Harvard Educational Review
  1. Troubling Education

    Queer Activism and Anti-Oppressive Pedagogy

    By Kevin Kumashiro

    New York: Routledge Falmer, 2002. 228 pp. $27.95

    In Troubling Education: Queer Activism and Anti-Oppressive Pedagogy, Kevin Kumashiro challenges simplistic notions of anti-oppressive education. In this narrative study he introduces readers to seven queer anti-oppressive activists — Pab, Christopher, Matthew, Beth, Sue, Debbie, and Sam. Kumashiro chooses these seven participants not because they are from the only community missing from the conversation among researchers about anti-oppressive education, or because these are the

    “best” stories or voices . . . for insight on oppression or education, but because queers are among the “most hated group of people in the United States. . . . I focus on activists because they are doing the kind of work that I would like to see educators and students doing.” (p. 11)

    Kumashiro opens with a story of his own teaching as he comes up against preservice education students’ resistance to his use of the term queer. He discovers just how difficult it is for them to stay in places of discomfort as learners. Out of this experience arises the questions at the center of Kumashiro’s research and this book: “I am curious about what it means to address our resistance to discomforting knowledges, and about what it means to put uncertainties and crisis at the center of the learning process” (p. 8). Kumashiro seeks not only to “trouble education,” but to “trouble educational research” itself by “looking beyond the theories and methods that we already know” (p. 9). A resource for educators and researchers in all settings, the activists’ narratives, in dialogue with Kumashiro’s own stories of anti-oppressive teaching and activism, call readers to “reflect on their own assumptions, identities, theoretical frameworks, and educational practices and put to use whatever insights are gained” (p. 25).

    In chapter two, Kumashiro presents a four-part typology of “theories and practices of anti-oppressive education” — Education for the Other, Education about the Other, Education That Is Critical of Privileging and Otherness, and Education That Changes Students and Society. He identifies each typology’s definition of oppression, explains its theory of change, and analyzes its strengths and weaknesses. The first three typologies will be familiar to those who teach for social change using critical pedagogies.

    His fourth typology introduces readers to the insights and questions of feminist-poststructuralist educators such as Elizabeth Ellsworth and queer theorist/educators such as Deborah Britzman. Kumashiro makes accessible notions such as “citation” and “deconstructing the norm/Other binary.” He also gives examples of teaching through crisis and resistance across all disciplines, including math and science, challenging the assumption that this is the terrain of social studies teachers only. While a poststructuralist approach provides the favored lens for Kumashiro’s analysis throughout the book, he also names its limitations and dangers: “Is it ethical to intentionally lead students into crisis? Are all experiences with crisis anti-oppressive? Is working through crisis an invasion of a students’ privacy?” (p. 69).

    Chapters three and four turn to the narratives of the queer activists Kumashiro interviewed. Rooted in feminist, collaborative, and activist approaches to research, Kumashiro brings his theory to the interviews with the seven activists. Their responses to his theories and questions about “moments of significance” on their own journeys as activists evoke personal narratives. Kumashiro draws on his interview data to compose long narrative poems using the participants’ words to portray their experiences and insights. Rejecting the traditional block quote, he chooses this “narrative poetry” form because it better replicates everyday speech patterns. “It is an attempt to have my participants and me speak to the reader” (p. 21). He also hopes that this literary lens will remind readers that these narrative poems are his “re-presentations” of the activists' experiences and are themselves contextual and partial. In turn, readers may be more able to “acknowledge their own lenses and interpretive labors in understanding my participants’ experiences” (p. 22).

    In chapter three, Kumashiro complicates familiar understandings of anti-oppressive education as he analyzes the narratives and his own experiences through what he calls multiple “routes of reading.” Through this poststructural analysis of the narratives, Kumashiro reveals new understandings of otherness and difference (Pab), of privilege and normalcy (Christopher), of intersected and situated oppressions (Matthew). In addition, Beth’s stories challenge readers to “look beyond” what they already know as familiar approaches to anti-oppressive education. As Kumashiro explores “noncommonsense” ways of reading these narratives, he hopes this research-as-teaching will challenge readers to trouble their own assumptions — in an effort to rethink what it means to challenge oppression, to desire normalcy, to embrace contradictions, and work through resistances.

    In chapter four, Kumashiro reads for the “kinds of labor” these activists live out in their daily lives as they work to sustain their commitments to anti-oppressive change. His readings reveal four practices: doing homework, inverting and exceeding binaries, juxtaposing different texts, and catalyzing for action and change. As Kumashiro describes how Sue’s, Debbie’s, Matthew’s, and Pab’s narratives respectively enact their learning and action, he “explores” how different routes of reading can help readers/researchers/educators/students to address our resistances to anti-oppressive change” (p. 137). Moreover, Kumashiro juxtaposes his own experiences with those of his participants, challenges himself with their insights, and thus invites readers to do the same.

    Some readers may find Kumashiro’s “vignettes” of an activist teacher named Sam more familiar yet no less challenging. Appearing in a more traditional format and situated between each of the chapters, her stories bring readers back to the classroom and its possibilities and limitations as a place of and for anti-oppressive education. Sam offers not answers but another voice in this book’s rich dialogue about what being and becoming an anti-oppressive educator means and requires.

    Kumashiro’s last chapter resists the traditional summary of findings and insights for teaching and implications for further research. Subverting his own authority as the researcher, he writes, “I wanted an ending that would trouble my own authority, the authority of my own readings” (p. 200). Indeed, Kumashiro resists being the final authority on the lives and learning of these queer activists and what they might have to say to educators. Throughout the book, he situates the reader as an active interpreter of the experiences of these queer activists as he invites the reader to think alongside him, to put their own lives into dialog with the activists’ stories, and to question his interpretations and seek alternative understandings of these activists’ lives and actions. Reading Troubling Education is itself a “kind of labor.” Resisting “panaceas of best practice” and “desires [for] strategies that work,” Kumashiro challenges teachers and learners to risk the paradoxes of anti-oppressive education. He and the seven activists remind readers that sustaining such a commitment requires never-ending work. For all those willing to join Kumashiro and these activists in this work for anti-oppressive education and change, this book provides company and challenge for what Myles Horton calls “the long haul” of teaching for social change.

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    Book Notes

    Why Is It So Hard to Get Good Schools?
    By Larry Cuban

    Losing My Faculties
    By Brendan Halpin

    Teaching with Fire
    Edited by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner

    Troubling Education
    By Kevin Kumashiro

    The Promotion of Social Awareness
    By Robert Selman

    Affirming Diversity
    By Sonia Nieto

    City Schools and the American Dream
    By Pedro Noguera

    Adolescent Lives in Transition
    By Donna Marie San Antonio