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SOCIAL JUSTICE AND WHITENESS IN EDUCATION: COLOR-BLIND POLICYMAKING AND RACISM. Dr. Paul R. Carr. Overview. Historical, cultural and societal Whiteness Contextualizing Whiteness in education Educational policymaking in education (the case of Ontario) Key considerations Questions.

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Social justice and whiteness in education color blind policymaking and racism l.jpg


Dr. Paul R. Carr

Overview l.jpg


  • Historical, cultural and societal Whiteness

  • Contextualizing Whiteness in education

  • Educational policymaking in education (the case of Ontario)

  • Key considerations

  • Questions

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The imagery of Whiteness

  • “White as Snow”, “Pure White”, “Snow White”…

  • Metaphors, analogies, images, cultural landmarks and concrete manifestations in language, law and cultural practices

  • White ----------------------------------------------------------------------Black

  • Good Evil

  • Lightness  Darkness

  • Benevolence Malevolence

  • Cleanliness, kindness, and serenity Undesirable

  • the conqueror  the “dark continent”

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White racial superiority

  • Slavery, colonialism, neo-colonialism, & imperialism

  • Whiteness  moral, biological, religious superiority

  • Hate groups against people of colour (& others)

  • Europeans and Aboriginal peoples (forced religious conversion, disrespect of language, culture and family, and attempts to terminate First Nations)

  • Why are churches still largely segregated?

  • Why are inter-racial marriages still taboo for many?

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The myth of White goodness

  • Canada as a civilized, non-colonizing, pacifist nation, with “two founding peoples” (English and French)

  • Land of opportunity, more welcoming and charitable than the US (“less” segregated, racist and divided)

  • Canadians embrace multiculturalism, difference and minority status; ours is a “meritocracy”

  • How do we reconcile our history of history of colonization, slavery & racism?

  • Colour-blindness masks internment of Japanese in WWII, razing of Africville in N.S., Chinese head-tax, under-achievement in education by some groups, etc.

  • Canada as a White country (embassies, symbols, monarchy)

  • Prime Ministers, Supreme Court Judges, major cultural and media figures, business icons, etc. are largely, if not exclusively, White

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White identity

  • We know that people of colour are racialized but do Whites know that they have a racial origin?

  • Do Whites use their privilege to deny or ignore their racial identity, and, simultaneously, infer inherent racial attributes to the “Other”?

  • If White people do not know they are White, how can those in positions of power (who are mainly White) effectively understand and challenge racism and unearned privilege?

  • If there are Black, Asian, Chinese, Racial Minority, etc. communities, is there then, logically, a White community?

  • If Affirmative Action for minorities today is wrong, was Affirmative Action for Whites for the past 400 years equally wrong?

  • If we are colour-blind, why is there racism (individual, collective, systemic, institutional)?

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Shades of Whiteness

  • If Whites experience power and privilege differently, does that mean that we are all simply “individuals”, responsible for our own actions?

  • If White groups also experience discrimination, does this mean that there is no real racial discrimination against people of colour?

    • Francophones vs. Anglophones in Canada

    • Catholics vs. Protestants in Northern Ireland

    • Hungarians vs. Romanians in Romania

    • Basques vs. Spanish in Spain

    • Maritimers vs. Central Canadians in Canada

    • Jews vs Christians in Europe & North America

  • Social class power and privilege

  • “Whites, no matter how poor, are part of a club, even if it is the second tier”

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Why talk about Whiteness?

  • Power: gaps in income, employment, status and representation based on race

  • Equity advancements have often avoided racial issues (i.e., women’s movement)

  • Networks, associations, clubs, etc. are changing but Whiteness is still a predominant factor; private schools are mainly for Whites producing more inequity

  • Unwritten, unspoken, coded language still characterizes public discourse (jokes, expressions, concerns about “reverse discrimination”, rejection of notion of racism)

  • Confusion between overt and systemic racism

  • Data collection on race is discouraged

  • “Filling a quote” and “Playing the race card” can be used to neutralize racial equality

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Evolving complexity of race

  • Intersectionality of identity; complexity of lived experience

  • More mixing of identity (race, culture, religion, etc.) re: marriage, adoptions, study, travel, etc.

