Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Book Review: Revealing the Invisible: Confronting the Passive Racism in Teacher Education

Interesting book review by Larry Parker of Sherry Marx' interesting book. -Angela

Revealing the Invisible: Confronting the Passive Racism in Teacher Education

reviewed by Laurence Parker — April 14, 2009

Title: Revealing the Invisible: Confronting the Passive Racism in Teacher Education
Author(s): Sherry Marx
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 041595343X, Pages: 196, Year: 2006

I was a discussant at a recent conference at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on desegregation in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, (2007) where papers were given on the legal direction, social science research and future education policy on the issues related to racial equality and the quest for integrated schools (UNC, 2009). One of the audience participants asked the lawyers, education and social science researchers about what can be done to change the way in which we prepare new graduates of teacher preparation programs (most of whom are White European American), in terms of relating to and addressing the educational and social needs of the students of color who they plan to teach in the schools. Given that 90% of U.S. teachers are White European American while 42% of U.S. students are students of color, this demographic fact leads to problems of racial misunderstandings around the importance of historical race relations, structural racial barriers, and continued confrontation in some schools (p. 18). Sherry Marx’s book, Revealing the Invisible: Confronting the Passive Racism in Teacher Education, seeks answers to this question, and provides us with research through her qualitative study that challenges future white teacher education students and the preparation programs to confront race and racism in a deep, meaningful way in order to promote critical reflection and action regarding social and educational relationships with future students of color in public schools.

Marx relies on definitions of racism and discrimination found in critical race theory and critical social science theoretical and empirical research on the conscious and unconscious ways White European Americans configure race and racial categories by proxy, while asserting their colorblindness and asserting that all are equal regardless of race. While acknowledging the validity of the anti-racist pedagogical approach in directly confronting white racism, Marx takes on this challenge differently, by using a more congenial informational approach that is devoid of confrontation. Working with nine White European American female pre-service teachers, she first seeks to establish a mutual trust framework through qualitative research that relies heavily on storytelling and allowing the students to reveal themselves through their own narratives and biographies as to who they are as young women and what they know and do not know about race, culture and racism. Marx also had the students write reflective journals about their pre-service teaching experience in low-income areas where they mostly worked with students of color in the elementary school grades. Through intensive commenting on the journal entries, Marx pushed the student teachers to probe deeply into the reasons surrounding their comments, particularly as to why some students of color had learning or behavioral problems that were in subtle but powerful ways connected to their race.

The qualitative data from the interviews and journal entries revealed that these young women had very vague ideas about the role of history and the importance of culture in shaping the complex and lived experience of the students of color with whom they worked with in the schools. These pre-service teachers saw the home language that students brought to the schools as a deficit and associated speaking Spanish in the home with a lack of intelligence (p. 57). Marx’s data from her study also illustrated that the student teachers perceived that there were major cultural deficits in the families and home lives of the children they worked with in the schools. Assumptions and assertions were made related to lack of parental involvement, parents not reading to their children, and the children just not being as intelligent as others. They did not recognize that these elementary school students of color were indeed smart and had the knowledge, skills, ability and motivation to advance in their academic levels, but were held back in part due to the biased cultural assumptions about cultural deficiencies related to perceived student performance (pp. 60-61). Marx also shows how the student teachers wanted to maintain their own distance from the students and linked in their own minds an association of whiteness with superiority. These student teachers felt they were doing the right thing by going into teaching to help students of color and save them from their inferior cultural models of learning. The teacher as savior of students of color model was an underlying theme in all the interviews regarding why these young women went into teaching, as they viewed teaching as an act of charity on their part.

Marx then describes the process she used to engage in gentle confrontation with these young women regarding their own privilege as white women, and more importantly in terms of pointing out parts of their journal entries where they made implicit and explicit statements about the low abilities of students linked to unconscious racial categories. When she reviewed the journal entries, Marx pointed to specific passages to discuss with the young women the reasons why they made blanket judgmental statements about the students of color. She also tried to reach these student teachers through the use of evidence, persuasion, and prescriptive ways to encourage them to at least admit to unconscious racism and how it shapes their world view. Her goal was that they be empowered through this recognition and seek out more information and perspectives to increase their knowledge about racism in their professional and personal lives. Marx admits that some of her student teachers did not respond to her deeper probing about racism in their student-teacher/student interactions, while those who did felt shame and guilt but wanted to seek out information through taking different classes in such areas as African American Studies, or critically examining children’s books for racial stereotypes. However, even this subgroup of her study had many challenges ahead in terms of confronting and negotiating whiteness in critical ways within their own personal lives and their experiences as future teachers.

Marx has specific recommendations for improving teacher education from her data in this study. First she calls on teacher education programs to promote more critically engaged discussions about whiteness as property and white privilege and how unchecked biased assumptions of new teachers about children of color can lead to damaging effects in the classroom. She admits that there will be resistance to this given that race-neutrality, reverse discrimination and the ideology of a post-racial society have been embedded in the mindset of White American student teachers and teacher educators. But this must be done in order to address the passive racism that under girds most teacher preparation programs and their students. She also calls for student teachers to be required to take a second language, learn more about the race and social class relationships within the communities they will be doing their student teaching in, and to improve the student placement experience and reflective assignments so that they are “studied more often in the actual classroom setting where behaviors can be compared and contrasted with stated beliefs” (p. 171). All of this needs to be done within a context of racial trust which needs to be established along with support, given that most of these pre-service teachers are White European American females and have not been exposed to in-depth discussions about racism.

This is a powerfully revealing book on teacher education that definitely needs to be read and considered in terms of critically informing race-based teacher education reform. Marx makes a strong case for a more in-depth analysis of pre-service teachers’ world views on race and racism and how they impact education and schooling. Marx could have provided more detailed frame-by-frame analysis of how these pre-service teachers made their judgments about students of color in their classrooms, since a more critical description of the classroom racial interaction would have been more illuminative of how the passive racism works in the pre-service teacher education context. In addition, we also need more purposively directive and innovative ways to increase the diversity of the teacher education students to disrupt the assumption of whiteness, given the disparity between the majority white teaching staff versus the students of color nationally. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the racial achievement gap will only be seriously addressed if we pay attention to the initial question asked in this review about the racial relationships between majority white teachers and students of color in U.S. schools, and Revealing the Invisible provides us with some of those answers.


Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 et al., 551 U.S. (2007).

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (2009, April 2). Looking to the future: Legal and policy options for racially integrated education in the south and the nation. Conference sponsored by the Center for Civil Rights-UNC School of Law, The Civil Rights Project/UCLA, and the Education Policy & Evaluation Center-University of Georgia.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 14, 2009 ID Number: 15615

1 comment:

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