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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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2 Deconstructing Modernity


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2Deconstructing Modernity

When new research, instructional practices, or technologies are presented, educators generally make the assumption that they are better than past forms. There is a related presumption in education that knowledge continues to accumulate seamlessly toward ever-improving outcomes. The pendulum swings in educational curriculum and policy, despite polarizing debates that often ensue, take place within a fairly narrow theoretical range. They adhere to modernist notions of a presumed universal order of development, the rational, self-actualizing subject, and binary conceptual structures.

Binary constructions, in particular, remain an accepted means of classification across the swings of educational policy and practice. Learners are constructed as White/Other, male/female, proficient/at risk, literate/illiterate, and obedient/delinquent. Families, likewise, are viewed in mutually exclusive, dichotomous terms, as educated/uneducated, high income/low income, or involved/absent. These binaries collapse complex realities and identities into simplistic categories of analysis, homogenizing them. The either/or structure of modernist thinking denies the permeability of each side of the binary and the ways identity is multiply constituted. Inherent within these binaries is also a hierarchy; one side is naturally assumed to be “less than” the other.

Deconstructing binaries and other legacies of modernism is key, argue transnational feminists Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan, since “models predicated upon binary oppositions cannot move us out of the paradigms of colonial discourse, nor can they provide us with accurate maps of social relations” (1994, p.9). These binaries persist, in part, because of the atheoretical and ahistorical nature of administrator...

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