  • Rapid demographic changes; Whites are in an extreme minority in World population

  • Concern about sustaining and growing cultures while acknowledging inequities

  • How do you classify groups (Hispanics, Arabs, Mixed Race)?

  • With mixing of races, will there be a day when there are no Whites?

  • DNA tests prove that over 50 million White Americans have at least one relative of African origin, and 10% of African-Americans are more than 50% White (One-drop rule)

  • Is racism democratic? (Tator and Henry)

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Whiteness and education

  • Education as a key site for learning and advancing social justice

    • Most teachers are White

    • Curriculum is still contested, considered Euro-centric

    • Student identity and experience is evolving

    • Issues of power, democracy and social justice need to be addressed formally as well as informally in an authentic way

    • Neo-liberalism can reinforce marketization of public education as well as less political literacy

  • The study of Whiteness forces us to interrogate identity, difference, equity and power from diverse vantage-points, with myriad linkages to the international context

  • A multitude of studies on racial groups, racial problems, integration, multiculturalism, etc. without a explicit focus on Whiteness and White complicity in shaping social realities

  • Educational policymaking, curriculum development, teacher training and teacher unions, etc., are infused with Whiteness

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George J. Sefa Dei

  • “To my reading and experience, Whiteness is never invisible to those who daily live the effects of White dominance. Many Whites may see their Whiteness, and yet they are able to deny the dominance associated with it. This denial is not unconscious, nor is it accidental; I believe it is deliberate. Critical anti-racism maintains that we will only do away with racism when Whiteness no longer infers dominance and Whites acknowledge and work towards this end. In noting this I also agree that there are contradictory (and sometimes competing) meanings of Whiteness, as in the way Whites and subordinate groups understand contemporary Whiteness (e.g., the perception of Whiteness as anything but positive). ”

  • “Because White bodies are invested in systems of privilege, the importance of dominant groups questioning their self-appointed and racialized neutrality is always critical and transformative. For far too long we have witnessed how White society has conscripted and choreographed the idea of a fractured Black community that avoids taking responsibility.”

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Insider-Outsider perspective

  • Involvement in social justice issues in education since late 1980s, including various projects, committees and academic research on anti-racism;

  • Senior Policy Advisor in the Ontario Government, primarily in the Ministry of Education, for seventeen years, undertaking a range of tasks, including leading several anti-racism, diversity and equity-based initiatives, and being involved in curriculum, policy and research projects;

  • Academic research on transformational change in education, equity and identity, and, recently, democracy and social justice in education;

  • Book on Whiteness with Darren Lund entitled The Great White North? Exploring Whiteness, Privilege, and Identity in Education, to be published in Spring 2007 by SENSE Publishing.

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Critical educational policymaking

  • How do governments and educational decision-makers consistently avoid being held to account for social justice?

  • Why do reforms routinely ignore or omit dealing with racism?

  • Is this latent and less than stringent institutional response merely willful neglect, systemic dysfunctionality, a contrived, intricate web of inequitable power relations or rather the fomenting of ingrained racist interests?

  • More importantly, why should some promises or commitments be held up as a standard, and others that are never even broached or are discarded as meaningless or insignificant, not be considered as important?

  • What is the role of Whites in sustaining and shaping racism?

  • Given the crystallization of neo-liberal interests, what has happened in/to public education over the past fifteen years?

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  • Primarily focused on 1995 with a view to the 1990-2007 period:

    • a left-wing New Democratic (Bob Rae, NDP) government [1990-1995];

    • a right-wing Progressive Conservative (Mike Harris, PC) government [1995-2003]; and

    • a centrist Liberal (Dalton McGuinty) government [2003-present].

