Harvard Educational Review
  1. Revolutionary Multiculturalism

    Pedagogies of Dissent for the New Millennium

    By Peter McLaren

    Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997. 304 pp. $21.95 (paper)

    Today, we are surrounded and invaded by talk of "multiculturalism," which has been objectified and made into a commodity that can be bought and packaged into practically anything from curricula to crayons to toys. Hearing and reading about the topic has become almost overwhelming.

    Against this background, Peter McLaren's latest book, Revolutionary Multiculturalism, presents a perspective different from the "feel-good-about-myself" drive towards multiculturalism, pluralism, and diversity we usually encounter. McLaren explores and unearths the multifaceted dimensions of oppression, addressing it in terms of ethnicity, race, class, gender, and sexual preference, teasing out the interconnections among them and integrating the critiques of these different facets of oppression, adopting what he calls a "commitment to others and otherness" (p. 13).

    In Revolutionary Multiculturalism, a book permeated by the language and perspective of critical pedagogy, we are presented with a move beyond the "language of critique and domination" (p. 18) of radical educational theory. McLaren offers us a vision of "hope in an era of cynical reason" (p. 7) and invites us to engage in a construction of public spheres of hope and struggle, beyond the comfort of our everyday lives. He urges us to search for the "common ground of struggle rather than a common culture"(p. 12). For example, he questions those who, from a radical pedagogy perspective, have simply critiqued schools as agencies of domination but have rarely asked themselves, or tried to figure out, what schools should be like or what they might become. What McLaren presents us with is a politics of radical hope and a praxis of transformation, where educators can and must become agents of social change and where schools could be the places in which "the socially constructed and often contradictory experiences and needs of students might be made problematic so as to provide the basis for exploring the interface between their own lives and the constraints and possibilities within the wider social order" (p. 34).

    A recurrent and important theme throughout McLaren's book is the criticism and questioning of the global economic restructuring and capitalist order in which we live, and in which, according to McLaren, ethics have become obsolete.

    Also dominant in his book is the critique of Whiteness and White hegemony and supremacy:

    Rather than stressing the importance of diversity and inclusion, as do most multiculturalists, I think that significantly more emphasis should be placed on the social and political construction of white supremacy and the dispensation of white hegemony. The reality-distortion field known as "whiteness" needs to be identified as a cultural disposition and ideology linked to specific political, social, and historical arrangements. (p. 8)

    McLaren suggests that the "inclusion" of minority populations and "diversification" of social spheres will mean little without the destabilization of this White hegemony and supremacy.

    McLaren's revolutionary perspective towards multiculturalism critiques neoliberal democracy's attempts towards "diversity and pluralism." He suggests that a democracy that has "cease[d] to be[come] restless" is a democracy that has become the "politics of white supremacist patriarchal capitalism" (p. 47). Moving away from mere diversity and pluralism, McLaren offers us the vision of a critical and revolutionary multiculturalism.

    Three of the chapters in Revolutionary Multiculturalism were coauthored with McLaren's colleagues Henry A. Giroux, Zeus Leonardo, and Kris Gutierrez. Also included is McLaren's interview by Gert Biesta and Siebren Miedema.

    The common theme that runs throughout the book can be characterized as an exploration of the ways in which power could be mobilized for human liberation and the development of a postcolonial pedagogy of anti-colonialism, anti-racism, anti-imperialism, and anti-homophobia. But despite this common theme, McLaren's book reads like a collection of essays. Each chapter remains disconnected from the rest, with only this common theme linking them.

    Revolutionary Multiculturalism reflects a great sensitivity and a critical consciousness about various and diverse issues. It is written in clear, accessible language. As Peter McLaren states, he continuously asks himself, "How has the culture of imperialism been written on me, in me, through me?" (p. 96). Thus, I was quite perplexed and even bothered by McLaren's loose use of the term "American." Most often, it was obvious from the context that he meant "of U.S. origin." Although he is critical of such terms as "Third World," being careful to make explicit his position and reasoning behind such the term, he does not take the same care when using the term "American." American means much more than "of U.S. origin"; it refers to a whole continent. Thus, excluding other people from being American and reserving the term for those of U.S. origin reminds us that the imperialist hold is strong and alive, and that it permeates our language. I agree with McLaren that multiculturalism, diversity, and pluralism are nothing if we do not look inside ourselves and analyze and critique the many overt and covert ways in which we help to perpetuate oppression.

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    Book Notes

    Revolutionary Multiculturalism
    By Peter McLaren

    Anything but Mexican
    By Rodolfo F. Acuña

    Education for Extinction
    By David Wallace Adams

    The Other Struggle for Equal Schools
    By Rubén Donato

    The Changing Curriculum
    By Ivor F. Goodson

    Personas Mexicanas
    By James Diego Vigil

    Many Families, Many Literacies
    Edited by Denny Taylor