Unraveling the meritocratic myth: oppression and conflict in the emergence of critical educator subjectivities.
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.
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. To educate all students, teachers must make their lessons relevant to the lives of all their students. (9) When educators ignore the various educational and societal obstacles faced by many students their lessons become irrelevant to these students' lives. And if the school curriculum seems unrelated to their lives, students tend to lose interest and motivation to learn. (10) Thus, if we wish to educate all students to participate knowledgeably in democratic society, it is important to develop critical educators. Knowing the diverse developmental paths taken by critical educators will also provide useful insights for teacher education programs that seek to develop social justice educators and whose students are becoming increasingly diverse.
An equally important reason that teachers should educate critically is to dispel the prevalent myth that the US is a meritocracy. The myth of meritocracy assures both disadvantaged students and more privileged students that the more privileged students and their families prevail because of their merit and that students and families who suffer oppression do so because of their lack of merit; it also influences teachers and administrators to believe that less privileged students and their families are not as successful because they are deficient in some way. (11) Such understandings negatively affect both the teaching and learning of students who have been and are oppressed in our society. We must have critical educators who integrate the acknowledgement of and resistance to oppression into their teaching so that education is more relevant and motivating to students whom schools have disproportionately failed to educate.
2. A Foucauldian Analytical Framework
My analytical framework is primarily based upon Michel Foucault's understanding of power/knowledge and subjectivity. In this section I describe what Foucault (12) means by power, his ideas about the relationships among power, knowledge and subjectivity, and the individual. While Foucault's ideas form my overarching analytical framework, because knowledge of and resistance to oppression is integral to critical education, I integrate Patricia Hill Collins' (13) more specific findings regarding the relationship between one's positioning within a web of power and developing the knowledge (or understandings) of oppression.
2.1 A Foucauldian Analytics of Power
Foucault claimed that power is never inert, but always in action, acting upon people to induce some actions and proscribe others. (14) He explained "Power is never localized here or there ... [Rather it] is employed and exercised through a net-like organization." (15) Thus, power is not statically located in laws, economic structures or formal positions of power, but rather these macro structures arise out of a dynamic web of micropractices, in other words everyday social practices. Foucault claimed that this web of power circulates around conflict or potential conflict, (16) which forms its nexuses. These nexuses of power are mutually supporting, acting to maintain current power relations; at the same time, because they are interconnected, if one nexus is changed, the change may ripple out to influence the entire web. (17) Further, for Foucault, conflicts are not necessarily overt (such as an argument) or violent (such as a fight or war). They can be far subtler and covert, such as conflicts over whether a belief system is a religion or a cult, the definition of love, or what it means to be gay. (18)
2.2 Power/Knowledge & Subjectivities
Foucault indicates, "Subjectivity is grounded in the exercise of power." (19) In other words, according to Foucault the exercise of power acts positively to induce certain types of subjectivities and negatively to inhibit other types of subjectivities. (20) Subjectivities are desires, expectations, values, attitudes and understandings and are fluid. (21) Our understandings of the world are particularly important subjectivities for Foucault. (22) Foucault claimed that there is no truth with a capital "T"; rather, those understandings that are supported by power relation are taken seriously and therefore referred to as knowledge. (23) Thus, power is a primary aspect of understandings that are referred to as knowledge. Further, Foucault maintained that power and knowledge have a reciprocal relationship. (24) While power induces us to take certain understandings seriously, understandings themselves are a type of power, which act to either support or resist other power relationships. (25) Together they form a web of power/knowledge.
2.3 Power: Exercised upon and by Individuals
Nevertheless, Foucault also maintains that individuals "are not [power's] inert or consenting target; they are always also the elements of its articulation. In other words, individuals are the vehicles of power, not its points of application ... [they] are always in the position of simultaneously undergoing and exercising this power." (26) Thus, for Foucault "One doesn't have here a power which is totally in the hands of one person who can exercise it alone and totally over the others ... [However,] everyone doesn't occupy the same position: certain positions preponderate and permit an effect of supremacy to be produced." (27) These effects of supremacy (and its necessary partner, subordination) induce particular subjectivities and thus particular understandings, depending upon where one is positioned within the web of power/knowledge and whether or not they resist those power relations. It is these effects of supremacy/subordination that I (and others, such as Collins) refer to as oppression. In their exercise of power, people may resist or support existing oppression.
2.4 Positionings within Power Relationships and Understandings of Oppression
Like Foucault, Collins cautions against a simplistic view of people as either oppressors or oppressed. She "emphasize[d] the importance of race, class, and gender as intersecting oppressions in shaping the U.S. matrix of domination." (28) And this "matrix of domination contains few pure victims or oppressors. Each individual derives varying amounts of penalty and privilege from the multiple systems of oppression, which flame everyone's lives." (29) Thus, for scholars such as Collins and Foucault, people cannot be neatly divided into groups of oppressors or oppressed--although, certainly some people do suffer more oppression than others. Rather, the degree and type of oppression suffered depends upon one's multiple positionings within power relations. Collins provides a Foucault-like description of the operation and effects of US systems of power relationships:
Domination operates by seducing, pressuring, or forcing ... members of subordinated groups, and all individuals to replace individual and cultural ways of knowing with the dominant group's specialized thought--hegemonic ideologies that in turn justify practices of other domains of power. (30)
As Foucault and Collins have indicated, most people experience both domination and subordination but in different manners and to different degrees. Furthermore, both scholars noted that individuals exercise power and thus may resist or acquiesce to oppressive power relations. Collins indicates that those who experience a particular type of oppression are also more likely to become aware of and resist that type of oppression.
On the other hand, Collins claimed that those on the upside of a power relationship are less likely to see power relations that act to privilege them.
Although most individuals have little difficulty identifying their own victimization within some major system of oppression--whether it be by race, social class, religion, physical disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age or gender--they typically fail to see how their thoughts and actions uphold someone else's subordination. (31)
Thus for Collins, those positioned on the downside of power relations are more likely to become aware of and resist oppression. Furthermore, if Collins is correct, then it is likely that people who become critical educators will become aware of the oppressions that most directly affect them more readily than they become aware of oppressive relations that less directly affect them.
In this section, I describe the method used in this autoethnographic research. I then describe my initial and current positionings in society as well as my relevant current subjectivities. Finally, I describe the process of data collection and selection.
