Archive for the ‘Native and Indigneous Socio-political issues’ Category

Here is an article which was posted on on Wed. March 4, 2015.  This is a very serious issue and one that should be read with full attention.

Lechusza Aquallo

Sparrow Prod.

“The Apache Way:  The March to Oak Flat”

In the “Copper Triangle” of Arizona, the Apache are fighting to protect their sacred land from mining giant Rio Tinto and Arizona Republicans. One major concern among the Apache community is that mining could contaminate the reservation’s aquifer.

San Carlos Apache Reservation, Arizona

One of the sacred staffs carried by the Apache activists. This staff is not to enter a vehicle and is to be carried the entire way to Oak Flat. (Photo: Roger Hills)One of the sacred staffs carried by the Apache activists. This staff is not to enter a vehicle and is to be carried the entire way to Oak Flat. (Photo: Roger Hill)

In the parking lot of the grocery store on the reservation, we are introduced to Standing Fox, a local painter, hip-hop artist and activist amongst the Chiricahua Apache tribe, descendants of the warrior tribe who rode with Geronimo during the Apache Wars (1849-1906). They were the last tribe to fight against US military expansion in the United States.

The land exchange violates a 1955 executive order by President Eisenhower that explicitly puts the Oak Flat Campground land off limits to future mining activity.

My co-pilot, David, and I have traveled to Arizona from San Francisco to produce a short documentary. We decided to make the journey after noticing a provision – a congressional rider on the “must pass” National Defense Authorization Act – in which sacred Apache land would be quietly appropriated for a foreign mining interest. The use of a rider is a controversial legislative procedure in which provisions, unlikely to pass on their own, are added to a bill that has little to do with the rider. The provision, buried on page 1,103, was added largely thanks to the efforts of Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) to the 1,648-page defense bill. The Oak Flat rider appeared on the bill little more than two days before voting was scheduled in Congress.

In Arizona, we are meeting with Vansler “Standing Fox” Nosie, Tribal Councilman Wendsler Nosie Sr. and Anthony Logan, also known as Rolling Fox, one of the tribe’s elder religious leaders. They represent part of the core group of Apache who are planning a 45-mile walk to their sacred Oak Flat, where they will stay in protest of the land grab.

Standing Fox

Women from the tribe lead the march into Oak Flat. (Photo: Roger Hills)Women from the tribe lead the march into Oak Flat. (Photo: Roger Hill)

For years, Standing Fox and a dedicated core group of Apache activists have joined with a coalition of national tribes, environmentalists and concerned retired miners to oppose the land exchange transfer of the Oak Flat region to Resolution Copper, a subsidiary of Rio Tinto, a mining company headquartered in London. Over the past decade, Arizona Republicans have attempted unsuccessfully to pass the land exchange legislation – twice in 2013 failing to get enough votes to bring it to the floor of the House of Representatives. The land exchange also violates a 1955 executive order by President Eisenhower that explicitly puts the Oak Flat Campground land off limits to future mining activity.

Standing Fox joins us in the car to give us a quick tour of San Carlos. We don’t make it far, as just beyond the parking lot is a water tower with a mural of an Apache woman and the tribe’s sacred four crosses. Standing Fox informs us he was one of three artists that created the mural. We take a quick detour to have a look. Painted on the mural are the words “Water is Life” written in the Apache language.

“Water is life. We have to protect what we have, and we have to protect our water.”

Standing Fox walks towards the water tower and says, “We’re not too far from Oak Flat, from the rez line where we have our water aquifer.” The prospect of the mining contaminating the reservation’s aquifer is a major concern among the Apache. Resolution Copper’s proposal plans for a form of mining called block cave mining. This process involves a series of deep underground detonations, essentially collapsing the mountainous terrain in on itself and extracting the ore and materials from a series of tunnels dug in the earth. This process creates more toxic material than traditional surface mining and produces greater contaminants affecting the groundwater with acid runoff.

“When this happens, block cave mining, it is directly going to affect our water aquifer,” says Standing Fox, standing before the blue mural. “So we’re trying to tell outside towns, you know the border towns, ‘hey, if this happens where are you going to get your water from?'”

The neighboring mining towns of Miami and Globe receive their water from the Apache Reservation aquifer. The Apache report many hostile attitudes from the predominantly white populations of Globe and Miami, however, construction of the Oak Flat mine puts both those communities at risk of water contamination.

