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The Prophetic Imagination, 2nd Edition

I am re-reading one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors, The Prophetic Imaginationby Walter Brueggemann. In this book, Brueggemann posits the role of the prophet as one who stands in grief over his nation’s failure to live up to its own highest ideals. The prophet grieves for his country’s failure to acknowledge its God-given role of separation  filling, and blessing given by Yahweh to Abraham in Genesis. He (or she) cuts through the numbed silence of a culture bent on repressing the pain, barrenness, and exploitation of its own people. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“The grieving of Israel is the beginning of criticism. It is made clear that things are not as they should be, not as they were promised, and not as they must be and will be. Bringing hurt to public expression is an important first step in the dismantling criticism that permits a new reality, theological and social, to emerge.”

“It is difficult to keep a revolution of freedom and justice under way when there is satiation. In our own economy, questions of civil rights seem remote when we are so overly fed.”

 “Covenanting that takes brothers and sisters seriously had been replaced by consuming, which regards brothers and sisters as products to be used.”

“Passion is the capacity and readiness to care, to suffer, to die, and to feel is the enemy of imperial reality. Imperial economics is designed to keep people satiated so that they do not notice. Its politics is intended to block out the cries of the denied ones”

“The royal program of achievable satiation is fed by a management mentality that believes there are no mysteries to honor, only problems to be solved.”

“The task of prophetic imagination is to bring to public expression those very hopes and yearnings that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we no longer know they are there.”

“Empires live by numbness. Empires, in their militarism, expect numbness about the human cost of war. Corporate economies expect blindness to the cost in terms of poverty and exploitation. Governments and societies of domination go to great lengths to keep the numbness intact.”

“The formation of an alternative community with an alternative consciousness is so that the dominant community may be criticized and finally dismantled. But more than dismantling, the purpose of the alternative community is to enable a new human beginning to be made”

“The prophet makes it possible to sing again”

Ok, so what does this have to do with education? This is actually the key piece to my dissertation. One of my favorite writers in educational theory, Michael Apple, uses (perhaps unbeknownst to him) the very language that Brueggemann uses when he describes the imperial ideology present in today’s education when he writes, “Relations of dominance are not theoretical abstractions. Rather, they are based on and built out of entire network of daily social and cultural relations and practices. Dominance depends on both leadership and legitimation. It is not simply an imposition” and “This act of reading our social formation differently is a creative act. It requires that we consciously bracket what we take for granted about how our schools, media, government, and economic institutions work.”

In laymen’s terms, then, here is what I see going on: We, much like the kingdom of Israel, have become fat and happy building new skyscrapers, paying out multimillion dollar contracts to those who entertain us, debating the fate of the middle class, and using rhetoric shaped by the marketplace for everything from education to church attendance, all at the expense of those living on the margins, caught up in systems of oppression and exploitation that are all but impossible to counteract. All of this happens while we tout the glorious myth of the democratic “American Dream”: a land of opportunity where anyone with enough hard work can rise up from rags to riches. As long as we hold this myth as viable while at the same time feeding our time with American Idol and Monday Night Football, we can live in a numbed indifference to the hurting, suffering pain of those with whom we don’t have to come into contact anyway. We can allow generational cycles of power and privilege at one end to foster the same generational cycles of poverty and despair at the other. And all of this, I would argue, lies within the power of education to redeem. By calling out our own failure to be that which we claim to be, to call attention to the suffering within our own system, to grieve for a world that is not as it should be nor as it could be, is the first step towards dismantling that which we hold as sacred, in order to imagine a new and alternative reality; a world where the barren finally learn to sing.

I am convinced that the schoolhouse can and should play a prophetic role in: 1. announcing that things are not right, and 2. offering students the capacities to be architects of repair in the world to make it so. Is this a pipe dream? I don’t think so. It takes a suffering servant, one scorched with a vision for a new reality, to see the inherent possibility in creating such a school, but it can be done (and is being done in small ways). In my next blog, I will do my best to lay out what such a school would look like. Until then, I welcome the conversation!

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