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The Effects of Critical Theory on the

Attitudes, Assumptions, and Actions of Teens Aged 17-19






Tania K. Lyon





The Effects of Critical Theory on the

Attitudes, Assumptions, and Actions of Teens Aged 17-19

We certify that we have read this dissertation and approved it as adequate in scope and
quality. We have found that it is complete and satisfactory in all respects, and that any
and all revisions required by the final examining committee have been made.

Dissertation Committee

Dr. Eleni Roulis, Ph.D., Committee Chair

Dr. Thomas L. Fish, Ed.D, Committee Member

Dr. Sarah J. Noonan, Ed.D, Committee Member

Final Approval Date

This qualitative case study explores the following research question: What are the

effects of studying critical theory on the attitudes, assumptions, and actions of teens? The

research was guided by the desire to understand how critical theory affected teens

understanding of self and others identities; how critical theory influenced the ways teens

view local, national, and global society; and if critical theory offered the possibility of

transformative learning for teens. Data gathering occurred in 3 phases: an initial

interview, focus group and message board discussions, and a final interview. Participant

discussions addressed issues of power, social justice, oppression, identity, racism, sexism,

heterosexism, resistance, action, and reflection. The study involved 8 White participants

balanced by sex and year in school: 2 females and 2 males had just completed their junior

years, and 2 females and 2 males had just completed their senior years. All participants

had been students in my Advanced Placement Language and Composition course and had

self-selected the course. Participants self-identified as follows: 1 lower class, 2 lower-

middle class, 4 middle class, and 1 upper class.

This research shows reading and discussing critical theory can be effective in

fostering critical literacy in some teens. Participants began the study with critical

perspectives, but critical theory helped deepen, broaden, foster, and solidify participants

insights into social issues, oppression, dominant culture, normalcy, and unequal power

relationships. The discussions on critical theory illustrated the importance of dialogue in

developing, probing, and refining analytical language as participants explored ideas,

multiple perspectives, examples, experiences, biases, assumptions, attitudes, and actions.

Critical theory provided participants with theoretical frameworks and pragmatic

examples to defend, challenge and qualify their understandings of themselves, others, and

society. Feelings of empowerment, action, uncertainty, and caution surfaced as

participants discussed critical theory, critical perspectives, and critical stances. The

results of the study indicate critical theory provides opportunities for transformative

learning for some teens and directs critical educators working with teens. Teens in the

study developed and used critical thought processes similar to adults. Critical educators

should use educational approaches recognizing and informing teens of these critical

thought processes.


I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.

-William Shakespeare

At long last, I composed the text concluding this degree. The words comprising

the dissertation have been written, rewritten, and finalized into their published form.

While the final text bears my name, I alone did not accomplish this goal. As I end this

journey, I face the most daunting task of all: thanking the many people as integral to this

dissertation and degree as the paper behind the text, as necessary to completion as the

words and ink themselves.

I would like to acknowledge and thank my family who provided unconditional

support through this arduous and stressful process. Their support was borne of

uncomplaining love even as they sacrificed time and resources. My life partner Kent

encouraged and supported me as he took care of issues at home. His belief in my ability

to finish successfully never wavered even during frustrating and challenging times.

Kents quirky humor kept me grounded about both process and product, and his gentle

patience and abiding love continue to nurture, sustain, and inspire me. My children,

Conner and Gavin, have spent years making room for my doctorate in their lives, and

they have lovingly given me space and support to complete this project in the best ways

possible. I hope this process inspires you. I hope you recognize the importance of your

own educations and set your own goals. Perseverance, hard work, honesty, focus, and

belief in yourselves will help you achieve these goals over time. Words cannot

adequately convey my love and appreciation for all three of you. And, no, Conner and

Gavin, you do not have to call me Dr. Mom!

I owe a great deal of thanks to other family members. I thank my mom and dad,

Linda and Larry, for instilling an appreciation of reading and for raising me to believe in

the importance of my education. My parents positive encouragement, multifaceted

support, and unconditional love consistently help me beyond what words can express. My

two brothers and their families have enthusiastically supported me from afar: Mark, Lisa,

Leah, and Josie; and Dan, Sue, Beau, and Tatum. I also want to thank Jack and Joan,

Kents parents, for their endless patience, support, and belief in me. Their gracious

support has been foundational to my success and completion of this program. I greatly

appreciate, too, the contributions of my former college roommate and sister-in-law

Kirsten and her family. She not only introduced me to Kent by marrying his brother

Mark, but she helped me through another degree! Thanks to Kirsten, Mark, Jack, and

Sam for helping me create space in which to complete my requirements and work. All

these family members did more than I can list on paper, and I am indebted to all of you

for your support, kindness, compassion, and love.

I would not have finished this program without Angie, my cohort member and

critical friend. Our friendship began during the first class nearly six years ago. I cannot

imagine completing this degree or dissertation without her. Angies input and feedback

helped shape this dissertation in profound ways. She helped make long hours in the

library bearable, and I never would have undertaken Costa Rica alone. I have many

memories of our experiences in the program. Your work, insight, strength, and

perspective inspire me. Words escape me. Thank you for everything.

I need to thank my dissertation chair and committee members for their help in

completing this degree. My dissertation chair Dr. Eleni Roulis taught my first class in the

program and helped me complete the program. She remained patient with my lengthy

drafts and continued to see potential in the ideas. When I write, I will forever remember

and appreciate Elenis voice telling me to cut, cut, and cut some more. I also want to

thank my committee members Dr. Thomas Fish and Dr. Sarah Noonan whose comments

and suggestions strengthened this dissertation. All of you contributed invaluably to this

work, and I appreciate your assistance, support, and advice.

I feel fortunate to have friends and colleagues who have supported this process.

Jean, Kris, Sarah, and Sue helped me finish this program. They listened to my

experiences, ideas, timelines, and goalseven when I revised them over and over again.

Also, I appreciated my districts support of my education through my partial sabbatical

that allowed me time to complete this dissertation. Three administrations supported the

completion of this degree and this research. I am grateful to work in an environment that

values education.

I owe much to my participants. I am humbled and honored by their thoughtful

contributions to the study. Participants gave generously and honestly to this research

study, and I continue to be inspired by their words, perspectives, and lives. I am

permanently changed from working with all of the participants. Conducting this research

study will remain a highlight of my teaching career. What I have learned continues to

guide what I do with present students. Thank you for sharing your stories, time, and


Finally, I must thank my studentspast, present, and future. I feel fortunate to

work in education with you in the classroom.


