Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Behind the Mask and beneath the Story: Enabling Students-Teachers (1) to Reflect Critically on the Socially-Constructed Nature of Their "Normal" Practice

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Behind the Mask and beneath the Story: Enabling Students-Teachers (1) to Reflect Critically on the Socially-Constructed Nature of Their "Normal" Practice

Article excerpt

In this article, we present our on-going research into two different pedagogical projects within teacher credential courses: one in critical multicultural education and the other in foundations of education. The data were gathered in Northern California and in Colorado. Both projects were designed to help students-teachers become more aware of how they relate to their own students, and of the knowledge that they take for granted as normal. In particular we were interested in the body of knowledge that may be called "cultural whiteness." While the definition of whiteness is variously understood (Howard, 2000; Fine, 1997; Maher & Tetreault, 2001; McIntosh, 1989; McIntyre, 1997; Sleeter, 1993), we are focusing in this article, after Hytten and Adkins (1999), on its cultural dimension. Cultural whiteness is a collection of (usually less than conscious) norms, values, and beliefs, or cultural scripts that function in specific contexts to reproduce the practices and identities that support white institutional privilege and advantage.

There is a growing body of evidence indicating that we, as teachers, tend to privilege students who are like ourselves in racial, class, and cultural terms. If we do not become more conscious of this tendency, we shall not be able to address, and if necessary modify, our role in reproducing current inequities and inequalities in education (Shulman, 1992). A lack of awareness in this area also means that we shall not be able to fully pursue the mission of becoming anti-racist, critical multicultural educators, a goal to which many of us are consciously committed. Given the above tendency, if we are going to meet the needs of all of our students in the classroom, we need to reflect on how our own social and cultural assumptions and our complex and often contradictory identities are influencing our teaching practice. Fulfilling the goal of education for social justice requires that we become self-reflective educators (Freire, 1993).

Of course, teachers, most of whom are white, need to be motivated if they are going to do this self-reflective work. However, motivation is not sufficient for transformative self-reflection to take place. Knowledge is constructed in social interaction. Many if not most of us have never learned to think far outside of the cultural boxes within which we grew up. Some of us took tentative steps to relate to others outside of our cultural boxes as children or young adults. However, as Thandeka (1999) describes, white children are often greeted with censure by their parents when their opinions don't reflect the parents' attitudes toward minorities, friends, or others in their social networks, and fearing the loss of these significant others, they retreat. Unless all people are offered, in a supportive environment, alternative ways of conceptualizing, feeling, and experiencing the world, we shall not be able to see the relative and culturally positioned nature of our own consciousness and knowledge. Nor shall we be able to question what we have come to think of as normal in terms of how we define 'the good student' and legitimate educational knowledge.

In this article, we use the term 'cultural scripts' to refer to the different images and messages manifested in our relations with others, in books and other media, and in institutional procedures and public policy that influence how we think, feel, and act in the world (Gee, 2000). (2) We actively interpret these cultural scripts that we meet in social contexts in ways that make sense to us, and we make these interpretations our own. Some cultural scripts are ubiquitous, representing the shared socio-economic interests of the most powerful individuals and groups in our society. Because these scripts are so dominant and omnipresent, we often--less than consciously--make them our own. This process occurs even when we see ourselves as representing alternative cultural scripts.

The two projects discussed in this paper attempt to contribute to resolving this now familiar dilemma in teacher education--bridging the gap between teacher intentions and practice that is shaped not by these intentions but by cultural scripts of which we are less than aware. …

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