him?
Macedo – Before I expand on my impressions of Paulo Freire, let me take this opportunity to say that I would probably not have met Freire had it not been for the solidarity and generosity of my friend Henry Giroux. Henry and I were teaching at Boston University in the early 80s and, because I spoke Portuguese, Henry insisted that I translate a short preface that Paulo had written for his book Theory and Resistance. Unlike many academics who protect their privileged contacts, Henry was excited that I was going to meet Paulo. Henry never felt that sharing his access to Paulo could possibly diminish his own standing. He saw his invitation for me to join Paulo, Jim Bergin (the publisher of Bergin and Garvey), and several other colleagues as a pedagogical encounter that would advance the progressive political project. In fact, Henry was correct. That dinner at his house with Paulo, myself, Jim Bergin, and other friends concretized a very long and uninterrupted collaboration that gave birth to the important Critical Studies in Education Series published by Bergin & Garvey, of which Henry and Paulo became the editors—a series that made Paulo’s books more widely accessible and also launched the careers of hundreds of critical educators who are now prominent in the field. I translated Paulo’s Politics of Education (1985) and I co-authored with Paulo, Literacies: Reading the Word and the World (1987)—books that became must readings during those early years of critical pedagogy in the mid 1980s. In fact, I can confidently say that the dinner for Paulo Freire at Henry’s house was the launching pad for critical pedagogy in North America. Many of the political projects and dreams that animated the special camaraderie during this unforgettable dinner led to collaborations in conferences (both national and international) and the development of other important political projects. I have in mind Henry’s direct influence in helping re-configure and shape the Boston University Journal of Education that, prior to Henry’s involvement, was considered a backwater journal and then became an internationally celebrated journal and an exceedingly important venue for critical educators. For instance, through Henry’s insistence and mentorship, I published my first critical article, “The Politics of an Emancipatory Literacy Program in Cape Verde” in the Boston University Journal of Education.
I provide this important historical background because there is now an attempt to create a revisionist history of critical pedagogy in North America and it is important to highlight that Paulo Freire and Henry Giroux, coupled with the Bergin & Garvey Critical Studies in Education Series they co-edited, and the Boston University Journal of Education were the undisputed force that served as the springboard for what became known as critical pedagogy. I may add that Henry Giroux was and continues to be a major force in inspiring and mentoring young scholars who are now prominent authors. Most importantly, Henry exemplifies the importance of coherence, loyalty, and solidarity—virtues that are sadly rare in today’s academy, where the laws of the market with its lack of ethics have trumped what Edward Said insisted is a sine qua non for intellectuals who must be “moved by metaphysical passion and disinterested principles of social justice and truth, [who] denounce corruption, defend the weak, and defy imperfect or oppressive authority.”1
Going back to your question regarding my work and collaboration with Paulo Freire, I cannot say it enough that I feel enormously blessed for having had the opportunity to work and collaborate with Paulo Freire for seventeen uninterrupted years. I translated many of his books into English, and we co-wrote a few books. Not only did I learn tremendously from him but in our conviviality I learned what it means to be engaged in a humanizing pedagogy. Paulo was an extremely generous and humble man with whom no one could engage in dialogue without being transformed, without feeling enveloped by his aura of peace, and without recapturing hope. His unyielding coherence was put to test on a daily basis and with each test Paulo emerged as more generous, more loving, and more humane. His capacity to see the humanity in others fueled the expansion of his own humanity. Paulo was the same man working with peasants in Recife, Brazil, as he was lecturing at Harvard University or meeting with presidents and other dignitaries. His humility always characterized our encounters and I feel fortunate to have been present in many of these gatherings and to have witnessed his deep commitment to make this world, as he would often say, less ugly, more just, and more round. One was always captivated by his aura, his serenity, and his centeredness. He was loved by children and adults alike and he genuinely showed interest in people, learning about and from them, empathizing with them, feeling their pain and sharing his love and his wisdom. Paulo had tremendous difficulty saying no and he always saw the best in people. The only time that I witnessed him say no was when he denounced the ugliness of social injustices or refused to compromise his ethics for self interest. Toward the end of his life, Paulo became increasingly more preoccupied with the expanding human suffering in the world that fueled what he called a just anger—a “just ire,” which he viewed as an important and indispensable tool for those who yearn for social justice in order to recapture dignity and avoid falling into cynicism, even when confronted with the inescapable injustice and cruelty unleashed by wars, racism, sexism, classism, and all other forms of oppression. While he always insisted on the importance of having “a just ire,” Paulo never lost hope that changing the world is possible no matter how difficult it may be. It was always transformative to dialogue with Paulo in that within each statement he made there was always a lesson to be learned. His yearning for social justice was always manifest and his eagerness and commitment to fight for social justice and democratic ideals informed and shaped how he was in the world and with the world. It was a privilege to work and collaborate with Paulo. I was not only enriched and stretched by his intellectual insights and wisdom, but it also transformed the ways I am in the world and with others. Paulo became an undeniable force in my life and my search for knowledge in that he always challenged me to achieve a greater criticity and political clarity. While each moment spent with Paulo represented constant learning and intellectual stretching, what was most transformative for me was how Paulo, through his own way of being in the world and with others, modeled what it means to be a humanist pedagogue, thus providing me with tools to expand my own humanity. Asking me to speak about my relationship with Paulo Freire offers me another opportunity to again thank him for being in the world, for working zealously to transform the ugliness of the world, and for insisting (and here it is important to repeat him) that while change is difficult, it is always possible to make this world less discriminatory, more just, less dehumanizing, and more humane. And to change and transform the world always involves a revolutionary love infused with “just ire,” compassion, passion, and an unyielding hope.
