Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Response on Cynicism


Sorry for the delay in answering, but I was out of town. I define cynicism as having three related components: 1) a dour view of humanity that sees people as competitive and duplicitous by nature 2) given this attitude, a general distrust of other people and particularly (in the neoliberal and neoconservative version) a distrust of government and most social institutions and 3) given these two related beliefs, a lack of faith and hope in the possibility of change. Recent examples of cynicism might be, for example, recognizing that the president lied about Iraq but still wanting to fight the war to feel more safe at home, even knowing that innocent civilians are dying. Or buying an SUV and then pretending to be an environmentalist. Or, for kids, cheating on tests to get better grades even though you know it’s wrong – saying, well everyone else is doing it, including those CEOs I just read about.

In my dissertation I argue that cynicism is distinct from apathy, but that apathy may be a reasonable response to cynicism. If there is a lack of hope in the possibility of change, why not be apathetic to democracy and civic engagement? And if a student feels school isn’t that important to their future business success or, conversely, that the system is stacked against them because of their race or immigrant status, apathy seems like an almost rational response to external forces.

I argue that teachers can combat cynicism mainly through their actions as “public intellectuals” engaging in their communities to enact positive social change. Rather than simply “enlightening” students to all that is wrong with the world, I believe progressive educators must show children that change is possible and that they can engage at the local, state, national and even international level to work toward that change. Many critical pedagogy in action I’ve seen focuses too heavily on critique without any of the empowerment necessary to galvanize children or is too inured to the idea of positive identity formation to create communities of learners and citizens that can work together to improve a society that does not appear to meet their needs. While these ideas might sound idealist, I believe there are places where these teachers and programs exist, and that a little idealism is necessary to combat what I argue is a pervasive cynicism.



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