“Coming back to this water tank, this is the whole message,” Standing Fox says. “Water is life. We have to protect what we have, and we have to protect our water.” We then get in the car to drive to Old San Carlos where the Apache were imprisoned during the Apache Wars by the US military.

Old San Carlos

Anthony Logan, "Rolling Fox" leads a religious ceremony upon arrival to Oak Flat. (Photo: Roger Hills)Anthony Logan, “Rolling Fox” leads a religious ceremony upon arrival to Oak Flat. (Photo: Roger Hill)

Red mud begins to coat the wheelhouse of our rental car. A wild horse stares at us as we drive down the remote dirt road toward the Old San Carlos Memorial. Standing Fox looks out the window as we make our approach. “Where we are heading to now is Old San Carlos, where they first put our people as prisoners of war,” he says.

The Old San Carlos Reservation was in essence a prison camp for Apache and other native tribes in the area, commonly referred to as “Hell’s 40 acres” by the US soldiers stationed at the fort on the reservation. Old San Carlos was a desolate, hot and dry environment that was not hospitable to the Apache way of life. A US Cavalry officer stationed there from 1883 to 1884 wrote in his memoirs about Old San Carlos: “In the summer a temperature of 110 degrees in the shade was cool weather. All other times of the year flies, gnats and unnamable bugs swarmed in the millions.”

The Apache tribes were largely confined on this reservation from about 1872 to 1929. In addition, thousands of Chiricahua Apaches were shipped in windowless railcars as prisoners of war to reservations in Florida and later Oklahoma; many did not survive the journeys.

“We’re still prisoners of war today.”

We step out of the car and continue on foot. The memorial to Old San Carlos is approached with great reverence. “When we first started seeing them coming, our Indian people saw them blasting in the hills over there,” Standing Fox says. He points to the crimson mountains beyond the valley of Old San Carlos. “And we found out what they were doing. It was for gold and copper, and we knew that it was bad. So what did we do, we fought against this invasion of them taking over this land, but also protecting who we are as a culture.”

We stand in a vast valley surrounded by mountains. The monument stands on higher ground than the flooded lowlands of the old reservation. In 1929, the Coolidge dam was built, submerging this area in water. Much of the water has since evaporated, revealing remnants of the structures that stood near the military fort in Old San Carlos, including foxholes where US military snipers would assassinate Apaches attempting to cross the reservation line.

Vansler Nosie, "Standing Fox" reflects on the grounds of Old San Carlos, where Apache were held as prisoners of war by the U.S. military. (Photo: Roger Hills)Vansler Nosie, “Standing Fox” reflects on the grounds of Old San Carlos, where Apache were held as prisoners of war by the US military. (Photo: Roger Hill)

When asked about the history of his people as prisoners of war, Standing Fox states bluntly, “We’re still prisoners of war today.” Relating this to the land exchange provision, he says, “It was really a slap in the face when John McCain threw it into a defense bill…. Using the defense bill really is a slap in the face to Apache people. I believe they’re making a statement, and it should anger people.”

Arguably, some Arizona Republicans share Standing Fox’s assertion that the Apache are still prisoners of war. A recent statement by Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar has particularly incensed the Apache people. When pressed by Phil Stago of the White Mountain Apache Tribe about the Oak Flat land exchange violating Apache sovereignty, Gosar replied, “You’re still wards of the state.”

We sit quietly, reflective, as we slowly navigate the dirt road out of San Carlos. The next day, Standing Fox will join his fellow Apache activists in protest, by marching from the reservation town of San Carlos to their sacred land of Oak Flat.

“There’s Never Anything Given Back”

An open pit copper mine on the side of the highway on the journey to Oak Flat. (Photo: Roger Hills)An open pit copper mine on the side of the highway on the journey to Oak Flat. (Photo: Roger Hill)

The next morning, 15-year-old Naelyn Pike sits on the floor of her grandfather Wendsler Nosie Sr.’s home, lacing up her moccasins. It’s just after 7 am and Naelyn has resolved to start the walk from San Carlos in her traditional footwear.

Naelyn has been raised within the movement to save Oak Flat, attending rallies since the age of 2. At 15, she has already testified before US Congress, and is a respected young leader of the Save Oak Flat movement. Naelyn speaks about Oak Flat with great passion. “We are the people to protect Oak Flat; we as Apache people, we protect Mother Earth and this is what we are going to do; that’s why we’ve taken this bold step,” she says. The challenge for Naelyn will be to walk the whole way, and resist the urge to run to Oak Flat.

