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Teaching, White Privilege, and Curriculum Control

I'm a a white male of privilege. I am acutely aware of my privilege as I teach mostly marginalized Aboriginal youth and other disenfranchised students. I was reading Paulo Freire's great book "Pedagogy of Indignation" the other night and the words in the preface (written by Donaldo Macedo) struck me quite hard. He said that critical pedagogues must be challenged to eliminate the savior mentality from white teachers who teach disenfranchised youth. He gave examples that we must challenge educators who take their youth to conferences to "show them off like trophies of accomplishment" and tear down the mindset where educators have an over inflated ego because they're "helping" youth who are living in difficult circumstances.

This hit me incredibly hard as I am a white educator working with at-risk youth and have recently taken students to a conference. Over the summer, I assembled a team of 3 students to help me develop a workshop about poverty and education. The youth designed the activities and wanted an opportunity to tell a more privileged audience about some of their struggles in the hopes of of making them understand how difficult living in poverty really was. During this process I was really impressed that students would meet me over the summer to work on this project and commit themselves to seeing it through.

When we presented our workshop a couple of the students had some stage fright and I had to lead/guide the workshop to make sure we accomplished all that we had planned. The workshop went well and my students had a good time doing it. They got great feedback from some of the audience members. However, after reading Donaldo Macedo's preface, I thought about if I had mistakenly portrayed my students as helpless victims instead of empowered students. Had I used them as "trophies" to show others what I had accomplished ?

Needless to say, I don't think I did the necessary work to understand how my privilege can allow my "good intentions" to actually dis-empower my students. It's a tough pill to swallow to not realize how my white privilege could have blinded me to treating my students as objects and not as amazing students who should be treated with the utmost dignity and respect. It's a reminder that I must be cognizant of how my white privilege impacts my perceptions and understanding of my students and the education we engage in. It is essential that I combat my privileged viewpoint on a daily basis to ensure that I am in a process of using my privilege to empower my students.

And since I'm on a hip hop kick, check out Macklemore's song "white privilege" for more on this topic.

On another note, I've been getting increasingly frustrated with Alberta's social studies curriculum......and all curriculum for that matter. At times it doesn't matter how critical, alternative, or empowering you can make your classroom, you still have to ascribe to the curriculum. This is especially true for my grade twelve's as they have to write a standardized diploma exam at the end of the course, which is worth 50% of their overall mark.

Curriculum is a great way to control what is taught in our classrooms. It hinders the creative capacities of teacher's to engage in what Chris Emdin calls "reality pedagogy". Within social studies, I can't help but notice that the new "progressive" curriculum still leaves out a great deal of aboriginal culture, Canadian social movements, and does its best to neutralize knowledge into plain facts that must be memorized to graduate.

In an ideal world, teachers should have the professional respect and dignity to teach a curriculum that acted as a guide, not as a set of required knowledge that must be regurgitated on exams. I guess we can just add it to the list of things teachers must fight for in order to improve the system in which we work.