Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Using Storytelling to Break the Silence That Binds Us to Sameness in Our Schools

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Using Storytelling to Break the Silence That Binds Us to Sameness in Our Schools

Article excerpt

This qualitative study explores storytelling as a staff development strategy to break the silence surrounding cultural difference in schools and to view differences as key elements of teaching and learning. Stories, interviews, and observations were the data for constructing meaning of existing school cultures with a long history of promoting reform without attention to constructs of race/ethnicity, class, and gender. Findings suggested that (a) stories of urban educators contain historical and socio-cultural ideologies that have shaped American education; and (b) storytelling, if combined with opportunities for dialogue and inquiry can help to break the silence surrounding cultural differences in schools.


The K-12 student population in urban, suburban, and rural schools across the nation is more diverse than ever before (Berman, McLaughlin, McLeod, Minicucci, Nelson, & Woodworth, 1997; Darling-Hammond, 1997; Nieto, 2002). Yet paradoxically, while there is more diversity in our schools there is also more sameness-a "paradigm of sameness" continues to perpetuate the status quo and to promote reform without difference in most American schools. A paradigm suggests patterns or examples that may guide our way of thinking and behaving. Sameness refers to the adherence to the view that, "European American culture is [as] the dominant culture of public schools" (Spring, 2006, p. 132) and the refusal of most policymakers, administrators, teachers, and community members to challenge this position. The paradigm of sameness is magnified in city schools that have become places solely for the poor and children of color (Anyon, 1997; Darling-Hammond, 1997; Frankenberg, Lee & Orfield, 2003). "The literature suggests that minority schools are also associated with low parental involvement, lack of resources, less experienced and credentialed teachers, and higher teacher turnover-all of which combine to exacerbate educational inequality for minority students" (Frankenberg & Lee 2002, p. 5).

Paradigms, transmitted across generations through the stories that we tell about ourselves and others, are often difficult to change. Stories of student deficits, poor family structures, genetic explanations about achievement, and cultural mismatch theories often persist within the culture of schools (Miller-Lachmann & Taylor, 1995; Scheurich & Skria, 2003; Williams, 2003) and serve to preserve the paradigm of sameness. Such stories contain unexamined beliefs and assumptions about cultural differences and what is and what is not considered normal behavior as determined by middle-class norms and expectations of a European American culture, often dominated by a White male orientation (Apple, 1996; Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986; Collins, 1990; Gordon, 1995; Sleeter & McLaren, 1995; Trumbull, Greenfield, & Quiroz, 2003).

Some fifty years after the legal victories of Brown I and Brown II (1954, 1955) a paradigm of sameness describes the silence in our schools about issues of cultural diversity and our refusal to use the markers of diversity-race/ethnicity, class, and gender-as variables to consider in-school restructuring or reform. Restructuring, as first order change, improves on existing innovations and practices without changing the school and how adults and children perform their roles. In most cases, difficult issues such as race/ethnicity, class, and gender do not become points of analysis in schools. Instead, a "culture of Whiteness" (McLaren, 1995, p. 50) that emerged from the bedrock of American cultural outlook termed the Protestant-Republican ideology shapes our meanings and perceptions of cultural difference. The culture of Whiteness includes

The sacredness and fragility of the republican polity (including ideas about individualism, liberty, and virtue); the importance of individual character in fostering social mobility; the central role of personal industry in defining rectitude and merit; the delineation of a highly respected but limited domestic roles for women; the importance for character building of familial and social environment (within certain racial and ethnic limitations); the sanctity and social virtues of property; the equality and abundance of economic opportunity in the United States; the superiority of American Protestant culture; the grandeur of America's destiny; and the necessity of a determined public effort to unify America's polyglot population, chiefly through education. …

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