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Coloring in the White Spaces

Reclaiming Cultural Identity in Whitestream Schools


Ann Milne

This book examines the struggle against racial and cultural inequity in educational systems, presenting the case study of a New Zealand school and its community’s determination to resist alienating environments. If we look at an untouched child’s coloring book, for instance, we think of the pages as blank. But they’re not actually blank – each page is uniformly white, with lines established to dictate where color is allowed to go. Children by this are taught about the place of color and the importance of staying within pre-determined boundaries and expectations, reinforcing a system where the white background is considered the norm. To challenge such whitestreaming, this book offers the example of a community that defied and rejected this environment in favor of a culturally-located, bilingual learning model of education based on secure cultural identity, stable positive relationships, and aroha (authentic caring and love). This journey is juxtaposed against pervasive deficit-driven, whitestream explanations of inequity and purported «achievement gaps» of indigenous Māori and Pasifika students. This story chronicles the efforts of the Kia Aroha College community on its quest to step outside education’s «White spaces» to create a new space for learning and to reclaim educational sovereignty – where individuals have the absolute right to «be Māori,» to be who they are, in school.

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Chapter 9. Powerful Spaces


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· 9 ·


Chapter 1 posed five questions that arose from the story of the Samoan girl at the principal’s office door, as fundamental to critical, culturally responsive classroom pedagogy and practice:

1. Can a school create the conditions that empower a student to follow their cultural norms throughout the school day?

2. Why is this important?

3. How can a school ensure all students have this strength in their own cultural identity?

4. What are the specific cultural ways of knowing that young people are developing these skills?

5. How can schools recognize, and address, barriers that exist in their practice to the development of a student’s secure cultural identity?

These questions about cultural identity are linked to resistance and the struggle to wrestle knowledge from the colonizer (Dei, 2011, p. 168). The questions are revisited in this chapter. ← 177 | 178 →

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