“As far as all these parcels that were taken, the tribe never benefitted once from it; there’s no tax dollars returned or huge employment; there’s never anything given back.”

Naelyn’s grandfather, Wendsler Nosie Sr., arrives and lays some maps on the table. The maps depict the history of land appropriation from the Apache Reservation by the federal government: Apache land has decreased dramatically. Wendsler points to the copper-rich Oak Flat parcel taken from the historic Apache Reservation in 1902. “As far as all these parcels that were taken, the tribe never benefitted once from it; there’s no tax dollars returned or huge employment; there’s never anything given back.” The unemployment rate on the San Carlos Apache Reservation stands at a staggering 70 percent.

This water tank on the Apache Reservation serves as a reminder of the importance of clean water. (Photo: Roger Hills)This water tank on the Apache Reservation serves as a reminder of the importance of clean water. (Photo: Roger Hill)

Oak Flat is just beyond the reservation line in the Tonto National Forest. While the Apache have legitimate claim to the land as part of their traditional homeland, they are not demanding Oak Flat be returned to the Apache Reservation. Their demands are simply that it not be mined, and remain a public park they can visit to perform their rituals and gather acorns and herbs, important elements of their traditional way of life.

About a hundred people gather at the administration building in San Carlos. The march is soon to begin. After a couple of speeches and a traditional dance, marchers pose for a few pictures and begin the 45-mile walk to Oak Flat.

The March to Oak Flat Begins

This long abandoned hotel in downtown Miami Arizona serves as a reminder of the boom or bust nature of the mining economy. (Photo: Roger Hills)This long abandoned hotel in downtown Miami Arizona serves as a reminder of the boom or bust nature of the mining economy. (Photo: Roger Hill)

There is a lot of energy as approximately 100 marchers leave the town of San Carlos. The first 12 miles of the journey are flat, on reservation land, and the sun is bright but not oppressively hot. Supporters pass out water and granola bars. Wendsler and Standing Fox are in the front of the march. Behind them, Naelyn is carrying a sign with a picture of a bird and the tribe’s four sacred crosses. “It’s not just us that are here – our ancestors, those that fought for us – those generations are here,” she says. “They are fighting with us. I can feel their presence; they’re walking with us.” Naelyn radiates excitement.

Young children cheer and wave from behind a chain-link fence outside their preschool; a teenage boy hoots in excitement from the dirt yard of his small home; an elderly woman sits on her porch clapping. The sun begins to hang low in the sky as the march approaches the reservation line. Fatigue begins to set in.

On the reservation line, I snap a picture of Naelyn standing in the light of the setting sun: She is full of resolve. Marchers individually pass through the sacred staffs. A prayer is recited and the walk continues toward Globe, away from the tribe’s jurisdiction.

In Arizona, tax revenue from the mines is split based on population, so the small towns that bear the brunt of the industry see far fewer tax dollars than high population areas removed from the impacts of mining, such as Phoenix or Tucson.

“Being at the reservation line, right here is the point where we say we are healed; we no longer have the disease [of fear] and we are fighting back,” Naelyn says. “All of that fear that the US government – that the cavalry – have put on us, all of that is gone. It’s no longer on our shoulders. Once we cross this line, we’re in the fight; we’re in the forefront.” The Apache marchers form a tighter line as they walk along the highway toward Globe.

A pickup truck drives by; the passenger yells, “Get a job!” at Naelyn and the other marchers. Not a particularly creative insult, it garners an eye roll at best. It is dark and the walk has been going for more than 10 hours. In the cover of night, the marchers walk under a streetlight, past a gun store, Globe Gun and Pawn. Ahead is the steepest hill on the first day of the walk. Everyone is exhausted.

On the other side of the hill is a dirt parking lot where the Apache will be sleeping this night. It’s not an ideal campsite, but it was the only place in Globe they found permission to camp, from the private owner of the lot. Apache painter and activist Carrie “CC” Reede Curley musters the strength to jog the first sacred staff across the finish line. Dinner is served; tents are pitched. Tomorrow, an even greater challenge awaits.

The March to Oak Flat, Day Two

Wendsler Nosie Sr. and other Apache leaders prepare for the journey to Oak Flat by singing religious songs at Old San Carlos. (Roger Hills)Wendsler Nosie Sr. and other Apache leaders prepare for the journey to Oak Flat by singing religious songs at Old San Carlos. (Roger Hill)

The next morning, the campers gather together and prepare to depart. Wendsler is reenergized. “Today, we start climbing the mountains … and it gets exciting, because we’re nearing the holy place.” Soon after departing, the march reaches the impoverished mining town of Miami.

