Beyond Silenced Voices: Class, Race, and Gender in United States Schools

By Lois Weis; Michelle Fine | Go to book overview

and class. Instead, the work of Grant and others underscores the need to examine the historical specificity and variability of race and its nonsynchronous interaction with forms of class and gender structuration in education. Monolithic theories of racial inequality suppress such an understanding of these complexities and treat racial groups as biological and cultural "unities." 72

The nonsynchronous approach to the study of inequality in schooling alerts us to the fact that different race-class-gender groups not only have qualitatively different experiences in schools, but actually exist in constitutive tension, often engage in active competition with each other, receive different forms of rewards, sanctions, and evaluation, and are ultimately structured into differential futures. The critical theoretical and practical task, then, as Hall suggests, is one of "radically decoding" the specific relations and nuances of particular historical and institutional contexts:

One needs to know how different groups were inserted historically, and the relations which have tended to erode and transform, or to preserve these distinctions through time—not simply as residues and traces of previous modes, but as active structuring principles of the present society. Racial categories alone will not provide or explain these. 73

The work of Grant, Spring, and Sarup has furthered our understanding of the complex workings of race and other dynamics in educational institutions. 74 Their findings are also important in helping us to deconstruct the multiple determination of power in the school setting and the way in which such micropolitics can undermine the viability of conventional approaches to curriculum reform. What is abundantly clear is that monolithic or homogeneous strategies of curriculum reform that attempt to ignore or avoid the contradictions of race, class, and gender at the institutional level will be of limited usefulness to minority youth. At the same time, though, new approaches to race-relations reform in education must begin with a more sophisticated and robust conceptualization of the dynamic relations between minority and majority actors in the school setting. In this regard, efforts to get beyond essentialism, reductionism, and dogmatism in current theories of race relations in education would constitute a very good place to start.

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