Whiteness and White Identity in Multicultural Education

By Sheets, Rosa Hernandez | Multicultural Education, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Whiteness and White Identity in Multicultural Education


Sheets, Rosa Hernandez, Multicultural Education


Introduction

Although scholars generally agree that teachers and the ways in which they are prepared are major factors in school improvement (Holmes Group, 1986; King, Hollins, & Hayman, 1997; Melnick & Zeichner, 1997), some educators presume that the race dilemma in the United States can be solved in teacher preparation foundation courses such as multicultural education. The current White movement in teacher preparation, positioned in multicultural education courses, clearly indicates that the pedagogical insights of basic teacher preparation components and the content-purpose of multicultural education can be conceptualized differently when analyzed through diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural orientations. Since this growing trend, attempting to link White race consciousness to effective multicultural pedagogy, appears to be either embraced or ignored by multicultural proponents, a purpose of this review is to explicitly address whether this discourse advances the field.

Two books viewed as representative of this movement are reviewed. One is part of the Teachers College Press Multicultural Education Series, entitled Race and Culture in the Classroom: Teaching and Learning Through Multicultural Education by Mary A. Dilg, published in 1999, and the other is Making Meaning of Whiteness: Exploring the Racial Identity of White Teachers by Alice McIntyre, issued in 1997 as part of the State University of New York Press Social Context of Education series. This essay points out how the White movement affects the conceptualization of multicultural education, its subsequent translation to practice, and its vision of educating all children equitably.

Helms' (1990) seminal work on White identity racial theory, Tatum's (1992) application of White identity theory to the psychology of racism, Derman-Sparks and the A.B.C. Task Force's (1989) development of anti-racist curriculum for early childhood curriculum, McIntosh's (1989) conceptualization of White privilege, and Sleeter's (1993) examination of Whiteness in multicultural education serve as precursors to the burgeoning publications linking White identity development, the disease of racism, and the study of Whiteness to multicultural education. White studies in multicultural education courses generally focus on helping White teachers understand the process of White identity development. The assumption is made that race consciousness is an essential predisposition to eradicating racist polices and practices in schooling (Cochran-Smith, 1995; Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1998; Sleeter & McLcLaren, 1995).

White identity stage theory (Helms, 1990) and the racism inherent in the socialization process in which White identity develops become part ofa theoretical framework guiding the preparation of teachers in multicultural foundational courses or in anti-racism curriculum courses. The rationale for including this content in multicultural education, other than the need for White teachers to acknowledge their dominant social position, generally includes facts and figures about the demographic changes in the teacher-student ratio in the United States (e.g., White teachers are the teaching majority and children of color comprise the majority of the student population in our nation's public schools) (McIntyre, 1997; Sleeter, 1993).

While scholars of White racial identity theorize a relationship between the stages of White racial identity development and the presence of racist attitudes (Helms, 1990; Richardson & Silvestri, 1999), they do not associate White racial identity development to teaching competency. Presently, there is no data to substantiate a causal relationship between White racial identity development and teacher competency in culturally diverse classrooms or in segregated classrooms. Nonetheless, some teacher educators profess that a purpose of multicultural education is to change White pre-service teachers' perceptions about their "race-privileged" status and examine any racist attitudes they may have about children, families, and communities of color (Lawrence, 1997; Sleeter, 1993). …

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