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        Peter McLaren

Entering the domain of Peter McLaren (or at least his webpage) is a full sensory experience.  The eye is dazzled by a Flash introduction declaring "Che Lives/His Spirit Will Never Die/Join the Revolution."  On the main page, a red Communist star revolves, and the ears are delighted by the solemn strains of "Hymn to Che Guevara,"   while the brain is left to struggle with one question: who is this guy?

Peter McLaren is many things, but he is first and foremost the most highly regarded social science scholar in all of UCLA.  That is neither an exaggeration, nor damning with faint praise, not given McLaren’s competition.  But there is simply no question about his status.  In fact, other than a handful of south-campus Nobel Laureates, no UCLA academic at all is more preeminent in his field.  So great is the regard for McLaren that a group of his admirers at the University of Tijuana in Mexico opened a Fundacion Peter McLaren de Pedagogia Critica (The Peter McLaren Institute for Critical Pedagogy). 

 Better yet, his website breathlessly relates, an Instituto Peter McLaren is in the works for a 2006 launch in Argentina.  Peter McLaren is calm in the face of all adulation.  In the main picture on his websitehe stands before the camera expressionless, long blonde hair tousled just so, beady little sunglasses cloaking his knowledge of the evil which lurks in the hearts of men.  He is Peter…McLaren.  And as arguably the premier critical pedagogy theorist living today, his fame stretches (literally) to the four corners of the globe.

What’s that you say?  You’ve never heard of Peter McLaren, much less critical pedagogyWhile the theory received its first major airing through the now-famous work “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freireboth McLaren and one-time faculty-mate Henry Giroux have made careers from flogging the theory.  Critical pedagogy is, in a nutshell, a cohesive educational theory that pushes students to question and challenge “domination.”  This process begins with students who are naturally part and parcel of the system to be criticized, but through critical pedagogy, they can learn to step out of their social roles and see society in a critical manner.  This attainment of “critical consciousness” drives the students to a complete reassessment of everything they have known, with an eye toward rooting out perceived oppression.  As one explanation of critical pedagogy notes, if the process is successful, students will “reach the point of revelation where they begin to view their society as deeply flawed.”  That’s cult-speak, plain and simple, the exact sort of thing Scientologists teach new members before hitting them up for thousand-dollar e-metering sessions.  Critical pedagogy pushes the idea that everything we’ve previously learned is wrong.  But through critical consciousness we will all be saved.

Having established that critical pedagogy calls for no less than a total societal rejection, McLaren’s own radical political sensibility begins to make more sense.  Everything that flows from Peter McLaren’s mouth and pen is deeply, inextricably radical.  There can be reasonable debate in assessing whether certain professors operate from an entirely separate world-view.  But there is no question about McLaren’s complete separation from normal thought.  Simply review his writing, his speeches, his theorizing

- Education and Environmental Crisis: Ecosocialist Critical Pedagogies in Theory and Praxis.

- Marxist Revolutionary Praxis: A Curriculum of Transgression.

- Critical Pedagogy in the Age of Neoliberal Globalization: Notes from History’s Underside.

- Socialist Dreaming and Socialist Imagination: Revolutionary Citizenship and a Pedagogy of Resistance.

- Beyond Phallogocentrism: Critical Pedagogy and its Capital Sins – A Response to Donna LeCourt.

- The Pedagogy of Che Guevara: Critical Pedagogy and Globalization Thirty Years After Che

- Gangsta pedagogy and ghettocentricity: The hip-hop nation as counterpublic sphere

            These and other titles, free for the viewing in his curriculum vitae, are part of the overwhelming evidence of McLaren’s radicalism.  With most UCLA professors, the C.V. (essentially an academic resume) is a somewhat lengthy document that can run upwards of 20 pages.  McLaren puts them all to shame with a bloated C.V. that weighs in at an astounding 129 pages.  One. Hundred. Twenty.  Nine.  While admittedly bulked up at some intervals by six-line entries for a single speech (down to the location and time, in proper Euro-notation), it also reflects the monster that is Peter McLaren.  He is an academic demi-god in Latin and Central America, feted by, among other states, the socialist regime of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.  McLaren also found popularity in Mexico, as evidenced by the repeated entries from the likes of Universidad de Tijuana and Universidad Veracruzana. 

