The New Politics of Race and Gender: The 1992 Yearbook of the Politics of Education Association

By Catherine Marshall | Go to book overview

5

The micro-politics of student voices: Moping from diversity of bodies to diversity of voices in schools

Gary L. Anderson and Kathryn Herr

Traditional approaches to the politics of schooling have failed to examine students’ struggles to construct an identity within the cultural politics of school life. This study describes how institutional silencing works to drive student voice inward, thus making their daily struggles invisible. Data from a study based on student oral histories are analyzed to illustrate the micro-politics of student voice. Mikhail Bakhtin’s work on legitimated and non-legitimated voice is used to provide a conceptual framework for the data. The dysfunctionality of social myths like color-blindness, meritocracy, and equal opportunity, are discussed and recommendations for a deeper and more political conceptualization of multicultural education are provided.

The 1980s have left in their wake a neoconservative backlash against affirmative action, the cynical characterization of concern for poor and disenfranchised groups as ‘political correctness’, and a resegregation of the United States of America’s schools. In spite of all of this, ‘diversity’ is still in vogue in most social institutions, and educational institutions generally support the notion of diversity and multiculturalism. As Sleeter (1991) points out, however, there is a generalized misunderstanding of what diversity and multiculturalism mean. Sleeter argues that too often it means curricular add-ons, or merely having a culturally diverse student body. Baptiste (1986) claims that multiculturalism must move beyond the mere addition of courses or formalization of certain experiences to ‘a highly sophisticated internalization of the process of multiculturalism combined with a philosophical orientation that permeates all components of the educational entity’ (p. 308).

This chapter will argue that, regardless of how well-meaning, educational institutions cannot move from ‘soft’ definitions of multiculturalism to more sophisticated ones without an understanding of the role the educational institution plays in the identity struggles of its students. The interface of dominant institutional norms and the struggle of students to form an identity constitute a micro-political stuggle which takes place under the noses, but outside the consciousness, of most educational institutions. In addition, the chapter argues that when various voices within the students are not legitimated by the larger institution, even the students themselves lose access to those parts of themselves that might challenge institutional assumptions and explanations, thereby effectively ‘silencing’ themselves. The oral history process utilized in the research works to legitimate voices that might otherwise fall silent.


The micro-political perspective

Traditionally the study of the politics of education has been about conflict over vested interests, ideological commitments, and material resources. Studies of these conflicts have tended to focus on state and federal legislatures, school boards, special interest

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