Class in the Classroom: Engaging Hidden Identities
Abstract:Using Marcuse's theory of the total mobilization of advanced technology society along the lines of what he calls “the performance principle,” I attempt to describe the complex composition of class oppression in the classroom. Students conceive of themselves as economic units, customers pursuing neutral interests in a morally neutral, socio-economic system of capitalist competition. The classic, unreflective conception of the classroom responds to this by implicitly endorsing individualism and ideals of humanist citizenship. While racism and cultural diversity have come to count as elements of liberal intelligence in most college curricula, attempts to theorize these aspects of social and individual identity and place them in a broader content of class appear radical and inconsistent with the humanistic notion that we all have control over who we are and what we achieve. But tags such as “radical” and “unrealistic” mark a society based on the performance principle. Marcuse allows us to recognize a single author behind elements of psychology, metaphysics, and capitalism. The fact that bell hooks hits upon a similar notion suggests that we might use Marcuse's theory of the truly liberatory potential of imagination to transform and reconceive our classrooms so that the insidious effects of class, racism, and individualistic apathy might be subverted. Specifically, I outline and place into this theoretical context three concrete pedagogical practices: (a) the use of the physical space of the classroom; (b) the performance of community through group readings and short full-class ceremonies, and (c) the symbolic modeling represented by interdisciplinary approaches to teaching. All three of these practices engage students in ways that co-curricularly subvert class (and, incidentally, race divisions) and allow students to imagine, and so engage in, political action for justice as they see it.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Claus M. Halle Institute for Global Learning, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA
Publication date: 2001-07-01