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“Un panier de crabes” (“A basket of crabs”)

  • The three governments (1990-2007)

    • a range of expectations

    • a series of promises

    • Focus on message (“the medium is the message”, “manufacturing consent”); pollsters, consultants, focus-groups $billions on communications the political party before the public good, using public funds for narrow political purposes

  • Perception is reality:

    • PC government kept its promise to cut taxes (but  increased federal taxes, user-fees, lost or reduced public services, privatization of other services + broken promises, including the introduction of an “anti-discrimination education” program).

    • NDP government seen as reckless, out of control, and unable to faithfully do what it said it would do because of a large deficit combined with a recession.

  • Ben Levin (2005) summarizes the intricacies of government as follows:

    • “Government is a very tough world, full of pressures, tensions, and contradictions. A new government begins with strong policy commitments, but the pressures of political influence and events are highly distracting. The work is complex and unrelenting, while expectations are so high they can rarely be met and scrutiny is extensive and unforgiving. In some ways it is an impossible task, made more difficult because often the people taking it on do not really know what they are getting into.”

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Turmoil in education (1995)

  • Upheaval:

    • end to a broad range of equity policies;

    • concomitant introduction of a de facto war against teachers;

    • general assault on unions in favour of private choice and individual rights

  • Neo-liberal model:

    • “back to basics” pedagogical approach (“student-focused funding”, “higher curriculum standards”);

    • more influence for business in schools and the curriculum;

    • no focus on citizenship, democracy, diversity and social justice;

    • introduction of tax-incentives for parents for private schools;

    • Radical shift in rhetoric (suggestion that employment equity and anti-racism were anti-White male and anti-majority group);

    • broad-brush embracing of testing at all levels, including “teacher testing”.

  • Conservative mantra to “create a crisis in education” leaked inadvertently in the first week of new government  “Days of Action” protests

  • Neo-liberal, conservative focus on competition and employability in Ontario case seems extreme in comparison to other jurisdictions

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Leadership by example

  • No more “racism” (“See no evil, hear no evil…”)

    • No discussion

    • No meetings

    • No policy development

    • No training

    • No accountability

    • No formal recognition, an officially “colour-blind” society

  • Sophisticated signals from the top of the pyramid: everyone understands what should be said, how and where

    • No longer a formal priority for school boards, principals and teachers

    • Not as prominent in school boards’ business and strategic plans

  • Control of the agenda  passive or full-fledged compliance from the educational sector

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Public Servants and Ideology

  • Are they “middle of the road”, slightly left of centre, due to their choice to work in government?

  • How did they react to the arrival of the NDP, PC and Liberal governments?

  • Are some public servants “equity workers” (Rezai-Rashti, 2003; McCaskell, 2005)?

  • How and why decisions are made is not always rational, coherent and/or justifiable (effect on public servants)

  • Reference to ideology is systemically discouraged; a certain pride in feigning that public servants are “neutral”, able to implement policies, not develop them, regardless of the political party in power.

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The Formal Commitment to Social Justice

  • 1995: equity workers left numb at the thought of the new government’s mission to dismantle the anti-racism file; morale was low, and suspicion over the end high

  • One shortcoming of the Ministry of Education’s Anti-racism and Ethno-cultural Equity Education Branch was that almost all of the staff (the majority of whom were RMs) came from the school board sector, and they did not have experience in government

    • the Branch was not seen to be an integral part of the Ministry but, rather, an outside entity, almost a “special interest group”, and this fact disadvantaged it greatly.

