We’ve lately been devoting a fair amount of space to Peter McLaren, Distinguished Professor in Critical Studies at Chapman University. And why not? World-famous intellectuals who specialize in Marxist revolutionary theory and critical pedagogy are somewhat rare, and to find one in Orange County–and still alive!–was quite a joy.
There was the time he joined a hundred or so educators who signed on to Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders’s education plan. Then we blogged about a wild paper he wrote back in June on Trumpism and Evangelical Christianity. Our reporting on his recent paper on fascism in Orange County proved a real crowd-pleaser. And he was nice enough to give us a rather pointed quote on the decision by the Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity (which is based at Chapman) to host former presidential spokesholes Sarah Sanders and Robert Gibbs at some sort of launch event for the center.
So imagine our surprise when we got an email a few weeks ago from Chris Myers, president and publisher of Myers Education Press, asking us if we’d like a copy of McLaren’s 2019 autobiography Breaking Free: The Life and Times of Peter McLaren, Radical Educator, which was published in comic book form (Miles Wilson, who is attending Chapman University at Dodge College, did all the book’s illustrations).
Of course we said yes. And to be honest, the book is exactly what we expected.
The book, which really is illustrated like a comic, does a solid job of showing us McLaren’s early years as a middle school teacher in Canada in the 1970s. Before the tale of the white guy going into the inner city to teach and give love and respect to hardened kids became a tired (and often racist) trope in Hollywood, McLaren actually spent years doing exactly that. In fact, his 1980 book Cries from the Corridor on his teaching experiences became very popular throughout Canada.
The book is unquestionably a product of our time, and McLaren gives a few quick jabs at Donald Trump and his sycophants. He also gives a wonderful explanation of how an honest reading of the New Testament makes clear that Jesus was a Marxist revolutionary.
“Let’s face it,” Jesus says at one point in the book (because if He isn’t going to make an appearance in your autobiographical comic book, what’s the point in doing it as a comic book?). “I died for participating in political transgression aimed at liberating Judea from the Romans. I was basically… a communist. There. I said it. But it’s all over the New Testament–specifically, John 12:6, 13:29 and Luke 8:1-3. I went so far as to make the renunciation of property a condition to enter my dad’s kingdom.”
That being said, the book isn’t perfect. Though it’s just 100 pages, there’s a TON of name-dropping here (Timothy Leary, Michael Foucault and Umberto Eco all played a role in his education). And though McLaren writes well on the importance of understanding and respecting indigenous rights–“We have a lot to learn from our indigenous ancestors,” Marcos Aguilar of Anahuacalmecac International University Preparatory of North America tells him, “That has to be part of any critical pedagogy, Peter”–the cover of the book includes a prominent illustration of a remade Mt. Rushmore with the heads of notable Marxists and revolutionaries. The Black Hills, where Mt. Rushmore is located, is one of the most sacred spots to the Lakota people, and any carving of Western figures there is an affront to their culture.
The book is also expensive–$29.95, which is a lot for something promoted as a “comic book.” Other than grad students and professors (and even them maybe not), we’re not sure who’s going to be buying this.
Still, it’s unquestionably a quick and fascinating introduction to real Marxist revolutionary thinking.
“[It’s] a wonderfully colorful, creative, radical, and lively way to bring together the lived history of an individual with the larger historical struggle for a more just world–indeed a revolutionary message for our times,” Antonia Darder, the Leavey Endowed Chair in Ethics and Leadership at Loyola Marymount University said of the book.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.