Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

Unraveling the Meritocratic Myth: Oppression and Conflict in the Emergence of Critical Educator Subjectivities

Academic journal article Vitae Scholasticae

Unraveling the Meritocratic Myth: Oppression and Conflict in the Emergence of Critical Educator Subjectivities

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Why do some things that seem to be placidly accepted by my co-educators outrage me? Why do I see and thus resist oppression that others do not? In sum, how did I come to develop the subjectivities of a critical educator? By critical, I mean an educator whose teaching methodology and subject matter are strongly shaped by an understanding of and desire to end the suffering caused by overt and covert oppression. (1) Young has suggested an appropriate methodology for formally answering this question: "Feminist scholars have advocated using personal narratives in examining women's experiences as primary centers of knowledge and interrogating the intersections of race, gender, and class in shaping women's identities." (2) Furthermore, some of the critical scholars whose work has had the greatest impact upon me--Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Paulo Freire, and Gloria Anzaldua--used autoethnographic methods in their scholarly work. Thus, I use autoethnography to research the emergence of my critical educator subjectivities, in particular my understanding of oppression.

Foucault's analytics of power/knowledge (3) along with Collins (4) work on oppression and power/knowledge form my analytical framework. Accordingly, I focus on schooling conflicts I experienced that changed my subjectivities, specifically, that induced my understandings or knowledge of oppression. Sites where these formative conflicts took place include my student experiences in elementary, undergraduate, and graduate school as well as my experiences as a middle school science teacher. This paper is arranged into five sections: The first provides the rationale for the study. The second section describes the analytical framework. The third section describes the methodology. The fourth section presents my findings and analysis. The final section discusses the implications of my findings and suggests avenues for further research.

1.1 Rationale

In the rationale I describe how this research contributes to scholarly literature and argue that the development of critical educators benefits students in schools and society in general.

1.1a Contributions to the Critical Educator Literature

This research contributes to the literature on critical education by adding to our understanding of the variety of processes by which people become critical educators, especially people whose cultures have been marginalized. While my experiences comprise but one strand in a rhizome of knowledge, (5) and thus cannot be directly generalized to the development of all critical educators, when combined with other analyses of the development of critical educators, diverse commonalities may begin to emerge. This autoethnography necessarily only presents a partial perspective of my experiences. However, it is at the same time larger, reaching out to intersect with the lives of other critical educators, clashing in some places and melding in other places. As Jacques Derrida said, "Each story ... is at once larger and smaller than itself." (6) My story is larger in part because it helps us to understand the diverse paths of development for those who become critical educators, teaching for social justice.

1.1b How Critical Educators Benefit Students and thus Society

According to Cochran-Smith et al, (7) one of the defining qualities of those who teach for social justice is that they focus on the learning of every student in their classroom. In their qualitative study of beginning teachers, they found:

   Contrary to charges that teacher education for social justice
   concentrates on "touchy-feely" goals and ignores learning ... we
   found that every single participant in the study emphasized pupil
   learning when asked what it means to teach for social justice. (8)

Because critical educators focus on the learning of all students, they are especially crucial to students who are oppressed as indicated in part by the fact that their schools continue to disproportionately fail to educate them. …

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