Race, Religion and a Curriculum of Reparation: Teacher Education for a Multicultural Society
reviewed by Darren E. Lund - June 04, 2007
Title: Race, Religion and a Curriculum of Reparation: Teacher Education for a Multicultural Society
Author(s): Willam F. Pinar
Publisher: Palgrave/MacMillan, New York
ISBN: 1403970726, Pages: 208, Year: 2006
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Opening Pinars latest text was, for me, a bit like joining a poker game with friends; you are entering a familiar setting where you think you know what to expect, but where you must also be prepared for anything. There is danger, but also a great chance of reward. In this sense, the reading did not disappoint; few topics are more contentious in public and academic discourse right now in North American than race and religion. Likewise, few fields have been more staunchly conservative to the core than education, and teacher education in particular. Despite the admirable efforts of a number of critical race scholars and devoted multicultural educators, education has somehow fiercely upheld the status quo in both its demographics and curriculum for the past several decades. This text, whose book jacket promises to lay bare the incestuous genealogy of whiteness and the racism it requires, certainly delivers on providing readers with a provocative textual experience.
How does one begin to examine race, religion, and a curriculum of reparation when these concepts are so intertwined, implicit, and complicit in the deeply troubling history of human relations in North America? The racialization of the West is deeply embedded in all we do, and in who we are, infused within all of our political, religious and educational institutions. Even to reexamine these concepts we need to experience a catharsis born of experience, but how can we, when so much of our everyday experience toward these issues is now sanitized, distant, and secondhand? To be able to understand these concepts more deeply as human beings, we need to shatter ourselves, but how do we do that? Pinar offers important insights toward this shattering and re-imagining race and difference.
Pinar has long been revered as a sagacious and stimulating scholar who continues to lead the way in charting and theorizing the burgeoning field of critical curriculum studies. His past published works, dating back over thirty years, have included some of the most influential writings in curriculum studies, with attention to psychoanalysis (Pinar & Kincheloe, 1991), queer theory (Pinar, 1998), race and violence in America (Pinar, 2001), and international curriculum theory (Pinar, 2003). Pinars recent appointment to a coveted Canada Research Chair position at the University of British Columbia affirms his status as a revered scholar in this country, despite his penchant for subversion and iconoclasm in what was once a relatively staid area of study. His recent compendium of his essays (Pinar, 2004) represents, appropriately enough, a bible of sorts for any critical curriculum scholar who recognizes the pressing need to attend to issues of power, privilege, and difference.
Focusing his gaze for this text on a passage in the Bible, then, was not a surprising decision; Pinar has spent the past three decades of his academic career exploring the political and pedagogical implications of desire, difference, and alterity in the Western world of education, and the influences of Judeo-Christian faith and mythology are indelibly etched on that landscape. Be assured that this text offers no standard theological inquiry into biblical scholarship, but rather, evokes and supra-sexualizes a single interaction between Noah and his son in a tent. Now, I attended Sunday School and my catechism lessons religiously (so to speak), and I even read quite a bit of the Holy Book as a young adult, but I had never been drawn quite so intently toward that passage in Genesis 9:24 (I think we focused more on his ark in my classes). Nor would I have imagined how rewarding and unsettling it could be to experience a favorite scholar spending over 200 pages exploring its rich interpretive and symbolic possibilities.
The author begins with the assertion that Ham, in the biblical scene in questionin which he walks into a tent where his father is sleeping, and then leavessomehow violated his father, Noah, either visually or sexually, or both. Pinar asks: What can the study of this primal scene provide us who teach in the present? What can be the pedagogical point of revoking a lost origin, except to enable us to understand more fully whom we have already become? (p. x). Accepting his premise, and implied promise, allows the reader to follow Pinar as he delves into the text through a psychoanalytic lens, beginning with Freud via the vintage 1903 memoirs of Daniel Paul Schreber, and weaving through more contemporary psycho/social/literary interpretations from Brown to Britzman, Silverman to Stokes, among others. Pinar is at his best when laying bare the hegemonic manifestations of whiteness and the racialized politics of the black male body, the focus for the introductory chapter and a strong theme throughout the book. He argues compellingly for nothing short of the shattering of the white male subject, in which his narcissism and exhibitionism are exposed, thereby threatening the collapse of the ancient patriarchal scopic regime upon which sexual and racial difference relies (p. 183). Precisely how we get there, and what we do when it happens, are questions left unexplored for this volume at least; he is charting a course for this field, but we are left wondering where it may lead us.
Pinar ponders by way of Foucault the ways in which the sexual and racial identities that emerge from the passage with Noah and Ham are inscribed all over contemporary social theory, and indeed, our social lives, institutions, and bodies. Better understanding ourselves through several repeated metaphorical interpretive journeys back into the tent with Noahguided by a selected range of philosophy and self-reflectioninevitably leads the reader into a salacious and ultimately dangerous world of incest, sodomy, violation, and violence. I would venture to describe Pinars writing as a form of hermeneutical self-pleasuring that is a spectacle to behold, and which inevitably leads us to something just below naval-gazing. I wouldnt say I felt dirty after reading the book, but I did need to leave the tent for some fresh air a few times. Few would disagree that Pinar has earned the right to crafting this kind of an incendiary thought experiment (p. xv) that unsettles us to the core while inviting us to re-examine our own epistemologies. It is worthwhile to follow his tracing of the genesis of race through gender, while exploring the European origins of patriarchy and rites of passage.
At the risk of being the pupil criticizing the master, I will share a central shortcoming of this book: it carries an empty promise in its subtitle that verges on false advertising. I can understand an editors decision to make a book as appealing as possible to the widest potential readership, but I would challenge readers to locate a single passage that suggests implications for teacher education, multiculturalism, or any direct attention whatsoever toward these pressing topics. My preferred research approaches are qualitative, and I dont put much stock in numbers and statistics, but a simple citations count from the books Index provides an illustrative glimpse into Pinars conceptual foci for the text. My cursory survey found 56 references to castration, 51 to circumcision, 34 to incest, and eight to emasculation. The same index contains not a single note on any discussion of multicultural, education, teaching/teachers, classroom, schools/schooling, or pedagogy.
I dont expect a paint-by-numbers guide to action, or atheoretical, dumbed-down versions of scholarship for teachers; rather, I believe that students in teacher education classes and graduate seminars need to be challenged with difficult and richly theoretical readings, resisting the lure of the practical in every instance. Nevertheless, Pinars apparent avoidance of the lived world of teachers, and those who seek to educate them, constitutes a significant oversight considering the promise of the full title of the book. Perhaps in anticipation of this critique, Pinar offers this cogent thought: There can be no predictable outcomes of serious study; there can be no science of education. What is possible is study (p. 183). With its unselfconsciously unanswered questions and decadently dense prose, this extended study serves as a rich and provocative study of the origins and implications of race. It is a rich addition to the impressive library on curriculum theory that Pinar has generously offered the world. May all its readers help to fulfill his desire that this text contribute to the symbolic destruction of the hegemonic and interwoven legacies of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and sexism.
Pinar, W. F. (Ed.). (1998). Queer theory in education. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Pinar, W. F. (2001). The gender of racial politics and violence in America: Lynching, prison rape, and the crisis of masculinity. New York: Peter Lang.
Pinar, W. F. (Ed.). (2003). Handbook of international research in curriculum. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Pinar, W. F. (2004). What is curriculum theory? Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Pinar, W. F. (2006). The synoptic text today and other essays: Curriculum development after the reconceptualization. New York: Peter Lang.
Pinar, W. F., & Kincheloe, J. (Eds.). (1991). Curriculum as social psychoanalysis: The significance of place. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.