  • Anecdotes:

    • these new arrivals to the Ministry were seen to be attempting to disrupt the conventional, accepted educational terrain;

    • there were a number of complaints from people saying they resented “being treated like a racist” at anti-racism training sessions

    • one anti-racism staff told the moment he entered a committee meeting for a curriculum initiative that “this is not an anti-racist committee”, to which he responded, without missing a beat, “oh, it must be a racist committee”

    • “we don’t need anti-racist education because all of our kids are White”

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Knowing Your Place in Government

  • With the PC Government’s neo-liberal economic model focused on “business plans”, borrowed from Alberta, everything, therefore, was supposed to be measured and accountable… except for equity.

  • Anecdotes:

    • Discussion about proposals for school councils, parental involvement and at-risk students; intervention regarding exclusionary practices, absence of data-collection and systemic barriers; response by a senior official, in a slightly exasperated tone, was clear; while pointing to the door, the official stated: “You know where the door is; if you don’t like it you don’t have to stay”.

    • Many public servants questioned why and how the business model should be transposed on public education, where, clearly, the bottom-line was never intended to be profit.

    • Most disparaging with the business plans was the reality that there was no visible, credible follow-up on the goals, targets, measures and other barometers of success that took untold meetings and resources to generate.

    • No goals, targets, measures and other barometers of success were considered for the social justice domain.

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Public Servant/Political Staff Relationships

  • Tension-point for public servants is relationship with political personnel (each Minister has roughly 15), many of whom are parachuted into government with little experience of how government works, and are deeply suspicious of public servants.

  • Public servants are generally knowledgeable about the intricacies, idiosyncrasies and maneuvers of political parties, and must pay a certain deference to political staff.

  • Anecdotes:

    • the day after the PC election, a female francophone colleague is accosted;

    • a colleague from the Toronto Board of Education recounted an anti-racism training-session for staff he was giving, in which he was told quite bluntly by one of the participants “what’s the point, you lost the election”;

    • many people interpreted the PC message as one of a victory for Whites.

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Government and Communications

  • Is it possible for outsiders to access decisionmaking processes?

  • Bureaucratic joke: two things you do not want to see being made:

    • 1) sausage; and

    • 2) public policy

  • How do you know what the Government’s agenda is?

    • Throne Speeches

    • Budgets

    • Policy platforms

    • Speeches from the Premier and Minister

    • Other signals, often disseminated in the media

  • How do you know if you understand the Government’s agenda?

    • You send up “trial balloons”

    • Read the press clippings

    • Prepare contingency plans, options papers, and proposals to “try to find a hook”

    • Question-period, issues management, briefing-binders, hysterical staffers

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Social Justice Groups and the Government Agenda

  • Access to government is pivotal to be able to have input into the decisionmaking process

  • With the arrival of PCs, virtually all contact with visible minority groups was eliminated

  • Anecdotes:

    • new Equal Opportunity Office (EEO) replaced the Ontario Anti-racism Secretariat (the terminology is illustrative).

    • EEO roundly criticized by equity sector for being redundant, as no equal opportunity policies were made mandatory, but this did not receive much attention in the media, nor at the governmental level.

    • a senior official described how social justice groups were no longer an irritant because they simply did not exist on the government radar (“they [the social justice groups] were defeated”)

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Government Inaction and Sabotage

  • Old leitmotif about studies gathering dust

    • Guideline on preventing hate-crime activities destined for school principals; the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) included half of the draft, unpublished document in their membership-magazine, complementing the Ministry for its work, and demanding that the document be released

    • Other equity documents that were never distributed by Conservatives include:

      • A Teacher’s Guide for Anti-racism in the Classroom

      • A resource on the development, selection and usage of Equity in Learning Materials

      • A curriculum guideline on Afro-Canadian Studies

      • A resource-document on Aboriginal Anti-racism Education

  • In the absence of formal guidelines, the system is able to vacillate with the ebb and flow of daily concerns without focusing on the larger portrait (social justice)

  • What would education in Ontario look like 12 years later if all of these reforms had been implemented?

