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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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7 Discourse and Discipline


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7Discourse and Discipline

One of the most enduring legacies of modernism in the field of education is the privileging of factual, research-based knowledge, presuming that scientific methods offer exclusive access to empirical truths. Any account that claims to be objective, factual, or scientific actually relies, many theorists argue, on metaphors and other fictional, imaginative devices. Truth is not an objective process of deduction; it is, Nietzsche asserts, an imaginative construct that over time becomes normed and accepted as a representation of reality. He defines truth as, “a mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people” (qtd. in Rorty, 1991, p. 32).

The production of truth, Foucault argues further, is a social, discursive construction. Instead of trying to discover what is scientifically true and what is not, Foucault investigates “historically how effects of truth are produced within discourses which in themselves are neither true or false” (1984, p. 60). Thus, the position of many postmodern theorists is that permanent, lasting, or verifiable truths cannot be established. Instead of conducting research to find these elusive “truths,” postmodernists seek to understand and deconstruct the structures that have been put in place for legitimating and enforcing “truths” and the corresponding official knowledge.

Adopting this perspective would mean a shift, in the field of education, from uncritical...

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