We Marxists are rightfully criticized for being idealistic, but we are unfairly demonized by those across the U.S. who wrongly associate Marxism, socialism, and communism with totalitarian governments and human oppression.
You see, Marxism as a scholarly stance is a moral stance—unlike the amoral pose of capitalism.
We Marxist academics and scholars are all about the good, the right, and the equitable—including creating intellectually challenging classrooms in which every student feels physically and psychologically safe.
But this is 2016 Trumplandia, a sort of Bizarro World in which reality TV has become a real-life nightmare, including a professor watch list promoted by an Orwellian right-wing organization that claims to be protecting free speech and academic freedom by identifying dangerous professors.
George Yancy, professor of philosophy at Emory University, has responded with the powerful I Am a Dangerous Professor, and my home state of South Carolina has had three professors included on the list.
The responses to the list have run a range from fear (because professors have received very serious threats) to bemusement to anger about not being included.
I am a white male full professor with tenure, but I teach in the South—where before I joined a university faculty, I was an intellectually closeted public school teacher for 18 stressful years.
As a leftist and atheist, I was constantly vigilant to mask who I was, what I believe and live, because I was fearful of losing my job and career (SC is an Orwellian-named “right to work” state) that I dearly love.
When I interviewed for my current position, I was about as naive and idealistic as a person could be about the golden fields of higher education.
During my model lesson for my day-long interview, I explained to the class I was a critical pedagogue, and thus offering a Marxist perspective on literacy and power.
Later in the day, at the debriefing and in hushed tones, I was told I may want to not share the whole Marxist thing if hired at the university.
I was hired—although my being a critical educator, scholar, and public intellectual have all been problematic throughout my second career as a professor.
And I have bull-headedly remained true to my ethics as both a professor/teacher and a critical pedagogue, best expressed by my dear friend and mentor Joe Kincheloe:
Thus, proponents of critical pedagogy understand that every dimension of schooling and every form of educational practice are politically contested spaces. Shaped by history and challenged by a wide range of interest groups, educational practice is a fuzzy concept as it takes place in numerous settings, is shaped by a plethora of often-invisible forces, and can operate even in the name of democracy and justice to be totalitarian and oppressive. (p. 2)
Recognition of these educational politics suggests that teachers take a position and make it understandable to their students. They do not, however, have the right to impose these positions on their students [emphasis in original]….
In this context it is not the advocates of critical pedagogy who are most often guilty of impositional teaching but many of the mainstream critics themselves. When mainstream opponents of critical pedagogy promote the notion that all language and political behavior that oppose the dominant ideology are forms of indoctrination, they forget how experience is shaped by unequal forms of power. To refuse to name the forces that produce human suffering and exploitation is to take a position that supports oppression and powers that perpetuate it. The argument that any position opposing the actions of dominant power wielders is problematic. It is tantamount to saying that one who admits her oppositional political sentiments and makes them known to students is guilty of indoctrination, while one who hides her consent to dominant power and the status quo it has produced from her students is operating in an objective and neutral manner. Critical pedagogy wants to know who’s indoctrinating whom. (p. 11)
In fact, yesterday in my foundations of education course, I reiterated to the class that as a Marxist I often seem obnoxious, even dogmatic because I teach and speak with a moral imperative, an impassioned moral imperative—seeking that which is right, good, and equitable.
About this watch list, then, I am torn, struggling between embracing Yancy’s brilliant rebuttal and my own belief that I am in fact not the dangerous one because the dangerous thing about this world is to remain both ignorant and without a moral grounding.
As a Marxist educator and scholar/public intellectual, as a critical pedagogue, I am not the person hiding who I am or what I am seeking.
The dishonest are those who claim to be objective when in fact they are endorsing uncritically an inequitable status quo.
The dishonest are those claiming a non-political pose that is itself a political pose.
The dishonest are waving flags and chanting the entirely dishonest “Make America Great Again.”
That is dangerous stuff—endangering the faint promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that I, in fact, hold sacred.
So I am left with this paradox: I, too, am a dangerous professor if you covet ignorance, hatred.
If you are seeking the Truth, however, as well as the right, the good, and the equitable, please call me comrade because I am no danger to you at all.