3.1 Autoethnographic Method
This autoethnography incorporates key features of an analytic autoethnography described by Leon Anderson: "(1) complete member researcher (CMR) status, (2) analytic reflexivity, (3) narrative visibility of the researcher's sell and ... (4) commitment to theoretical analysis." (32) I engage in each of the above key features of analytic autoethnography in the following manner: (1) The only participant in this research is myself; this means that I have CMR status; (2) I engage in analytic reflexivity, by using a Foucauldian analytic framework to recursively examine my experiences and to pick out the important aspects of those experiences (described later in greater detail); (3) By repeatedly using the word "I" and its cognates in describing the participant and in describing the analytical methods that I use, I create narrative visibility of the researcher; (4) I use an analytical framework to reflect upon the theoretical implications of my findings, connecting them to existing theories and exploring their implications for building upon those theories. In addition, I hope my autoethnography will, "be invitational, provoking a visualization and exploration of resonant points within your own construction of identity, and as a means to engage those you have helped to create--intentionally or not--for others ..." Autoethnographies are often used to "examine the [role of socialization in] individual choice in the formation of public and private identities." (33) Thus, I examine how power relations acted upon and through me, as I developed the understandings of a critical educator. Accordingly, I focus on conflicts I experienced that were pivotal in my development of critical educator subjectivities, in particular, my understandings.
3.2 My Dynamic Positioning and Subjectivities
I grew up positioned subordinately as one of the poor, and as a girl in a polygamous fundamentalist Mormon culture. Living polygamy was and is still illegal. When I was four, my parents were arrested for living a polygamous lifestyle and we, the children, were removed from our home by social workers. My family fled to Mexico to escape persecution for our polygamous way of life. We returned to the US due to the dismal economic opportunities of Mexico. Although I was not aware of it until eighth grade, we were quite poor most of the time I was growing up. For example, I remember putting cardboard in my shoes to cover the holes in them when I was in elementary school. We lived Kalispell, Montana; Las Vegas, Nevada; a small border town in Mexico in rented homes, trailers, and once in a tent.
I was my mother's first child and my father's third child in a polygamous family. My mother, as the second wife, was subordinate to the first wife. (34) In addition, according to the beliefs of fundamentalist (aka, polygamous) Mormon communities, my mother had bad blood due to her Lamanite (Native American) ancestry, which she had passed onto her children. (My father has African American ancestry, but he steadfastly refuses to believe it despite genealogical evidence.) In practice, she was treated more like a servant than an equal. I was warned by community members to be careful that my bad blood did not cause me to err. Growing up, I was filled with anxiety about whether or not my bad blood was surfacing. In part to safeguard myself against my possibly deficit nature, I married at the age of 18. According to Mormonism, as God was to my husband, my husband was to me. In other words, he was to be my boss. I cringe now when I think of how much control I gave to him. My husband "allowed" me to begin taking college courses toward a medical degree. I got pregnant during the first semester of college and had my first son at the age of 19. By the time I was 22 I had three sons. I was (legally) an unwed mother of three with a high school education.
Currently, I am a single, middle-aged, female associate professor in the state of Texas. Because I look European American, I have largely been accorded the privileges of being White; however, my ancestry is also Native American and African American. During my 46 years in public schools, as a student, teacher, and professor, I learned how to pass as a White middle class woman of academia--unless I deliberately step out of that role. I now experience most of the privileges of a middle class European American in the US. However, my memories of being positioned as a second-class person within an illegal polygamous community and of being subordinately positioned as one of the poor and a woman (35) still shape the way I see the world. Further, the subjectivities engendered by my first 20 years of experiences continue to be a motivating factor for the critical way that I teach.
3.3 Using Analytical Reflexivity in my Data Collection and Selection
I began by asking myself what the pivotal events had been in my life at school, writing down whatever occurred to me. Then I asked myself what my critical educator subjectivities were. As indicated earlier, critical educators teach for social justices, seeking to overcome existing oppressions. Thus, for me (based partly upon my reading of a variety of critical theorists), these subjectivities are: a propensity for questioning (including questioning my own actions and ideas) as opposed to believing; (36) an avid desire for fairness; (37) recognizing the existing oppressions in our society, (38) while imagining a more desired future and seeing possibilities for change; (39) a desire to resist oppression of all types; (40) accepting uncertainty as unavoidable; (41) and a habit of seeking and telling the other side(s) or versions of a story (or counter-narratives). (42) I then read the different stories I had written down, seeking events relevant to these subjectivities. In doing so, I noticed that some stories did not directly relate to critical subjectivities. I removed the irrelevant stories from the file. I also thought of additional conflicts related to my development of the above subjectivities. I wrote these events down--focusing on the conflicts that were embedded in the events as well as my negotiation of those conflicts.
In reading, re-reading and coding these stories of conflict, I found that my critical educator subjectivities, more often than not, had emerged piecemeal through time. Due to space limitations, in this research I decided to primarily focus on the emergence of my understandings of oppression. Finally, I went through each of the stories and selected the complexes of conflicts in schools that were crucial to my emerging understandings of oppression. I arranged these experiences roughly in chronological order, explaining how they affected my understanding of oppression. My narrative represents my experiences, as I understand them at this time; however, like all other histories, they are dynamic and subject to change in the future.
The narrative developed by the above process fell into three different life stages. These three stages are childhood (0-18 years), my early 20s as a university student (undergraduate and graduate), and my late 20s (27-30) as a middle school science teacher. I discuss the pivotal conflicts in each of these time periods that helped to transform my understandings of oppression.
4.1 Childhood (0-18 years)
Education was highly valued by my parents; they demanded that we do well in school. At the age of six I entered school in Las Vegas, Nevada. Before long I learned that the US was a land of religious freedom via the story of the Pilgrims. This understanding created a major conflict, as this was not the truth my family had lived. Yet there was no space for our lived truth in school. Our lived truth in Foucauldian terms was a subjugated truth. (43) As will be seen later and as predicted by Foucault and Collins, these subjugated truths bore the seeds of my resistance and transformation. At the time I wondered if somehow I misunderstood my experience of watching my parents being taken away by the police for their religious practice of polygamy. I wondered whether school was wrong in this one area, but right in other areas or if there was something I did not yet understand that would make these two conflicting truths fit together. I was beginning to learn that "truth" was relative; it varied, depending upon the context--or you had to act as if it did. I also began to learn that school provided me with an alternative, more powerful positioning than my home community.