Solano-Campos– Macedo, you have a long academic and professional trajectory and your work is read around the world. In addition, you have collaborated with widely esteemed and respected scholars like Howard Zinn, Giroux, Chomsky, Paulo Freire, and Lilia Bartolome, among others. In what ways have these collaborations impacted your work? What would be your advice to teachers, teacher educators, and scholars out there who are hungry for coalitions that can support their fight against a literacy for stupidification?
Macedo – I feel enormously blessed that I had the good fortune to work and collaborate with Paulo Freire, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Henry Giroux, Lilia Bartolomé, among others. These individuals exemplify what it means to be engaged in a humanizing pedagogy. Beyond their specific areas of specialization, they share the conviction that, as Augusto Boal once said, “we are all born poets but institutions interfere to keep us from continuing to be poets.” I could write books on what makes each one of these scholars unique and special, but let me just say that what became obvious throughout my collaborations with these great educators is their enormous humanity, their unyielding commitment to social justice, their courage, as Paulo Freire would say, to denounce the ugliness of the world and announce a world that is less discriminatory, more just, less dehumanizing, and more humane. While working with them, I learned firsthand the meaning and importance of both humility and coherence. These scholars always practiced what they preached, they walked the talk, and they dared to unleash their generosity. They stand in marked contrast to academics whose political project is the constant promotion of their careers, which, in the end, make them academicists. This lack of coherence and humility is sadly found even among progressive and liberal educators who adopt Marxism as a badge of their anti-establishment critiques, but refuse, for example, to attend events promoted by the very communities that they purport to represent and defend in their writings and public pronouncements. Take the case where a community organization invited a well-known African-American professor to speak to community members. When the young man who was organizing the event called the professor at his university, he was given the name of the professor’s agent who was in charge of scheduling him and informing the caller that the fee would be $15,000. That is, as shocking as it may seem, the professor’s celebrity status—due mostly to his race and his role as a representative of that community now charges a community known for its high unemployment rate, poverty, and youth violence $15, 000 to give a speech. The lack of coherence among what I call bourgeois liberals becomes abundantly clear when they proudly proclaim, for instance, to mentor students of color (this nomenclature is by its very nature is racist in that it assumes that white is not a color, a semantic impossibility). The invisible whiteness becomes the yardstick against which other “colors” are measured in their institutions, but, at the same time, these bourgeois liberals often fail to critique the institutional racism that, on the one hand, enhances their privileges and, on the other, maintains their need to always publicly pound their chests and tout themselves as “saviors” of students of color through their mentorship. This false generosity was characterized by Franz Fannon as “charitable racism.”2 It is false to the degree that the bourgeois liberal generosity, according to Freire, always “begins with the egotistic interests of the oppressors (an egoism cloaked in the false generosity of paternalism) and makes the oppressed the objects of its humanitarianism [not authentic humanism], generally presents itself maintains and embodies oppression.” While they pride themselves on being mentors of students of color, these same bourgeois mentors usually have tremendous difficulty working under the leadership of empowered minority individuals who are often referred to as “ungrateful,” “uppity,” or “irreverent.”
