What Is Radical Education in the Context of Religion?

03/03/2015 01:32 pm ET | Updated May 03, 2015

Radical and radicalism as a concept conjures up many different things for different people. Likewise, what "radical" means has changed over time and thus connotes a different vision of the world, the people in it and the processes they use to achieve societal goals. One of the major goals in a capitalist society is the education of its people in order that they become prepared and productive citizens in a society that possesses a functionalist oriented and systemic view of society and its institutions. This structural systemic view that all parts or systems in society work together for the good of the whole at one time was a radical view, but for many years in America this view dominated the ideology of its people and has laid the groundwork for a capitalist regime. One of the main systems responsible for promoting this status quo orientation is the educational system in America.

In large part this ideology has been transformed. However, historically education was only reserved for the most privileged, elite, wealthy and ruling classes. With the introduction of Marxist views, considered radical for the time, this status quo thinking became challenged as a growing group of people challenged that this created an unequal balance in society and those with the most power were able to achieve the greatest rewards that society had to offer. But if these resources were equally distributed by the state there would be no hierarchy of goods or people within a society. Competition and control through education would only promote the values and purposes of the ruling elite or the "haves: in society.

After a certain period in our society, education was transformed overtime to the compulsory education of the masses in order to create a well-skilled, trained, and productive work force to support that on the surface appeared to advance the whole. Educational systems worked in tandem with this ideology because educational systems reproduced this ideology and transferred these views into the labor force. This is one of the reasons we continue to see the expansion of education, yet many people are not able to move into an upward mobile socioeconomic strata because the work force and educational pedagogy are aligned together to promote the views and mission of the dominant culture.

Education has historically been used as the equalizer and has often been attacked on various levels due to views associated with affirmative action or strategies to reduce long standing and historical policies, procedures, and vestiges of discrimination in our society. Therefore, radical education is seen here as departure from the mainstream or dominant view and ideologies in a given society. It encompasses how we view education, who we feel should be educated, and how we go about educating people in society. Ultimately, what we do with this radical educational pedagogy can determine the next generation of thinkers, leaders, teachers, and citizens. When envisioning a world with a radical educational orientation, I think of social critics and religious thinkers like Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich, Giroux, and bell hooks.

All of these conscientious thinkers, overwhelmingly and unequivocally believed that education either functions as an instrument which causes people to conform to the social order, or become the practice of freedom. Radical education asks its participants to put learning into practice by engaging critically with reality, perhaps, by any means necessary to transform the world. It argues that ideas should lead to praxis and that by engaging and challenging structures of violence (proceeding from the root) could create radical opportunities for revolutionary change in the world. It further challenges the scandalous overhaul of the existing regulatory framework and creates a freer alternative pathway that prudently includes the poor.

More specifically, when I think of radical education with respect to bringing about social change, especially in the context of religion, I would suggest that radical education empowers participants by allowing them to create meaningful solutions for themselves. It helps people to understand that regardless of their plight in life they have the power, authority, and agency to change and control their own lives and to re-author their own narrative. Radical education is politically engaged, religiously engaged, leftist, and defiant. It deviates from the status quo and has an extremist peripheral focus that is all about empowering and inspiring the individual and collective from the perspective of the poor, disempowered, marginalized, and dispossessed.

Moreover, I believe religious education wretchedly calls for one to lay down one's life for what one believes in to the point of death. It also calls for the intellectual freedom to interpret one's religion for one's self without someone doing it for them. Religious education should teach one to not compromise one's belief but to learn to coexist with other religious orientations. It teaches tolerance, dissent, and broad-mindedness rooted in peaceful cooperation and tough dialectical inquiry.

Lastly, the function of religion and religious praxis should promote human flourishing and enable people to lead a fulfilling life and be active participants and contributors to their environments, while also challenging hierarchical and hegemonic structures that seeks to marginalize, alienate, eliminate, and diminish such flourishing from happening. Therefore, religious education should call for radical forms of social justice that challenges and aims to end all forms of systematic and institutional injustice perpetrated against humanity.