Educating for Equality
by Michael Viola
Peter McLaren, Rage and Hope: Interviews with Peter McLaren on War, Imperialism, and Critical Pedagogy (New York: Peter Lang, 2006), 394 pages, paper $32.95.
"One morning they gave us a guinea pig. It came to the house in a cage. At midday, I opened the door of the cage. I returned home at nightfall and found the guinea pig just as I had left it: inside the cage, huddled against the bars, trembling with the fear of freedom." -- Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces1
Visible and invisible cages trap human beings like guinea pigs in the dehumanizing experiments of global capitalism and new imperialism. Huddled against the economic bars of neoliberal policies or the physical bars of secret super-prisons, people throughout the world live in fear. Some, like many Americans, fear freedom; others fear state-sponsored terrorism and pogroms of violence.
The Philippines is one of the experiments of global capitalism and new imperialism: a history of United States imperial aggression has given birth to a polity 75% of whose population live in abject poverty and under military repression. Since 2001, more than 700 human rights activists, religions leaders, and youth organizers have been targeted and killed by the U.S.-supported Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration. In 2005, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) labeled the Philippines the "most murderous country for journalists," second only to the latest victim of U.S. military aggression, Iraq.2
The "neutralization" (governmental euphemism for murder, disappearance, and so on) of progressive journalists and community activists in the Philippines is not an anomalous strategy employed only outside the United States. One needs only explore the silences of our official history and the whispers of the present to discover the continuity between America's domestic and foreign policy. One of the well-known examples of "neutralization" at home is the U.S. government's secret war against the Black Panther Party, whose revolutionary praxis centered on a ten-point program with demands for decent housing, education, clothing, health care, justice, and peace for black and oppressed peoples. Such demands were considered outrageous by then F.B.I. director Edgar Hoover, who called the Black Panthers "the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States."3
The revolutionary imagination of the Black Panther Party and many other social movements during the 1960s and 1970s may very well be far removed from our national consciousness today. However, Peter McLaren, one of the most eminent education theorists of our time, reminds the reader that the underlying reasons that drove them persist. McLaren illuminates a dark history that led to the present when children are being killed and injured by American cluster bombs in Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, when immigrants are being beaten for being Mexican by American vigilantes and law enforcement agents, when journalists are being tortured for the crime of telling the truth by America's client states. McLaren's work raises a question in the reader's mind: when will the storm of change move us to feel again that it is not only feasible but necessary to participate in creating a better world that we are so often told is possible?
In his latest book, Rage and Hope, McLaren continues to serve as a powerful antidote to the notion that a Marxist analysis belongs in the dustbin of history. As the subtitle of his book (Interviews with Peter McLaren on War, Imperialism, and Critical Pedagogy) suggests, his topics of discussion are wide-ranging. The interviews compiled in the book are a dialogical mosaic spanning fifteen years of Peter McLaren's evolving ideas. His brushes are the theoretical writings of Karl Marx, Paulo Freire, and Antonio Gramsci, and his canvas, the world where people awaken politically and organize movements to struggle for justice. The book, which presents the essence of McLaren's thoughts, is divided into four sections: 1) Global Capitalism, Imperialism, and Development in the Age of Empire; 2) Multicultural Education for Social Justice; 3) Popular Culture and Urban Schooling; and 4) Philosophy, Marxism and Revolution. There is overlap between the topics and ideas covered in the four sections. However, for a first-time reader of Marxist social theory, McLaren's reiterations are useful because they provide many valuable examples.
In the first section of interviews, McLaren distances his work from the important but ultimately inadequate educational school of "critical pedagogy," which he argues has become a mainstream term for education highlighting a reformist "social justice" agenda. For McLaren, "the term 'social justice' often operates as a cover for legitimizing capitalism." Why? A liberal notion of social justice "egregiously ignores questions of production . . . [and] the systematic exploitation of workers by capitalists, and the exploitative nature of capitalism at its very roots" (15). Throughout his interviews, McLaren infuses historical materialism, a dialectical analysis of social contradiction that does justice to the full richness of history, into the field of education. McLaren is at the forefront of developing a critical revolutionary pedagogy that seeks to not only understand but also uproot the sexism, racism, heteronormativity, and exploitation inherent in contemporary capitalist society. He poetically identifies critical revolutionary pedagogy as a "dangerous weapon in the hands of the oppressed," a contraband "pedagogy found mainly on the black market, like a rocket launcher that fires pencils instead of grenades, a pedagogy that, if seized, would be destroyed by the transnational capitalist class because they know that they are in its crosshairs" (348).
