As a high school teacher, I became increasingly aware of and concerned about the dominant voices of White teachers, students and parents. All too often I heard colour-blind and meritocratic explanations about the engagement and achievements of Indigenous learners. I also frequently heard racially disparaging representations about Indigenous learners and their cultural heritage. It is not my place to suggest that my colleagues, or people involved in education broadly, are not well intentioned when it comes to what has become known as ‘Indigenous education’. I believe a great many are. But good intentions are not enough, as is clearly evident by the disconcerting fact that despite becoming a national concern and locus of action in the 1970s, significant disparities remain when the educational outcomes and engagement of Indigenous learners are compared with those of non-Indigenous learners. When a raft of education policies were initiated in 2009 that sought to ‘close the (achievement) gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous learners, I took it as my cue to undertake the research journey explored and reported in this thesis. However, rather than investigating a potential remedy to ‘fix’ the achievement ‘gap’, my research trajectory moved towards considerations of Whiteness, culminating in what I now describe as an investigation of White shadows in the classroom. White shadows are a conceptual tool that extend our understanding of the ‘hidden curriculum’ by shifting attention to consider the racialised consequences arising from schooling practices that aspire to be critical, that are attempting to work towards social justice, yet seemingly failing to realise these outcomes.
For this study, I explored an educational ‘gap’ in our understanding of the everyday ways that race infiltrates classroom practices. An innovative approach was taken up in response to recent calls from critical race theory scholars for poststructuralist influenced performative investigations of everyday race-making in the classroom. Teachers are significant in this regard, as an authority and steward within this setting; their discursive practices influentially shape the (re)construction and (re)positioning of racialised identities. The investigation highlights the worry that teachers lack the conceptual and discursive abilities to disrupt the (re)production of stereotypical racialised identities. Drawing attention to the presence and influence of White shadows in the classroom offers a valuable way forward with creating a research base that can further assist with exposing and challenging the unintentional and problematic consequences arising from race-making pedagogies.
The race-making pedagogies are encountered in and through what I describe as a critical race insider autoethnography. I returned to the school where I taught to work with six teachers during one semester, with the aim of developing a better understanding of racialised discursive practices in the classroom. Periodically I returned to the school, undertaking ‘dialogic editing’ as a commitment to the ‘relational ethics’ encouraged by autoethnography and race research. The analysis of these data is grounded in what people do; in acceptance that teachers and students - and the researcher - performatively do race in ways that locate, construct and negotiate racialised identities and relationships. The findings reveal the ‘everyday’ practices of the teachers and students that rely on racially stereotypical social scripts that sustain discriminatory racialised hierarchies. Much of the data is presented and explored as autoethnographic chronicles, an approach to research and writing that brought together ideas from critical race theory with reflexive poststructuralist oriented thinking and practices.
In this thesis I develop a deeper understanding of the ways racialised inequities are sustained, despite the ‘good intentions’ of teachers. It is an approach that resonates with working in the ‘eighth moment’ (Denzin, 2010, p. 50) of qualitative research. Hence this thesis has demonstrated how and why educational researchers can and should respond to the ‘call to arms’ and pursue ethical and political strategies that aim to positively ‘impact on everyday lives’. A valuable contribution arising from this research is the addition of White microaffirmations to CRT’s conceptual tools. Much of the research and theorising of race remains focused on the understanding the negative effects arising from racialised hierarchies and the various ways that they are relationally reproduced, this research has shown that more attention regarding the mechanisms that reproduce Whiteness itself is warranted, as this is an important location within which to disrupt the internalised maintenance of Whiteness.
The research illustrates that educational settings remain centrally implicated in the reproduction of racial structures that explain inequalities that extend well beyond the classroom. More than this though, the thesis demonstrates that the classroom remains an important location to disrupt the reiterative power of Whiteness. With this in mind, the White shadows explored here concurrently offer productive possibilities for future research within the education community regarding the potential for alternative racialised pedagogical performance and positioning strategies that might offer all students ‘alternative lines of flight’ that move away from racially stereotyped identities.