4.1a Alternative Relations of Power/Knowledge and Conflict
At school I began developing subjectivities related to my more powerful positioning. Because I appeared to be European American, I enjoyed the privileges of a White person. I did exceptionally well at school. I liked going to school because I had fun there and did not have to work as hard as I did at home. The adults thought well of me, showing it in many ways. For example, one of my paintings hung in my elementary school principal's office. Teachers often appointed me group leader. I was elected class president in third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. My ability to do well at school--in other words my positioning in school--became very important to me. This more powerful positioning helped to influence me to adopt the schools' understandings, even when the schools' understandings conflicted with those of my home. For example, in first grade one of my answers was marked wrong, when I was sure it was right (I had circled the letter "B" to represent the first sound of a picture of a bag). I couldn't understand why it was marked wrong. I summoned the courage to ask the teacher if she had made a mistake, but she replied that the correct answer was "S" for sack. I was upset, but I didn't say anything. I eventually decided that the better name must be "sack", not "bag" as I had learned at home. I also remember my fourth grade teacher saying that it would be a real shame if I did not go to college. Going to college became my fixed goal. My mother always blamed this teacher for putting ideas in my head. In Foucauldian terms, I was seduced by my more powerful positioning and the more powerful position of my teachers compared to my family, and acquiesced to the power/knowledge relationships of school. However, even as I acquiesced, I did not forget about the troubling contradiction regarding the freedom of religion in the US. I kept thinking that somehow this conflict about religious freedom would be resolved--that I could make sense of it somehow.
My first serious overt conflict with a schoolteacher came about when I was in seventh grade. Most of the students in my elementary school were from professional homes and the processes of my elementary education were as Jean Anyon described: creativity and thinking-things-out-for-yourself were stressed more than following rules. My seventh grade science class was a different story. I loved science and wanted to become a scientist. But my seventh grade science teacher simply gave us workbooks to read and fill in the answers. That was it, nothing else--no labs, no books, no field trips, and no class discussions. The teacher sat at the front of the room watching us to make sure we were doing the work. He had no joy in teaching science or us. He sorely disappointed me. My classmates and I became restless and resentful. We began to ignore the teacher, talking to each other instead. The teacher resorted to paddling students at the front of the room. One day I kept talking even after the teacher told me to stop. I was called down for a paddling in front of the class. This paddling-the only paddling I ever received--had absolutely no effect upon me. The paddling was very mild compared to the whippings I received at home. Further, by then it was a point of pride to be paddled by that teacher. This experience helped my later reading of scholars like Jean Anyon, providing me with a basis for understanding of how students might come to resist school. Nevertheless, I still made sure I learned everything I could and earned A's, keeping in mind my college goal even when we moved to a very small rural town, where the schools had no ambitions to send anyone to college. (44)
We moved to this small desert town when I was in eighth grade. I realized there that we were poor. Our classmates called us "sewer people," because someone found out we had an open sewage system. Our parents said they had to wait for another couple of paychecks for enough money to finish putting in the sewage system. Until then I hadn't conceptualized our family as poor. Throughout grade school and high school I eagerly accepted the meritocratic myth that the rich were rich because they somehow merited being so (hardworking and/or smart), while the poor were poor because they were stupid and/or lazy. By high school I really wanted to believe the meritocratic myth that if I studied hard in high school and college and worked hard, I could be successful and escape the humiliation and hardship of poverty. But, it also meant my parents, because they worked very hard, were not lazy; therefore, they must be stupid in some way that I did not understand.
My senior year was tiresome: we were still learning the same things over and over again, like the difference between verbs and nouns, which I remembered learning in the fourth grade. This interminable boredom caused me to make another break in my acquiescence to schooling. I began skipping school three or four times a month--I stayed home and read books. I wrote my own excuses for my absences. No one ever questioned my absences or my excuse notes. While I had questioned individual teachers before, this was the first time I rejected school as an institution. As Collins suggested, I first questioned and resisted a teacher and schooling as an institution when I was directly oppressed with meaningless tedium day after day, when attending school actually kept me from learning. Still, I made sure I kept my grades up and became valedictorian. I wanted to go to college to escape poverty and my home community.
4.1b Conflicting Understandings of Race and Gender
School also provided understandings that I wanted to believe more than those of my home community. At school I heard (at least formally) information about race and women that was different from that of home. The news and songs spoke of Black power, hippies, and a cultural revolution. We read essays and stories in school that conflicted with my home community's understandings about what it meant to be a girl. I found alternative, more positive constructions of women in books like Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time or in essays like Sojourner Truth's Ain't I a Woman? Of course there were troubling stories like The Princess and the Pea, where the weaker a woman was, the more desirable she was. I came to prefer the genre of science fiction in which women and people of color were equals to white men. Science fiction and essays over topics like Marie Curie's discovery of radioisotopes made me believe that I could become a scientist. However, my beliefs were not unitary. I had conflicting understandings of women's capabilities. I half believed that women were as smart and capable as men, but at the same time, I limited my reading to male authors--I wanted to make sure that I learned to think like a man. Like their conflicting, but preferable, understandings of women, schools' overt assertions about race conflicted with those of Mormonism. (45)
Literature in the school library, such as Sacajawea and A Dream Deferred by Richard Wright clearly conflicted with Mormon racist understandings of African Americans and Native Americans. Given my ancestry, I preferred school's construction of "Indians" to the Mormon community's construction of "Lamanites." I began avidly reading books about Native Americans (e.g., Chief Crazy Horse). In addition the demand for and lack of racial equality was in the air, as we watched the news and saw the marches, sit-ins, and riots, and speeches demanding equal rights. However, in the everyday context of high school in the small (almost entirely White) rural town of Nevada, during the early 1970s, many students were open racists. This contradiction led to a conflict in which I openly resisted racism.