But McLaren speaks virtually around the globe, venturing to places as varied as Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, and Costa Rica.  In fact, any country visited by economic misery or political turmoil is almost certain to be visited, sooner or later, by McLaren himself.  And, like any demagogue worth his salt, McLaren can pick from his voluminous bag of rhetoric and deliver a stemwinder on any number of different radical topics.  In the end, though, the story is always the same: capitalism bad, America worse, and, in a clear nod to his Third World hosts, the host country is invariably portrayed as a puppet on America’s capitalist strings.  Scapegoating sells, and McLaren is dealing some of the best.

            A prime example of McLaren’s anti-American blamestorming are his comments from an interview published in St. John’s University Humanities ReviewMcLaren claims:

“that over the last five decades the US national security state funded and advised right-wing forces in the overthrow of reformist governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, Indonesia, Uruguay, Haiti, the Congo, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Syria, Greece, etc.; that the US has participated in proxy mercenary wars against Nicaragua, Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Portugal, Cambodia, East Timor, Peru, Iran, Syria, Jamaica, South Yemen, the Fiji Islands, Afghanistan, Lebanon, etc.; that they have supported ruthless rightwing governments who have tortured and murdered opposition movements such as in the case of Turkey, Zaire, Chad, Pakistan, Morocco, Indonesia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Peru, etc., or that, since World War II, the US military has invaded or bombed Vietnam, North Korea, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Libya, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Laos, etc.  My emphasis is on linking these acts of barbarism to the political history of capitalism.  This will involve examining critically the recent invasion and occupation of Iraq, the counter-insurgency war the US has launched against Colombian guerrilla movements, the attempt to overthrow Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, as well as the continuing U.S. support for death squads linked to reactionary ruling oligarchies throughout the world that are served by neo-liberal globalized capitalism and imperialism.  What Parenti, Chomsky, and others have made clear is that the US will oppose any country unwilling to become integrated into the capitalist marketplace.  Those that refuse to open themselves up to transnational investors will be in serious trouble.  The U.S. will oppose – ruthlessly, and militarily if need be – countries where economic reformist movements and labor unions, peasant insurgencies, etc., threaten to destabilize unequal distributive policies that favor the ruling class.  Democracies must be market-based, or they are not considered democracies at all.  If they are not market-based, they must be reoriented into the world market—by force, if necessary.”

While illuminating as to his worldview, such exposition gives the false impression that McLaren is solely a real-world commentator.  While such rants are not atypical, the academic world also loves McLaren for his highly abstruse theorizing.  Thanks to McLaren, Ph.D. candidates, and the Ph.D.’s who teach them, now have an entirely new area of scholastic theory open for inquiry. 

Much like Shakespearean literature, most of the good insights in educational theory were mined long ago.  Now, with almost all the high-yield intellectual ore long ago tunneled from the earth, education doctorate programs are reduced to open-pit mining, hoping that they’ll discover some new way of teaching students not already discovered over the previous 2,000 years of civilization.  Paolo Freire, and disciples like McLaren offered educational theory an entirely new pseudo-field of doctoral possibilities.  McLaren also offers UCLA administrators and the conferences and schools who host his speeches, a naughty intellectual thrill, romancing someone who unabashedly argues that education should come in the form of indoctrination.  Modern, educated radicals had always wanted to politicize the classroom; it was McLaren who put an intellectual veneer on this desire.  True, McLaren’s theories don’t conform to what teachers should be doing (in a word, teaching) but sometimes it’s just so much fun to be bad!

When considering the threat represented by McLaren and his radical ilk, we must realize that in the field of education, unlike almost any other field, political indoctrination doesn’t end with the first transmission, but survives to threaten the next generation.  Worse yet is that McLaren is in charge of molding the professional behavior of many future educators at an education school ranked #2 in the entire country

 Specifically, McLaren has taught the core Ph.D. seminars “The Structure and Dynamics of the Educational System,” “Education in a Diverse Society,” and regular classes like “Seminar on Critical Pedagogy,” “Seminar on Malcolm X and Education,” and “Pedagogies of Resistance and Globalization: Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, Zapatismo.”  You might well question whether a Marxist rebellion movement has actually developed an educational philosophy.  But according to Peter McLaren they did.  And besides, who’s going to gainsay McLaren?  Administrative overseers like GSEIS Dean Aimee Dorr love McLaren and the academic prestige his presence confers.  This is a man whose book “Life in Schools” was named one of the 12 most significant writings worldwide in the field of educational theory, policy and practice.  Yes, it was chosen by a panel assembled by the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, but still – top 12 in the world.  UCLA eats this stuff up.