ABSTRACT................................................................................................................ i

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ........................................................................................... iii

TABLE OF CONTENTS ............................................................................................ vi

LIST OF TABLES ...................................................................................................... xiv

CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION .......................................................................... 1

Personal Background ....................................................................................... 2

Researchers Positionality ................................................................................ 4

Statement of Problem....................................................................................... 6

Purpose and Overview of the Study ................................................................. 7

Definition of Terms ......................................................................................... 8

Critical ................................................................................................. 8

Critical Theory ..................................................................................... 9

Critical Literacy ................................................................................... 9

Literary Theory .................................................................................... 9

Limitations of the Study................................................................................... 10

Delimitations of the Study................................................................................ 10

Conclusion....................................................................................................... 11

CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW............................................................... 12

Critical Pedagogy............................................................................................. 12

Power and Oppression.......................................................................... 12

Education as Domination...................................................................... 13

Education and Capitalism..................................................................... 15

Schooling and White Supremacy.......................................................... 16

The Role of Dialogue in Questioning Inequalities................................. 18

Critical Theory................................................................................................. 19

Critical Literacy............................................................................................... 22

Texts .................................................................................................... 22

Music ................................................................................................... 25

Mass Media.......................................................................................... 26

Films.................................................................................................... 28

Theoretical Approaches........................................................................ 29

Literary Theory .................................................................................... 29

Critical Theory ..................................................................................... 30

Transformational Learning............................................................................... 31

Adult Learning Theory and Transformational Learning ........................ 31

Reflective Judgment Development ....................................................... 33

Transformational Learning, Moral Development, and Story ................. 41

Conclusion....................................................................................................... 43

CHAPTER THREE: METHODOLOGY..................................................................... 44

Methodology and Design ................................................................................. 44

Ethics/Confidentiality and Institutional Review Board ..................................... 45

Research Participant Sampling......................................................................... 46

Participant Profiles........................................................................................... 47

Abigail Elizabeth BensonAbby ..................................................... 47

Aquafina .............................................................................................. 48

Cowboy WayneWayne.................................................................. 49

Esther................................................................................................... 49

John KerryJohn ............................................................................. 50

Moira ................................................................................................... 51

Rebecca HendersonRebecca.......................................................... 52

Silas DeaneSilas............................................................................ 52

Setting ............................................................................................................. 53

Data Gathering Procedures............................................................................... 53

Phase A: The Initial Interview .............................................................. 54

Phase B: Focus Group and Message Board Discussions........................ 55

My Role as Facilitator............................................................... 55

Focus Group One...................................................................... 56

Focus Group Two ..................................................................... 58

Focus Group Three ................................................................... 61

Message Boards........................................................................ 62

Phase C: The Final Interview................................................................ 62

Data Analysis Procedures................................................................................. 63

Conclusion....................................................................................................... 65

CHAPTER FOUR: DATA ANALYSIS ...................................................................... 66

Phase A: The Initial interview.......................................................................... 66

Phase B: Focus Group and Message Board Discussions ................................... 68

Focus Group One Analysis................................................................... 68

Emerging Theme One: Foucaults (1977/1996) Attitude and

Bias as a Starting Point for Discussion ...................................... 69

Emerging Theme Two: Panoptic Power, Individual Identities,
and Labels ................................................................................ 70

Emerging Theme Three: Panoptic Power, Its Structure, and

Its Effects on Peoples Emotions and Behaviors........................ 72

Emerging Theme Four: The Central Disagreement of the

Discussion: Moiras Challenge to Panopticon as a Valid
Theory of Power ....................................................................... 73

Emerging Theme Five: The Research Study as Panopticon ....... 75

Emerging Theme Six: The Arbitrary Nature of Social Norms

and Culture ............................................................................... 76

Group Dynamics....................................................................... 78

Summary of First Focus Group ................................................. 78

Focus Group Two Analysis .................................................................. 79

Activity One: Reflection on the First Focus Group and

Message Board Discussions ...................................................... 80

Activity Two: Presentation of Collages or Symbols of

Personal Identities..................................................................... 80

Emerging Theme One: Tatums (1997) Attitude and Bias as a

Starting Point for Discussion..................................................... 83

Emerging Theme Two: Gender Connections and Participant

Motivation for Getting off the Topic of Racism ........................ 84

Emerging Theme Three: Standards of White Normalcy ............ 85

Emerging Theme Four: Are We All Racist?.............................. 87

Emerging Theme Five: Panoptic Power, Racism, and

Stereotypes ............................................................................... 87

Emerging Theme Six: The Central Disagreement of the

Discussion: Johns Stance Against White Identity Theory......... 88

Emerging Theme Seven: Colorblindness as a Solution to

Racism...................................................................................... 89

Emerging Theme Eight: Taking Action as a Solution to
Racism...................................................................................... 90

Emerging Theme Nine: The Efficacy of Mix-It-Up-At-Lunch

Day as a Means of Breaking Down Racism............................... 92

Group Dynamics....................................................................... 92

Summary of Second Focus Group............................................. 93

Focus Group Three Analysis ................................................................ 93

Activity One: Reflection on Racism Discussion ........................ 94

Emerging Theme One: Authors Attitudes and Biases as

Starting Points for Discussions.................................................. 94

Emerging Theme Two: Sexist and Heterosexist Messages and

Power in Sex Education ............................................................ 95

Emerging Theme Three: Sexism in Education........................... 96

Emerging Theme Four: Project for Teens, Its Messages

about Sex and Sexual Orientation, and Participants
Complicity in Heterosexism...................................................... 98

Emerging Theme Five: Gender Binaries ................................... 100

Emerging Theme Six: Heterosexist Standards and Fear of

Differences ............................................................................... 101

Emerging Theme Seven: The Connection of Heterosexism and

Sexism to Other Forms of Oppression....................................... 103

Emerging Theme Eight: Assumptions Enforce Oppression ....... 103

Emerging Theme Nine: The Central Disagreement of the

Discussion: The Use of Critical Theory in Secondary
Education.................................................................................. 104

Group Dynamics....................................................................... 108

Summary of Third Focus Group................................................ 108

Message Board Analysis ...................................................................... 109

Emerging Theme One: Panoptic Power and Education.............. 110

Emerging Theme Two: The Function of Panoptic Power in

Contemporary Society .............................................................. 110

Emerging Theme Three: Race Treason (Ignatiev, 2007) as an

Alternative to Tatums (1997) Ideas.......................................... 113

Emerging Theme Four: Action Against Racism ........................ 114

Emerging Theme Five: The Differences Between Prejudice

and Racism ............................................................................... 115