I was sitting in the school library reading a book and heard some kids talking at another table. One of them was talking about "niggers" [quote] and questioning whether they really were as smart as Whites. There was a Black guy in the room within hearing distance of this conversation. If he had not been there, I probably would have just ignored them, but having been the butt directly and indirectly of many such conversations at home, I immediately imagined how he must feel. With a hot burst of anger, I turned around and said in a hard voice, "Have you ever noticed how curly my hair is? Well, that is because I am part Black. But, I am also the smartest kid in the school. If any of you think you are smarter than me, then prove it." (46) By creating racial solidarity with the young man, I implied that being Black might mean being smarter than non-Blacks, such as them. I was deploying my positioning as the brains of the school against the painful racist questions being asked. This is the first time I remember publicly resisting oppression that was not directed at me. I never heard any more disparagement of Blacks at school. (47) In this resistance I used a practice of telling counter stories that I had developed at home. In these counter stories I used (and sometimes elaborated upon) understandings I had learned at school. My counter stories only obliquely contested Mormonism by constructing positive images of Native Americans as opposed to the negative ones found in the Book of Mormon. For example, my fair-skinned half-sisters burned red and blistered easily in the desert sun of Nevada. I pointed my darker skin out to them, noting that I didn't burn like them because of my Indian blood.
Contesting these racist understandings enacted my emerging but not yet solidified critical understanding of racism as a form of oppression. I still half-believed two conflicting understandings of women and race. I preferred the school's explicitly expressed version, but I could not accept it unequivocally. My self-doubt was heavily inscribed and re-inscribed in my home community. Because school positioned me more powerfully than did my home community, I was blind to any institutional or systemic racism (48) or sexism at school for years. In addition, I still understood public institutions as meritocratic--that no matter the circumstances of your birth, it was by your own efforts that you succeeded or failed in society (the myth of meritocracy). Three complexes of power/knowledge relations induced me to believe it: First, it gave me hope that I could have a better life than the women in my home community; second, I was largely accorded the privilege of "Whiteness" in school; and third, the myth of meritocracy was embedded in webs of power/knowledge in both my home and at school. I did not seriously question this myth until early adulthood when an experience made it clear to me that without help, no matter how hard I tried, I would have failed. That experience began to critically--but not completely--unravel the meritocratic myth for me.
4.2 Early Adult and Graduate School (18-26 years)
I rejected Mormonism and left my husband when I was twenty-four. Due to my vocal and adamant rejection of their belief system, my family largely shunned me. Single with three children and no child support, I was desperately determined to prove to everybody (including myself) that I could succeed, despite my "bad blood." I took out student loans, got a part-time job, and studied hard whenever I had any spare time. However, while I was in college loose threads began to appear in the myth of meritocracy. The first threads appeared in the critical history I learned in college, which was very different than the bland celebratory history (49) I had learned to hate in high school. I wondered why you had to go to college to learn this version of history. Why wasn't it being taught in high school, which everyone had to attend?
During student teaching in the final month of my last semester of college, my car broke down. I had no money, and was anxious about how I was going to pay next month's rent. I left my car on the side of the road and walked home sobbing and frantic. I pulled myself together and called my supervising teacher. I told him I had to quit student teaching, because my car had just broken down and I didn't have money for next month's rent. He told me not to do anything rash and that he would see what he could do. I remember thinking, "There is nothing that he can do, but I have no other options. Maybe, just maybe, he could do something." Later that afternoon he called to say that he had arranged for me to receive a $350 Shriners' scholarship--enough for rent next month. He suggested that if I had a bike, I ride it to school, carrying my student teaching supplies in a backpack. I followed his suggestions and at the end of the semester graduated summa cum laude. I knew deep in my bones that if it hadn't been for his help, I would not have finished college (let alone obtained the graduate degrees I needed to become the professor that I am today). I realized that despite how hard I had tried, I would not have succeeded on my own. I had no more energy left to muster for overcoming yet another obstacle. This experience sharpened my awareness of and empathy for others' struggles. Yet, the threads of the meritocratic myth were not yet completely unraveled: I told myself that if I had been smart enough to go to school before having children, I wouldn't have needed help. That it was a lack of intelligence, not an unfair society that had landed me in this position. I was experiencing systemic classism and sexism, but unlike Collins asserts I did not apprehend either. These oppressions were subtle compared to the sexism and racism of my home community and I lacked a conceptual framework for clearly apprehending them.
4.2a As a Graduate Student
Before I graduated from college, I applied for and gained entrance to a masters program in psychology. I also applied for and was awarded one of the only two $20,000 a year fellowships available at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas in 1982. This was an abundance of money compared to how I scraped through the last years of my undergraduate program. If I were very careful this money would allow me to go to school full time, buy food, pay for baby-sitting, and rent an apartment without needing another loan or to hold down a job. I was excited about getting a masters in psychology, motivated to find out why some people excelled academically and others failed. (50) During the first week of my masters program, I went to a reception for new graduate students. One of the purposes of the reception was to recognize the two students who had won the fellowship. The dean of the graduate school introduced us to the rest of the students and faculty. I thought that because I was awarded this very competitive scholarship, the faculty and administration would see me as an excellent prospective student and believe that with the unprecedented financial support of the fellowship, I would fly through the program. I was dismayed when the graduate dean pulled me aside and said that he expected problems from me due to my circumstances. The very circumstances that I thought would be seen to my credit were seen as my deficit. I realized at that moment that contrary to my very positive view of my ability to achieve academically, his was negative. I was aghast and dumbstruck; finally, I walked away. In retrospect, I think he was trying to be supportive, but lacked the words to voice his support. Another conflict that I had in graduate school affected my understandings of society and school.
In the US schools are positioned as the mechanism for operationalizing the US as a meritocracy. This myth was embedded in my home and K-12 schooling and unquestioned in my teacher education program. In my psychology program, I had only read one historical text (51) that talked about class oppression and mental illness (the poor were doused in freezing cold water, while the wealthy received talk therapy). There were no texts about any other type of oppression. The basic understanding I received was that some were born smart and some were not. The smart succeeded while those less smart, or lacking a work ethic, succeeded to a lesser degree. This understanding was stated overtly by some scholars and implied by others. It was never overtly contested by any of the psychology classes I attended. Instead the literature focused on individual differences in intelligence and under what universal conditions learning and retention could best be maximized. Thus, nowhere in my formal education had I learned about systemic classism, racism, or sexism. However, two incidents occurred in graduate school that caused me to seriously question the myth of meritocracy when it came to economic class.
