Gramsci and Education

Peter McLaren mclaren at
Tue Aug 19 12:02:56 MDT 2003

The criticism of my article in Gettleman's review -- which is held to
exemplify many of the articles in  the book on Gramsci and Education are
well-taken.  I sympathize with the reviewer...
Some background: In the field of education there are theory and philosophy
journals (from which this article was updated) and there are journals that
address issues of transforming public school policy, curricula, and pedagogy
(ie, journals with a more practical emphasis).  Sometimes these various
issues are integrated successfully and sometimes there is a strong emphasis
on some issues at the expense of others.   The task as I saw it (about a
decade ago when the article was first published) was to address the way
Gramsci's politics have been domesticated by  many -- but not all -- writers
in  the cultural studies field who in my view over-emphasize culture at the
expense of Gramsci's political economy and communism... Often when you are
writing in theory or philosophy journals against a postmodern focus on
culture, one's language does indeed remain theoretical...and yes, sometimes
excessively so, and sometimes key political issues get sidestepped.  And
sometimes theoretical essays need to be read in conjunction with essays that
have a more practical important...There are spaces for theoretical debate --
as you find in many Marxist journals  like Journal of Socialist Theory (the
latest issue has a wonderful piece by Istvan Meszaros) or Historical
Materialism where you often find little practical advice on how to build a
socialist society, and there are many  journals where the emphasis is on
strategy and praxis....I think there is a need for both.  Not all theorizing
is posturing.  But much of it can be off-putting.  And when theory and
practice can be integrated in an article, so much the better.  The important
issue that Gettleman raises is much broader than this one book. For example.
In the mid 1980s it was difficult to find much radical theory in any of the
leading education theory journals...and principals were often pointing the
the leading journals and asking teachers to rely on the ideas therein. So in
the 1980s up to the present there has been  success in getting articles from
various left perspectives in these education journals (critical theory,
feminist pedagogy, Freirean perspectives, and more recently, Marxist
theory), although they are certainly a minority...This has been a
victory...but of course, one with limitations. Teachers often will use ideas
in the radical literature to develop their curricula or pedagogies. At least
the literature is now there for teachers to use or reject. The idea is for
teachers themselves to critically appropriate the theory  and use it
contextually in the situation they find themselves in --of course, they
might choose to chuck it out  --  in the construction of their own radical
approach to pedagogy. One excellent publication is Rethinking Schools,
written by practicing teachers in the field....There is also a lot of
terrific ethnographic work out there, in which theory is generated from the
context of the study... -- I cite one famous study -- Paul Willis's Learning
to Labor.

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