Emerging Theme Six: The Issue of Identity Politics.................. 115

Emerging Theme Seven: The Conceptual Integration of

Multiple Forms of Oppression .................................................. 116

Summary of Message Boards.................................................... 116

Summary of Phase B: Focus Group and Message Board Discussions ... 117

Phase C: The Final Interview ........................................................................... 119

Abigail Elizabeth BensonAbby ..................................................... 121

Aquafina .............................................................................................. 127

Cowboy WayneWayne ................................................................. 133

Esther................................................................................................... 139

John KerryJohn ............................................................................. 145

Moira ................................................................................................... 150

Rebecca HendersonRebecca.......................................................... 157

Silas DeaneSilas............................................................................ 164

Summary of Phase C: The Final Interview............................................ 170

Summary of Findings From Phases A, B, and C............................................... 171

Conclusion....................................................................................................... 171

CHAPTER FIVE: FINDINGS AND IMPLICATIONS ............................................... 173

Summary of the Study...................................................................................... 173

Summary of the Findings ................................................................................. 174

Connections Between Critical Theory, Critical Pedagogy, and

Critical Literacy............................................................................................... 177

Critical Theory and Understanding Self ........................................................... 180

Personal Identity................................................................................... 180

Personal Perspectives ........................................................................... 181

Arbitrary Social Norms ........................................................................ 182

Critical Theory and Understanding Others ....................................................... 184

Critical Theory and Understanding Society...................................................... 186

Critical Theory and Action............................................................................... 187

The Problematics of Critical Perspectives ........................................................ 191

Critical Theory and Transformational Learning................................................ 192

Critical Theory and Reflective Judgment Development.................................... 193

Redefining Critical Education for Secondary Students ..................................... 200

Developing Conditions Conducive to Critical Dialogue and Learning.............. 203

Understanding Dissonance in the Critical Thought Process in Teens ................ 205

Disagreeing With Others ...................................................................... 206

Situating the Self Within Power............................................................ 207

Challenging Personal Assumptions....................................................... 208

Teen Understanding of the Process of Breaking Down Assumptions................ 209

Situating Authors Bias: A Meaning Scheme Promoting Critical

Development.................................................................................................... 210

Significance of Study....................................................................................... 211

Recommendations to Educators ....................................................................... 212

Future Research Needed .................................................................................. 214

Personal Insights and Learning ........................................................................ 215

REFERENCES............................................................................................................ 219

APPENDICES ............................................................................................................ 232

A. Appendix A: Consent Forms ....................................................................... 232

B. Appendix B: Critical Incident Questionnaire ............................................... 236

C. Appendix C: Annotated Bibliography of Readings for Focus Group

Discussions ................................................................................................. 237


Table 1 Kitchener and Kings Stages of Reflective Judgment and Moral

Development........................................................................................ 35

Table 2 Emerging Themes From Focus Group and

Message Board Discussions.................................................................. 118

Table 3 Abby Interview Comparison Chart ....................................................... 121

Table 4 Aquafina Interview Comparison Chart ................................................. 127

Table 5 Wayne Interview Comparison Chart...................................................... 133

Table 6 Esther Interview Comparison Chart...................................................... 139

Table 7 John Interview Comparison Chart ........................................................ 145

Table 8 Moira Interview Comparison Chart ...................................................... 150

Table 9 Rebecca Interview Comparison Chart................................................... 157

Table 10 Silas Interview Comparison Chart ........................................................ 164



High school students show the ability to question dominant ideology in the

classroom and in their actions. The task for critical educators is to provide the space and

impetus for high school students to question and critique in ways that lead to action for

social change. After 19 years in the classroom, I have witnessed high school students

capable of the social analysis that critical pedagogue McLaren (2005a) writes about in the

following statement.

Indeed, if all experiences and relationships were politically, psychologically, and

ethically self-evident, then social analysis would not be necessary. Interpretations

of experience are undeniably colonized by particular definitions of what is normal

from the perspective that most serves the interests of the ruling elites. Theories of

liberation challenge these commonsense definitions, systems of classification, and

social and material relations as being socially and historically motivated to serve

the interests of the capitalist class. What is important about these theories is not

their complexity, but rather their explanatory and argumentative power as well as

their rhetorical persuasiveness. Critical pedagogy negates the language of

commonsense description by providing a language of analysis that seeks to

explain those structures of representation that give commonsense reality its

natural appearance. (pp. 103-104)

While McLarens (2005a) call for this language of analysis (pp. 103-104) is

intended for adult readers, teenagers have the abilities and the desires to challenge

dominant ideologies in their classes, actions, and lives. As a critical pedagogue working

in the public school system in language arts, I work to provide space, curriculum, and

opportunities for students to develop this language of analysis. In this research, I wanted

to learn how the study of critical theory affected teens language of analysis.

Personal Background

Language and analysis drew me into teaching Language Arts before I was done

with high school. As a 16-year-old, I took a literary criticism class where we exclusively

studied works written by White men. The class focused entirely on what I know now as

New Criticism in its approach to literary analysis. The imagery and symbolism of turtles

crossing the road in John Steinbecks The Grapes of Wrath mark an important transition

for me. I moved from reading for story and plot to reading analytically by examining the

connection between meaning and craft. I started to pay conscious attention to the art of

literature and how the parts fit into the whole; the ways slower, closer readings led to

savoring of wording, of imagery, of meaning, of intrigues in layers of ambiguity; the

ways literary criticism revealed human nature, human struggle, and human experience;

the ways examining literary characters revealed profound insights, experiences and

knowledge of others. While language and analysis in that classroom were not framed as

the social analysis that McLaren (2005a) writes about, this class introduced me to higher

level thinking skills of interpretation, explanation, argumentation, and rhetorical

persuasiveness in literature. I decided to become a Language Arts teacher.

I continue to work with students as a classroom teacher. The people in my

classroom are complex individuals and influence me in many ways. I have been

profoundly changed by my relationships with students as individuals and by our shared

group experiences. I feel palpably affected by the people in my classroom, and this serves

as one of the reasons I love working as a high school Language Arts teacher. Over the

years, I have shared moments of profound joy, happiness, pride, connection, and hope

with students. These moments keep me in the classroom. Also, I have witnessed moments

of frustration, pain, sadness, disconnection, and helplessness in students. These moments

necessitate more effective ways to understand education, students, and failures of the

systemfailures situated in larger societal inequities rooted in power, privilege, and

control. The totality of successes, failures, and incompleteness of the educational process

motivate me to work within the system to pursue more effective strategies for providing a

framework for social change through my position in society as a teacher and person.