There are signs of mining everywhere: On the hilltop is a processing plant with a train pulling in and out, carrying copper ore and other material. In the town center stands a boarded-up two-story building that reads “Tourist Hotel 1917.” The windows of the old hotel are broken; pigeons fly in and out of the decaying structure; it stands as a reminder of the boom or bust nature of the economy of mining towns.

In Arizona, tax revenue from the mines is split based on population, so the small towns that bear the brunt of the industry see far fewer tax dollars than high population areas removed from the impacts of mining, such as Phoenix or Tucson. Increasing the economic hardships in these towns, new automated mining techniques mean fewer miners than in the past.

As the march reaches a small shrine on the side of the highway just past the city limits of Miami, Wendsler addresses the crowd. “I am so proud coming through Globe and Miami … the Mexican lady I just talked to said she just found out the road’s being rerouted, and she said, ‘I’ve been praying for you guys and I’m with you.'” The economy of Miami, Arizona, is further threatened by plans to reroute Highway 60 away from the town, to accommodate the proposed Oak Flat development.

The march has now reached a stretch of highway that is mountainous and dangerous for pedestrians. Young volunteers raise their hands to take turns carrying the ceremonial staffs, while the others load into vans for the final few miles. David and I park our rental car a mile ahead of the young runners. We are in the Pinal Mountains, near a trailer park named Top of the World. On the horizon is an enormous open-pit copper mine. Below is a busy bridge, hundreds, maybe a thousand feet in the air. A lone jogger, Naelyn, approaches the bridge with a ceremonial staff in each hand. She strides with purpose across the highway bridge near Top of the World.

Oak Flat

Naelyn Pike stands at the reservation line leaving the San Carlos Apache Reservation. (Photo: Roger Hill)Naelyn Pike stands at the reservation line leaving the San Carlos Apache Reservation. (Photo: Roger Hill)

One by one, young people from the tribe take turns jogging the staffs the final miles to Oak Flat. Hundreds have gathered at the entrance to the campground in anticipation. Naelyn happens to be the final runner bringing in the sacred staffs to Oak Flat. She reaches the finish line; tears of joy roll down her face. The crowd cheers as Naelyn runs into her grandfather’s open arms. Wendsler Nosie Sr. beams with pride. “This little girl has what it takes,” he says. “She will be witnessing a lot of things that are not right, if we don’t better it, if we don’t stand up. And to see those emotional tears coming out of her while being strong. I think, while she was finishing and bringing in the staff, she was really crying for the rest of us.”

“Our religion is deeply rooted in these sacred places and it’s what our ancestors fought for and died for … as young people we honor them today, standing up for what is right and protecting our religion and our way of life, our Apache way.”

Indigenous and environmental activists from around the country have swelled the campsite. Rolling Fox leads the various tribal nations in a series of prayers. After the ceremony, Standing Fox, exhausted, rests near a creek and reflects on Oak Flat. He’s been fighting laryngitis throughout the march and these are the first words we’ve heard from him in the past two days. “Our religion is deeply rooted in these sacred places and it’s what our ancestors fought for and died for,” he says. “And as young people we honor them today, standing up for what is right and protecting our religion and our way of life, our Apache way.” Like his ancestors before him, Standing Fox will treat his cold with the herbs that grow in Oak Flat.

The next day, most of the visitors have left Oak Flat. Remaining is the core group of Apache activists whom David and I met in the grocery store parking lot on the reservation. They are joined by a few other dedicated activists determined to occupy Oak Flat until they are forced to leave, or until the development plans for Oak Flat are scrapped or rescinded.

A statue of an Apache warrior reaching to the heavens stands at the memorial to Old San Carlos The valley beyond the statue is where Apache's endured as prisoners of war. (Photo: Roger Hill)A statue of an Apache warrior reaching to the heavens stands at the memorial to Old San Carlos The valley beyond the statue is where Apache’s endured as prisoners of war. (Photo: Roger Hill)

Our little rental car is full of trash, coffee cups, bottles of water; it is caked in mud inside and out. The smooth streets, golf course and gated community we drive past on our return to the Phoenix airport feel like a world away from San Carlos, Globe, Miami, Top of the World and Oak Flat. Our ride, minus the mud, fits right in. Out of sight, out of mind.

