Academic journal article Journal of Curriculum Theorizing

Speaking as an Alien: Is a Curriculum in a Third Space Possible?

Academic journal article Journal of Curriculum Theorizing

Speaking as an Alien: Is a Curriculum in a Third Space Possible?

Article excerpt

As an international person, every time I fill out any official form, I am reminded of my status: an alien. Studying and teaching in a foreign country as an alien, I position myself in "a third space" (Wang, 2004) which embraces contradictions, ambiguity, and "aporia" (Derrida, 1993) to address the complicated issue of identity across the conflicting doubles of culture and gender so that new subjectivities can be generated. If cacophony in the curriculum field (Marshall, et al., 2000), I would argue, is not leading to fragmented disarray but moving towards a shifting realm in which imagination and inspiration can be sparked, can we gesture towards conflicting directions to cultivate the birth of new theories and perspectives? Being an alien in terms of curriculum identities and personal identity points me towards a new space beyond unity, dichotomy, or separation. Such a new space, which I would like to term a "third" space, is what I am going to discuss in this essay from the identity of the teacher especially in dealing with diversity issues.

Walking into the university classroom teaching multicultural education, I thought that as a person neither white nor black, not even an American, I might be able to have a third space beyond the dichotomy of black/white to teach critically. My illusion was broken on the very first day of my class. A third space can not be assumed; it must be created. For me as a Chinese woman who teaches in an American educational field, the very status as an alien in multiple senses opens up a complex site on which I must try to dig tunnels in order to come out reaching new grounds. Such is also the challenge to educators who are situated in multiple worlds of both themselves and their students in a general sense. To take this challenge, I am going to elaborate on the possibility of generating a curriculum in a third space which signals mutual transformation and creation.

On the Margin of Two Cultures: Can I Refuse To Be Americanized?

   Were not all hometowns foreign towns at the beginning? Is the
   so-called hometown actually the last place where our ancestors
   stopped in their wandering journey? (Ming Yang, quoted in Yu, 1992,
   p. 4)

   I contend that encounters between cultures shape and transform those
   cultures, that encounters between cultures shape and transform those
   cultures, not so they all become the same, but such that neither
   exists as pure and unmediated--outside a conversation. (Susan
   Edgerton, 1996, pp. 15-16)

The status as an alien indicates not fully belonging to either the old setting or the new setting. Standing on the margins of two worlds, the alien gives up the privileges of both worlds but has a unique opportunity to see two landscapes simultaneously. Such a posture of not confining the self in the boundary of one view carves out the potential of going beyond the limit to reach new shores. Acknowledging the new possibilities an alien can bring, Edward Said (1996) calls for intellectual exile as a necessary ground on which intellectuals constantly unsettle both self and other. Such instability and movement in exile supports critical attitudes towards the taken-for-granted of both old home and new home. According to chaos and complexity theory, the most generative and creative site exists on the edge of chaos and order (Doll, 1998).

Situated on the margin of the new and the old, the edge can take one to new levels of order out of chaos. Such is a generative chaos rather than a total disarray. Discussing the painful process in which Asian Pacific American children become Americans, Russell Young (1998) suggests the need for cultivating bicultural identity which acknowledges these children's home cultures. I remain doubtful about the coexistence of two different cultures without addressing the conflicts and contradictions of the two in a generative rather than a resolvable way. While the domination of one culture needs to be questioned, how can we simultaneously recognize both cultures when the new overpowers the old? …

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