While in graduate school, I came to know a bit about other students' personal histories. I came to realize that a number of them had made huge blunders in their past. Some had developed a huge gambling debt while others had experienced drug and alcohol addiction. I asked how they could recover from such errors. They told me about their emotional trauma and the counseling they had received. I said, "No, I mean economically how did you recover?" They seemed nonplussed and then replied that their parents had paid for it. Some said that it had taken a while, but gradually their parents came to see that they had changed, and then were convinced to pay for their graduate school as part of a new start. I was sort of shocked. They took it for granted that their parents would pay their tuition. I realized that the economic circumstances of their family provided them with many more options than I had ever had. They could "afford" to make mistakes that would have placed college and graduate school completely beyond my reach for years, if not forever. Were they rich? They didn't consider themselves rich, just middle class.
The second thing was that I developed an understanding that helped me pick out systemic forms of economic oppression. My two best friends in graduate school were studying sociology and anthropology. Both of those programs of study taught Marxist theories of class oppression. At first, I dismissed Marxism as an esoteric, antiquated communist philosophy. However, I was curious. The little I had heard resonated with me in some undefined way. I began to read about Marxism. These readings were a strange companion to my psychology curriculum, but began to make sense of recent economic experiences. I became convinced that economic circumstances, regardless of your intellect or work ethic, directly affected your ability to succeed. The US had a slanted meritocracy, where the wealthier you were, the more chances you got and that hard work and smarts were not always enough for success. I was still unaware of the sexism and racism of larger society. Compared to my family, society and school certainly seemed benign. Although Marxism did not focus on sexism or racism, it provided me with a lens for becoming aware that systemic racism did exist, as I was to realize during my years as a middle school teacher.
4.2b As a Middle School Science Teacher
I was 27 years old and at the thesis stage of my masters program when I interviewed for my first teaching job in the mid-1980s. I was immediately hired to teach seventh grade science in a suburb of Las Vegas, Nevada. There were roughly 900 students in the school. The children were working-class and mostly European American. There were some students who were recently immigrated from Mexico and Vietnam along with a small number of African American students. All of the teachers were European American and most were over 40. The principal was a 50-something-year-old, European American male from the Midwest. He decried single mothers as the bane of society and made racist jokes about Mexican Americans. These tendencies produced a conflict within me. But, although they were hurtful to others and me, I never said anything to him the whole time I was there--I was afraid to jeopardize my job or make my work situation more difficult. My resistance was mostly in my head, solely manifested in my attempts to stay away from him as much as possible. This experience provided a foundation for further developing my understanding of why students might avoid and even drop out of schools where they had to endure racist jokes or worse. The school used to be a high school and had been renovated as a junior high school. Thus, the large science classrooms were excellent, equipped for labs with sinks, tables, and upon my request, microscopes. I was delighted with the possibilities provided by the space. But I questioned my ability to teach.
I was confident that I knew the subject area of science. What I was not so sure about was whether I could "control" students. During student teaching, I had come to understand that teachers must control their classroom; otherwise no learning would take place and you would get fired. I didn't like the idea that I had to control other human beings. I think that came with my own dislike of being controlled by my husband. I questioned why my students should learn science and thus, why they should behave in my classroom. The answer I gave to myself and then to them was: first, it would be fun to learn science; second, they could impress other people with the things they learned; third, it was worth learning science for its own sake; and fourth, it would provide them opportunities to enter careers that would otherwise be unobtainable, such as medicine. I also said that they were free not to learn if they decided they didn't want to learn science. I would not force them to learn. However, they could not impede the learning of any other student. At the same time, I was determined to develop an engaging learning environment.
Until my third year of teaching, I did well as a science teacher. Many students entered my class hating science and most left it liking (sometimes loving) science, and more importantly they learned science. I had to make some adaptations as we only had one set of textbooks, which were to stay in the classroom as a resource. Students were not allowed to take the textbooks home. So I also taught note-taking skills: one student read the text aloud, another student summarized the main idea in the paragraph, and then another student identified any sub-ideas, which I wrote in outline form on an overhead projector. Students copied down these notes in their science notebooks to take home for study. More importantly--based upon psychological concepts that both motivation and the learning of unfamiliar material would increase when students were actively engaged in hands-on learning--every student in my class spent an entire period conducting a real lab experiment at least once a week. I developed these labs to illustrate key ideas from the text and to reinforce their learning of the scientific method. It was during two of the labs that conflicts occurred, pushing me further toward being a critical educator.
One of the lab experiments required students to use flat toothpicks to scrape their cheek cells onto a slide and stain it with iodine. I had cautioned the students to push the iodine back to the wall when they were finished to make sure they did not spill it and stain their clothes. As the period was winding down, one group of three had not been able to stain their cheek cells adequately for viewing. So I went to help them. I forgot to push the iodine back against the wall and sure enough, when adjusting the microscope, I knocked the iodine over, spilling it onto my pants and the floor. A stunned silence fell over the class at the sound of breaking glass. I straightened up, grabbing some paper towels, and said jokingly to the class, "You see what happens when you don't push the iodine back?" They burst out into laughter. At that moment the principal walked into the classroom. He gruffly asked what was going on and demanded that all the laughter stop. I was puzzled. The class was completely appropriate in their laughter. Inadvertently, I had indeed made my point about the iodine. My resistance was not overt. I didn't say anything, but I resented his unnecessary harshness to the students. I felt that they were behaving appropriately and actively engaged in learning.
My second conflict was in regards to trusting these working class students. I had created a lab that asked the students to hypothesize whether candles burned at a constant rate. To see if their hypothesis was correct, students were to light a candle for ten seconds, blow it out, measure it, and then record the measurement. They were to repeat this process until the candle was gone and then graph the results to determine if their candle had burned at a constant rate. However, I was hesitant and nervous: Students lighting matches and burning candles seemed risky. Later, as a doctoral student, I was to find that this was precisely the sort of experience that working class students seldom had, but were a regular part of students from professional families. (52) I decided that it would be okay due to the classroom norms we had developed.
All of the students wanted to do the labs, but a standing classroom rule was that ff you did not use the materials appropriately, you had to do ditto worksheets instead. The other classroom norm was that students were rewarded with an opportunity to do more science activities. I had found several prepared microscope slides of plant and animal materials, which I kept at the back of the classroom. Students were allowed to select any slide and view it through a microscope--unbelievably, they were enthusiastic about this reward. Although I had no explicit understanding of how power induced particular subjectivities, I had set up the power relations in the classroom to induce a liking of science--to see doing it as a reward. So I proceeded for two years, beginning to ever so slightly push the boundaries of acceptable learning activities for these working class students. At this point, in my mind, although I perceived the different races and genders in my classroom, I did not understand that students were systematically treated differently based upon their race and gender.