Several years ago, I worked with a student named Dan who showed an

exceptional critical perspective in how he applied a language of analysis (McLaren,

2005a) to society, issues, and texts. Dans critical perspective also impacted how he

understood himself and society. Dan took several of my writing classes from his

sophomore to his senior years. Dans critical perspective was noticeably more developed

than most students. Dan read writers such as Roland Bleiker, Gilles Deleuze, Michel

Foucault, Flix Guattari, Martin Heidegger, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Edward W. Said,

and William V. Spanos. He frequently referenced critical theorists and their ideas in his

own writing and thought processes. Because I wanted to know more about the impact of

critical theory, I asked Dan to discuss how critical theory shaped his perspective. When

he was a high school senior, Dan engaged in a written dialogue with me about the myriad

ways critical theory shaped his intellectual and personal development in how he

understood and acted in relation to political issues, social norms, oppression, social

injustices, school curriculum, and school policy. This dialogue triggered my own insight

about the possibilities of using critical theory in high school as a focused means of

building critical literacy through a language of analysis (McLaren, 2005a). In a follow-

up interview for this study, Dan said he stayed the course and continued to think, live,

and act according to a fluid critical perspective.

Researchers Positionality

While McLaren (2005a) writes about this need for a language of analysis, he also

articulates an important paradox that questions language as a way of knowing. McLaren

(2005b) writes: The search for the truth of the Western canon of Great Works is

actually based on an epistemological error that presumes there exists a language of

primordial Being and Truth (p. 50). As an active anti-racist, anti-colonialist researcher, I

agree with McLaren (2005b) that language itself is only one way of knowing in the

world. Yet, in situating myself in the research, I also recognize the centrality and

importance of language in the many ways I know and understand the world and myself in

the world. I love working with words and language.

But, the language I love is not an innocent one, nor is my role in teaching it. As a

Language Arts teacher, I am employed by the state and participate daily in the deeply

political act of teaching a language which has the potential to enslave, subvert,

manipulate, blame, and oppress and a language which has the potential to enlighten,

empower, embolden, exculpate, and emancipate. My job exists in the name of literacy, a

complex concept riven by politics, abuses, privileges, powers, oppressions, and


The need for literacy permeates discussion about education in Western society.

Knowing the word, though, is not enough. Freire (1970/2003, 1974/2007, 1998) focused

his literacy work around the concept of reading the word and the world and used a critical

literacy to name the power structures and realities in peoples lives. While I recognize

that individual identities are socially constructed, I also believe that these social

constructions of identities have differing and powerful effects on peoples experiences

and lives. In positioning myself in an unjust world dominated by ideologies of White

supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, heterosexism, ableism, Christianity, and

anthropocentrism, I believe it is important to name the issues of identity that affect my

life and experiences. I experience the world as a White, middle class, able-bodied,

heterosexual, married female, and mother with a Christian background. I oppress, and I

experience oppression.

As an active anti-racist, anti-colonialist researcher, I consistently interrogated my

own position and power of self, researcher, and writer during the course of this research.

Dei (2005) writes, Anti-racism is about power relations. Anti-racism discourse moves

away from discussions of tolerating diversity to the pointed notion of difference and

power. It sees race and racism as central to how we claim, occupy, and defend spaces (p.

3). I critically examined my own claims, occupations, and defenses of space in order to

center the participants in this research. The participants voices, experiences,

perspectives, and knowledges were different than mine. Yet, in this critical theory

research study, we came together to learn, work, share, and create knowledge together.

The participants individual voices tell their own stories as they communicate their

personal journeys, views, insights, resistances, and truths.

Statement of Problem

Daily encounters with issues related to social justice issues inspire my work. The

United States is a world leader in many areas, and in this time of globalization, the

national political decisions and the lives people live here impact people locally and

globally. The economic distance gapes and widens between those with material resources

and those without in a capitalist society (Davies, Sandstrm, Shorrocks, &Wolff, 2008;

Ehrenreich, 2001; McLaren, 2005a). Consumerism threatens availability of natural

resources and weather patterns (Friedman, 2008). Racial oppression pervades society

through individuals and institutions (Delpit, 2002; hooks, 1994; Howard, 1999;

McIntosh, 1988/1995; Morrell, 2008; Singleton & Linton, 2006; Tatum, 1997, 2007).

Gender inequality oppresses people in insidious ways across all levels of society (Langer,

2005; Pharr, 1988/2004; Sadker & Sadker 1994; Scheffield, 1988/2004; Whitcomb &

Cummings, 2005). Heterosexism dominates the collective consciousness, ostracizing and

silencing many people through public policy, legalities, and religion (Cashwell, 2005;

Hopkins, 1992/2004; Pharr, 1988/2004; Sommer, Weatherman, & Cox, 2005). Physical

and mental ableism define what is considered normal and abnormal (Foucault,

1977/1995, 1978/1990; Lo, 2005; Priester, 2005).

Because people are oppressed and exploited for these and other issues, there are

many reasons to work to make this world a fairer place of equality and justice. Social

change needs to occur in all areas of society to expose the ways people and systems grant

some people power and privilege while denying other people human rights and dignity.

Inequality, injustice, and unfairness always involve issues of power and demand action in

all facets of society. I work to expose and resist oppressive power in my high school

Language Arts classroom. The readings of literary texts and the study of grammar

involve daily opportunities to expose, name, examine, and critique power relationships in

societyincluding my own teaching position as a technician of power (Foucault,

1977/1995, p. 30) for the system. Language arts teachers engage students in higher level

thinking skills of interpretation, explanation, argumentation, and rhetorical

persuasiveness. Since language serves as a fundamental tool in the use of power and

oppression (Freire, 1970/2003, 1998; hooks, 1994), the language arts classroom becomes

an important site for using a language of analysis that exposes and interrogates social

systems of power for human liberation. People vary in the ways they learn, and diverse

methods provide opportunities for a critical literacy that examines and exposes power


Purpose and Overview of the Study

I formed a research goal to discover and understand the effects of critical theory

on teens language of analysis as they examined theoretical frameworks of power and

practical examples of oppression. I established my purpose for the study: to discover the

effects studying critical theory had on the attitudes, assumptions, and actions of teens. I

set up the study to answer the research question: What are the effects of studying critical

theory on the attitudes, assumptions, and actions of teens? I selected a qualitative, case

study research methodology. I involved 8 teens ranging in ages from 17-19. I gathered

the data from June-August of 2007 through interviews, focus groups, and message board

discussions. I broke the research study down into three phases: Phase A, the initial

interview; Phase B, focus group and message board discussions; and Phase C, the final


All participants completed Phase A initial interviews before they engaged in Phase

B. In Phase B, participants discussed critical theory in focus group and message board

discussions. After these discussions, participants completed the final interview in Phase

C. I transcribed all interviews and focus group discussions. Participants read over all

transcripts for accuracy and clarification (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Maykut & Morehouse,

1994/2004; Merriam, 1998). I used open, axial, and selective coding procedures (Strauss

& Corbin 1998) for all interview, focus group, and message board transcripts. At the

conclusion of the study, I gave participants a draft of my synthesis to read for accuracy of

interpretation (Stake, 1995). The following questions guided the research and structured

the research design and methodology:

How does the study of critical theory affect teens understanding of identity of

self and others?

