oppression (2)

Jennifer Gidley is a futurist-educator of the highest calibre as a thinker and with great experience in educational alternatives and critique of education systems that are largely a couple of hundred years out-of-date with the challenges young people face in the early 21st century. I agree and applaud so much of what she has offered over the years, including her latest book Postformal Education: A Philosophy for Complex Futures (2017).

That said, my brief book review here is going to focus on what I think are major flaws in her philosophy of education, her use of Integral Theory, and developmental psychology discourse in general. The quickest way to say my critique in a nutshell is: Gidley is a political liberalist and it influences most every interpretation of education, of Integral Theory (e.g., of Ken Wilber's work) and of developmental psychology and evolution I read in her work. In other words, she is so enthralled with cognitive development of the higher orders (e.g., vision-logic, postformalism, fifth-order thinking) to analyze and solve the world's problems, she ends up not very radical at all. I find her quite a liberal thinker. I also find this true of Integral Circles and Schools of thought today, most everywhere. They are "gutted" for consumer culture (i.e., marketability) not so much for radical pursuit of the "truth" and liberation. Sure, she is critical of neoliberalism and its take-over of much of education today. Good. But it is not a very sophisticated critique or a good ideological and political critique (using critical theory) as background context for how she pursues educational philosophy and postformalism in general. I like Kincheloe & Steinberg's views of postformalism somewhat better in terms of critical and radical perspectives [1].

So, I am disappointed again in an integral book on education, that is supposed to be for the betterment of future generations. I am not pleased how she defaults on "love" as so core to her integral future curriculum design and how she says nothing of any depth about "fear"--many of you reading this will know that I am a big critical of all kinds of folks using the love-default and general pc positivism [2] in their philosophies to save the world. But let me return to the "politics" that she so ignores (or skirts around). 

To keep this critique short (someday I may write a longer critique of this book): Gidley's book does not have in the Index terms like "oppression" or "emancipation" or better yet, "liberation." I find this tells of just how "gutted" and "watered down" his her philosophy, theorizing of "integral" and her thinking in general. Her curriculum is anything but radical from this perspective, because she has no philosophy (or psychology) of oppression and liberation at the core of her curriculum conceptualization. I am convinced her training as a professional psychologist all these decades has muted and liberalized her radical-edge which is truly sitting there in her work and writing but not quite blossoming; she seems afraid to let it out. And, of course, one would be much less financially successful if they took the liberation path fully and spoke truths that are prophetic and very uncomfortable to the masses and even the liberal leftists, etc. 

For my part, I put the 'Fear' Project as the major oppressive force on the planet. It is worse in negative impact today than ever before because of complex structuration and new media means of public pedagogy that puts people in so much fear that it hampers how they perceive, think, learn, and believe and act on fear-based messages from elites and others. Unfortunately, most do not see the fear ('fear') construction everyday. It is called the context of the postmodern era--that is, the context of the "culture of fear." (Again, I have written lots about that). Gidley doesn't mention this context at all. She operates without a radical identification of oppression and liberation. I end my critique there. It is not a book worthy of a future that she wants and most of us want where people are "free" and a healthy sane and sustainable society is potentially unfolding. She thinks cognitive development (leading) and some emotional and social development etc. will take us out of this nightmare of the culture of fear--or, at least, it appears to me she thinks so. The politics of such cognitive development (and healing of cognitive pathologies of the old paradigms) is not an easy task and will not be accomplished without a powerful "shadow" work. I do not see Gidley entertain depths like this in her book and any of her writing. 

Yes, much of her book can be useful in the future of curriculum design, teaching and learning theories, etc. Fine. But neoliberalism, which she admits is gutting Education everywhere in very negative ways, has to be 'hooked' to its root in a society extremely anxious, if not terrified of the future--especially, of economic security. That is, a culture of fear and neoliberalism cannot be unhooked as she does--or ignores the fact of it. Many critics (like Henry Giroux) have said as much as I am. However, none of the educational critics has given a critical integral attention to analyzing how fear ('fear') moves in and shapes all things today on massive scales to micro scales of operations. Education is a reproducer of that fear-based structuration--that is, what I have called the 'Fear' project. So, we need a counterhegemonic Fearlessness Project--and Movement. 

