Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

You Can't Teach Where You Don't Know: Fusing Place-Based Education and Whiteness Studies for Social Justice

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

You Can't Teach Where You Don't Know: Fusing Place-Based Education and Whiteness Studies for Social Justice

Article excerpt

Place-based education is a powerful pedagogical tool that helps students understand how social ideas can impact their local communities. Through the study of place education gains meaning and relevance by addressing tangible content that is not separated by time or space. In contemporary practice, using the place as content is a viable means for increasing student achievement, increasing community involvement, and shifting the focus of education away from testing.

Another important aspect of place-based education is that through this type of study, students are encouraged to examine and respond to the needs of their communities while gaining understanding of how local institutions function and social relationships shape experiences of privileged and marginalized groups. Place-based education locates educational practices in familiar contexts where students are not only encouraged to critically examine relationships and institutional practices but also to create actions that stimulate change. Grandiose political platforms can set agendas and contexts for change, but substantive change happens at the local grassroots level. Immersing students into these grassroots contexts and connecting learning to the needs of the community actively engages students with clear, achievable goals and fosters the connection between academic standards with specific needs. Although efforts students may take as they move forward in their projects have the real possibility of not coming to fruition, engaging in the process creates a space in which students can see the interaction of ideas, actions, and the community.

Identity has various sources and meanings. First, it relates to the concept of rootedness or place, arising in psychological conceptions of oneself. Barbara J. Fields (1985) takes the meaning of place beyond the physical by stating that it is a psychological condition that grows out of concrete historical conditions and interests (p. 59). There is a second notion of place that goes beyond Fields's argument. Soren Kierkegaard professed that freedom of consciousness, can only be achieved by individuals once they leave their social context (Beabout, 1996). However, the psychological rejection of the immediate past for a manufactured, romanticized place, is a natural extension of the redemptive nature of the imagined community that, as Jurgen Habermas (1992) believes, the individual is absorbed into. For instance, telling oneself that America was always different, and thus better, and positioning oneself for this romantic view as one lives, is not enough for the individual. If this becomes a collective action, it is then replaced by a construction of a past that was taken away or stolen by some oppressor (federal government or big business). This dehumanization of the past, and of schooling, has manifested itself in a curricular modality that focuses on profitability over community (Theobald & Curtiss, 2000) and accountability that disregards not only the place, but the individuals that occupy that place (Gruenewald, 2005). Romanticism is then a result of economic oppression, not against the group, but against the individual. This is similar to the Zionist argument of Marcus Garvey in advocating for a return to Africa (Martin, 1976). When social capital becomes secondary to economic capital in the schools, community devolves into a society of individuals instead of a society of social beings. Theobald (2009) suggests that community is an, "Authentic process of sharing, negotiating, and finding meaning in social experiences" (p. 137).

A significant issue many American communities face is the prevalent shift in demographics. Recently, U.S. Census projections show that racial minorities will become the numeric majority by 2047, and educators are beginning to see resistance to this trend. Although multiculturalism and diversity training has been a centerpiece of curriculum and has become infused into the grammar of schooling, there remains a gap in academic achievement between White and non-White students. …

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