There’s no need for investigative skullduggery to determine the day-to-day business of McLaren’s classes.  In the St. John’s interview, McLaren helpfully pulled back the curtain on his taxpayer-funded madhouse:

We begin by examining the intrinsically exploitative nature of capitalist society, using some introductory texts and essays by Bertell Ollman, and then tackle the difficult task of reading of Capital, Volume 1, and the labor theory of value. We look at this issue from the perspective from a number of Marxist orientations and I try to present the case that capitalism can’t be reformed and still remain capitalism. This provokes lively debates, as you can well imagine. Students also anguish about the fact that, as future professors of education, they will be co-opted by the system. Some want tangible evidence that critical pedagogy can be effective in transforming the system. And it does happen that some opt out of the doctoral program to engage in grassroots political activism. Others resign themselves to a left liberalism that works on the basis of making slow, step-by-step, incremental changes. Still others approach their work from the perspective of the dialectic between reformism and revolution: they work in the arena of policy, curriculum and pedagogical reform, while keeping in mind the wider goal of revolutionary social change which stipulates an eventual transition to socialism. … All kinds of dynamics occur and perspectives are raised in my classrooms. We try to work through them, name them for what they are, raise issues, pose difficult questions that are dangerous to the system, and develop strategies.”


            And, as the saying goes in late-night weight-loss commercials, “the results are amazing!”  McLaren relates, “many students in our graduate school of education took action against the imperialist war on Iraq…organized protests, challenged professors who supported the war, and made links with social movements inside and outside of the university.”  McLaren is refreshingly open about the dimensions of his intellectual progeny’s march through the institutions, noting, “Most of my doctoral student advisees are getting their Ph.Ds so that they can become professors and transform teacher education institutions. They were radical teachers and/or social activists who now want to help to transform institutions of ‘higher’ learning.”

The only thing that stops McLaren from being the next Noam Chomsky is that his academic output, while unbelievably prolific, is often insufferably abstract, riddled with words that send even college-level readers running for the dictionary.  This is not to say, of course, that McLaren does not involve himself in day-to-day political tussles.  Indeed, witness some of his recent writings, the titles of which reveal them to be conclusively radical:

            McLaren’s output includes “The Legend of the Bush Gang: Imperialism, War and Propaganda,” (with Gregory Martin); “George Bush, Apocalypse Sometime Soon, and the American Imperium”; “Critical, postmodern studies of gay and lesbian lives in academia” (with Pat McDonough); “Moral panic, schooling, and gay identity: Critical pedagogy and the politics of resistance”; “A Moveable Fascism: Fear and Loathing in the Empire of Sand,” “The Dialectics of Terrorism: A Marxist Response to September 11, (Part One: Remembering to Forget, Part Two: Unveiling the Past, Evading the Present)”; “Cuba, Yanquizacion, and the Cult of Elian Gonzales: A View from the ‘Enlightened’ States”; and “Schooling for salvation: Christian fundamentalism’s ideological weapons of death.”

McLaren, in keeping with the radical left’s identity politics, has been a friend to the gay community, having served on the Coordinating Council of the Chancellor’s Task Force on Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Studies, and the moderator on “Queer Learning” at the QGrad Conference.  So long as you’re down for some revolucion, you’re okay in McLaren’s book. 

While he’s cool with the gay folks, Peter McLaren is no fan of the white man.  How could he be, when the white man, or whiteness in general, is the font of all terror, all capitalism, all hegemony, all whatever-the-academic-scapegoat-word-of-the-moment-is.  Peppering his curriculum vitae are the titles of his writings and speeches.  If you read closely between the lines, a pattern might become apparent:

“Unthinking Whiteness, Rethinking Democracy: Or Farewell to the Blonde Beast”; “Decentering Whiteness”; “White terror”; “Developing a Pedagogy of Whiteness in the Context of a Postcolonial Hybridity: White Identities in Global Context”; “Contesting Whiteness: Critical Perspectives on the Struggle for Social Justice” (with Juan S. Munoz); “Resisting Whiteness: Revolutionary Multiculturalism as Counterhegemonic Praxis”; “Unthinking whiteness, rethinking democracy”; “Rethinking Whiteness”; “White terror and Oppositional Agency: Towards a Critical Multiculturalism”; “Unthinking Whiteness: Dismantling White Supremacist Ideology in Education”; and “”Epistemologies of Whiteness” in Knowledge Politics and Multiculturalism Discourse.”    