How does the study of critical theory influence the ways teens view local,

national, and global society?

How does the study of critical theory offer the possibility of transformative

learning for teens?

Definition of Terms

The following terms are used frequently in this dissertation.

Critical: The use of this word always includes an analysis of power as part of its

definition (Brookfield, 2000) and the objective of societal transformation for social

equality and social justice through empowering the powerless (McLaren, 1998/2003).

Thus, a critical approach examines inequalities and injustices through analyses of power,

race, class, sex, and other oppressions (McLaren, 1998/2003).

Critical theory: In his definition of critical theory, Frankfurt School critical

theorist Max Horkheimer (1968/1972) argues against positivist thought and centers

critical thought. Critical theory examines the individual in relation to other individuals,

groups, classes, society, and nature (p. 211). While critical theories differ in how they

explain different experiences and circumstances, the goal of critical theory is personal

and collective liberation for the oppressed and the elimination of oppression (Brookfield,

2005; hooks, 1994; Horkheimer, 1968/1972; McLaren, 1998/2003).

Critical literacy: Critical literacy connects the self to social relations through the

process of reading the word and the world (Freire 1970/2003, 1974/2007; 1998; Shor,

1999). Critical pedagogue Ira Shor (1999) states that critical literacy orients the self to the

social context and involves questioning received knowledge and immediate experience

with the goals of challenging inequality and developing an activist citizenry (p. 11).

Critical literacy examines the attitudes conveyed through language, curriculum, and

knowledge to examine how power functions in relation to the self and society. Critical

literacy questions the nature of knowledge and whom it benefits, how the knowledge is

used politically, and whose voices are heard and silenced (Jones, 2006; Morrell, 2008;

Provenzo, 2005; Shor, 1999). Australian critical educator Jennifer OBrien (2001) calls

the process of critical literacy fluid and dynamic. Critical literacy changes constantly as

an ongoing, active process of questioning power, knowledge, control, and silences as part

of movement and action toward social change.

Literary theory: As a form of critical theory, literary theory refers to a group of

differing theories that provide different ways to examine texts by proposing new

distinctions, or new categories, for looking at the work (Bonnycastle, 1996, p. 21). The

purpose of looking at a work from multiple perspectives is for people to deal

consciously with the problem with ideologies (Bonnycastle, 1996, p. 34). Literary

theories involve multiple approaches to examining ideologies in the study of literature

and texts and, ultimately, questions authority (p. 34).

Limitations of the Study

Limitations are boundaries beyond my control as a researcher. The limitations of

this study included the fact that I worked with all participants in the classroom; they may

be participating in the study or answering questions in a certain way to please me. The

results of the study are not generalizable to larger populations. I have not received

training to administer Kitchener and Kings Reflective Judgment Interview (1990, 1994),

so the number rankings I included are based on reading their descriptions of the

categories and studying multiple examples of interviews that led Kitchener and King to

determine peoples stages in reflective judgment.

Delimitations of the Study

Delimitations are the boundaries I set for the study. Because this was qualitative

research requiring in-depth data gathering, I chose to limit the case study to 8

participants. This study took place over a 3-month time period. I worked with a small

purposeful sampling (Creswell, 1998, p. 62). I selected participants in the study

because of their previous self-selected enrollment in my Advanced Placement (AP)

Language and Composition course and their willingness to engage in discussion on social

issues in the classroom. All participants entered the study with background reading

critical theory because of their enrollment in AP and their personal interests. The

participants came from strong academic backgrounds and displayed remarkable insight

into issues, people, and themselves. Additionally, participants knew how to use dialogue

as a means of learning.


I discussed my background, positionality, and interest in discovering the potential

role of critical theory in building critical literacy in high school-aged learners. I described

the study and its purpose in this chapter and defined terms, limitations, and delimitations.

In Chapter Two I review the related literature that served as the conceptual framework

which guided my research.


Literature Review

I conducted a review of the literature to identify the effects of critical theory on

the attitudes, assumptions, and actions of teens. I organized my findings into the areas of

critical pedagogy, critical theory, critical literacy, and transformational learning.

Critical Pedagogy

Critical pedagogy approaches education through examining the self in relation to

society (Freire, 1974/2007; hooks, 1994; Jones, 2006; McLaren, 1998/2003; Morrell

2008; Shor, 1992). The field of critical pedagogy centers the work of critical educator

Paulo Freire. Working in Brazil, Freires literacy education emphasized reading the word

and the world. In his seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970/2003), Freire

discussed the cycle of oppression and the complex relationship between the oppressed

and the oppressor. As part of his examination, Freire explained the type of education that

needed to break the cycle of oppression. Freire (1970/2003) termed this process

conscientizao (p. 35), a process where people develop critical consciousness through

consciousness-raising experiences based on their own lives and experiences, including

acts against injustices.

Power and Oppression

Understanding the need for conscientizao (Freire, 1970/2003, p. 35)

necessitates an understanding of how power and control work through dominant

ideologies on societal and individual levels. Italian philosopher and activist Antonio

Gramsci (1916-1935/2000) analyzed hegemony, a form of control where a social group,

leader, or country exerts dominance over people. The state controls people through their

consent. Intellectual leadership fights to convince people that ruling class ideology is in

their best interests. This oppressive ideology works through the collective common sense

of individuals where the conception of the world is uncritically absorbed (p. 343).

Common sense embodies both good and bad sense, which work for and against peoples

best interests. Examining hegemonic control of common sense involves praxis and

adopting a new philosophy through struggle. By necessity, then, countering hegemony

involves the process of critically examining common sense and acting to change society

in ways free of oppression (Gramsci, 1916-1935/2000).

