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Critical Theories, Radical Pedagogies, and Global Conflicts

reviewed by Meg Riordan - 2006

coverTitle: Critical Theories, Radical Pedagogies, and Global Conflicts
Author(s): Gustavo E. Fischman, Peter McLaren, Heinz Sunker, and Colin Lankshear (Eds)
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham
ISBN: 0742530728, Pages: 367, Year: 2005
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The twenty-first century is already tainted: around the world, we endure ongoing war, poverty, ecological catastrophes, corporate greed, and capitalist “empire building.”  In such times, schools should be places of critical reflection and social justice; they should be transformational spaces of possibility that offer opportunities to consider broader social, political, and economic policies and practices.  At least, that is what Critical

Theories, Radical Pedagogies, and Global Conflicts hopes to inspire.  Edited by Gustavo E. Fishman, Peter McLaren, Heinz Sünker, and Colin Lankshear, the volume’s contributors explore how educators and activists might inaugurate a new critical theory of education and implement pedagogy that raises students’ critical consciousness and civic participation.  

As indicated by the title, the volume is divided into three sections: Global Conflicts, Critical Theories, and Radical Pedagogies.  The first part links education to global conflicts, analyzing how changing social contexts require the development of a new critical theory of education; the second delves into that critical theory, imagining what it may look like and exploring its component parts, priorities and purposes; and the final section questions how educators can reconsider, reconfigure, and practice pedagogies to address a new critical theory of education.  

Opening with a discussion of capitalism, globalization, and education, Mike Cole analyzes and rejects the notion of globalization as a positive force.  Cole argues that globalization deepens inequality and instead he advocates for the transformation of schools into places that exist not to perpetuate capitalism, but to promote social justice and “foster critical reflection” (p.17).  That initial chapter lays the foundation for further consideration of how globalization impacts education, challenging educators to respond and providing provocative global frameworks by which to do so.  Subsequent chapters under the Global Conflicts category are rich and thought provoking.  They include an analysis of state theories and the restructuring of schooling and teacher education, the function of universities, schooling for democracy, and technologies as catalysts for beneficial multicultural, egalitarian, and ecological globalization forces.


The following section on Critical Theories contains eight chapters that add a further layer of texture to the volume.  The works here are diverse, and delve into critical theories that pave the route toward the final cluster of chapters on Radical Pedagogies.  The former chapters include a consideration of what states might look like without racism, a review of Paulo Freire’s later work, and a chapter devoted to defining and analyzing what author Rhonda Hammer terms “patriarchal family terrorism” (p. 223) and its relevance in a post-September 11th society.  Other chapters engage the reader in considerations of citizenship and media culture, examine critical pedagogy that “seeks to encourage and prepare individuals to understand and critically question views about themselves, society, and nature,” (p. 145) and expose standardized testing as proliferating oppression of teachers and students.  What both parts - Global Conflicts and Critical Theories - provide is a context for understanding political, economic, educational, and cultural forces, offering a “base from which to launch critiques and oppositional practices” (p. x).  

To that end, the final section on Radical Pedagogies imparts ways in which educators and activists might reconsider and approach their work in and outside of the classroom environment.  Two chapters emphasize “performance” as a means of understanding and conveying identity, as well as its use as a powerful tool for analysis; another examines intercultural education, societal structures, and the individuals that comprise a society.  McLaren and Farahmandpur’s chapter underscores the necessity of creating pedagogical activities through which students can explore post-September 11 fears.  They provide tangible steps through which teachers and students can examine terrorism and in which “teachers can then guide students to make connections between their findings and social and historical processes which have shaped that region of the world” (p. 288).  Lankshear and Knobel’s chapter envisions how computer-mediated activities inspire pedagogy that poses problems, explores culture, and advocates for “critical, dialogical, and liberatory purposes within education” (p. 305).  And lastly, the volume culminates with a call for renewed focus on teacher education programs that promote questions about the purposes of schools and capitalist structures, encourage the investigation of power and control, and emphasize media literacy and activism.


Teachers struggling with No Child Left Behind and accountability standards may question the transferability of critical theories and radical pedagogies to their own classrooms.  In fact, the mere thought of embracing, much less practicing, yet another “something new” might invite objections about the applicability of these ideas.  Such a response would not be surprising – though it would be premature.  The volume contains not only theories, but inquiries that speak to issues educators grapple with: How can teachers prepare students to understand and question media?  How can education enable people to make informed decisions about processes such as globalization?  How can schools teach democratic values and foster social justice?  How can teachers shift from delivering fragmented information for tests to guiding students to explore ideas, problems, and questions?  And how can teacher education programs examine various cultural, gendered, racial, and economic perspectives to raise teachers’ global awareness?

These inquiries and others woven throughout the text are important ones – and ones that too frequently sink into the swamp of school system requirements, mundane classroom tasks, or immediate disciplinary issues.  Yet despite the challenges teachers may face in implementing radical pedagogies within their own classrooms, this volume nevertheless contains insights and ideas that, to me, speak to the reasons why many of us became educators in the first place: to promote critical thinking, to inspire learning and the making of connections, to engage in dialogues and the exchange of ideas, to empower students to read, write, analyze, solve problems, and make powerful and just decisions.  Critical Theories, Radical Pedagogies, and Global Conflicts is a reminder to teachers and teacher educators to continue to explore our own acts of teaching and learning, to expand students’ experiences, and to contribute student and educator voices to a wider movement for social justice.  

In the final chapter, a query is posed: “Is there any space for hope?”  Authors and editors Fishman and McLaren believe so, explaining that hope stems from the “knowledge that we can act when the opportunity arises, and that we will act” (p. 355).  Schools thus become “centers of possibility” meaning that they are arenas of inquiry and dialogue, where connections are made, where learning occurs, and where participation is practiced.  

While such a thought likely appeals to all teachers and teacher educators, it will be most inspiring to activists and teachers already engaged in working to transform schools into spaces of social justice.  Fischman, McLaren, Sünker, and Lankshear’s volume offers compelling arguments and insightful strategies; I hope it will produce converts as well.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 1, 2006, p. 73-76
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12073, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 3:10:24 PM

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About the Author
  • Meg Riordan
    New York University
    E-mail Author
    MEGAN RIORDAN is a former English and ESL teacher and has taught middle school, high school and university students in the United States and as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kazakhstan. She will receive her Ph.D. in Education from New York University in the fall. Her research focuses on experiential education, primarily students learning through internships, projects, and out-of –classroom activities. For the past three years, she has conducted research on The Big Picture Company’s internship-based high school design and the organization’s efforts to scale-up their design to sites across the country. In collaboration with Joe McDonald and Emily Klein, she has co-authored four reports on the challenges and strategies of scaling-up. The reports can be found at: http://www.nyu.edu/iesp/. In addition, she also co-authored a report on the use of non-formal institutions such as museums, parks, and gardens to teach math and science. This article will appear in the Research in Science Education in the fall of 2005.
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