Date of Award

2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Education

First Advisor

Howard Stevenson

Abstract

Race matters in schools. In addition to the highly publicized racialized achievement gap, race has historically determined who can access education and what kind of education people receive. Additionally, teachers and students bring racial identities to school that impact how they relate to one another, to the school community and to the curriculum. Finally, schools are places where race gets constructed. This study uses qualitative and action research methods to do research with teachers—rather than on teachers—as they learn about how and why race matters in education—and what that means for their classrooms. Because 85% of the K–12 teaching force in the United States is White and middle–class (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010), this research focuses on seven White and middle–class teachers. Through in–depth case studies of each teacher, I explore the conflicts, questions and revelations that arise as they struggle to learn about race, and apply their learning in their classrooms. My findings show, first, that teachers can have a multicultural curriculum and still not have an anti–racist classroom. Race affects every aspect of what happens in classroom and thus can only be addressed through a comprehensive approach that looks beyond curriculum. Second, the questions we ask shape the answers we find. If we are not doing the necessary background work to be able to ask radical questions, we are not going to get radical answers. Furthermore, teachers can only ask the questions they are ready to ask, all of which is shaped by their racial identity developmental stage and their knowledge base. The implication of this for inquiry work is that race–specific inquiries require outside input. Finally, teacher racial identity matters. Having and maintaining an autonomous racial identity is the most powerful tool that teachers can employ, and yet most teachers do not even realize that they have a racial identity, or that it can be developed. White teachers are part of the problem of racial inequity in schools today and therefore can—in fact, must—be part of the solution.