Education as Domination

As a means of distributing cultural common sense, education works against

peoples best interests in ways that perpetuate oppression (Freire, 1970/2003, 1998;

hooks, 1994; McLaren 1998/2003). Education is political, and teachers work for

domination or liberation (Freire, 1970/2003, 1998; hooks, 1994; Shor, 1999). Without

challenges to the dominant ideologies, education transmits a hidden curriculum (Apple,

1979/1990, p. 14) to pass on unquestioned cultural values, and norms in society (Apple,

1993/2000; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977/2000; hooks, 1994; Jones, 2006; Morrell, 2008;

Willis, 1977). People assume that these dominant cultural values and social norms

manifest themselves as truths within society. In reality, all cultural values and social

norms exist as what social theorists Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron

(1977/2000) termed cultural arbitraries (pp. 15-16), which are randomly established

social norms. Some scholars argue if society eliminates dominant social norms, new

arbitrary social norms will replace the old norms. Current power structures and cultural

arbitraries work daily in schools through social norms, teacher perspectives, curricular

content, and curriculum texts that place higher value on some experiences and

perspectives than others (Apple, 1979/1990, 1993/2000; hooks, 1994; Jones, 2006;

Singleton & Linton, 2006). Schools and curriculum support power structures and social

injustices found within capitalism (Apple, 1979, 1993/2000; McLaren, 2005a), White

supremacy (Singleton & Linton, 2006), patriarchy (Sadker & Sadker, 1994),

heterosexism (Hopkins, 1992/2004), mental and physical ableism (Foucault, 1977/1995,

1978/1990), and other forms of oppression.

Domination occurs in education through the banking model (Freire, 1970/2003).

Freire described many facets of the banking model. Teachers treat students as

depositories for informationempty containers the teacher fills with knowledge. Such a

system inculcates passivity and removes students agency in questioning the world. The

banking system stifles students critical consciousness as they passively absorb the

deposits given to them. Freire observed how knowledge remains static, absolute, and

unquestionable in this system; knowledge serves the status quo in domination and makes

the status quo appear desirable and normal. The recognition of such domination spurs the

need for liberating education. Liberating education occurs on two levels: personal and

structural transformation. Personal transformation includes acts of cognition that develop

critical consciousness for transformative change. Transformative change calls oppressed

people to lead oppressors out of the situation. Since banking education perpetuates

oppression rather than challenges it, education needs structural transformation so

oppressed people liberate themselves to become beings for themselves (p. 74). Freire

asserted that personal and structural changes dismantled systems of oppression.

Education and Capitalism

Schools present capitalism as an overall dominant ideology and as a natural and

desirable economic organizing system (Apple, 1979/1990; Bowles & Gintis, 1976;

McLaren, 2005a). McLaren (2005a) noted the absence of any discussion of alternatives to

capitalist systems and discussed how the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union

and the Eastern Bloc removed significant opposition to forms of capitalism as the overall

economic structure of the world and its people (p. 20). Global capitalist systems place

most of the worlds resources into the hands of a few. In their work to determine

worldwide household wealth distribution, economic researchers Davies, Sandstrm,

Shorrocks, and Wolff (2008) stated that: The share of the top 10 percent of adults in

2000 is estimated to be 71.2 per cent [of the global wealth] The share of the bottom

half is just 1.6 per cent (p. 2). International disparities increase if currency exchange

rates between countries factor into the analysis (p. 23). Education within a capitalist

society accepts such inequities as a natural result of the system (Apple, 1979/1990;

Bowles & Gintis, 1976; McLaren, 2005a).

People must examine how wealth and power work to affect peoples realities in

an increasingly capitalist system that advocates the concept of democracy as its way of

governing (Ahmad, 2003; Apple, 1979/1990, 1993/2000; McLaren, 2005a). An

examination of the socially constructed concept of democracy reveals important

contradictions in a capitalist society built on individual and collective competition and

hierarchy (Ahmad, 2003). Journalist and political activist Iftikhar Ahmad (2003)

examined liberal political scientists research on democratic peace in a world valuing the

military and high stakes testing and concludes, it is unlikely that education for idealistic

goals, such as global peace and human rights would find respectability in public schools.

(p. 1) Ahmad shows the need for training in democracy for citizenship and how an

education in peace and democracy inherently challenges the notions of unbridled global

capitalist expansion. Educational critical theorist Michael Apple (1979/1990, 1993/2000)

illustrates how capitalist ideals influence education through instructional practices,

curriculum, school funding, resource allocation, and administrative decisions. Freires

(1970/2003) ideas about conscientizao (p. 35) take on urgent political implications in

the context of how power operates in a capitalist world with vast economic inequalities.

Schooling and White Supremacy

Many current education policies and practices in the United States support White

supremacy (Singleton & Linton, 2006). Racial demographics contribute to these

injustices because most teachers and teacher educators identify as White (Howard, 1999;

Ladson-Billings, 2005; Singleton & Linton, 2006; Tatum, 2007). Critical pedagogue

Gloria J. Ladson-Billings (2005) cited statistics from the Applied Research Center, 2000;

nationwide, 88% of teachers identified as White. In some areas, that number reached as

high as 99% (p. 230). Ladson-Billings sees disconnections between students, family, and

community, and teachers and teacher educators. She focuses on the issue of diversity and

asserts that teacher education needs to examine current racial demographics of teacher

preparation programs to strengthen diversity in the field. Education needs to show a

more accurate picture of what it means to live and work in a multicultural and democratic

society (p. 231). Without changes in the racial demographics of teachers, these

disconnections between students, family, community, and teachers will continue

(Ladson-Billings, 2005).

With such a large number of White teachers, understanding the nature of White

identity becomes important in understanding how racism continues through personalized

and institutionalized racism (Johnson 2001/2006; McIntosh, 1988/1995; Singleton &

Linton, 2006; Tatum, 1997, 2007). Systems of privilege and power work by making their

knowledge and ideology of these positions seem normal and universal. Teachers who

have not examined themselves as racially constructed beings will perpetuate racism in

their classrooms. Singleton and Linton (2006) write: Until White educators understand

their own racial experience, their interpretation of children of colors racial experiences

will be distorted (p. 203). Additionally, teachers will not see how much of education

relates to whiteness , and teachers will not be able to facilitate effective dialogue on

racism with students if they do not personally engage in this critical examination and

participate in dialogue about race and racism (Tatum, 2007).

Anti-racist educators Singleton and Linton (2006) address racism and the

achievement gaps between White students and African American, Hispanic, Latino,

Native American, Asian, and Middle Eastern ethnic group students through dialogue

between educators in a program called Courageous Conversation (p. 8). Administrators

and teachers used this program to discuss racial biases at an elementary school. The

educators confronted racism through naming and analyzing the ways racial biases

impacted curriculum and students. The school improved not only racial achievement

gaps, but also saw dramatic improvement in all known factors impacting student

performance (p. 37), including poverty, sex, and English language learning gaps.

