Pedagogy and selective amnesia: investigating the relationship between whiteness and everyday teaching practices

Year: 1998

Author: Shore, Sue

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper represents work in progress on the theme of the relationship between pedagogy and difference with particular emphasis on the way in which whiteness is ignored as an element of cultural difference. A cornerstone of adult education theory is the premise that adult education programs have a role to play in promoting both personal growth and collective praxis to transform a social order which reflects unjust and inequitable practices. This premise, although problematic, informs my own work in adult education and is variously referred to as a radical, feminist, or at times liberal progressive, project. See for example the work of Tom Lovett, Jane Thompson, Griff Foley and Kathleen Rockhill, as well as Stephen Brookfield and Peter Jarvis for liberal progressive examples. Other influences on this work have been the writings of women of colour (bell hooks, Audre Lorde), cultural studies theorists (Stuart Hall, Ien Ang), and feminists such as Gayatri Spivak, Linda Alcoff, and Ruth Frankenburg, whose work seeks to decentre the (white) masculine voice of Western theory.

These additional influences are helpful in developing a framework for reflexive approaches to adult education practice. However, I propose that much of this work has had little effect on the mainstream literature within adult education. While the scope and possibilities of this work are too large to be fully debated here I want to focus discussion on two key issues central to (re)theorising understandings of adult learners, pedagogy and difference. First, I believe difference has been poorly theorised in adult education literature. Social groupings, and boundaries delineating stable identities, have served to categorise subjects as members of minority groups, disadvantaged groups or social collectives in need of the benefits of adult education programs. These categorisations have certainly served a policy purpose whereby marginalised groups are foregrounded and thus more visible in terms of funding priorities and curriculum needs. However, little work as been done on how these categorisations impact on theorising issues of pedagogy. In fact work with such a theoretical orientation is often dismissed as incompatible with, indeed counterproductive to, the needs of adult educators unless it can meet immediate needs relating to 'classroom practice'.

A second problem with this literature is that it encourages difference in the form of multicultural diversity and promotes tolerance of this diversity but gives scant attention to many of the mainstream values inherent in adult education programs which promote effective participation in mainstream society. The literature elides the powerful influences of a moral and ethical framework underpinned by the complex interconnections of white, Christian, Western, patriarchal and capitalist/materialist values.

My paper will explore how a more explicit examination of the concept of 'whiteness' might be useful in rethinking pedagogy for those educators who want to rethink the relationship between pedagogy and constructions of difference.