For Arizona Republicans, it is easy to give away something that does not belong to them: just sneak it into a defense bill. It is much more difficult to hold on to someplace sacred, to protect it from destruction and save holy land for future generations of Apache warriors. In the “white man’s world,” as we heard many times over recent days, it is much harder to preserve than to develop.

Despite the great imbalance of power, the Apache are staying put and the fight for Oak Flat continues.

Here are a few links regarding a recent issue which took place defacing the Native art created by Andrew Morrison in the city of Seattle, WA. (Feb. 23, 2015). (Feb. 23, 2015).

(Short TV news broadcast, Feb. 23, 2015). (Feb. 23, 2015).

This incident made me think of a track by the DJ/Hip Hop group A Tribe Called Red, “Woodcarver.”  Here’s the track:

Prof. Lechusza Aquallo

Here is an interesting take on the 40th anniversary episode of Saturday Night Live (SNL) which recently took place (Feb. 16, 2015).  The link and complete article are below.  Please take note of the “Native American Comic Billy Smith” video which is included within this article.  It’s an addition which can not be overlooked.

Enjoy the reading!

Lechusza Aquallo

Sparrow Prod.

18 Feb., 2015

SNL 40th Anniversary: Mike Myers and Native Imagery

by Adrienne K.February 17, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 4.22.05 PM

This week, Saturday Night Live turned 40. The show had an epic 3.5 hour long special episode, with cameos and performances from tons of folks involved during the show’s history. I watched it last night as I was grading papers (meaning I half-watched it), and didn’t expect there to be any Native representations, because there never are (except Fred Armisen’s horribly awkward/stereotypical “Native American Comic Billy Smith” on Weekend Update)*. There were even several jokes about the lack of diversity at SNL–but solely along the lines of Black/White. Never any mention of Natives, of course.

I was excited to see a Wayne’s World sketch, because I am a nerd and use #partytimeexcellent as a personal catchphrase…and then noticed something about Wayne/Mike Myers:

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 4.22.40 PM

Obviously, he’s wearing a Chicago Blackhawks Jersey. But notice the blanket he’s sitting on as well…totally “Native inspired.”

It got me thinking (duh). This screenshot pretty much encapsulates what most folks watching SNL think about Native peoples: mascots and artifacts. Both disembodied symbols that have minimal relation to contemporary Native communities or people. Both representing outsiders profiting from and exploiting our images and our cultures for their own economic gain. Both harkening to a very specific period of time in our cultures–back to the 19th century, when the “real Indians” were around. (Not discounting the contemporary Navajo weavers who continue this tradition today, obvs!)

I was guest lecturing for a course on Natives in Film on Friday, and used this info from Stephanie Fryberg’s presentation at the Stanford Native Law Conference I presented at last week to demonstrate just how few Native representations in TV/Film there are today. These numbers are from 1997-2000–honestly, I think the numbers would be lower in 2015, and I don’t think we have any more recent data [Researchers! We need you!]. Seeing these numbers is striking. We can say we have “no” representations, but to see the quantifiable numbers moves it into another realm.

  • In a content analysis of national newspapers in 1997 and major films from 1990-2000, relatively few (.2%) representations of American Indians (AI) were found (Fryberg, 2003)
    • Representations were largely stereotypic and/or negative
    • AI were seldom presented as contemporary people or in contemporary domains (e.g., as students, teachers, doctors)
  • In a composite week of primetime TV in 1997, no AI characters were identified (Mastro & Greenberg, 2000).
  • In a two week composite of primetime TV in 2002, 6 out of 1488 (.4%) TV characters were identified as AI (Mastro & Behm-Morawitz, 2005).
  • In a composite week of TV commercials in 2000, .4% of speaking characters were identified as AI (Mastro & Stern, 2003).

(I’ll put the citations at the end of the post)

So back to the tableau of Myers in a Blackhawks Jersey sitting on an “Indian” Blanket. These things matter. More than 23 million viewers saw this sketch. 23 MILLION. When we don’t have any counter-representations to show us as we actually are, the weight of these small moments adds up. I know most viewers wouldn’t have even thought twice about the problematic nature of this–but that’s why you have me, right? To scream from the rooftops that WE ARE MORE THAN ARTIFACTS AND MASCOTS? These things aren’t “honoring.” They’re demeaning and exploitative. Final answer.

