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Language, Nation, and Identity in the Classroom

Legacies of Modernity and Colonialism in Schooling


David Hemphill and Erin Blakely

Language, Nation, and Identity in the Classroom critiques the normalizing aspects of schooling and the taken-for-granted assumptions in education about culture, identity, language, and learning. The text applies theories of postmodernism, postcolonialism, and other critical cultural theories from disciplines often overlooked in the field of education. The authors illustrate the potential of these theories for educators, offering a nuanced critical analysis of the role schools play in nationalistic enterprises and colonial projects. The book fills the current gap between simplified, ahistorical applications of multiculturalism and critical theory texts with only narrow applicability in the field. This clearly written alternative offers both an entry point to rigorous primary theoretical sources and broad applications of the scholarship to everyday practice in a range of PreK–12 classrooms and adult education settings globally. The text is designed for educators and advanced undergraduate or graduate students in the growing number of courses that address issues of cultural diversity, equity in education, multiculturalism, social and cultural foundations of education, literary studies, and educational policy.
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1 Narratives of Progress and the Colonial Origins of Schooling


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1Narratives of Progress and the Colonial Origins of Schooling

In the West and regions influenced by the West, educators operate within a system structured by modernity and colonialism, though the history and legacies of both remain largely unrecognized and ignored in the field. Despite the fact that schooling is a primary forum for the transmission of language, citizenship, and culture, it is rare in recent decades for teacher preparation programs and schools of education to address the historical origins or cultural specificity of learning and identity. This absence of theory and history contributes to the wide pendulum swings that often occur within the field from: phonics to whole language reading instruction; bilingualism to English-only mandates; portfolio assessments to pencil-and-paper tests; or US national policies like the No Child Left Behind legislation to the Common Core Standards. Each generation of new teachers comes into the profession with little access to knowledge of what has gone before and without the theoretical resources to move beyond two-sided debates in order to investigate how language, nation, and identity unfold in their classrooms.

Many seemingly natural or commonsense policies and practices within the field of education—the age-graded organization of students, the chronological division of history from prehistoric to modern civilizations, and the exploration of regions and cultures one at a time, with sequential units, for example, on Native Americans or China—may appear inevitable or neutral to educators. Yet these patterns are implicated in the distribution and...

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