Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

"Things Get Glossed Over": Rearticulating the Silencing Power of Whiteness in Education

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

"Things Get Glossed Over": Rearticulating the Silencing Power of Whiteness in Education

Article excerpt

   I think it's almost easier to teach diversity issues [in a racially
   diverse school]. You just have to find different ways to work it in
   a predominantly White school ... like some things just get glossed
   over. ... There are comments people make, and you can choose to
   ignore them.

   Phoebe

Phoebe, (1) a White (2) beginning teacher, argued from her experience observing and teaching at two schools with differing racial demographics that it was easier for a White teacher to talk about "diversity issues" in a racially diverse school than in a predominantly White school. Although she said that discussing these issues can be difficult for White teachers in a racially diverse school "because you might feel like you're offending certain people," she asserted that it was harder to "work [multicultural issues] in or just even address when [they] come up" in a predominantly White school.

In many ways, Phoebe's analysis seems counterintuitive--why would it be easier for a White teacher to talk about issues of race in a predominantly African American class than it is in a classroom where she and all her students are White? Given contemporary tensions about race, one might think that a White teacher would be more wary of discussing race in a racially diverse setting. Yet White teachers in White-dominated educational settings are indeed likely to "gloss over" issues of race, racism, and White supremacy. This article will explore ways of talking, interacting, and thinking that may contribute to this "glossing over" by White teachers and students. This research draws from critical studies of Whiteness, which shows that Whiteness privileges Whites and oppresses people of color in our classrooms as in our society, and it also explores how the interactional styles of White people in White-dominated educational settings impede movement toward progressive, anti-racist education.

STUDY OVERVIEW

This research study reports on data collected in White-dominated (3) educational settings--an eighth-grade classroom and university student-teaching seminar--for more than a year. Shelby Malone was the student teacher in the eighth-grade classroom, and she described herself as a liberal, White, middle-class teacher who was frustrated in her attempts to have her students critically engage with issues of race, racism, and White supremacy. Students in the eighth-grade classroom all identified themselves as White and lived in a small, affluent village near our midwestern state university town. Students in the university seminar, including Ms. Malone, all identified as White and ranged in their familiarity with discussions of racism and White supremacy, but all had self-selected into a student-teaching seminar that focused on multicultural issues and expressed a commitment to and interest in exploring the impact of race and racism on their teaching. They had spent a semester together in an English methods class prior to participation in the study. I, the study author, am a White woman and was the co-leader of this seminar; I included myself in the study in keeping with feminist and critical concerns about the relationship between the "observer" and the "observed" (cf. Behar, 1993; Lather & Smithies, 1997) and to address concerns of such scholars as Hurtado and Stewart (1997), who argued, "It is critical for scholars exploring the meaning of Whiteness to articulate the implications of their own relation to Whiteness" (p. 308).

This study explains how the worldview or cultural model of Whiteness was activated and brought to life in White-dominated educational contexts through a collection of ways of speaking, interacting, and thinking that I call "White educational discourse." "White educational discourse" is a constellation of ways of speaking, interacting, and thinking in which White teachers gloss over issues of race, racism, and White supremacy in ways that reinforce the status quo, even when they have a stated desire to do the opposite. …

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