This is how Pink Floyd says that the country's education system is messed up: "All in all, you're just another brick in the wall."
This is how renowned academic thinker Peter McLaren says it: "The political space that education occupies today continues to de-emphasize the struggle for teacher and student empowerment; furthermore ... education programs are designed to create individuals who operate in the interests of the state, whose social function is primarily to sustain and legitimate the status-quo social order."
It's not quite as catchy, and it doesn't rhyme, but it's the kind of dense theorizing that has made McLaren one of the most important thinkers in education, and that made officials at Washington State University's School of Education want to make him the centerpiece of this weekend's International Globalization, Diversity and Education Conference in Pullman. (McLaren was also scheduled to speak at Gonzaga on Wednesday.)
The long-haired, tattoo-stained McLaren, currently a professor at UCLA, is generally regarded as one of the architects of critical pedagogy, an approach to education that teaches students to think critically about dominating ideologies, to question authority and resist individual and systematic oppression.
That fits right in with the focus of the weekend's conference, says Dr. Bernardo Gallegos, a professor at WSU. "The focus of the conference is to engage in dialogues around issues of diversity -- of ethnicity and race and gender, but also diversity of ideas, of regions and perspectives," he says. "[McLaren] is one of the most well-known writers on global education. He lays out a really good social critique that oftentimes people don't want to hear."
People like the members of UCLA's Bruin Alumni Association, which has made news of late for paying students to snitch on left-wing professors. McLaren -- a member of the Industrial Workers of the World -- comes in at No. 1 on the group's list of "Dirty Thirty" professors. "Everything that flows from Peter McLaren's mouth and pen is deeply, inextricably radical," the group's Web site reads.
Of course, not everybody sees that as a bad thing. McLaren's landmark book, Life in Schools, which combines a lengthy treatise on educational theory with a sort of memoir about teaching in inner-city schools in Toronto, has been named by a panel of experts as one of the world's 12 most significant writings on educational theory. His work has been translated into 15 languages. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by a university in Finland, another honorary degree by an institute in Guadalajara, and two Latin American countries are working on pedagogical foundations in his honor -- including the Instituto Peter McLaren in Argentina.
He may not have Pink Floyd's guitar licks, but that's about as close to rock stardom as an academic can get.
Peter McLaren will speak at the International Globalization, Diversity and Education Conference at WSU's Compton Union Building in Pullman on Friday, March 10, at 4:45 pm. Tickets: $20. Call (509) 335-2811.