The Resistances Possible When School Subject Areas Talk to Each Other

By Phil Kitchel posted 07-20-2023 10:41 AM


By Kyle L. Chong and Sheila M. Orr

The authors collaborated on the article “Toward an Antiracist Pedagogy of Humanizing Co-creatorship in Teacher Education,” in Volume 87, Issue 3, of KDP’s The Educational Forum. It is available free in the month of July.

Often, future teachers learn to be teachers “of” something—a secondary mathematics teacher, or an English-language educator (like we were). And, honestly, that makes a lot of sense. We want all children to be getting the best education they deserve, from people who really know their stuff.

However, one policy trend we’ve recently noticed is that legislatures are taking away teachers’ decision-making authority by restricting the teaching of subjects like “critical race theory,” sexual orientation, or gender identity. This means that teachers need to be taught more than how to “just teach the content,” but also ways to engage in what Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez calls creative insubordination, as a way to get around these bans safely. However, this happens differently across institutions (like schools, universities), and across content areas within the same institution.

In our recent article in The Educational Forum, we outlined a framework for rethinking about how to organize the curricula that programs use to prepare teachers to teach. We suggested that, as programs reconsider how they train future teachers, they consider four guiding principles:

  1. Anti-racism

  2. Joy

  3. Antidisciplinarity

  4. Humanization

We agree with Dr. Dorinda Carter Andrews, who in an earlier article in The Educational Forum argues that teacher-preparation programs need to support future teachers’ and students’ cultural multidimensionality across their teacher-preparation experiences. We would also add that one of the ways in which programs can do this is by working to support every school subject area to share the responsibility for humanizing pedagogical practices and students’ experiences, challenging white supremacy and other forms of oppression, and growing students’ capacities for joy. This includes supporting prospective teachers, teacher educators, field supervisors, and mentor teachers in engaging in this work.

This is our call for antidisciplinarity in teacher preparation. It’s not about saying that teachers shouldn’t be experts we know they are in mathematics, social studies, or literature. Instead, antidisciplinarity is about giving teachers more tools to create spaces in which children feel supported and valued in schools. Given the increasingly polarized climate of book bans and other restrictions placed on how our kids are taught and learn, their toolbox must include ways to resist such restrictions, while still protecting themselves, their students, and the communities in which they live and work. This work must be antidisciplinary because it is not just the humanities that are coming under attack. Right-wing media have attacked mathematics teachers for discussing ways to engage in mathematics outside of the Eurocentric norm (e.g., counting systems other than base 10), or science teachers for discussing what it means to be intersex and challenging the gender binary.

We have done more research since our article was published that explored the many kinds of resistances that happen in educational contexts where different kinds of bans are placing different constraints on what teachers can teach and how they can teach it. We’ve also observed that there is tremendous potential when, for example, secondary mathematics teachers can turn children’s literature about communities and people of color into robust mathematics and ethnic-studies lessons that send a clear message to kids that they can and should bring their lived experiences into schools every day.

Enabling teachers to best do this, we argue in our article, requires school subject areas to actually talk to each other rather than assume that one subject area will “take care of” or “handle” the social justice aspect of education, or assume that one subject area “doesn’t do” antiracist work.

This work is on all of us— and it can’t wait.

Kyle L. Chong (張陳創庭) (he.him.his) is a Doctoral Candidate of Curriculum, Instruction & Teacher Education at Michigan State University. Kyle is a transnational adoptee born in Taipei, Taiwan raised by Chinese American parents in San Francisco, CA. His research centers Asian[CR]i[T], transnational, and decolonial-informed analyses of the sociocultural foundations of education, curriculum, and Greater China. Kyle’s dissertation project, titled “Surviving China’s Rejuvenation— Global Han Supremacy and the Theft of Asian America in Education,” deliberates Sinocentrism, Sinophobia, and the role of Chineseness in (embodied) curriculum and education to contemplate the future(s) of Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Panethnic coalition. Kyle is a 2023 Curriculum Inquiry Writing Fellow and Anderson-Schwille Endowed Fellow in International Education. Kyle earned a B.A. in Politics & Government (Trimble Distinguished Asia Scholar) from the University of Puget Sound.

Sheila Orr (she/her) is a Doctoral Candidate of Curriculum Instruction & Teacher Education at Michigan State University. As a high school mathematics educator, she was deeply engaged in the community in which she lived and work. She engaged her students in activism work centered on food access in their community. Her work examines the preparation of mathematics teachers to use justice-oriented pedagogies to challenge the white hegemony in mathematics education. Her dissertation builds on this work to examine the ways in which mentor teachers support prospective teachers in this work.