“Lies My Teacher [Educator] Still Tells”: Using Critical Race Counternarratives to Disrupt Whiteness in Teacher Education

September, 2020

Source: The Teacher Educator, 55:3, 300-322

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study was to understand how pre-service teachers (PSTs) confronted dominant histories that they came to the authors’ course with (master narratives), and how this stood in conflict with counternarratives of members of oppressed groups – voices not considered in master narratives of history— that they used in a critical literacy workshop.
As critical scholars using a critical race theory (CRT) lens, the authors understand the importance of “educators [questioning] the ideologies and assumptions behind what is being taught and how it is taught” (Zamudio et al., 2011, p. 111).
It is through this framework that thy situate their research.

This qualitative study is based on a document analysis (Merriam, 1998) of a critical literacy workshop held over three semesters that is part of a larger ethnographic study.
Over the course of three semesters (2 years) 57 students shared their reflections from a critical literacy workshop using counternarratives.
This research addresses the following question:
After participating in a workshop designed to illuminate historical narratives of marginalized populations, how do pre-service teachers engage with counternarratives?

After conducting this workshop over three semesters (2 years) during the 2016–2017 and 2017–2018 academic years, the authors collected data on PSTs reflections (n = 57) from this workshop.
Each semester included a new set of students.
All of the participants involved attended the same university at a mid-sized predominantly white public institution (PWI) in the Midwest and gave consent to be a part of this research study.

Context and data collection
The focus on critical literacy for this project was developed as a workshop using critical literacy instruction and critical reading prompts as “reading with and against” the texts (Janks, 2010) and reading for the socio-political position of the texts in curriculum (Jay, 2003).
The purpose of this workshop, then, was to develop a “critical stance,” that is, to foster a reading stance from which PSTs “consciously engage with the texts, entertain different ways of being, take the responsibility to inquire, and respond reflexively” to reading the texts in the workshop (Lewison et al., 2015, p. xxxi).
The main objectives for this workshop were two folded:
1) Discover the ways that the historical event or social issues topic they have learned about is represented across the texts; and
2) Use CRT and critical literacy as an analytic lens to disrupt normalized notions of hegemony and whiteness that are reproduced in the official school curriculum.
In this context, a wide range of narratives and counternarratives helped the authors facilitate their workshop objectives.
The method of analysis used in this study was based on document analysis (Merriam, 1998) and reflective journaling.
The authors analyzed white PSTs reflection papers, from which they removed their names and assigned numbers to, at the completion of the workshop.
The assignment simply asked them to reflect on their experiences in alignment with the authors’ research question.

Discussion and conclusion
With the understandings gained in this research, the authors recognize these predominantly white PSTs have been socialized within a white supremacist society.
For many, this class may have been the first time they were asked to have conversations about race, racism, and whiteness, and it was the first time they were exposed to such counternarratives.
They believe that each PST learned something new in this workshop depending on what prior knowledge they brought with them and how open they were to new ideas.
The authors would like to conclude by raising the issue of the tensions between experience, learning, and teaching.
The first theme in the findings, can be neatly enveloped under what we might call a typical response.
That is, that race was unimportant, they didn’t learn about race, and they are not racist (DiAngelo, 2012).
The authors acknowledge that their PSTs grew up socialized in their whiteness to answer questions about race in predictable ways. In other words, their students were diligent learners in white culture.
If the authors wish to reexamine these dominant narratives, about race and other intersectional identities, raising counternarratives in curriculum is one way that we can invite conversations that “openly and honestly examine aspects of our frames we have been taught to deny” (DiAngelo, 2012, p. 26).
The authors challenge teacher educators to do this in order to improve teacher education curriculum.
The authors note that when we engage with counternarratives with PSTs, it is a difficult task, fraught with tension between their socialized experiences, and the content of our teaching that refutes the normalcy and calls out the domination in master narratives.
It might even be threatening at times.
We know that PSTs need exposure to counternarratives regardless of difficulty or student reception, and this has to occur in multiple classes across their teacher education program.
Love (2019) states, “in actuality, for most students not all, but most – one course focused on social justice cannot undo a lifetime of racist thinking and learning in racial isolation” (p. 14).
The kinds of shifts that we hope for will not be done in one semester, and thus requires the collective work of teacher educators (Reyes, Radina & Aronson, 2018; Reyes, Aronson, Batchelor, Ross & Radina, under review).
In response to calls to make teacher education a more critical space addressing issues of whiteness and white supremacy (Matias, 2016), the authors find this research useful to argue for the curriculum changes needed in teacher education that are intentionally designed around counternarratives within the curriculum.
The authors argue that future teachers will never fall out of the cycle of teaching historical ‘lies’ if we don’t address such falsely taught histories in teacher education.
However, in order to do this, we realize that teacher educators (who are predominantly white) themselves have a responsibility to unlearn, relearn, and do the self-work that is needed to tell the truths about history, however ugly it may be.
This responsibility must also be taken up by white teacher educators so that the onus of responsibility does not only fall on teacher educators of color.
The authors conclude that to truly love and respect your students, teachers (educators) must learn the true histories behind Black and Brown students, Dis/abled students, queer students, immigrant students and more.
These truths include the struggles marginalized groups have faced, the successes shared working in solidarity with one another against oppression, as well as the joys and accomplishments experienced.

DiAngelo, R. (2012). What does it mean to be white? Developing white racial literacy. Teachers College Press
Janks, H. (2010). Literacy and power. Routledge.
Jay, M. (2003). Critical race theory, multicultural education, and the hidden curriculum of hegemony. Multicultural Perspectives, 5(4), 3–9. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1207/S15327892MCP0504_2
Lewison, M., Leland, C., & Harste, J. C. (2015). Creating critical classrooms: Reading and writing with an edge. Routledge
Love, B. (2019). We wanna do more than survive: Abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom. Beacon Press
Matias, C. E. (2016). “Why do you make me hate myself?”: Re-teaching whiteness, abuse, and love in urban teacher education. Teaching Education, 27(2), 194–211. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10476210.2015.1068749
Merriam, S. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. Jossey-Bass
Reyes, G., Aronson, B., Batchelor, K., Ross, G., & Radina, R. (under review) Working in solidarity: intersectional feminist self-study methodology as a means to inform social justice teacher education.” Action in Teacher Education.
Reyes, G., Radina, R., & Aronson, B. (2018). Resistance as an act of love: disrupting the white eurocentric masculinist framework within teacher education. The Urban Review, 50(5), 818–835.
Zamudio, M., Russell, C., Rios, F., & Bridgeman, J. L. (2011). Critical race theory matters: Education and ideology. Routledge. 

Updated: Aug. 30, 2020