Despite the absolutely voluminous evidence and his complete free-in-the-breeze attitude about his radical activity inside and outside the classroom, McLaren is rather snappish in his treatment of intellectual opposition.  In a 2003 Daily Bruin letter to the editor responding to the comments of Los Angeles talk radio host Larry Elder, McLaren declared, “the claim that leftist professors and teachers have taken over universities is palpably misguided.”  After all, he asked, “why [do] corporations and foundations continue to fund universities that are allegedly stacked with leftist professors[?]”  There’s all kinds of reasons for this sad state of affairs, none of which do anything to prove that the idea of a leftist university is misguided.  First and most obviously, the entire university faculty is not radical.  Indeed, math and science do not leave their practitioners a great amount of intellectual room or personal time for political thumb wrestling.  Breast cancer, for example, is not a Republican or a Democrat issue, and, unlike the softer, more malleable areas like literature or history, science and math do not lend themselves to politicization in any meaningful way. 

A secondary problem is the rose-colored glasses worn by nearly all alumni.  35 years or so after graduation, the insults and depredations visited upon these long-ago students by, among others, radical faculty, are forgotten in an amber-tinted haze of breezy fall evenings at Pauley Pavilion and the good times spent with the guys and girls in the ol’ gang.  Remembering only the good times, how could you begrudge UCLA a few thousand dollars, or maybe more?  Last and perhaps most important is that nobody, not students, not faculty, not alumni, is speaking up about the problem.  Nobody is doing the research, pounding the pavement, tracking down the alumni, the corporations and the businesses, and communicating what a donation to UCLA actually supports. 

Not that any of that would matter to McLaren.  Before the above-noted verbal battle with Larry Elder in 2003, McLaren also had some harsh words for Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American MindThe book, which was widely quoted by those fed-up with the politic antics of professors just like McLaren, was to McLaren’s eye nothing but a “reactionary bludgeon.”  Writing in the October 1992/February 1993 issue of College Literature, McLaren claimed,

“In Bloom's highbrow paradise (which consists of Victorian salons and Tudor libraries populated by white, bourgeois males, Ivy League belles-lettristes, and other descendants from the European tradition) the Freirian educator confronts colonialism’s intoxication with the selective tradition of knowledge production in our schools.  Here the non-Western thinker becomes the debased and inverted image of the hypercivilized metropolitan intellectual.  In other words, both non-Western knowledge and the uncultivated knowledge of the masses become a primitive non-knowledge, a conduit to barbarism.  Thus a fantasy narrative is played out that is common to many bourgeois male academics, one the hegemony of the eternalized language of the capital city intellectual makes it easier to script: Euro-American civilization is keeping the savage at bay in the name of Truth.”

McLaren may unleash his inner Rottweiler at unpredictable intervals, but will always respond when he is personally criticized.  In the St. John’s interview, McLaren complained,

“I just read an attack on critical pedagogy by The Hoover Institute’s education journal, Education Next, that demonstrates the type of overt attempts by conservative attack-dogs to harmonize the purpose and function of schooling with the current reign of capital and the contemporary dynamics of advanced capitalism – not necessarily in the gratingly familiar mode of conservative denunciations and sound-byte Viagraizations associated with FOX TV editorializing – but in the reasoned tone of conservative academics who routinely dismiss attempts on the part of radical educators to ‘politicize’ classroom subject-matter. For instance, the author attacks me for failing to mention the “normal stuff of schooling” which he characterizes as “alphabets,” “algorithms,” and “lab experiments,” and he condemns, among many things, my remark that the “U.S. is fascist” and the point I make that “the greed of the U.S. ruling class are seemingly unparalleled in history.” Offering no arguments to counter my statements, he sets forth his own vision of education – promoting “the discipline and furniture of the mind” – that he takes – astonishingly – from an 1830 Yale University report (about as enfeebling a vision of education that you could find anywhere). The ideology driving this creed evades the systemic totality of capitalism, and the determinative force of capitalism, capturing one reason why critical pedagogy is under intense scrutiny in schools or why it comes under attack by conservative forces in schools of education.”

            McLaren has made an entire career out of spouting this verbose, occasionally erudite brand of radical cant.  The volume of his academic work this year and in recent years is, in short, stunning.  More amazing is that in the midst of it all, he finds time for interviews like the nearly 11,000 word St. John’s carried (and this was a typed interview in response to presubmitted questions).  This volume of output is possible partly because McLaren is now on sabbatical, a period of thoughts and reflection during which the professor teaches no classes at all.  But UCLA supporters can hope, especially after a suffocating excursion through McLaren’s twisted mind and goals, that perhaps UCLA would be better off were the sabbatical made permanent.  McLaren’s anti-capitalist drivel would continue to roll forth like the waters of the Mississippi River, but we’d at least keep the future teachers of America out his clutches.