Rejecting Mediocrity and the Politics of Domestication

Article excerpt

Laying Down Invisible Boundaries

In the field of education, we tend to focus on three types of narratives: Narratives of despair (which usually describe deficit models of what one particular individual or group[s] of individuals is lacking or not doing); narratives of success (which describe an individual or group[s] of individuals who have successfully overcome challenges against all odds); and narratives of inspiration (which describe theoretical frameworks and/or inspirational perspectives).

All three of these narratives are useful in their own right, but they are truly useful when they lead us to transformative action. One way to move closer to this goal is by providing autobiographical analyses that more critically describe the messy and complicated space existing between success and failure, or interspatial narratives. That is, the space where we document how our ideological stances are tested and how our identities are threatened by domesticating norms. Therefore, instead of focusing on one extreme or the other (narratives of despair or narratives of success), and instead of calling on others to effect change (narratives of inspiration), interspatial narratives provide us with opportunities to engage in reflexive conversations at the nexus of success and failure. One of my goals is to incite us to take more decisive action in supporting beginning professors (and teachers) who are committed to enacting the multicultural, student-centered, socially relevant, and risky goals of the teacher education program we are claiming to uphold.

To this end, I wish to problematize taken-for-granted assumptions about the acculturation process in academe. In institutions of higher learning--just like in any community--all new members are either explicitly or implicitly required to conform to certain core values, beliefs and "ways of doing things" in whatever department and/or college in which they are hired. This normal process of acculturation is needed to become an effective member of an established community of practice. In fact, Vygotsky (1978), Bakhtin (1981, 1986), and Wertsch (1991) would argue that in order to gain access to and function productively in a community of practice, one must be able to engage in the relevant discourse (speech genre) associated to the specific sociocultural context(s) in which we work.

However, in this essay, my intention (1) is to deconstruct a different and rarely discussed process of acculturation--domestication. The domestication of new faculty members in education programs is more problematic because the expectations to fit in are not there so that the program can grow and advance, but to keep the program immutable. Herein, I describe some of the challenges I encountered as I managed the contradictions between the expectations of senior colleagues, adjunct faculty, administrators, and student teachers and the actual goals of the teacher education program. I argue that the contradictions and tensions that arise--especially because I am Latino educator (2) committed to issues of social justice--could lead to domestication; that is, a negative process of acculturation by which one's ideals and commitment to work for social justice are tamed and reduced to fit dominant discursive practices.

An unfortunate, yet not surprising, by-product of domestication in teacher education is the treatment of the predominant curriculum as pasture. It follows that if faculty members are domesticated to conform to the established academic rituals and culture so that they could be awarded tenure and promotion, a related-casualty of the domestication process is the curriculum. In this case, instead of the curriculum being perceived as a site of struggle and representation (Pinar, 2004; Beyer & Apple, 1998), it is promoted as pasture--a place where established knowledge and predominant social practices are to be grazed upon uncritically and without reflection. Although closely related, this is not the theme of this chapter. …