Tag Archives: Teacher Education

Understanding the “Tools of Whiteness” (Notes from AERA, Part 2)

By Emery Petchauer

petchauerA common figure in teacher education is that roughly 90 percent of public school teachers in the United States identify as White. As the percentage of ethnic minority students continues to rise, teacher training and professional development often include diversity training or a focus on multicultural education. Alternative routes into teaching such as Teach for America, which place teachers most often into “urban” (read: ethnic minority) classrooms, also devote a significant amount of training time to these areas. Though this focus on diversity in professional education is a good starting point, I often think that it is a major error in reasoning to think that the mere existence of it will affect teachers in any meaningful way.

These currents in teacher education, in my estimation, are what make the work of Dr. Bree Picower of New York Universityso important. Her work illustrates how some white preservice teachers actively maintain dominant racial hierarchies in the midst of multicultural training by using what she calls “Tools of Whiteness.” This means that when white preservice teachers encounter ideas, theories, or perspectives that might cause them to re-examine notions of privilege, power, or oppression, there are systematic ways that they can actively resist doing so. 

The phrase “Tools of Whiteness” is particularly revealing when we consider the social mechanisms that buttress dominate (and dominating) ideologies such as white supremacy. Tools such as hammers and screwdrivers are small items with even smaller counterparts (nails, screws), but they are the fundamental units that make sophisticated and towering structures resist forces that might alter them. Similarly, it is unexamined assumptions and taken-for-granted notions that maintain complex ideologies.

In the realm of teacher education, Dr. Picower illustrates through empirical research how Tools of Whiteness generate from three main areas: teachers’ emotional experiences, existing dominant racial ideologies, and performances of identity. In other words, when teachers are challenged to think beyond their current white-normative ideologies, they draw from these three areas to avoid, refute, or subvert issues that would have them do otherwise. Findings such as these illustrate the important point that it is less passive resistance and more active protection that sustain dominant ideologies in teacher education.

It is important to note that it is not the intent of this research to demonize teachers who hold such views nor suggest that all phenotypically white teachers hold them. Essentially, the concern is for both the students and teachers. Paulo Freire reminds us that oppression dehumanizes both the oppressed andthe oppressor. In this way, having a better understanding of Tools of Whiteness helps teacher educators better strategize how to create learning experiences and curricula that will enable their preservice teachers to see the inadequacies and inaccuracies of their views and the need to develop more inclusive ones.

Related Links:

New York Collective of Radial Educators

Social Justice Teacher Plan Book

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

 

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Arne Duncan on Tour and the Next Generation of Educators

By Emery Petchauer

One important area of concern that received little attention during this year’s monumental presidential election was education. Other than a brief nod during one debate — during which both candidates represented cursory and almost identical positions — education and the looming future of the No Child Left Behind Act was indeed left behind.

Currently, understanding the future direction of public education in the United States revolves around President Obama’s Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The improvements that Duncan is planning stem from a proposed $140 billion stimulus (sound familiar?), a large portion of which is intended to help states maintain and create teaching jobs and other positions in schools. Duncan plans to venture out on a listening tour across the county to hear firsthand what people in local places and spaces think.

On this tour, I hope Duncan hears from current college students who are intending to major in education. If he does, he will get a glimpse of some major problems that must be addressed during his tenure. One of these is the incongruency among states’ certification requirements and tests. He will hear about states such New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia that either adhere to different passing scores on certification exams, often change their passing scores, or use different exams altogether.

Hopefully, Duncan will hear that confusion is the least important result of these policies. These incongruencies create more obstacles for talented, new teachers who desire to leave their certifying states and teach in high need, urban areas in neighboring states. Like all bad policies, these incongruencies ultimately harm groups who need help the most: children in high need urban and rural schools.

I also hope that Duncan will see that some states such as Pennsylvania are transitioning into bizarre certification models — based upon no clear research base — that will make it absolutely miserable for college students to major in education. For starters, such models mandate a cemented course sequence, leave no room for electives and attempt to dictate the qualifications for faculty employment in teacher education programs. Without question, such models will decrease the number of gifted college students applying to and completing the major.

Some might suggest that any pressure put on states from the federal department of education is both undesirable and unconstitutional. My response would be that in the last 50 years, the federal government has increasingly stepped in and steered states straight when they have been off course.

Look no further than Supreme Court cases that not only declared racial segregation illegal but later outlined other measures for desegregation and related penalties. Today, strong-arm federal influence is happening on the daily through the No Child Left Behind Act. All of this means that Arne Duncan should and will have a say in teacher education at the state level, and I hope he hears from students in those programs as he makes decisions that will shape the next generation of educators.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.

The NCLBification of Higher Education

By Emery Petchauer

One of the most significant yet subtle ways that the No Child Left Behind Act has affected higher education is by shaping the requirements for students intending to become teachers. In this way, although NCLB is a federal act directed at K-12 education, its effects have traveled up the educational ladder into higher education.

Here is how it works:

In order for teacher education programs to be accredited by states or bodies such as National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, programs must graduate Highly Qualified Teachers (HQT), which is a central aspect of NCLB. Generally, being highly qualified means completing an accredited teacher education program and passing certification tests (e.g. Praxis I, Praxis II in most states) — all in the discipline one plans to teach. While these are not new ideas, what is new is requiring students to pass the first part of a certification exam (again, often Praxis I) before allowing them to declare education as a major or take upper division classes. Making students pass the first part of a certification exam helps ensure that graduates will be highly qualified; it is a gatekeeper that disallows students from matriculating through their programs and getting to senior year with little chance of graduating as highly qualified. To state this process more simply, in many states such as Pennsylvania, students must now test into teacher education programs.

These policies and implications do not have significant effects on large universities with significant numbers of students planning to become teachers. In fact, it is likely that the policies go undetected by most faculty members. Students who cannot pass the tests for a variety of reasons (e.g., deficient high school educations, have not mastered dominant culture standardized testing norms) often change majors or transfer to institutions that can offer them more support to pass exams. At many large institutions, enough students are able to pass the exams on their own, so programs maintain a critical mass of students graduating as HQT to support their accreditation.

However, the policies and implications have significant effects on smaller institutions, particularly those that serve students who have been underserved by their secondary schools and have been on the lower end of the high school achievement (or opportunity) gap. In essence, these students have a short amount of time (about three semesters) to develop the dominant culture norms and skills of standardized tests and fill any gaps in reading, writing or math so that they can pass the entrance exam, declare their majors and take upper level classes. As one can imagine, this situation can create incredible amounts of stress for students, which further inhibits optimum performance.

Overall, this system — or what I call the NLCBification of higher education — creates more barriers for working class and ethnic minority students to enter the teaching profession.

Dr. Emery Petchauer is an assistant professor of education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania; his current

research includes teacher preparation for ethnic minority students particularly at HBCUs and how involvement in hip-hop implicates students’ educational approaches, experiences, and lives.