Beyond the immeasurable knowledge I acquired through working and collaborating with the educators you mentioned in your question, I am reminded on a daily basis of their shared conviction that all educators should remain always vigilant and never allow their work to fall into a false generosity of paternalism such as that characterizing many bourgeois, liberal do-gooders. Those antiestablishment individuals make sure that their privileged position within the establishment—that very position they denounce at the level of discourse—is never jeopardized. For example, a bourgeois liberal maintains an anti-racist discourse in public while simultaneously cooperating fully with administrators whose policies do not support affirmative action and work very much against students, staff, and faculty of color.
Solano-Campos– In The Hegemony of English you, Dendrinos and Gounari talk about the role of academia in promoting or neglecting discussions about hegemony and ideology. You point out that there seems to be a mismatch between theory and praxis, scholars, and practitioners. You also talk about the manufacturing of intellectuals as celebrities (Macedo, Dendrinos, & Gounari, 2003, p.16). How can the academy be transformed to engage in critical dialogues with communities everywhere?
Macedo – The manufacturing of intellectuals as stars is part and parcel of the neoliberal ideology that reduces all values to the laws of the market—laws shaped by greed, competiveness, and lack of ethics (e.g., the Maldoff fiasco and the Wall Street role in the last economic collapse). While careerism has always been a major force in the academy, I believe that it was exceedingly exacerbated by the neoliberal debasement of values, virtues, and ideals of democracy—a debasement that has partly contributed to a form of crass careerism in the academy where the advancement of one’s career trumps any political project that purports to transform the world into a less discriminatory and more humane world. To reiterate, as I already mentioned, while careerism has always been part of what motivates most academics, the advent of the neoliberal discourse with its claims regarding “the end of the ideology” and its unabashed devotion to the ethics of the market over the “universal ethics of the human person,” have certainly exacerbated the contradictions of those academics who embrace a critical discourse for social justice to only later betray these claimed beliefs with their careerist behaviors—behaviors that undermine the political project they purported to have embraced. Many academics often wear their public critical discourse as a badge of their radicalism on their sleeve but also use it to develop relationships with progressives in power who can help them get published, secure employment or inclusion in major academic venues. While some academics use careerism to get rewards, they astutely use strategies that are manipulative in order to secure their careerist goals. One such strategy they usually adopt is a middle-class “make nice” that lacks generosity of the heart in that the behavior of “making nice” almost always is not genuine as it involves a dose of narcissism and an expectation of fulfilling some a priori conceived self-interest. Thus, an invitation to dinner or to participate in a conference, an unwarranted gift, or congratulatory notes written to the progressive in power regarding his or her work often lack authenticity. These “make nice” behaviors provide bourgeois academics with a vehicle to ingratiate themselves with mentors upon whom they rely, at least for a time, to advance their positions in the academic world. As these careerist academics begin to realize that they no longer have much more to gain from the relationship, their originally claimed steely badge of commitment to the social justice struggles begins to acquire certain ideological elasticity, particularly when they are faced with the need to bend their claimed ethical principles in search of greener pastures and more fertile terrains—terrains where they can more pragmatically engage in quid pro quo relations that now trump their purported unyielding conviction for social justice. This fluid ideological dance manifests itself in a multiplicity of forms. When juggled properly, these careerist ideological dancers receive substantial rewards from the dominant system, which prefers ideological and intellectual accommodation over ideological convictions. That is, they begin to dance around their earlier claimed convictions that the world must be transformed if the ideals of democracy proselytized by the academy are to be experienced in practice by all and not only by those who have chosen themselves or are chosen to speak for the oppressed. The intellectual accommodation reaps the opportunistic professionalized academics substantial rewards through research funding and others goods such as promotions and privileged positions. A quick test will readily show how the funding research stream, controlled by the government and corporate-controlled foundations, often set parameters as to what types of research are fundable and what research projects rich, non-profit foundations will not prioritize. For instance, it is highly documented that oppressed groups are over studied while, for example, the obscene greed displayed by the Wall Street tribe remains beyond study. The very use of the term “tribe” to characterize the Wall Street cabal of hedge fund managers may strike the reader as inappropriate or even provocative. However if “tribe” is used to designate human beings in the Amazon or in Africa, its usage is accepted as natural as it bodes no question or dissent. Hence, it is absolutely normal to study child-rearing practices among Quechua Indian tribes in Peru, but it would be most inappropriate to study the increasing pathology among the Wall Street tribal members whose greed, lack of compassion, and dysfunctional narcissism have ensured that “the top 1 percent of the population now own 35 percent of the wealth of the nation,” which translates into $19.1 trillion, while the bottom half of the population faces chronic unemployment due to outsourcing and the decimation of the middle-class, and while (in 2009) “50 million people, including children, lived in food-insecure households.”3 More than 12 million children go to bed hungry everyday in the United States while chic restaurants in New York cater to hedge fund managers whose tax bracket is lower than that their chauffeurs’ by offering them chocolate gold-laced desserts that cost $23,000.