During my second year of teaching, I participated in a program called "Teacher Expectations and Student Achievement" (TESA). TESA provided me with an understanding of the subtleties of institutionalized oppression that helped me to resolve some of my lingering conflicting understandings about race, racism, and the myth of meritocracy. TESA, a research-based program, focused on the different ways teachers transmit their low expectations to students and then taught techniques that could be used to better communicate high expectations for all students. The information I learned in TESA resonated with the Marxist understanding of society that I had developed. When asked by the principal, I was excited to lead TESA workshops for the other teachers. With this background knowledge, the experience of another conflict crystallized my understanding of the relationship between student achievement and covert institutionalized and systemic racism in schools. This crystallization allowed me to clearly understand, articulate, and begin to resist the institutionalized racism in schools.
In my third year of teaching, I was confronted with a painful conflict that pushed me to clearly understand that African American children suffered from racism embedded in the structures and processes of schooling. Likewise, I completely rejected the understanding of inherent racial differences that I had heard at home and from school peers. I came to understand that people of different races did indeed have unequal academic and societal opportunities. Schools in Las Vegas were forced to make adjustments mandated by the then new IDEA law. Suddenly a small number of boys appeared in three of my science classes. They had been labeled as mentally slow and, until then, placed exclusively in the special education classroom. All of the boys were African American. They did not read at the seventh grade level; a couple had difficulty with simple words like "when." What was I to do? We only had one classroom set of books and so students continued reading the texts aloud, picking out the main ideas and sub-ideas in order to outline the chapters. Following what I had learned in TESA about transmitting high expectations to all students, I randomly called upon students to read. When I called upon one of the boys, I gave them whatever help they needed to get through their reading. I worried that they would become inhibited and be embarrassed to read. To my surprise, they seemed to like being called upon to read. They did, however, have difficulty with note taking and they could not meaningfully read their meager notes. How were they to complete vocabulary tests? How were they to study for the required semester exams? The boys were being positioned to fail.
I went to the principal to ask what I could do. I figured that he should at least be good for this kind of information. He had no suggestions about how to aid them with their learning, but said to put the tests on a tape recorder. I asked since their reading skills were so poor, then how could they write the correct answer? He suggested I stay after school to give them each a verbal test and then write in their answers. I could not do that. I had young children of my own at home who needed me. He said to just do the best that I could. I was floored. This was the first time I had gone to the principal for any help in my teaching. I expected him to be able to assist me with this quandary. He didn't. The boys hadn't been given a chance to learn to read, which was crucial to learning science. How could they possibly do well on the tests, no matter how hard they tried? Should I grade them on a different scale than the rest of the class? If they got a B or C, wouldn't I be saying that they had learned seventh grade science to that degree? Wouldn't they be put in situations where they would be expected to know that information? This was a huge conflict for me. Ultimately, I graded them on the same scale as the other students in the classroom. They all got D's or F's. I realized I was part of the systemic oppression, pounding yet another nail into in their academic coffin.
On the other hand, by the end of the semester all of them had substantially improved their reading and I was convinced that their ability to learn was equal to any other student in the classroom. I also understood, thanks to TESA, some of the mechanisms by which teachers subtly transmit negative expectations to students. Over the years teachers were probably implicitly telling these boys repeatedly that they were unintelligent in many different ways. Because I did not want to participate in this systemic oppression and did not know how to resist it, I left teaching to get a doctoral degree, determined to find a way to transform schools into places that really did provide equal opportunities to students, regardless of race or class.
By this time, I had developed some of the crucial understandings of a critical educator. However, it was not until later in my doctoral program that I began to see systemic sexism in schools and society, even though I was more greatly oppressed from school and mainstream society due to my gender than to my apparent ethnicity. Later still, a gay couple helped me develop an understanding of the heteronormative oppression of gays and lesbians. It took me the longest to see society's condemnation of those who lived polygamy (whether Mormon, Islamic, or another religion) as oppressive and resolved my conflict in this regard. (53) However, space limitations force me to leave the stories of how I came to understand the oppression of those who live polygamy for another time and place.
5. Discussion & Implications
There are four major themes in this autoethnography. These themes concern (1) the relationship between having conflicting understandings of race, gender, class, and the development of my perception of oppression that led to my resistance; (2) the types of oppression that induced my resistance, thus transforming a potential conflict into active conflict; (3) the effect of my positioning upon my method of resistance; (4) the relationship between the degrees of oppression that I experienced in the two contexts of school and the order in which I became aware of the different types of oppression.
5.1 Conflicting Understandings, Awareness, and Resistance to Oppression
The first theme is that the oppression, when it did not elicit my awareness and thus, resistance, was only a potential conflict. Conflict remained potential as long as I failed to perceive oppression. My resistance to oppression generally actualized only when I had developed alternative and conflicting understandings that helped me to perceive oppression. These conflicting understandings arose because of the two very different webs of power/knowledge in which I was embedded: those at school and those at home. The most pivotal conflicts between the two different webs of power/knowledge were the understandings of gender and race. These conflicting understandings helped me to perceive, and thus resist, racism and sexism. For example, these conflicting understandings of race and gender provided me with the resources to perceive my family's understandings as oppressive to me. Such awareness brought about my resistance. And the Marxist theories I learned in graduate school induced me to develop an understanding of my own economic oppression and thus, begin resisting its normalization. Awareness of oppression transformed a potential conflict into conflict when I resisted that oppression. However, both webs of power/knowledge agreed upon the myth of meritocracy and thus, it took much longer for me to perceive systemic and institutional oppressions.
In sum, an important implication of this study is that when schools openly address the different types of oppression experienced by different groups they may increase the likelihood that students will develop understandings that enable them to perceive and resist their own and others' oppression. One of the ways to do this is to teach critical multiculturalism in public schools. (54) Such a critical multicultural education would help students develop both alternative understandings of racialized groups and a clear understanding of existing racism. These two understandings would help students see and thus resist racist oppression. Of course teachers would also have to teach about the other types of oppression for students to develop understandings of those oppressions. Resistance to oppression can be transformative, lessening the pain and suffering in the world.
5.2 The Types of Conflict that Induce Understanding & Resistance to Oppression
The second theme relates to conflict directly based upon oppression and my resistance to it. There were three types of conflicts that induced me to develop my understandings of and resistance to oppression. Below, in the order in which they occurred in my life, I discuss these conflicts.
