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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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3 Multiculturalism and the Domestication of Difference


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3Multiculturalism and the Domestication of Difference

In educational policy and research, culture is most often ascribed to Others and defined as a static, independent variable; cultural processes are frequently reduced to a single factor (race, gender, class, nation). This conceptualization of culture is a product of modernist binaries (White/Other, male/female, high income/low income) and the colonial notion that other cultures can be described, quantified, and captured. Schools typically organize cultures into distinct, homogenous groups, often depicted only through their visible manifestations (foods, clothing, language, music, holidays, or rituals). Common school assignments fit this conceptualization of culture, with discrete units of study on Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, or other ethnic groups, country reports, or international festivals where students bring a typical food and dress in traditional costumes. Cultural processes are, likewise, reduced to comparative summaries in “cultural proficiency” manuals that are intended to inform school policy and practice.

In contrast to the static, surface-level view of culture often found in schools, anthropologist Clifford Geertz argues that culture constitutes a symbolic code. Geertz describes culture as the webs of significance that individuals spin around themselves. Culture is constructed and transmitted through numerous symbol systems: language, gestures, fashion, art, consumption patterns, religion, science, and law, among many others. It cannot be reduced to a single variable or two, Rogoff argues; this destroys “the coherence among the constellation of features that make it useful to refer to cultural processes” (2003, p. 12). There is little consensus...

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