Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Reflective Cultural Portfolio: Identifying Public Cultural Scripts in the Private Voices of White Student Teachers

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Reflective Cultural Portfolio: Identifying Public Cultural Scripts in the Private Voices of White Student Teachers

Article excerpt

Human beings have a tendency to believe what we want to believe about ourselves. We tend, at least occasionally, to express intentions that are disconnected from our practice. Although we believe in our own rhetoric, we are often unaware of the cultural scripts--different ways of thinking, feeling, believing, and acting--that shape our actions. Even those of us who have been consciously working within the field of critical multicultural education for many years may sometimes marginalize students who come from different backgrounds than ourselves and then rationalize our actions. The human ability to rationalize is enormous (Clark & O'Donnell, 1999). We are particularly likely to ascribe our cultural whiteness to reasonable and legitimate causes that are unrelated to the real, less-than-conscious, and less comfortable cultural scripts that influence our practice. Although it is be yond the scope of this article to fully explore the contested and extremely complex nature of cultural whiteness, in general it is represented by those institutionalized cultural scripts that function to preserve White socioeconomic and political privilege in the existing hierarchy. To perform this function, cultural whiteness is ever changing and passed on from generation to generation. Similar to other cultural processes, cultural whiteness is largely invisible to most people who embrace its tenets and who benefit from it. In an educational context, cultural whiteness refers to a set of dominant cultural scripts that privilege pedagogy and curricula that work best for upper- and middle-class White students. In schools, as in other institutional settings, rationalizing that our egalitarian rhetoric and practice are the same thing can have serious negative consequences.

Given these consequences, how can we enable student teachers to become more aware of the cultural scripts that are really shaping their practice, particularly those, such as cultural whiteness, that they do not consciously embrace? The main objective of this article is to describe and evaluate one of the activities, the "cultural portfolio" that I use in my teacher education classroom to help my student teachers reflect on these public cultural scripts that shape their practices. First, however, I frame the issue with a story and define cultural "whiteness." Next, I look at the current political and economic climate that affects teacher education and the kinds of reflective practice that will enable teachers and student teachers to identify their cultural scripts. Following this, I look at my own cultural whiteness. Then, before I introduce the cultural portfolio, I describe some of the work that has been done in the field of reflective teacher education that has helped me to develop pedagogical approaches to addressing how we can recognize and, if necessary, transform the public cultural scripts in our private voices.

ADDRESSING WHITENESS IN TEACHER EDUCATION

During a course in Cross-Cultural Communication that I used to teach, I invited my husband, Babatunde Lea, to present to my students. Babatunde Lea is a jazz musician and the program director of the nonprofit Educultural Foundation that we cofounded. The purpose of the organization is to teach critical thinking about social and cultural issues through music and the arts to elementary through college students.

During a break in the class, a well-intentioned White, middle-aged, and middle-class student, whom I shall call "Tess" approached Babatunde and asked him why he dressed and wore his hair as he did if he knew that it made her and her friends feel uncomfortable. Tess was referring to the fact that Babatunde wears his hair in dreadlocks and usually dresses in African garb. During dialogue earlier on in class, Babatunde had opened the door to Tess's question by telling the class that in his view the way he and some other African American people dressed and wore their hair made some White people feel uncomfortable. …

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