There are many ways that curriculum has been theorized from the “Tyler Rationale” to Hirsch’s “cultural literacy” to Anyon’s “hidden curriculum." All of these theories have merits but none seems to capture the whole of what teachers provide to children. Instead, each curriculum theory seems to describe a habit of teaching relation. This relation does not lie exclusively in the teacher mind, nor in the world of objects and events either. Instead, curriculum is in the relation with teachers, students, and the world. This research examines the way a teacher’s understanding of curriculum shifts across time and circumstance, long term and moment to moment. These changes in understanding are framed, not as a feature of a teacher’s improving knowledge of curriculum, but as evidence of the agential nature of curriculum itself. For this study I will concentrate my focus on the way the curricula of racism/antiracism, evolve, shift, and change in ways that merit being called agential. My secondary focus is on naturalistically describing how teachers think about the protean aspects of the curricula of racism/anti-racism.
Responding to racism (systemic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal) has been overtly part of the process of most teacher preparation for several decades and less overtly a part of that process in certain segments of education for considerably longer. Teacher educators have turned to multicultural theories of resisting racism (Sleeter, 1995), various forms of uplift-suasion, culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogies (Ladson-Billings, 1995; Paris, 2012), and most recently toward what is being called anti-racism (e.g. Kendi, 2019). Each of these theories has a different way of producing, enacting, and assessing curriculum and each has been subjected to considerable stress recently as the world has experienced a series of existential crises. Pandemics, economic collapse, and global warming are the more recent and can be added to the longer-term and still ongoing crises like settler colonialism and systemic racism which have also had catalyzing events in recent years. Those catalysts motivated many teachers to have conversations about their preexisting ideas about responding to racism in their curriculum and teacher educators to have conversations about how to support them in this effort. The purpose of my research and this paper seek to be a part of those conversations.
My research project was to investigate how it is that accomplished teachers identify as respond to racism in their practice. Specifically, I look at how racism seems to move and change as teachers actively engage it. To investigate this phenomenon, I recruited educators who already identify themselves as antiracist (and were also regarded by their peers as such) to participate in a series of semi-structured interviews focused on their experiences enacted antiracist curricula. This is the first paper in which I begin detailing and analyzing that empirical data.
I begin my analysis with case studies from my interviews each of which is emblematic of different aspects of racism as an agential curricular idea. The narratives include a high school-wide antiracist program, an online lesson in a middle school classroom, and a job-fair for elementary and middle school students.
Thinking with a theoretical framework that combines the work of Karen Barad (2007), C.S. Peirce (1992), Afropessimist scholarship (King, 2020; Patterson, 1982; Sexton, 2012; Sharpe, 2016; Weheliye, 2014; Wilderson, 2010), and theories of agency from Indigenous philosophers including Deloria (1999), and Marker (2018), I discuss both the ways racism exceeds and evades resistance in these narratives and the ways that the educators manage to outmaneuver racism. I close this paper with a series of incongruities and inconsistencies that classroom educators encounter every day and ask the question: how can teacher educators support future teachers in becoming more aware of and responsive to these inconsistencies?
Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Deloria, V. (1999). Spirit & reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr., reader. Fulcrum Publishing.
Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to be an antiracist. One World.
King, T. L. (2020). New world grammers: The “unthought” Black discourses of conquest. In King, T. L., J. Navarro, J., & Smith, A. (Eds.) Otherwise worlds: Against settler colonialism and anti-blackness (pp. 77-93). Duke University Press.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32, 465−491.
Marker, M. (2018): There is no place of nature; there is only the nature of place: animate landscapes as methodology for inquiry in the Coast Salish territory, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education.
Paris, D. (2012). Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy: A Needed Change in Stance, Terminology, and Practice. Educational Researcher, 41(3), 93–97.
Patterson, O. (1982). Slavery and social death: A comparative study. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Peirce, C. S. (1992). The essential Peirce: selected philosophical writings. (N. Houser & C. J. W. Kloesel, Eds.). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Sexton, J. (2012). Ante-anti-blackness: Afterthoughts. Lateral, 1(1).
Sharpe, C. (2016). In the wake: On blackness and being. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Sleeter, C. E. (1995). An analysis of the critiques of multicultural education. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), Handbook of research on multicultural education (pp. 81–94).
Weheliye, A. G. (2014). Habeas Viscus: Racializing assemblages, biopolitics, and Black feminist theories of the human. Duke University Press.
Wilderson, III, F. B. (2010). Red, white & Black: Cinema and the structure of US antagonisms. Duke University.