At the same time, some of these obscene profits made possible with the connivance of our politicians are used by corporations and the Wall Street tribe to create non-profit foundations so as to placate the public opprobrium through select gifts and funding opportunities to institutions and their servants (the professional class) that can be counted on to lavish praise on them—lavish praise that, on the one hand, eclipses the grotesque robbery of the nation’s treasury through tax cuts and subsidies to support these non-profit foundations, and, on the other, seduces the grantees (mostly academics) to accommodate both a form of reverence and self-censorship. For example, the Ford Foundation will be unlikely to fund a research study that documents its founder’s (Henry Ford) anti-semitic ideology and his business dealings with the Nazi regime.
As a system, Wall Street uses the creation of non-profit foundations, which is also another form of tax dodging, to rationalize its unethical behavior through mechanisms of compromised benevolence that, for example, support research to study the very people their policies had earlier sentenced to human misery, abject poverty, and dependency. Their non-profit foundation status provides them with yet another loop hole to avoid paying taxes, which, invariably, defunds governmental safety net social programs—social programs that are astutely labeled by the dominant institutions as entitlement programs. This nomenclature eclipses the reality that, in a democratic and just society, these so-called entitlement programs should be viewed as a civil right. In other words, access to Medicare is not an entitlement but a right that all citizens should have. And tax loop holes that allow U.S. corporations to not pay taxes is never characterized as entitlement programs. For example, the “Government Accountability Office found that two of every three US corporations paid no federal income taxes from 1998 to 2005…[and] neither GE($10.3 billion in 2009 pretax income) nor Exxon Mobil ($45.2 billion in 2008 recorded paying a cent of income tax in 2009.”4 By not paying taxes, these “corporate plutocracy” accumulate massive resources, part of which can be used to establish non-profit foundations. At the same time, these corporate non-profit foundations reap, once more, huge tax savings that can be used to promote corporate “good citizen” image which, in turn, secures the expected adulation from the general public, institutions, and universities through which they funnel their false generosity to fund thousands of doctoral dissertations and research studies that range from war on poverty (it should read “war on the poor”), welfare-mother parenting skills, illiteracy among Aborigines in Australia, and the increased drug use in black neighborhoods. Research studies that these non-profit foundations will never fund are the rampant drug use in upper-class neighborhoods, on college campuses, and the cause and effect between the criminal behavior of Wall Street managers and the sharp increase in poverty, homelessness, and human misery. In other words, the public tax dollars that were the catalyst for the development and maintenance of these non-profit foundations achieve at least two fundamental goals: (1) They allow the non-profit foundations, through their largess, to shape the ideological compass of the nation, and (2) those dollars, by and large, buy the complicity of grant funding recipients to ensure the ideological compass stays the course. For example, academicist archeologists who may want to receive one million dollars to dig sections of Plymouth, Massachusetts, in order to reconstruct the Wampanoag Indians social fabric know that their chances of receiving funding diminishes considerably if their grant proposals suggest linkages between the destruction of Wanpanoags’ social structures and the carnage and slaughter they suffered at the hands of British settlers who should also be referred as “illegals.”That is, like the current day “illegals,” these settlers arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts undocumented and illegally settled (occupied is a better term) land that did not belong to them. Returning to the linkage point that I was making, the academicist archeologist, for example, acquires this awareness not through a specific course that they take in archeology, but through subtle messages they receive via their socialization as archeologists in terms of the type of ideology they must embrace or avoid in order to secure research funding and reap rewards through the system.
Another way to steer the population away from understanding how ideology works and keep it assuaged is through what Noam Chomsky calls distraction and, in the academy, one approach often used effectively is careerism, which, on the one hand, professionalizes intellectuals through a process that fosters academicism and, on the other, encourages the creation of celebrity cult status. This is a very effective mode for incorporating a small number of representatives from oppressed groups (who owe their careers to the function they perform as both representatives of the oppressed group and gatekeepers), thereby keeping the oppressed group and the general population distracted from understanding that, for example, for each African-American academic celebrity, there are millions of African-Americans who remain warehoused in ghettos, dysfunctional schools, and jails.