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Thwarting a Progressive Response in Both Official Languages

  • Prolonged tension between English-language/Anglophone and French-language/Francophone areas

  • Multiculturalism and anti-racism perceived as Anglophone concerns and priorities; Francophones argue that they face discrimination from Anglophones

  • The definition of the term “Franco-Ontarian” became contentious/intractable

  • Few non-Whites in French-language policy area

  • French-language racial minorities caught in delicate position

  • Anecdote:

    • French-language school board anti-racism plans

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Government and the Curriculum

  • Writing Curriculum is a political process; top-down process from the Premier’s Office

  • Conservative government discarded NDP “common curriculum”, rejecting attitudes and bahaviours in favour of skills and knowledge within a pro-business framework

  • Untold millions spent on communicating “high standards” of new curriculum

  • No room for social justice in curriculum-writing process; some committee-members represent business sector, which was poorly understood by teachers and others; few racial minorities or equity advocates

  • The Liberals started to re-write curriculum in 2003, in part, to reflect absence of equity

  • Anecdotes:

    • Implosion of Social Sciences curriculum committee (Fielding)

    • The likelihood of successful implementation of curriculum without teacher involvement (Fullan et. al)

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Documenting and Abolishing Difference

  • For fifteen years, the issue of academic under-achievement for Black youths has surfaced; the lack of formal response is indicative of White privilege

  • The Ontario Royal Commission on Learning (1995) suggested that there was systemic racism in education, that data should be collected, and that Black-focused schools should be considered; the Tories ignored the equity portion of this Report

  • New PC Government immediately erased equity gains, and the issue of collecting data based on racial lines no longer existed.

  • Anecdote:

    • Meeting with teachers’ unions to inform them of Conservative plans to revoke employment equity legislation, making it illegal to collect data based on race

      • “Let me get this right. We spent five years resisting, and trying to be convinced, and fighting the government against the employment equity legislation, and now we’re in a position to make some gains, and we understand why we’re doing it, and you’re telling us to destroy all of the data”

    • Despite the fact that there are no data to prove it, it seemed as though there was a drastic and immediate Whitening of senior levels in Ministry of Education in 1995

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Re-starting the Cycle a Decade Later

  • 2003: Liberals state that they wish to no longer exacerbate social divisions created by Tories

  • The promise to implement “character education” has been extremely low-key

  • Some speculate that character education is value-laden with “feel-good” concepts (respect, tolerance, etc.) that appeal to the Conservative ethos without articulating any change in the structure and power of the system, and could also include religion, as in the US model

  • Values focus leads to questions about:

    • Whose values? Are the normative values those of the dominant elite?

    • How do you ensure that these values are appropriately articulated and reinforced?

    • Whether teachers are well-positioned to teach values?

    • How do you critique the values of leaders?

    • Are politicians role-models who should be emulated by students?

    • Is character education meant to reinforce White power and privilege?

    • What about issues of power, racism, poverty, gender inequities, etc.?

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De-centering Whiteness

  • Thompson (2003):

    • “To pursue social justice, we have to decenter whiteness from programs for social change. Among other things, this means relinquishing our cherished notions of morality: how we understand fairness, how we understand what it means to be a good person, how we understand what it means to be generous or sympathetic or tolerant or a good listener. When we are challenged for our whiteness, our tendency is to fall back on our goodness, fairness, intelligence, rationality, sensitivity, and democratic inclusiveness, all of which are caught up with our whiteness. “How can you call me (me, of all people!) a racist?.”

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Goodness and racism

  • Marx and Pennington (2003) raise an issue that troubles and confounds many Whites, concerning the perceived paradoxical relationship between goodness and anti-racism:

    • “Thus, naming racism within themselves (White pre-service teachers) was at first cause for great concern. This is the point where guilt, fear, and even trauma came into the picture. Because they viewed goodness and racism as a dichotomy, their first glimpse of their racism led them to the conclusion that they must be horrible people. It seemed that, in coming to terms with their own racism, our students/participants necessarily had to make the connection that they could still be good be people and still be racist…. Moreover, despite their altruistic hearts and their efforts to “hide” their racism, it is still possible for their racism to hurt the children they teach.”

