Voices in Education

Rethinking HOW We Teach

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Back in August, I wrote a blog highlighting the need for educators to consider how dominant ideology impacts their instruction as well as their relationships with curriculum, their students, and their teammates. The purpose of this blog is to continue that conversation on ideology which is necessary for all educators including administrators, curriculum developers and coaches, classroom teachers, special education teachers, speech and language pathologists, and other service providers who work with students and families.

What is ideology? 

In Beyond the Fog of Ideology, Lilia I. Bartolomé defines ideology as, “a framework of thought constructed and held by members of a society to justify or rationalize an existing social order. Dominant ideologies are typically reflected in both the symbols and cultural practices of the dominant culture that shape people’s thinking such that they unconsciously accept the current way of doing things as ‘natural’ or ‘normal.’” In this sense, ideology is more than a single thought or belief we might have about a student. It is the network and complex that upholds and gives life to that thought or belief. Because these ideologies are so deeply ingrained, educators may resist to confront them or may fail to notice them all together. Part of this resistance may stem from a need to defend dominant social values that are experienced on a personal level and are integral to the sense of self as described in Hysterical Blindness and Ideology of Denial by Ricardo E. Gonsalves. People may struggle to fully commit to being antiracist or abolitionists due to what they might have to reckon with and give up in a world where all people are free. 

This brings me to teacher education programs. Critical consciousness is not always involved or encouraged, which I quickly discovered from talking with other educators. So, why is it not? I think it is because teaching young, pre-service educators to be critical of school and education would not only expose extreme inequities and racist underpinnings of this nation’s education system from pre-kindergarten all the way to higher education but also potentially discourage them from being an educator altogether. 

This is part of why so many teachers in the country remain neutral in the face of injustice -- we are taught that there is no link between belief and practice when there is. 

Why Ideology Must Precede Pedagogy 

Bartholomé summarizes that powerful dominant ideologies (see next section) are inscribed in every dimension of school as we know it which includes our pedagogy. This is something I firmly stand by. Before a teacher can consider instructional moves and try out the next best thing when it comes to strategies, it is imperative that we engage in critical self-reflection and inquiry and make it our praxis. When we do not evaluate our ideologies, pedagogy is rendered useless. We cannot possibly hope to build authentic connections and relationships and engage our students in meaningful learning if our beliefs do not align with how and what we teach in the classroom. We cannot continue to tell ourselves that we are actively antiracist and working to dismantle oppressive systems in our classrooms if we continue to hold harmful ideologies.

Harmful Ideologies 

Examples of dominant ideologies that impact schooling and the educational landscape include the meritocratic, assimilationist, deficit, and colorblind ideology. Definitions of each ideology are taken from Beyond the Fog of Ideology. Examples are written by me. 

As you read through these, I encourage you to think about: 1) How does this resonate with me as an educator today? And 2) How does this resonate with me as the child and student I once was?

  • The myth of meritocracy: the idea that one can achieve social mobility through one’s own merits regardless of one’s social position 
    • Sounds like: “You can succeed as long as you work hard enough” 
    • Looks like: Educators blaming students for academic difficulties, comparing students and basing success off the highest performing student, using family backgrounds to create false narratives, not seeing the value of differentiated instruction, equating success with effort, recreating harmful hierarchies, and holding low expectations
  • Assimilationist Ideology: the idea that non-white immigrants and subordinated indigenous groups must conform to dominant, white culture 
    • Sounds like: “If you want to succeed and be successful, be more like us and less like you” or “We’re at school, so speak English” 
    • Looks like: Educators prioritizing conformity to dominant culture and using whiteness as a standard, discouraging the use of home language and language variants, creating policies around clothing, dress, physical posture, and hairstyles, and fostering a culture that prioritizes professionalism, compliance, and urgency 
  • Deficit Ideology: the idea that a student’s academic performance is due to pathologies or deficits in sociocultural background (e.g., cognitive and linguistic deficiencies, low self-esteem, poor motivation) 
    • Sounds like: “they can’t read,” “they won’t understand that,” “that’s too hard,” “because they can’t speak English” 
    • Looks like: Educators creating false narratives about students and their abilities, having low expectations, deficit mindset around student achievement and abilities, unwillingness to differentiate and widen the range of topics, texts, and activities students are exposed to 
  • Colorblind Ideology: the idea that race does not exist therefore ignoring the realities of unjust and racist systems, and assuming that all students have and will have the same experiences in life when students are actually born into different circumstances and trajectories
    • Sounds like: “I don’t see race,” “I don’t see color,” or “I treat all my students the same”
    • Looks like: Educators perpetuating colorblindness and teaching students that race and racism do not exist which may result in 1) white children causing harm without recognizing it and being able to fully acknowledge it or be held to account; 2) harmful outcomes for BIPOC students in the future 

Part of what it means to be an actively antiracist educator is to know yourself in relation and proximity to power and privilege and recognize oppressive systems including those that exist in education and within your very own classroom. Only then can we work toward dismantling them.

The Impact of Ideology: Tree Analogy 

A few months back, I shared this tree analogy to help people better understand teacher ideology. Imagine the roots of a tree as a teacher's ideology, the tree trunk is a teacher's pedagogy, the stems and branches represent everyday teacher choices and interactions, and the leaves are student outcomes. Trees may still grow if a teacher holds dominant ideologies but there is lasting harm, especially for teachers serving Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) students.

For students whose teachers hold ideological clarity, student outcomes include but are not limited to:

  • access to learning and meaning-making
  • positive relationships with peers, teachers, and education
  • meaningful learning as opposed to no learning or rote learning
  • sense of community and belonging
  • critical thinking and critical consciousness
  • agency, self-determination, self-actualization

I invite you to use this analogy to reflect on your current ideology. How do you view your students and their abilities? How does this manifest in your pedagogy as well as your choices and interactions? What are short-term and long-term outcomes when it comes to student learning, well-being, and growth? 

Terry Kawi

Terry Kawi ELA Teacher and Instructional Coach Instagram: ms_kawi

Terry Kawi is a middle school ELA teacher and instructional coach. Terry is a 6-8 ELA teacher in the Bay Area and previously taught in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a bachelor of art’s degree in history from UC Davis and master’s degree in teaching secondary English from USC. Terry is entering her eighth year of teaching and continues to prioritize building relationships and empower students through reading and discourse. Outside of teaching, Terry enjoys reading nonfiction, listening to music, and staying active.

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