Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Whiteness as a Dissonant State: Exploring One White Male Student Teacher's Experiences in Urban Contexts

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Whiteness as a Dissonant State: Exploring One White Male Student Teacher's Experiences in Urban Contexts

Article excerpt


I feel like a boxer who has to bob and weave to stay out of the reach of the many things that are trying to pull [my] attention away from what I should be working on. From dealing with administration, trying to keep students engaged, stopping fights and on and on ... At the end of the day, I feel like I have not accomplished what I wanted ...

--Brett, March written reflection

I think I'm ready to teach. I'm totally confident that I know what I'm talking about and what I can do. So yeah, I just need to get the chance. That's all.

--Brett, April interview

Brett--a middle-aged, White, preservice teacher (PST)--was participating in final research interviews at the end of student teaching. He expressed confidence that he was ready to enter his own classroom, provided he "get[s] the chance." Yet, as the above quotations highlight, only a month prior, Brett had much more doubt and confusion about his role as a future educator. Originally part of a larger study focused on preservice mathematics teachers' levels of cognitive dissonance during fieldwork, Brett's stories intrigued us. As Stake (1995) suggests, studying Brett's case became "a given"; we felt "obligated to take it as the object of study" (p. 3) as it became clear that Brett's experiences were informed as much by traditionally accepted university-school divide/dissonance as by White Fragility (DiAngelo, 2011), Colorblind Racism (Bonilla-Silva, 2013), and White Emotionality (Matias, 2016). In Brett's work with historically minoritized children in an under-resourced school--defined by Milner (2012) as an urban-characteristic school--we witnessed how he struggled to make sense of his goals and realities.

With this in mind, it became increasingly important to us to understand how Brett experienced dissonance and his Whiteness to consider how to better prepare White PSTs to work with minoritized youth in urban schools. As we considered how these frameworks interacted and informed one another, we were seeking to unearth new ways to examine PSTs' experience with issues of race and racism. Using data from interviews and written reflections, and to a lesser extent classroom observations and artifacts, our study centered on one focal research question:

Research Question 1: In what ways are cognitive dissonance and issues of Whiteness reflected in one White student teacher's experience in an urban setting?

Below we outline our theoretical framework and highlight relevant literature. Next, we describe our methodology and positionality before discussing findings, where we argue three main points: (a) Brett made sense of his dissonance through either explanations or rationalizations that seemed exclusively related to Whiteness, (b) Brett's ideas about perseverance were emblematic of this overall struggle, and (c) Brett's more frequent use of rationalizations to make sense of dissonance in the field is an example of Whiteness as dissonance. We conclude with implications for research and practice.

Theoretical Framework

In this study, we drew upon elements from several theoretical models, both cognitive and sociocultural. We utilized the framework of Cognitive Dissonance Theory (CDT; Festinger, 1957) first, and then considered how several related components of Critical Whiteness Studies (CWS; Bonilla-Silva, 2013; DiAngelo, 2011; Matias, 2016) serve as useful lenses through which to more carefully examine Brett's story. Important for this study, CDT and CWS utilized together provide a new, arguably more comprehensive lens through which to analyze PSTs' development. Although cognitive dissonance continues to be used in studies across education and was an initially useful frame for our work, this and other cognitive theories of development have been criticized for a lack of attention to the impact of social contexts on learning. Guerin (2001) suggests, for example, that, "instead of looking for cognitive dissonance . …

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