Thus, “celebrity as distraction” represents an ideological manipulation used by a society dominated by entertainment designed to create an environment that, on the one hand, dulls our critical sensibilities and, on the other, allows stars to be created by the mere construction of fame without much substantive evidence of the stars’ worth or talent. Take for example, the overnight creation of Sarah Palin who has transfixed our society with her reality show antics. Another example that we could use is what is called the Zsa Zsa Gabor factor. Almost everyone would agree that Zsa Zsa Gabor is a “star” in the United States, yet few can name movies or any other work that would support her designation as a star.
The same phenomenon occurs in the academy albeit in a more sophisticated manner. Hence, the celebration of certain African-American academic celebrities often constitutes yet another manipulative means to keep racism hidden and to trumpet the claim that we are now living in a post-racial society as exemplified by the White House beer conversation between President Obama and Harvard professor Henry Gates Jr. (both African-Americans) and the white cop, Sgt. James Crowley, who aggressively arrested Gates as he was attempting to enter his house (in my opinion, a clear case of racial profiling). While the conversation over beers at the White House was designed to assure Americans and the world that we now live in a post-racial society where we can have an educated dialogue regarding race relations, it did little to keep Arizona from promoting and legitimizing racial profiling through promulgated laws. It did not stop the burning of mosques and the vicious assaults on Muslims, and it did little to alleviate the human misery, violence, and hopelessness experienced by thousands of African-Americans locked in ghetto neighborhoods such as Roxbury, Massachusetts, which is only a short drive from professor Gates’s elegant mansion in the Harvard Yard. The White House beer conversation also did very little to expose the invisible wall of class and racial ideology that sends clear messages to both white and black populations: that red lining is real and blacks are immediate suspects if they transgress both real and imaginary geographical boundaries. That is, the privileged class position that professor Gates enjoys at Harvard and in other academic circles did not eliminate the fact that his race and the color of his skin are markers that provoke racial profiling and arrest as experienced by millions of African-American who happen to be in neighborhoods that cling to the mental “whites only”sign.
Referring back to your question regarding academic celebrities, we need to interrogate the intellectual costs that academic celebrities pay when they accommodate the doctrinal system and the overall costs leveled against the much oppressed group that served as the springboard for their celebrity. That is, we need to understand that academic careerism tends to professionalize intellectuals who are at ease with writing and speaking about social criticism but refuse to take the risk to expose themselves through social activism that may jeopardize their privileges. That is, they refuse to speak truth to power. Speaking truth to power requires activism and intellectual militancy in order to overthrow all forms of oppression by any means necessary, as Malcolm X so courageously put it. It would be unimaginable in our supposed post-racial society to have Obama, Malcom X, and the white Cambridge cop conversing over a beer about race in the White House. The fact that we cannot even imagine this possibility points to the high level of domestication that has taken place since the early years of the Civil Rights Movement. And to avoid domestication of the mind means not aligning one’s self with the interests of the powerful elite and refusing to submit to a system that constantly rewards individuals for obedience and their contributions to the reproduction of an inherently discriminatory and undemocratic reality. It also means that academic celebrities violate intellectual ethics in that they become intellectualists who, in their roles as managers and servants of the doctrinal system, are expected to provide a moral cover to the large scale cruelty of fabricated wars, the social engineering of poverty, and the grotesque expansion of human misery, so that the oligarchs can eat outrageously expensive gold-laced chocolate desserts in Manhattan that costs $23,000 while homeless Haitians in Haiti eat mud cookies to trick their stomachs into feeling “full.”
Solano-Campos– In The Hegemony of English, you, Dendrinos and Gounari address the pervasiveness of linguistic discourse that posits the English language as superior in Europe and the United States. We know that this discourse extends to other countries around the world. What can we do about attempts at global solidarity that only take into account United States and European scholars? How can African, Latin American, and Asian scholars, for example, enter the conversation?