Honestly, I would rather Gidley (and her many followers) look carefully at how to build a curriculum and philosophy for a liberational futures and not get so distracted by complex futures. That's my ultimate critique of this book and Gidley's project. I think with good open dialogue, her and I and others may bring our work together and move forward in a truly prophetic and pragmatic futures education for all... one that has a theory of oppression and liberation at the core--not complexity alone. 


1. Kincheloe, J. L. & Steinberg, S. R. (2011). A tentative description of post-formal thinking. In K. Hayes et al. (Eds.), Key works in critical pedagogy: Joe L. Kincheloe (pp. 53-76). Amsterdam, Holland: Sense Publishers.

2. My complex theorizing on "positivism" is way beyond the rational positivism notion in epistemology but includes cultural hegemonic formations of everything from political correctness (and identity politics), be gentle loving and caring and be positive (e.g., positiive thinking) ideologies that have flooded North American culture (at least) for the past 3 or more decades. It is like one cannot say anything really "critical" because victim culture that accompanies the positivism ideology will attack you for being mean and saying something offensive to some one (while, they themselves attack with viciousness because you are not conforming to their positivism). 

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What does it mean to be a conscientious objector to Western society?

This blogpost is directly related to the current political situation that Barbara and I have experienced living in the USA for 9 years (July 2008- July 2017). Because Barbara was an Illinois State public employee at SIUC also added to us becoming "very political" relative to our other years living in Canada together (since 1991). Although, few know, that in 1994 or so I created a brochure to outline the NO FEAR PARTY that I was going to lead. People didn't pick up on it. In a sense, we've grown into being more civically aware, involved--albeit, she more than I, and I have spent most of my 9 years in conflict with various civic and activist and political groups in Carbondale, IL--not because I wanted to fight with them, I merely tried working with them and found them unworkable--and, perhaps that's what they would say about me. I do feel I confronted head on, not just intellectually, the stubborn American-psyche/personality that Americans generally take on because of the way America is and has been for centuries. The other-side to this was to face a lot of unsuccessful ventures and collaborations that fizzled rapidly here and thus, I turned very inward and contemplative, read, researched and wrote a whole tonne of good work, I think. I'm also exhausted by supporting Barbara's work out there and my own having to deal with vast rejection--to point I have said I live in exile and am undergoing social death.

Yet, Barbara and I continue to be quite political. A distinction is required, and one we both emphasized in earlier blogs this year with the Presidential 2016 election here and the shock n' awe of so many progressives. There is "politics" (and all its history and structures and discourses of power differential and hegemony) and there is the "political" realm which is basic relations in groups and society and the planet. The latter is the sphere of sociality as sociologists call it--and many might just call it the "cultural" sphere--as these overlap for sure. Barbara and I are moving into a time of our life where we just cannot ignore or put aside the politics of the world as much as we have in the past, and we have to be very aware of doing political work. That doesn't mean we'll like this change. We haven't. But to be responsible as a citizen (e.g., global citizens, which we identify with) there is no way to sluff off and remain unpolitical or slightly political. I wish it were different. The world is becoming too 'on edge' in terms of any healthy, sane, sustainable future--and if one is half-awake as a citizen, there is just too much critical work to do now to attempt to stave off the massive destruction going on, in politics, economics, education, and you name it--all are in big trouble. The next decade will be not an easy one. The intense violence and insecurities due to global warming alone, will "test" the sociality of trust and cooperation to the nth degree. We may not make it as a species. No need to try to scare anyone with this. I have thought about this and studied it for nearly 50 years more or less systematically, and my conclusion is not fearmongering or my own fear talking. It is really an intelligent future projection. And, don't forget Barbara and I have a grandson who is 7 years old.