Singleton and Linton (2006) used this example to illustrate the power of dialogue about

race to break down prejudices, silences, and omissions in ways connecting to other issues

of oppression and improved student performance.

The Role of Dialogue in Questioning Inequalities

Critical pedagogy involves questioning models of education that support these

inequalities, exposing their hidden curriculum, and challenging the unspoken

assumptions that dominate people (Freire, 1970/2003; Jones, 2006; McLaren, 2005a;

Morrell, 2008; Shor, 1992). Dialogue between the oppressed and the oppressors breaks

the cycle of oppression (Freire, 1970/2003). Freire wrote, Dialogue is the encounter

between men [and women], mediated by the world, in order to name the world (p. 88).

The oppressed transform their lives and their worlds by naming their realities in

dialoguea way they achieve significance as human beings (p. 88). Thus, dialogue

becomes an existential necessity (p. 88). In a liberating education, the oppressed

reclaim the right to speak and to name their world, which leads to action, change, greater

understanding, and healing (Freire 1970/2003; hooks, 1994; Morrell, 2008; Singleton &

Linton, 2006).

Examining inequalities necessitates the naming and interrogation of privilege as a

step toward social change (Johnson, 2001/2006; McIntosh, 1988/1995). Feminist and

anti-racist activist Peggy McIntosh (1988/1995) connects the daily, unearned privileges

she experienced as a White woman to the larger system of inequity. McIntosh discussed

her personal difficulties in thinking and writing about how White privilege defined her

life. She connects her feminist perspective on male privilege to White privilege, and her

White racial identity. Breaking silences and denials, and articulating and acknowledging

privilege begin the process of taking action to address both individual and systemic

inequities (Johnson, 2001/2006; McIntosh, 1988/1995; Tatum, 2007).

Critical pedagogy aims to challenge the inequalities inherent in education through

exposing hidden curriculum and dominant, oppressive ideologies that define peoples

lives such as race, class, gender, and other forms of oppression (Freire, 1970/2003; Jones,

2006; McLaren, 2005a; Morrell, 2008; Shor, 1992). Systemic change occurs through

individual actions and structural changes (Johnson, 2001/2006; McIntosh, 1988/1995;

Tatum, 2007). People need to have consciousness-raising experiences to name the ways

power, oppression, and privilege function against, in, and through themselves, and this

naming of oppressive and privileged realities engages dialogue (Freire, 1970/2003).

Societal change calls for an education that lays bare the power structures for the purpose

of personal and societal liberation (Freire, 1970/2003, hooks, 1994; McLaren, 2005a,

Morrell, 2008). Critical pedagogy educates people for action with the hope of

transforming the world into a place where people can live with fulfilled needs, human

dignity, human agency, and with respect for self and others (Freire, 1970/2003, hooks,

1994; Jones, 2006; McLaren, 2005a, Morrell, 2008; Shor, 1992).

Critical Theory

Critical theory presents ways for the individual to examine and understand the self

in social relationships in order to abolish societal injustices (Aronowitz, 1972;

Brookfield, 2005; hooks, 1994; Hinchey, 1998/2004; Horkheimer 1968/1972; McLaren,

1998/2003; Morrell, 2008). Critical theory offers people ideas for understanding the ways

power, privilege, and injustice affect them. Adult educator Stephen Brookfield (2005)

defines critical theory as critical thought that is able to identify, challenge, and change

the process by which a grossly iniquitous society uses dominant ideology to convince

people this is a normal state of affairs. (p. viii) Brookfield overviewed three assumptions

undergirding critical theory. 1) Western democracies exist with economic, racial and

class inequalities. 2) Dominant ideology makes these inequalities appear normal,

natural, and inevitable" (p. viii). 3) People need to understand the reality of inequality in

order to change that reality. Ideally, the goal of critical theory results in individual and

social change.

Contemporary critical educators draw on the importance of theory in moving

toward social change (Brookfield, 2005; Grande, 2004; hooks, 1994; McLaren,

1998/2003; Okolie, 2005). However, the role of theory and the vision for social change

varies from theorist to theorist. As critical educator Lois Tyson (2006) explains, critical

theories compete with one another for dominance in educational and cultural

communities. (p. 3) Because critical theory offers interpretations of history, current

events, and lived experiences, there exists a strong political dimension (p. 3) to critical

theory. Politics and realities of power affect critical theory and its interpretation of power.

Tyson wrote: The most popular theories of the day usually receive the best jobs and the

most funding for their projects (p. 3). Because theories and power compete with each

other within critical theory, people need to examine conflicting explanations of the same

phenomena (p. 3) and to understand that multiple viewpoints are important to see

both the value and the limitations of every method of viewing the world. (p. 3) Although

critical theory provides a means of breaking down dominant ideology, critical theory

benefits people most when they examine multiple views of the same topic.

Critical theories compete with each other (Grande, 2004; McLaren, 1998/2003;

Tyson, 2006). McLaren (1998/2003) uses revolutionary critical theory to illustrate gross

inequities within capitalism and to argue for democratic socialism as a solution for these

inequities. Sandy Grande (2004), activist for Indigenous Peoples rights of self-

determination and tribal sovereignty, agrees with McLaren on the usefulness of

revolutionary critical theory in revealing the ravages of capitalism. However, Grande sees

the value of revolutionary critical theory and the negative revelations about capitalism as

part of the goal of Indigenous Peoples sovereignty rather than McLarens (1998/2003)

goal of democratic socialism.

The work and writings of other critical theorists reveal other values and outcomes

of studying critical theory (Brookfield 2005; Hinchey, 1998/2004; Okolie, 2005). Critical

educator Patricia H. Hinchey (1998/2004) broadly asserts that critical theory offers a

new perspective to use in analyzing our experiences (p. 15). In analyzing personal

experiences, critical theorist and pedagogue bell hooks (1994) emphasizes the importance

of theory in healing for those oppressed by unequal power structures (p. 61). Brookfield

(2005) writes about the role of critical theory in precipitating adult learning through

challenging ideology, contesting hegemony, unmasking power, overcoming alienation,

learning liberation, reclaiming reason, and practicing democracy (pp. 43-65). The

necessity of theory in the fight, specifically against racial oppression, appears in

anti-racist educator Andrew C. Okolies (2005) work; he wrote, Anti-racism is not just a

critical approach to understanding racial oppression; it is also a theoretically informed

strategy to end racial oppression (p. 247). These examples address the importance and

multifaceted nature of critical theory in increasing peoples consciousness, explaining

multiple realities, uprooting dominant thought, determining solutions, and fighting

oppression (Brookfield 2005; Hinchey, 1998/2004; Okolie, 2005).

