A pedagogy for justice: Reinterpreting democracy, normative whiteness and the public space

Karen Rose Jandreau Clark, University of Pennsylvania


This work is about the extraordinary lack of justice in our nation, communities, institutions, and the public spaces of schools and classrooms. In this practice-based dissertation, I argue that the injustices that distinguish the ways we live and learn together result from two related constructs: (1) our current understanding of the meaning and practice of democracy in the United States; and (2) the practice and operation of normative whiteness within our larger society as well as the individual experiences of citizens. I suggest that together these constructs promote exclusive ways of thinking, deliberating and doing that deny many citizens the opportunities for full membership in American society. Drawing from the literatures of political theory, critical pedagogy, critical race theory, and whiteness along with the significant body of professional knowledge I have gained in thirty years of teaching and a lifetime of social activism, I employ a recursive reading of the texts of theory and practice to develop my arguments. Using examples from my practice to illuminate theory and critically examining theory to better understand my practice, I demonstrate the ways that the practice of democracy combined with the power, positionality and privilege associated with normative whiteness operate in public schools and classrooms to prevent many students, especially students of color, from engaging in the rich, equitable, and challenging learning experiences that are essential to the creation of an inclusive and just democracy. This dissertation concludes with three recommendations: (1) Despite the impact of the practice of democracy and the operation of normative whiteness on the educational experiences of children, there is space in education for counter-hegemonic teaching. A pedagogy of justice must inform the daily work of educators; (2) Citizens have a moral and civic obligation to work individually and collectively to establish a just democracy; (3)Citizen/educators have a unique responsibility to use their classrooms as spaces for working to expand the practice of democracy.

Subject Area

Educational theory|Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Educational sociology

Recommended Citation

Clark, Karen Rose Jandreau, "A pedagogy for justice: Reinterpreting democracy, normative whiteness and the public space" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3137996.