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Vol 37  No 15
June 9, 2005


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Oration honouring Henry A. Giroux

The history of education is long indeed. Let us go back, back beyond Henry Giroux, back beyond the establishment of Newfoundland, beyond the discovery of the New World, beyond even the creation of the world, which, according to Archbishop Ussher, occurred on 23 October 4004 BC, back to the old Stone Age and the painted caves of Lascaux and Altamira. There we find, painted on the cave walls which serve as the blackboard, those curious signs which, when interpreted, provided the young stone-ager with all the education he needed: Animal, Kill, Eat. Things have not changed a great deal in 30,000 years. Another, more recent, writer tells us that education is that by which most people are misled; and according to a young lady of some 12 summers whom I met recently, education involves learning stupid things like the French word for dog or the capital of Canada (obviously Toronto), which were of no use to her when hanging out with her buddies or going shopping at Wal-Mart. Indeed, for most youngsters of today, education is merely a prolonged and unpleasant purgatory before they are let loose into the paradise of this world, there to pursue the things of greater importance, the things that really matter: money, power and sex.

Now this, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, is not quite the view of the man who stands before you today. For him, education is something far richer, far more wide-ranging, and far more dangerous. But before I speak to that, let me tell you something of the man himself. What manner of man is Henry Giroux? He was born in Providence, Rhode Island, went to college on a basketball scholarship, moved into high-school teaching, completed his doctoral studies at Carnegie-Mellon University, was assistant professor at Boston, passed through the universities of Tufts, Miami, Toronto, Montreal, and Penn State, and finally ­ wisely ­ took a position at McMaster where he is currently the Global Television Network Chair in English and Communication. Thus, he came at last to that country in which democracy, though weirdly applied, is at least applied more democratically than it is in the land of his birth. And apart from mentioning that he has more than three dozen books to his credit, that he has published almost 300 articles, that he has more presentations to his name than I care to enumerate, that he has received a multitude of awards, that in 2002 he was listed as one of the 20th century’s outstanding educational thinkers, and that in the view of Kostas Myrciades “there is no one writing in the U.S. today who can bridge culture, politics, and pedagogy as brilliantly as Henry Giroux does,” I really have nothing to say.

There is, however, a problem. Henry Giroux thinks. This is a perilous occupation, especially when it comes to dealing with university administrators. Neither at Boston nor at Penn State did the administrators always appreciate his thinking, especially when that thinking was not always conservative, not always supportive of the status quo, not always predictable, and not always safe. But Henry Giroux is dedicated to three fundamental principles: that critical thinking is essential to social justice, that critical thinking is essential to democracy, and that critical thinking is essential to the realization of our human potential. Education is ­ or should be ­ about thinking, and critical thinking in particular. It is not only about learning facts. Education demands transformation as well as information, and any university that becomes no more than a corporate institution, churning out graduates as the TV channels churn out reality TV, is no longer worthy of the name of a university. To say this demands courage, to write it and sign it demands even more courage, but Henry Giroux is a courageous man. George Bernard Shaw once said that “democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.” Whether this be true or not I cannot say, but there is no doubt that Henry Giroux would have us be less incompetent, would have us lose The Biggest Loser, would have us not be tempted by Temptation Island, and would have us be more concerned about our own intellectual survival than the survival of The Survivor.

One of Henry Giroux’s supporters, now the Morris Davis Distinguished Professor of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, once said “I never assume that university administrators are either rational or particularly insightful or necessarily have the best interests of anyone in mind. Nothing university administrators do surprises me, except when they act intelligently.” Well, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, the university administrators of Memorial University have certainly acted intelligently this afternoon in recognizing the talents of the extraordinary individual who stands before them, and have acted even more intelligently in conferring upon him, rightly and properly, the highest honour our university can bestow. It is therefore my pleasure and privilege, Mr. Vice-Chancellor, to present to you for the degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa, Henry A. Giroux.

Dr. David Bell
University orator

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