However, I also want share this bit of interesting SNL Native trivia, did you know the percussionist for the house band at SNL is Native?? Her name is Valerie Dee Naranjo, she’s Ute, and she’s awesome. I always look for her peeking out behind the column on the opening monologue, and you can see her in the background during Paul Simon’s performance on this episode. So there is at least ONE positive representation on SNL every week, which is great.

Screen Shot 2015-02-17 at 4.27.40 PM


For the uninitiated: History of the Blackhawks logo (it’s not “honoring,” so shh.):

“The Chicago Blackhawks team logo was created by Irene Castle, wife of team founder and coffee tycoon Major Frederic McLaughlin, in 1926 at the team’s inception into the NHL. McLaughlin chose the ‘Blackhawks’ nickname in recognition of his time as commander with the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division during World War I. His Division was nicknamed “Blackhawk Division” after a Native American of the Sauk nation, Chief Black Hawk, who was a prominent figure in the history of Illinois. Throughout the franchise’s history, the logo has undergone minor changes but still closely resembles its original presentation.” (source)

Note: Designed by a white lady, based on her imagination–this is what Chief Blackhawk looked like, and not actually directly named to “honor” Native peoples.

If you still think it might not be offensive, check out what happens when the opposing team gets ahold of it: Thanks for the Severed Head, or how folks dress up to “honor” their team.


Fryberg, S. A. (2003). Really? You don’t look like an American Indian: Social representations and social group identities. Dissertation Abstracts International, 64(1549), 3B.

Mastro, D. E., & Greenberg, B. S. (2000). The portrayal of racial minorities on prime time television. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 44(4), 690-703.

Mastro, D. E., & Behm-Morawitz, E. (2005). Latino representation on primetime television. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 82(1), 110-130.

Mastro, D. E., & Stern, S. R. (2003). Representations of race in television commercials: A content analysis of prime-time advertising. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 47(4), 638-647.

Here is a very interesting article on the heavy metal band Testify which hails from the Navajo (Dine) Nation.  There is a short video which follows that may be of interest.  Enjoy and share with others!

Lechusza Aquallo

Sparrow Prod.

27 Jan., 2015 (Video from the NY Times) (Video from MSN.  This includes a playlist of other bands.) (Video from Malaymail, which includes other footage of the band.)

Other notable bands in this genre include:

Skull Fist, Abysmal Dawn and Night Demon

A little more “crunchy” metal – for the fans! (Metal from the Navajo Rez) (Metal from the Navajo Rez)

I came across a book review today which caught my attention.  It’s not like me to be moved by a book review, though I would like to imagine that those which I’ve written have moved others.  Yet, this review of the book Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy and the Foundations of Education (6th ed.) by Peter McLaren certainly did more than catch a wandering eye; it codified a sense of obligation and critical agency within the American educational-industrial complex.

The entire article is below, as it’s that important to gather a complete understanding and context of this sixth edition.  This, now historic text, challenges new adversaries operating at full clip within the first decade-and-a-half of the twenty-first century.  Globalization may be the mantra of those reaping the benefits of capitalistic power.  But, the youth of today are positioned to inherit a bankrupt environmental, educational, economic, and social globe.  What, then, can be done?  Is there to means/method to restart the proverbial clock on such destructive tactics which politicians – on either side of the Congressional isle – have waged upon the youth of today (K-14)?  Life in Schools made me recall a quote which I try to hold close during my own challenging days: don’t think outside the box, think like there is no box.

Enjoy the review and buy the book for a local library, teacher, student, community activist, artist.  It’s certainly one that will find company in the hands of many.

Lechusza Aquallo

Sparrow Prod.

25 Jan. 2015



Peter McLaren, Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy and the Foundations of Education, 6th Edition (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2014)

“School reform” has a very bad reputation among left thinkers and activists for some very good reasons in the neoliberal era. Captive to corporate-backed school privatization activists, contemporary “school reform” sets public schools, teachers, and teacher unions up to fail by blaming them for low student standardized test scores that are all-too unmentionably the product of students’ low socioeconomic status and related racial and ethnic oppression. Its obsession with test scores assaults imagination and critical thinking, narrowing curriculum and classroom experience around the lifeless task of filling in the correct bubbles beneath droves of authoritarian multiple-“choice” questions crafted in distant, sociopathic corporate cubicles. Students become passive recipients of strictly limited information deposited into their brains by teachers who “are prevented from taking risks and designing their own lessons as the pressure to produce high test scores produces highly scripted and regimented” pedagogy, wherein “worksheets become a substitute for critical teaching and rote memorization takes the place of in-depth thinking” (Henry Giroux). Pupils are rendered incapable of morally and politically challenging – and envisaging alternatives to – the terrible conditions they face under contemporary state capitalism and related oppression structures outside and inside schools.