Macedo – Part of the difficulty that African, Latin American, and Asian scholars have in entering the conversation is directly linked to the current English hegemony. Latin played a similar role during the Roman Empire and Greek was also hegemonic during the Greek Empire. It is not that non-European and non-Anglo scholars are not preoccupied with linguistic and cultural hegemony. Insightful works by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o regarding the decolonization of language and culture in Africa and by Renato Constantino with respect to the multiple colonizations of the Philippines are but few examples. The problem is that their preoccupation and denouncement of linguistics colonialism must be done always in the colonial language, in this case English, which, in turn, expands the very hegemony they deconstruct and denounce. Hence, in order to understand the insidiousness of hegemony, we need to comprehend how dominant forces rely on hegemony to mentally invade languages and cultures that are deemed as uncivilized and inferior. That is why hegemony is not rigorously studied in the United States as exemplified by a Harvard professor whose specialization is literacy. When a student asked a panel of speakers how they would reconcile their strong support for bilingual education in the United States with the current hegemony of English, the Harvard professor unabashedly asked: “What is hegemony?” To understand hegemony, students would need to be exposed to a body of literature dealing with the nature of ideology, language politics, and ethics—subject matters certainly encouraged in the field of language studies and education. In addition, we would need to understand how the ruling class often reproduces its power through the creation of false crisis. Once you convince people that the society is facing a grave crisis, the ruling class must then intervene to address and stop it. That is, when political pundits manipulate study after study to convince Americans that social security is unsustainable and is in trouble, then it is the duty of politicians and policymakers to address the problem and arrive at a dichotomous solution to either cut benefits or privatize social security. By keeping the debate within narrow neoliberal parameters, the imagination is often caged and other solutions are beyond possibility. For example, what would happen if Obama showed coherence with his campaign pledges and refused to extend Bush’s tax cuts that could generate four trillion dollars in a decade for social programs? Would Medicare be in crisis? What would happen if we, as a society, instead of spending trillions of dollars in the fabricated Afghan and Iraq wars, would invest these trillions of dollars in infrastructure development, education and social programs? Would we be having educational problems? Would we have the obscene poverty that characterizes many inner cities?
These questions are not even permissible since the ruling class (the academic discourse does not even allow the usage of this term and instead uses euphemisms such ad “affluent,” “rich,” among others) has already determined that privatizing social security is the best course of action thus holding the poor responsible for creating a “social catastrophe” and blaming the “great society programs not only for financial losses but also for drops in high school test scores, drug problems and…[according to Patrick Buchannan] a generation of children and youth with no fathers, no faith and no dreams other than the lure of the streets.”5
Against a landscape of selective assaults on many public institutions, the bilingual education movement could not escape the wrath of the dominant ideology. However, the present attack on bilingual education should not be understood as a simple critique of language instructional methodologies. First and foremost, the present assault on bilingual education is fundamentally political. The denial of the political nature of the debate concerning bilingual education constitutes, in itself, a political action. It is both academically dishonest and misleading to point to some failures of bilingual education without examining the lack of success of linguistic minority students within the larger context of the general failure of public education in major urban areas, which have created minority-student dropout rates ranging from 50 to 65 percent in the Boston public schools to over 70 percent in larger metropolitan areas like New York City.
While conservative educators have been very vocal in their attempts to abolish bilingual education due to, according to them, its lack of academic success, these same educators have conspicuously remained silent about the well-documented failure of foreign language education. In spite of the general failure of foreign language education in the United States, no one is advocating closing down foreign language departments in schools. The same could be said for English departments. Given the high dropout rates due to illiteracy and the general failure of English in producing competent readers, we should also close down English departments. Paradoxically, the same educators who propose the dismantling of bilingual education programs, which have a higher probability of producing bilingual speakers, reiterate their support for foreign language education with the aim of developing bilingualism even though the failure rate of becoming fully bilingual through foreign language education is exponentially greater than in bilingual programs.
The English Only movement’s position points to a pedagogy of exclusion that views the learning of English as education itself. What its proponents fail to question is under what conditions will English be taught and by whom. For example, insisting on immersing non-English-speaking students in English as a Second Language programs taught by untrained music, art, and social sciences teachers who passed a minimal test (as is the case in Massachusetts), it is difficult to yield great results in tests scores. In addition, the proponents of English Only also fail to raise two fundamental questions: First, if English is the most effective educational language, how can we explain that over 60 million Americans are illiterate or functionally illiterate? Second, if education in “English Only” can guarantee linguistic minorities a better future, as educators like William Bennett promise, why do the majority of black Americans, whose ancestors have been speaking English for over two hundred years find themselves still relegated to the ghettos?