(a) Conflicts resulting from my resistance of my own oppression. One example occurred when I used the positive understandings of "Indians" at school to begin contesting the negative understandings of "Lamanites" offered by my home community. These "Lamanite" understandings were directly oppressive to me in my home community. Another example is when my seventh grade teacher created an environment of interminable tedium, spoiling my expectations of a creative, figure-it-out-for-yourself laboratory experience. This learning environment was directly oppressive to me and I actively resisted it. This experience brought scholarship on working class school environments vividly to life for me when I later read it.
(b) A second type of conflict actualized when I resisted the oppression of others that was similar to oppression I had experienced. For example, in the library of my high school when European American students questioned the intelligence of African Americans in the presence of an African American, I recognized this as oppression based upon my similar experiences at home.
My recognition ignited my fierce resistance.
(c) A third type of conflict occurred when I resisted being implicated in someone else's oppression. At one point I was teaching middle school and found myself implicated in the systemic positioning of African American boys for academic failure. Being implicated in this process horrified me. My unwilling implication in their oppression opened my eyes to the systemic oppression of African Americans within schools.
According to Collins, (55) one is more likely to develop an awareness of the oppression one suffers than those suffered by others. The pattern of my resistance to oppression largely agrees with Collins, but with a couple of minor differences. My resistance to oppression follows Collins' claims in that the oppressions that elicited my resistance were those in which I was personally involved. Thus, my personal involvement facilitated my awareness and resistance to these oppressions. However, the pattern of my resistance differs in that it did not necessarily need to be directed at me and that I resisted being personally implicated in others' oppression.
5.3 Positioning Matters
The third theme is that my resistance to oppression remained indirect and/or covert unless my positioning within a power/knowledge web was equal to or superior to those doing the oppressing. For example, when the principal made jokes about Latinos or cast slurs upon single mothers, I was internally conflicted, angry and resentful. However, my resistance remained largely in my head and was only weakly enacted in the efforts I made to keep my distance from the principal. Another example is when I resisted the understanding of Native Americans disseminated in my community; I never directly told any community member that the Mormon Lamanite history was wrong (until much later when I had totally rejected Mormonism). Instead, I indirectly resisted their negative understandings with positive understandings.
5.4 Relative Degree of Oppression & Developing Understandings of Oppression
The fourth theme is that for me the relative degree of oppression I experienced was more important in the development of my awareness of oppression than the absolute degree of oppression. When different contexts have different power/knowledge webs, we experience different oppressions and/or degrees of oppression. For me and perhaps for most people in the US, the most powerful contexts in terms of shaping my understandings of the world have been home and school. Not only did the power/knowledge webs differ within the two contexts, but also my positioning within those webs and thus, the type and degree of oppression experienced. I was positioned far more powerfully at school as a female who was perceived as White than in my home community as a female with "bad blood." Thus, the sexism I experienced at school was subtle compared to that I experienced at home. Further, hearing slurs against African Americans (which only I knew applied to me) was the only racism I experienced at school, which was subtle compared to the racism I experience in my home community. This relative subtlety induced me to remain oblivious to systemic racism at school until I was a teacher in my late 20s. Likewise, it took me until my early 30s to discern systemic sexism. The development of my awareness of systemic sexism and racism in schools does not seem to follow the pattern suggested by Collins. But, Collins' work can be extended to cover these findings by suggesting that when a greater degree of an oppression is experienced in context A than context B, then one does not readily become aware of the oppression in context B.
Nevertheless, the first major vivid conflict I experienced between the understandings of school and home was about religious freedom, but it took the longest to develop the understanding that US laws were oppressive to those with polygamous faiths. This finding does not align with Collins' claims. However I think that it can be explained by the fact that Collins' work centered on Black women. My experiences in school and home were like most African Americans in some ways, but importantly different in others. My home community, like many marginalized groups, was positioned subordinately in society. Like many racialized families, my parents were less powerfully positioned in economic, legal, and social terms than the adults at schools. However, schools provided a more powerful positioning for me than did my home community. This is opposite to the experience of most racialized groups, who are more likely to be positioned more powerfully in their home communities than at schools. (56) Adopting the understandings of school positioned me more powerfully and aligned me with a more powerful group in society. I was seduced into ignoring the conflict between my lived experience and school's claim that the US was a land of religious freedom for years.
An important implication of this finding is that if the power/knowledge webs of schools offered racialized groups more powerful positionings, racialized groups would be more likely to adopt (i.e. learn) the understandings that schools teach.
Future studies on critical educators that include autoethnographies as well as ethnographies are necessary in order to begin understanding how the power relations in which they are embedded shape and are shaped by critical educators. I suggest that such knowledge will help teachers and schools oppose the institutional oppressions of different groups that cause pain and suffering, which leads to their disaffection with school and society. Should that not be a primary purpose of education?
In sum, the unraveling of the myth of meritocracy was pivotal in the development of my understandings of different oppressions and hence my resistance to those oppressions. This myth ought to be explicitly unraveled as soon possible for students in schools everywhere. There are those who would suggest that the myth gives hope and helps those who are oppressed to struggle onward and indeed it did help me to struggle. However, I think I would have struggled harder and not been so disheartened at times had I known both the oppression I was fighting and that it could be resisted.
University of Texas San Antonio
(1) For a more detailed analysis of what it means to be critical, see Jurgen Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, trans. J. Shapiro. Boston: Beacon Press, 1968 or Alistair Pennycook, Critical Applied Linguistics: A Critical Introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001.
(2) Stephanie L. Young, "Half and Half: An (Auto)ethnography of Hybrid Identities in a Korean American Mother-Daughter Relationship." Journal of International Intercultural Communication. 2.2 (2009): 139-167, 145. She cites the following feminist scholars: Alcoff, Anzaldua, Collins, Gubrium and Holstein, Haraway, Harding, and Lorde, 1984.
(3) Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan. New York: Pantheon, 1977; The History of Sexuality: Volume I, trans. Alan Shapiro. New York: Vintage Books, 1980; and Power/Knowledge, trans, and ed. Colin Gordon. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.
(4) Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York, NY: Routledge, Chapman, & Hall, Inc., 2000.