Much if not most of what passes for school reform is really about public school destruction, corporate takeover, slashing teachers’ salaries and benefits, and undermining students and citizens’ ability to question a system that has been concentrating ever more wealth and power into elite hands for more than a generation. It is deeply (and by no means just coincidentally) consistent with the late comedian George Carlin’s 2005 rant about what “the big wealthy business interests that control everything…don’t want. They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking.” As Carlin elaborated:

“They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people…who are smart enough to, figure out how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago. You know what they want? Obedient workers people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork but just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it.”

But what if “school reform” meant the empowerment of radically democratic educators who sought the opposite what Carlin’s business owners want – and more? What if those teachers were dedicated to helping future citizens and workers become sufficiently smart, inspired, confident, courageous, loving and solidaristic, not only to understand what the capitalist owners and their coordinators are doing to society and life itself, but also to resist those elites and to create an egalitarian, democratic, sustainable, peaceful, and truly human world turned upside down? Such teachers wouldn’t think that schools could bring about such a revolutionary transformation on their own. They would, however, understand “how,” in the leading left educational and social critic Peter McLaren’s words, “schools are implicated in social reproduction…how schools perpetuate or reproduce the social relationships and attitudes needed to sustain the existing dominant economic and class relations of the larger society.” Determined to interrupt and overturn that deadly reproduction, they would grasp the “partial autonomy of the school culture” and the necessity of occupying that space as “a vehicle for political activism and creating a praxis of social equality, economic justice, and gender equality” (Life in Schools, 150).

That is the goal behind McLaren’s classic text Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy and the Foundations of Education, recently updated for the Obama era in a sixth edition. “We are living,” McLaren writes near the end of Life in Schools:

“…in what Antonio Gramsci called a war of position – a struggle to unify diverse social movements in our collective efforts to resist global capitalism – in order to wage what he called a war of maneuver (a concerted effort to challenge and transform the state, to create an alternative matrix for society other than value). Part of our war of position is taking place in our schools. Schools form part of Gramsci’s integral state as a government-coercive apparatus and an apparatus of political and cultural hegemony that continually needs to be renewed in order to secure the assent of the dominant group’s agenda.” (Life in Schools, 245-46).

Life in Schools is (among other things) a sprawling, many-sided, and brilliant manual of theory, history, and practice for teachers, teachers-in-training, and current and future education professors ready to enlist in that “war of position.” The stakes, McLaren reminds us (like his colleague and ally Giroux [1]), are not small:

“Today, amidst the most powerful conglomeration of cultural, political, and economic power aver assembled in history…we have seen our humanity swept away like a child’s sigh in a tornado…The marble pillars of democracy have crashed around our heads, leaving us ensepulchered in a graveyard of empty dreams… The omnicidal regimes of our Anthropocene Era have brutalized our planet to the point of bringing ecosystems and the energies of evolution and speciation to the point of devastation and Homo Sapiens to the brink of extinction….Time is running out quickly. We are being chased to by the hounds of both heaven and hell ‘with all deliberate speed’ and we are being continually outflanked.” (xxi, 259, 261)

Building on stories from his early years as what he considers a rather naïve liberal teacher in an inner-city Toronto school, McLaren takes his readers on a long and loving trip from his years in the classroom (Life in Schools contains a previously published journal [titled Cries From the Corridor] in which McLaren recorded his teaching experience prior to his engagement with radical theory) through the theory of revolutionary critical pedagogy; the roles that mainstream schools and educational doctrine play in subjugating working class and minority students; the structures and ideologies of contemporary oppression and inequality (class, race, gender, ethnicity, and empire); and methods for teachers to instill students with confidence, hope and capacity for resistance and solidarity.

Peter McLaren. (Photo: Challenge)Peter McLaren. (Photo: Challenge)

Like the leading critical education theorists Henry Giroux and Paulo Friere, McLaren argues that educators have a duty to – in Friere’s words – “engage in politics when we educate.” The dominant methods and paradigms of North American education are richly political and ideological beneath their (false) claims of value-free objectivity and balance. Whereas those methods and paradigms covertly advance the predatory capitalist (neoliberal) project beneath the pretense of impartial neutrality (so that “being educated today constitutes a form of historically conditioned estrangement and alienation” [280]), critical pedagogy openly advances a liberating and participatory democratic socialism beyond both state capitalism and authoritarian socialism.