I believe that the answer to these questions has nothing to do with whether English is a more viable language of instruction or whether it promises non-English-speaking students full participation both in school and the society at large. This position would point to an assumption that English is, in fact, a superior language and that we live in a classless, race blind society. I want to propose that the attempt to institute proper and effective methods of educating non-English-speaking students cannot be reduced simply to issues of language but rests on a full understanding of the ideological elements that generate and sustain linguistic, cultural, and racial discrimination, which represent, in my view, vestiges of a colonial legacy in our democracy.
However, the mere mention of colonialism, to answer your question, may be viewed as provocative and too political. Many educators will object to the term “colonialism” to characterize the present attack on bilingual education and ethnic studies by conservative as well as many liberal educators. Some liberals will go to great length to oppose my characterization of the attack on bilingual education as a form of colonialism, rationalizing that most educators who do not support bilingual education are just ignorant and need to be educated. This is tantamount to saying that racists do not really hate people of color; they are just ignorant. While one cannot argue that they are ignorant, one has to realize that ignorance is never innocent and is always shaped by a particular ideological predisposition. On another level, the attack on bilingual education or a racist act due to ignorance does not make the victims of these acts feel any better about their victimization.
The apologetic stance of some liberals concerning the so-called ignorance on the part of those educators who blindly oppose bilingual education is not surprising, since classical liberalism, as a school of thought and as ideology, always prioritizes the right to private property while relegating human freedom and other rights to the margins. It is this liberal position of ideological vacillation that, on the one hand, propels many liberals to support bilingual education and, on the other hand, to object to the linkage between the attack on bilingual education and colonial language policies.
As a colonized person, who experienced first hand the discriminatory language policies of Portuguese colonialism, I can readily see many similarities between the colonial ideology and the dominant values that inform the U.S. English Only movement. Colonialism imposes “distinction” as an ideological yardstick against which all other cultural values are measured, including language. On the one hand, this ideological yardstick serves to overcelebrate the dominant group’s language to a level of mystification (e.g., viewing English as education itself and measuring the success of bilingual programs only in terms of success in English acquisition) and, on the other hand, it devalues other languages spoken by an ever-increasing number of students who now populate most urban public schools. The position of U.S. English Only proponents is not very different from the Portuguese colonialism that tried to eradicate the use of African languages in institutional life by inculcating Africans through the educational system in Portuguese only with myths and beliefs concerning the savage nature of their cultures.
If we analyze closely the ideology that informs the present debate over bilingual education—spearheaded by the conservative U.S. English Only Movement—and the present polemic over Western heritage versus multiculturalism, we can begin to see and understand that the ideological principles that sustain those debates are consonant with the structures and mechanisms of a colonial ideology. For me, the current draconian laws promulgated in Arizona concerning the treatment of the Latino(a) population can only be understood in terms of the internal colonialism that characterizes the relationship between the white and non-white residents of Arizona. In fact, this form of colonial coexistence that we are currently witnessing in Arizona had historical precedence in the United States if we examine the educational policies in the Philippines and Puerto Rico after these territories were taken over by the United States. English was imposed as the only language of instruction in the Philippines while the imposed American textbook presented the American culture not only as superior, but as a “model par excellence for the Philippine society.” This type of miseducation was so prevalent that it that it lead T. H. Pardo de Tavera, an earlier Phillippino collaborator with U.S. colonialism, to write a letter to general Douglas Mac Arthur exalting the value of the English language and the need for it to “be extended and generalized in the Philippines.” It is the same complete and radical redemption that the United States hoped to achieve in Puerto Rico when Theodore Roosevelt’s commissioner of education in Puerto Rico, Rolland P. Faulkner, mandated in 1905 that instruction in public schools must be conducted in English and that Puerto Rican schools must become “agencies of Americanization.”
By leaving our colonial legacy unexamined, the choice to choose an effective instructional methodology where students are denied the choice to study their language and culture is, for all practical purposes, a choiceless option. It is the same choiceless option that is informing Obama’s educational policy, with its stress on privatization, accountability, and charter schools. As Obama’s policymakers stand ready to close down low-performance schools as they did last year in Central Falls, Rhode Island, they should first close down the poverty and inequality that characterize the human misery, the abject poverty, and hopelessness of most inner-city students left behind by the fast-moving educational train to private and charter schools. Instead of becoming enslaved by the management discourse of the present educational reform that enhances the economic interests of the reformers, while securing their privileged social and cultural positions, educators need to reconnect with our historical past so as to understand the colonial legacy that undermines our democratic aspirations.