(5) A rhizomatic approach understands knowledge as emerging from multiple locations, expanding in multiple directions, and weaving through various forms of information, experiences, and subjectivities of a society as noted by Giles Deleuzeand Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. B. Massumi. Minneapolis, MN: The University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
(6) Jacque Derrida," Living On--Border Lines." In Deconstruction and Criticism. Ed. Harold Bloom. (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), 99-100.
(7) Marilyn Cochran-Smith,, Karen Shakman, Cindy Jong, Dianna G. Terrell, Joan Barnett, and Patrick Mcquillan," Good and Just Teaching: The Case for Social Justice in Teacher Education," American Journal of Education. 115 (2009): 347-377.
(8) Ibid, 357.
(9) Gloria Ladson-Billings, "But that's Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy." Theory into Practice. 34.3 (2009): 159-165.
(10) Muhammad Khalifa, "A Re-New-ed Paradigm in Successful Urban School Leadership: Principal as Community Leader," Educational Administrator Quarterly (2012): 424-467.
(11) Felecia Briscoe, Gilberto Arriaza and Rosemary Henze, The Power of Talk: How Words Change our Lives, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2009, Chapter 5: 93-118.
(12) As described in three of Michel Foucault's books, Discipline & Punish, Power/Knowledge, and The History of Sexuality: Volume I.
(13) Collins, Black Feminist Thought.
(14) Foucault, History of Sexuality.
(15) Foucault, Power/Knowledge, 98.
(16) Foucault, History of Sexuality.
(17) Foucault, Power/Knowledge.
(18) Foucault, History of Sexuality.
(19) Deborah Kerfootwith D. Knights, "Into the realm of the fearful." Power/Gender: Social Relations in Theory and Practice, Eds. H. Lorraine Radtke and Henderikus J. Stam (London: Sage Publications, 1994), 67-88, 69.
(20) Foucault, History of Sexuality.
(22) Foucault, Power/Knowledge.
(26) Ibid, 98.
(27) Ibid, 156.
(28) Collins, Black Feminism, 251.
(29) Ibid, 287.
(30) Ibid., 287.
(31) Ibid, 287.
(32) Leon Anderson, "Analytic Autoethnography." Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35 (2006): 373-395, 378.
(33) Steve Ryder,, "I Don't have to Play Football to be Hurt: An Inquiry Concerning the Disjunction between Public and Private Self." Qualitative Inquiry 16 (2010), 314.
(34) I believe my father had at least eight wives. However, because I haven't really been close to my father since I was 24 years old I am not certain exactly how many other wives he has had.
(35) E.g. Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge. 1991.
(36) e.g. Jean Anyon, "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work." Journal of Education. 162(1980): 67-92.
(37) E.g. Collins, Black Feminism.
(38) See for example Maud Blair, "Whiteness" as institutionalized racism as conspiracy: Understanding the paradigm. Educational Review, 60-3(2008): 249-251.
(39) See for example Pennycook, Critical Applied Linguistics.
(40) See for example Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests.
(41) See for example Pennycook, Critical Applied Linguistics.
(42) Concha Delgado-Gaitan, "Consejos: The Power of Cultural Narratives." Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 25 (1994): 298-316.
(43) Foucault, Power/Knowledge.
(44) I say this, because when I went to the school counselor to ask what kind of college scholarships applications were available to me, the counselor suggested that I write to a football player asking if he would fund my college. He offerred no other information or advice.
(45) Later on in the late 70s, the prophet of the official Latter Day Saint Church had a revelation in which he declared that African Americans and Native Americans had worked off their sins and were no longer cursed races.
(46) I realize as I write this how conceited and arrogant I sound, but by this time it was already accepted by both the faculty and students that I was the smartest person at that school and I eventually, as expected, graduated as valedictorian.
(47) Of course this doesn't mean that they weren't being said when I wasn't around.
(48) Blair, "'Whiteness' as institutionalized racism as conspiracy: Understanding the paradigm."
(49) See James Loewen, Lies my Teacher Told Me: Everything your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: Touchstone, 1995.
(50) I was conflicted about the source of the academic differences in my family. There were four valedictorians in my family, but some of my brothers and sisters barely graduated from high school. What explained these different levels of educational success? Was it that some of us had better teachers than the others? Was it a matter of intelligence? I thought experimental cognitive psychology could provide the answers to these questions--my understanding was that science, unlike religion, could resolve this conflict and provide me with the "Truth".
(51) Thomas Szasz, The Myth of Mental Illness: Foundations of a Theory of Personal Conduct. New York: Harper & Row, 1977.
(52) Jean Anyon, "Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work." Journal of Education. 162 (1980): 67-92.
(53) Some might wonder how I can defend people's right to live in polygamy as part of their religious practice, when my experience living in Mormon Fundamentalist polygamy was so terribly sexist. Although sexist religious codes structured the polygamous system in which I grew up, polygamy is not inherently sexist. For example, historically Native Americans practiced polygamy. Yet Joel Spring, in Deculturalization and the Struggle for Equality (Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2001) notes that historically women had more freedom in Native American societies than in European American societies. When polygamy is made illegal, it is not sexism that is outlawed, but rather a marriage arrangement. Outlawing polygamy does not outlaw sexism. Catholicism and many other religious faiths are similarly sexist. For example, mainstream LDS Mormonism has all the same sexist religious codes (except polygamy is only to be practiced in heaven) as Mormon Fundamentalism, but it is not illegal. How people choose to structure their intimate lives (unless force is involved or it impinges upon the rights of others) should be their right, not imposed by law. There are non-sexist reasons for living polygamy. For example, a disproportionate number of African American men are incarcerated, making it disproportionately difficult for African American women to marry African American men and have children under the eyes of the state. If two women wish to marry one man, why should they not be able to do so, as long as force is not involved? Just as gay and lesbian couples should have the right to structure their intimate lives as they wish, so too should those who wish to live polygamy. Further, marriage has traditionally been a religious practice and polygamy is often part of a religious practice. People should have the right to live polygamy as part of their religion, especially as the US claims to be a land of religious freedom. The Islamic religion and a number of Native American faiths allow the practice of polygamy, but the state does not. Finally, just as some claim that polygamy is inherently sexist, others claim that the institution of marriage is inherently sexist. Yet, would not most people oppose any proposition to outlaw marriage because it was a sexist institution?
(54) Stephen May (Ed), Critical Multiculturalism: Rethinking Multicultural and Anti-Racist Education. London: Taylor Francis, 2005.
(55) Collins, Black Feminism.
(56) E.g. bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994.
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