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Key considerations

  • Accountability

  • Language/terminology

  • Representation

  • Political Literacy

  • Praxis

  • Broader, “thicker” conception of education, social justice, citizenship and democracy

  • Challenging White power, privilege, normative values and philosophy

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Questioning Whiteness - General

1. In what ways did/has Whiteness entered your life in Canada as either privilege and/or


2. Can you name ten White Canadians and ten non-White Canadians who have made a

major contribution to science, culture, and life of Canada (excluding sports figures)?

3. Does surviving institutional Whiteness require individual or institutional responses?

4. What aspects of Whiteness are difficult to quantify?

5. Is there a reason for the difficulty in articulating Indigenous responses to institutional

colonization and racism?

6. Do you think that being motivated to fight racial inequality as a result of White guilt is

necessarily a sign of an ill-guided motive? In which instances do you think White guilt could be

beneficial, and, conversely, harmful?

7. Statistical projections indicate that in major Canadian cities (Toronto, Vancouver) White people

will soon be in the minority. How might this affect the process of White Racial Identity

Development (WRID)?

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Questioning Whiteness - General

8. How can individuals work against the silencing of race? What conversations need to happen?

9. What are some of the tactics or mechanisms that Whites use in their denial of race privilege? How are the respective tactics or mechanisms related to attempts to justify and rationalize their beliefs that their achievements are a result of their individual efforts?

10. Is it possible for racial minorities to gain equitable access to employment and educational opportunities without special structural and institutional programs like Affirmative Action and Employment Equity?

11. If racism is to be addressed, White people must recognize (i.e., admitting to) “White privilege,” dealing with the resulting personal or internal discomfort, tensions and conflicts, and challenging the very system or structures that contribute to the privilege. Discuss how best this state of being might be attained without developing the urge to give up or back down in the face of personal and interpersonal conflicts that could undermine the socio-economic and political success for which everyone strives.

12. How is Whiteness complicated by other expressions of ethnicity? By other religious identities? By sexual difference?

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Questioning Whiteness - Education

13. Does Canadian multiculturalism hinder possibilities of discussing Whiteness openly

within schools and communities?

14. How do policies aimed at equity and anti-racism play out in the schools? Are they

enough and, if not, how do we continue to move forward in the struggle against

oppressive practices and systemic racism in the education system?

15. How should Whiteness be broached within an institutional context by those who may not be

in positions of power?

16. How should Whites be made aware of, and become engaged in, the conceptualization

and application of race and anti-racism?

17. What do members of minoritized racial groups need to be aware of as they become part of

the decision-making process?

18. How should Aboriginals and Whites negotiate pedagogy in a changing world?

19. How would you as a teacher develop understandings of the difficult knowledge necessary

to interrogate Whiteness and White privilege?

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Questioning Whiteness - Education

20. What are some of the ways we might be able to avoid "tokenizing" the inclusion of

racial minority (or non-White) people's experiences and/or scholarship in education?

21. How may teacher educators use antiracism pedagogy to disrupt the discourse of

denial, defensiveness, emotional tensions, ignorance, hostility, and “counter-

knowledge strategies” that teacher candidates often engage in to avoid a critical

interrogation of racism and privilege?

22. The next generation of teachers demonstrates limited knowledge of Canada’s racist history.

Consequently, they demonstrate moral superiority toward their neighbours to the South. How

do we work toward a comprehensive picture of Canadian history that highlights

similarities between American and Canadian racial histories?

23. Do discussions of race in secondary school philosophy classrooms necessarily

include discussions of Whiteness? In short, is it necessary to consider Whiteness in

discussions of race?

24. What problems, especially in relation to race, unfold when commercialized imperatives

and practices are the chief forces structuring the day-to-day happenings in schools

of education?

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