Why I Haven't Been Successful: Costs of Being Too Political (Critical)

My political life is based on the theory/praxis of conscientization (or critical consciousness development, a la Paulo Freire and others)... this, I find is the only way to be a citizen and educator, a therapist and spiritual teacher, or whatever I do... yes, even being a father and grandfather, a husband, a friend or ally... critical consciousness has to be the ethical foundation for a life on this Earth... especially so, as Life becomes more and more threatened... I am angry that people deny this is going on.

How one is political, and chooses to grow their political sensibilities and skills by taking conscious action is a big issue. How ethical is one if they do not grow in the political sphere of life? But let me reflect on my life. Now, 65 years old, I feel there is so much work to be done in the political, that I am more and more shifting, albeit, slowly, to being less focused on other areas that I have been traveling in. So, to put it bluntly, as I was journaling this morning, a realization: Most people, especially young people, I encounter or who encounter me (mainly my writing) are not impressed by my life. Why? Because I haven't been successful. Not really by any business standard, not by a mainstream economic standard, not by a cultural or political standard as in being known or even a celebrity. So, I am thus, not likely to be effective in influencing anyone or anything out in the wide-world. Sure, I have a small circle of influence, but it is virtually still invisible on the big picture scene--and, hey, I am not even on Fb or Twitter. And, clearly I have no economic power nor am invited to be a public speaker, etc.... or if so, only rarely and I have not got onto Ted Talks or anything of the like. Sure, you can Google Scholar me on the Internet and I am somewhat impressive there, but who looks there?

So, the insight... I am too political, meaning radical and thus too demanding to have been able to take advantage of the various paths and platforms that our Western society has offered in order to 'climb to the top' (or at least near). A whole lot of people who know me or of me, frankly, wouldn't see me as "political" and, I certainly don't usually gt involved in politics. I don't even vote (and, for lots of good reasons). So, let me start with all the areas I have had access to and have even developed somewhat but they have all led to me not being perceived (not really) as successful in them: being a son, a brother, a father, a husband, a biologist, environmentalist, rehabilitation practitioner, artist, musician, psychologist-therapist, educator, writer, teacher, spiritualist, leader, scholar, public intellectual, academic, and you could add others if you want. None of those platforms of my engagement has worked for me really. And, my conclusion today is because I have been more "political" than even I thought into all of these forms. They were supposed to work, and they really didn't and don't to this day. I am too political, means I "resist" all of these platforms for their inherent (seemingly) collusion with the 'Fear' Matrix that dominates the world--and, has for at least 5000, maybe 10,000 years in the evolution of our species and cultures. That's a pretty big claim. That's a political claim--that's a critique. I am a big CRITIC of everything. I even critique the liberation movements, and the Fearlessness Movement as much of it is ... and, as much of it still needs to improve and unite, and grow and evolve and become more effective.

Well, all of the above, doesn't "pay" worth a damn, as I found... that is, being too political in everything, just doesn't pay... rather, it costs... and costs me big time. Yet, I have not near the kinds of oppressions and problems that most of the world has. What to do about this? Food for more thought... I'm sure I'll write more about it... I have thought of going into politics once I get back into Canada (Alberta)... Calgary... watch out!

Bottomline... unsuccess breeds more unsuccess... in a capitalist society that wants success and that success breeds more success... no body wants to be around a 'loser' without success(es)... by the standards of great variety that are constructed and promoted on TV and in the culture at large... if a young person looks at my work and my life, they may say, "interesting dude" but that's about it, because they look at what I don't have, and they are not impressed with the image of a (non-) "hero" of success in anyway that they want to follow, learn from and model... this has been very painful to experience on my end. Geez... I'm not even a good postmodern "anti-hero" like they may admire in popular culture.

Oh, and the most hurtful criticism I get back... in slight variant forms, is that "Michael you are too angry" that's why you aren't successful. "Lighten up." I think that is the easy way to put me and my political work in a 'box' with a pink ribbon that makes people feel comfortable with who they are, and has little to do with understanding who I am and what my life purpose of conscientization is all about.

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