McLaren does not pretend that schools alone can rescue and re-energize democracy and justice in the United States. Still, he argues that schools can and must become zones of popular de-indoctrination, democratic re-imagination, and resistance to capital, whose giant transnational corporations are “taking hacksaws to the web of planetary ecosystems” and to “the covenant that once defined (however tenuously) the social commons.” The task is essential in an era of escalating empire, inequality, and authoritarianism, when millions are forced into long-term “structural unemployment,” prison, poverty, hopelessness and depression. The “rich are getting drunk on the tears of the poor” (233) while an “antiwar” US president kills Muslim civilians and even assassinates US citizens with arrogant impunity, and the Superpower shamelessly liquidates long-cherished civil liberties.

While Life in Schools seems directed primarily at academic departments of education, it deserves an audience far beyond the ivory tower. It is loaded with deeply informed radical perspectives that should interest progressive thinkers and activists in all spheres of life under contemporary capitalism. Especially relevant in light of recent events is McLaren’s critique of academic theories that “‘race,’ not class is the major form of oppression in society.” A dedicated anti-racist and anti-sexist, McLaren nonetheless reminds us that:

“Class exploitation…[is] the material armature material basis or material conditions of possibility for other forms of oppression within capitalist society… class exploitation is not simply one form of oppression among others; rather, it constitutes the ground on which other ‘isms’ of oppression are sustained within capitalist societies. When we claim that class antagonism….is [just] one in a series of social antagonisms – race, class, gender, and so on – we often forget the fact that class sustains the conditions that produce and reproduce the other antagonisms,…[whose] material basis can be traced to the means and relations of production within capitalist society – to the social division of labor that occurs when workers sell their labor power for a wage to the capitalist (Life in Schools, 217-18) ….Class as a social relation sets the conditions of possibility for many other social antagonisms, such as racism and sexism, thought it cannot be reduced to them” (125).

McLaren also offers trenchant insights on the reactionary role of the Obama administration. As portrayed (accurately by my estimation) in Life in Schools, the current US president is an abject “war criminal”(6-7, 274), a deadly enemy of civil liberties (232), a toady to Wall Street (6-7), a stealth agent of neoliberal so-called post-racial white supremacy (193-94), and a stalwart instrument of the corporate-neoliberal educational agenda, with its deadly testing obsession (16).

Equally instructive are McLaren’s reflections on how much of what passes for resistance today is actually an expression of capitalist hegemony, and on the central role of corporate-manufactured hopelessness in the ruling class’s intensifying destruction of justice, democracy, and life itself. “We have accommodated ourselves to the [contemporary state-capitalist and imperial] Deep State, and have routinized and ritualized our responses to it,” McLaren’s writes (xxi). The major barrier to the radical and democratic changes required, McLaren feels, has to do with hope and confidence: “The biggest prohibitive obstacle to organizing the Left is [a lack of] confidence that an alternative to capitalism can be made viable.”

As McLaren acknowledges, it’s not easy to answer the question of how to develop a widespread faith in socialism’s viability. “But,” he adds, “it’s not easy to live in the world as presently fashioned, either, so we’d best get to work on finding some solutions” (257). Wise words.

1. Giroux’s latest book begins with the observation that “America is descending into madness. The stories it now tells are filled with cruelty, deceit, lies, and legitimate all manner of corruption and mayhem. The mainstream media spin stories that are largely racist, violent, and irresponsible – stories that celebrate power and demonize victims…under the glossy veneer of entertainment…A predatory culture celebrates a narcissistic hyper-individualism that radiates a near-sociopathic lack of interest in – or compassion and responsibility for – others. Anti-public intellectuals …urge us to spend more, indulge more, and make a virtue out of personal gain, while producing a depoliticized culture of consumerism. Undermining life-affirming social solidarities and any viable notion of the public good, politicians trade in forms of idiocy and superstition that seem to mesmerize the undereducated and render the thoughtful cynical and disengaged. Militarized police forces armed with the latest weapons tested in Afghanistan and Iraq play out their fantasies on the home front…[while] defense contractors…market military-grade surveillance tools and weapons to a full range of clients, from gated communities to privately owned for-profit prisons.” Henry Giroux, The Violence of Organized Forgetting: Thinking Beyond America’s Disimagination Machine (San Francisco: City Lights, 2014), 9-10.