Solano-Campos– What do you do in your free time? How do you balance your academic work with your personal life? What are you currently working on? What would you like to do in the next couple of years? (new book? travel?).
Macedo – This my least favorite question to answer. Although I may be perceived as very social, I am in reality very private. While I speak often to large audiences, I often feel nervous doing so and I would rather write than be exposed in speaking engagements. I am not very fond of academic cocktail parties for networking, and I prefer to spend the little free time that I have with family members and friends who want to share their company with me for who I am rather than what I do for a job. In one of your questions, I alluded to my disillusionment with the crass careerism of academics whose weathervane ideology is determined by what they can get out of this or that relationship in a feverish quid pro quo that is hard to keep track of. While I feel disillusioned by a certain lack of coherence and conviction on the part of many academics, I am an extremely optimist person who does not easily lose hope and fall into cynicism. I am often kept from cynicism by exemplary intellectuals like Paulo Freire, Noam Chomsky, Henry Giroux, Howard Zinn, Arundhanti Roy, Nancy Fraser, and Linda Brodkey, among others. Unfortunately, they represent a minority, albeit a courageous class of intellectuals, who, according to Edward Said, refuse to “become ‘hired’ agent[s] of an information industry” and the institutions for whom they work. Their commitment to social justice, their courage to speak truth to power, and their humanity give me hope that a more just society is possible.
As for what I like to do during my free time, I have not been very good at finding free time. I am a workaholic who almost invents the next project so that I can keep working. This is largely because I do not consider what I do work. I see the work that I do as an extension of who I am; I now consider my work as a hobby. I gain tremendous amount of pleasure working with students and with multiple communities whose needs are countless as the government cuts more and more resources. It is very hard for me to say no to community requests given the current expansion of human misery where youths in inner cities experience more and more despair, hopelessness, and helplessness. I came of age during a time of struggle shaped by a cruel, wrong, and unjust war against Vietnam, but, in spite of the odds against people who were oppressed, they remained hopeful that change was possible. This past year, I worked with a number of former and current gang members and, at times, I felt overwhelmed by the youths’ hopelessness. These youngsters, nevertheless, worked hard to organize a conference that brought 350 people together to listen to their plea for more help, for more respect, and more compassion. What became very clear to me as I listened to kids who are and have been engaged in violence is that there is always a prior violence that generates the current violence. A society that views a sizable population of its youths as disposable, as my friend Henry Giroux would say, is a society that is characteristically violent. A society that willfully becomes oblivious to the hunger experienced by 12 million children every day is a society in crisis. A society that zealously enriches its oligarchs while pauperizing the majority of its population is a society that is fast becoming dehumanized.
Even though my New Year resolution to work less in past years has gone unheeded given the expanding human misery that calls me to do more, this past New Year’s I again promised myself to make more time for my wife, Lilia, my daughters Vanessa and Erica, and to enjoy my son, Alejandro, before he is off to college, and to enjoy my family and friends whose virtues of loyalty, solidarity, and compassion rejuvenate and inspire me as they staunchly remain the compass that guides me to what really matters in life: love, passion, and compassion.
Many thanks to Donaldo Macedo for his eager participation in this interview!
Macedo, D. (1994). Literacies of Power: What Americans Are Not
Allowed to Know. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Giroux, A. G. ( 1983). Theory and Resistance. South Hadley, MA: Bergin &
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Freire, P. and Macedo, D. (1987) Literacies: Reading the Word and the
World. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey Publishers, Inc.
Macedo , D. & Gounari, P. (Eds).(2007) The Globalization of Racism.
Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.
Macedo,D., Dendrinos, B., & Gounari, P. (2003). The Hegemony of English.
Boulder, CO:Paradigm Publishers.
Freire, P. (1985) Politics of Education: Culture, Power, and Liberation.
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1. Said, W. E. (1996) Representation of the Intellectuals. New York: Vintage Books.
2. Fanon, F. (1965). Black skin, white masks. New York: Grove Press.
3. The Nation, “Time for a Wealth Tax,” December 13, 2010.
4. Andrew, S. “Start by targeting corporate welfare,” The Boston Globe, February 18, 2011.
5. Cited in Macedo, D. and Bartolome, L. (1999) Dancing with Bigotry: Beyond the Politics of Tolerance. New York, Palgrave.