In the 2nd and 3rd sections of his book, McLaren discusses such issues as science, urban schools, the media, and popular culture. However, of particular interest are his discussions of multiculturalism and education. Reflecting upon his own postmodern orientation of the early 1990s (though he was critical of capitalism even then), McLaren explains how postmodernism has pushed knowledge production forward through the analysis of representation and identity formation. Nevertheless, McLaren critically reassesses the "postmodern moments" of his work in an interview with education scholar Glenn Rikowski. In this interview titled "Pedagogy for Revolution against Education for Capital," McLaren disputes postmodernism's emancipatory potential because of its failure to grasp the totality of capitalism and imagine a world outside the existing social relation of capital (the extraction of surplus value from the worker, who has nothing but their labor power to sell). He asserts, "capitalism will always find ways to challenge multiculturalism and feminism by co-opting these struggles" (289). McLaren's words are consonant with those of theorist Epifanio San Juan, Jr., who reminds us that the problems of the color and gender lines (and other problems like them) throughout the world will endure so long as race and gender (and other forms of difference) are not viewed as modalities of class oppression. San Juan elaborates that multicultural theory devoid of any clear historical materialist grounding "cannot offer the means to realize justice, fairness, and recognition of people's . . . identities and worth around the world."4 Like E. San Juan, McLaren turns down the invitation to participate in the ongoing block party of multiculturalism and its corresponding celebration of liberal capitalist democracy. McLaren emphasizes that the struggle ahead "must include inventing life forms for ourselves where racism, sexism and homophobia have no place, where joy and love can flourish, and where we can live unfettered by the determinism of capitalist progress" (165). As he clarifies, "this is no simple romantic anti-capitalism I am endorsing, but a challenge grounded in the tough task of historical materialist analysis and the imperative of class struggle" (165). The thread that connects all of McLaren's interviews, with their astute analysis of racism, sexism, environmental degradation, and war, is his recognition of anti-capitalist struggle as a unifying priority.
The book's final section on "Philosophy, Marxism, and Revolution" alone is enough to make Rage and Hope invaluable for anyone interested in supporting political projects of justice, equality, and peace. The interviews included in this final section took place after September 11, 2001, and most of them contain McLaren's reflections on the U.S. "war on terrorism" in the Middle East and its ramifications for democracy and humanity worldwide. The section sharply counters the "they hate our freedom" and "we must spread democracy" rhetoric espoused by mainstream media pundits who prepare the American public for regime change in more countries, such as Iran and Venezuela. This section, much like John Bellamy Foster's Naked Imperialism,5 shines a bright light on U.S. efforts to secure control over the world's major oil supplies, promote global capitalism, and maintain its position as the only global superpower.
Throughout McLaren's interviews, he calls upon educators and students to become active not only in criticizing the world of perpetual war but more importantly moving to collectively transform it. He reminds the people of the United States that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats will bestow upon us a government that meets citizens' needs (ending wars, supporting public schools, establishing universal health care, mandating living wages, etc.). For that reason, the American people must look beyond their possessive investment in one party or the other and begin struggling for a world that transcends our present system that requires the exploitation of humanity and the earth for its existence.
1 Eduardo Galeano, The Book of Embraces, Monthly Review Press, 1982, pg. 113.
2 Committee to Protect Journalists, "Marked for Death: The Five Most Murderous Countries for Journalists," 2 May 2005.
3 Abu-Jamal, Mumia, We Want Freedom: A Life in the Black Panther Party, South End Press, 2004.
4 Epifanio San Juan, Jr., "Marxism and the Race/Class Problematic: A Re-Articulation," Cultural Logic, 2003.
5 Foster, John Bellamy, Naked Imperialism: The U.S. Pursuit of Global Dominance, Monthly Review Press, 2006.
Michael Viola is a doctoral student in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies (Urban Schooling) at the University of California, Los Angeles with research interests in education, race studies, political economy, and the Philippines. You can contact him at email@example.com.