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The whole deal with him is that he points out the unique position that schools have in training children in the ideology of the status quo. Ok, hold on, its not that threatening. Think about it. Schools get kids for what -- 6 hours a day, five days a week, a little over a third of the year. That's a lot of time. And in that time, they teach kids stuff like reading, math, science, social studies, but underneath it all is an epistemology that is governed by the ruling ideas in society. (for more on this, see studies on textual analysis of textbooks). Anyway, suffice to say that he makes a compelling argument for this. That's why education is an important site to focus on if we're going to change things.
Then, we have the subject position stuff.
Here, he talks about the way that ideology acts to "interpellate" people
as subjects of that ideology. In other words, ideology acts to call
some into a certain subject position. The example he gives is someone
walking down the street. An unseen person calls out "hey you" and
the person walking knows that it is he/she who is being called to, and
not the guy walking next to him/her with the funny hat. The hat isn't
the point. The point is that that act of being called, even when
its by a voice that we don't recognize, somehow not only finds its target,
but also calls the person being "hailed" into the subject position
of the person being "hailed." (I've re-read this bit a few times, and I
think it makes sense. If you disagree or can come up with a better
way to phrase this, please email
another example -- who hasn't dropped something on the street without realizing it, only to have someone else say "hey... you dropped something!" Somehow, we know that it is we, who dropped something, not the people around us.
For Althusser, this is the essence of ideology -- it constitutes subjects as actors (or not-actors) in the world. Very similar to Foucault's ideas on Power. Regardless of whether we agree with his ideas on the totality of the ideology of the state, his ideas on ideology and how it creates people are very relevant to how we teach.
If its true that ideology does to at least some degree create people
in a certain way, then our pedagogical style acts on our students to create
them in a certain way. What Althusser's essay (or Foucault's stuff
on power) suggest for pedagogy is that we need to examine the ideology
or maybe more properly the epistemology of our teaching methods to see
how it acts on or interacts with our students. (Many people say that
is much more understandable on this subject, but for some reason, he gives
me a headache, maybe he'll be more to your liking).