While many educators recognize the need for multicultural education in today's diverse schools, some teachers have struggled with how to meaningfully center culture in their teaching practices. This dissertation examines what happens when issues of race and culture are productively taken up in secondary classroom discussions. Eighth grade students of various racial, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds were the focus of the research, a year-long qualitative study of English and Social Studies classes with two white teachers where students did work related to race, culture, power, and privilege.
To begin, I show how two middle school teachers structured a critical multicultural curriculum. I then explore in greater depth how students responded to this curriculum, particularly a unit called the "Race Discussions." Finally, I closely examine an interaction that occurred during this unit to illustrate the complexities and difficulties of teaching, learning about, and researching matters of race, culture, power, and identity.
Findings reveal that as students worked through units defining culture, studying cultural conflicts, and understanding cultural resolution, many of them were able to come to a greater understanding of themselves as racial and cultural beings and of the institutional forces that influence our society. Trends emerged across racial groups; as evidenced in their class participation, interviews, and work samples, African American and bi/multiracial students tended to respond positively, valuing the chance to discuss race and racism with their white peers and share personal stories of discrimination. The reactions of Latino, Asian American, and white students were more varied, ranging from resistance to the idea of white privilege; to feelings of exclusion and guilt; to a sense of racial awakening, including the acceptance of responsibility and empowerment to act.
The efforts of these teachers and their students contributes to a growing and important research and teaching dialogue around the successes and dilemmas of critical multicultural practice, helping us to consider how we may--that we must--enact this work in our own ways, in our own classrooms.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2009. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor:Timothy J. Lensmire, Lori A. Helman. 1 computer file (PDF), vi, 172 pages, appendices A-F. Ill. (some col.)
Flynn, Jill Ewing.
Discussing race and culture in the middle school classroom.
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