Critical Literacy

Critical literacy brings together literacy education and Freires (1970/2003,

1974/2007, 1998) ideas of knowing the word and the world (Shor, 1999). Critical literacy

asks questions about whose knowledge and curriculum are being taught, whose voices

are silent, and how the systems of power silence some and make space for other voices to

be heard (Jones, 2006; Morrell, 2008; Provenzo, 2005; Shor, 1999). Many different

approaches build critical literacy. Because of my research study focus, I concentrate on

critical literacy activities pertaining to teens. Prominent approaches to critical literacy for

this age group include studying texts, music, mass media, theoretical approaches, literary

theory, and critical theory. In each of the following sections, I include representative

examples of how critical educators have used each method to build critical literacy in

students. These methods of critical literacy all serve important functions in critical

education, and they should not necessarily be separated from each other and used in

isolation. Rather, a comprehensive critical education uses a wide variety of methods in all

areas of instruction (Morrell, 2008).


Texts foster critical literacy through variety, content, genre, connections, and

approaches to critical learning (Alsup & Bush, 2003; Morrell, 2008; Petrone & Borsheim,

2008; Shor, 1996; Wallowitz, 2008). Including a wide variety of texts advances critical

literacy in language arts classrooms. Critical pedagogue and urban youth educator Ernest

Morrell (2008) examined specifically how texts written by traditionally Othered

writers and how traditional canonical texts play important roles in critical education.

Othered writers provide an essential component of a critical education specifically for

urban youth because these works powerfully illustrate to students the social,

psychological, and economic impacts of five hundred years of racialization of Western

society. (p. 82). Postcolonial writers contributing to this critical education include:

Salman Rushie, Isabel Allende, Chinua Achebe; African American writers such as

Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, Malcolm X, Barbara Jordan, W.E.B, DuBois, and

Carter G. Woodson; Latin American and Caribbean writers such as Frantz Fanon, C. L.

R. James, and Pablo Neruda. Morrell (2008) listed many more writers and provided

sample lessons for using a variety of texts. For example, Morrell recreated Bigger

Thomas trial from Native Son (Wright, 1940/2008) for students analyses of race,

racism, and courtroom trials with critical reading, critical writing and critical oral

rhetoric. (Morrell, 2008, p. 102) Critical education also includes traditionally canonized

Western pieces. Pairing The Odyssey (Homer, 1996) with The Godfather (Coppola, 1972)

allowed students to examine and critique contemporary values, question the qualities of

heroes, examine the role of violence in society, analyze religious beliefs, and scrutinize

gender roles within society (Morrell, 2008).

English classrooms need to incorporate diverse and traditional pieces into the

curriculum (Alsup & Bush, 2003). Yet, critical education must also incorporate young

adult books Alsup (2002) discussed the importance of using books like Andersons

(1999) Speak in critical education. Alsup (2003) establishes the difficulties of

adolescence, the benefits of literature and education for teens, and the ways critical

thinking helps students through the perils of adolescence. Alsup (2003) wrote about how

Speaks (1999) theme of finding voice (and hence identity and personal power) is one

that is mirrored every day in real teenagers lives as they seek to become independent, yet

integrated, members of their school and home communities. (p. 163) Engaging texts

geared toward young adults leads students to critical literacy in ways that traditional

English curriculum did not.

Sharing curriculum decisions and textual approaches with students also engenders

critical literacy. In his seminal book When Students Have Power: Negotiating Authority

in a Critical Pedagogy, critical educator Ira Shor (1996) discussed how he approached

critical literacy in a college-level course titled Utopia. His critical literacy techniques

included texts, curriculum, and shared decision-making processes with students. Shor

recounted the process, resistances, conflicts, resolutions, failures, and successes of

approaching the concept of utopia through student and teacher shared decision-making in

curriculum approach, classroom policies, grading requirements, and student expectations.

Shor connected the readings from the class with conceptual analysis, social action

projects, and discussion of current events. Utopian ideas, hegemony, negotiated

curriculum, classroom practices, dialogic education, and de-centering the teachers role

work together to profoundly impact critical learning.

Approaching texts from critical perspectives leads to student learning (Petrone &

Borsheim 2008; Wallowitz, 2008). Critical educator Laraine Wallowitz (2008) described

the learning resulting from her critical approach to Toni Morrisons The Bluest Eye

(1994) through raw, honest and personal discussion on racism, sex, and cultural standards

of beauty with 15 at-risk students. Critical educators Robert Petrone and Carlin Borsheim

(2008) illustrated how they effectively fostered critical education through discussion

content, supplementary curriculum connections, and student questioning processes with

texts frequently read in high schools such as John Steinbecks Of Mice and Men

(1937/2002) and Lois Lowrys The Giver (1993).


As a form of popular culture, music provides an engaging and important way for

students to critically examine and locate themselves in the world (Alim, Ibrahim, &

Pennycook, 2009; Duncan-Andrade & Morrell, 2008; Ibrahim, 2004; Morrell, 2002,

2008). Morrell (2002, 2008) focused on urban youth and shows that Popular culture can

help students deconstruct dominant narratives and contend with oppressive practices in

hopes of achieving a more egalitarian and inclusive society (Morrell, 2002, p. 72). The

book Global Linguistic Flows: Hip Hop Culture, Youth Identities and the Politics of

Language presents hip-hop as a serious and engaging means of building critical literacy

in multifaceted ways for youth around the world (Alim, Ibrahim, & Pennycook, 2009).

Students perceived in the classroom as functionally illiterate and lacking in intellect

engaged in sophisticated literacy practices that accompanied their participation in hip-

hop culture. (Duncan-Andrade & Morrell, 2008, p. 59). Morrell (2004) sees hip-hop as a

literary text (p. 60) that can be used to teach literary techniques, to pair with poetry and

other pieces from the literary canon (Duncan-Andrade & Morrell, 2008), and to question

dominant culture since much hip-hop music conveyed a culture of resistance (Morrell,


Engaging hip-hop provides students an important connection to learning and

uprooting dominant culture (Ibrahim, 2004). Ibrahim concluded his ethnographic study of

continental African students in Ontario, Canada, with two important thoughts. First, he

queried, In the case of African youth, one must ask, whose identity are we assuming if

we do not engage Hip-Hop and rap in our classroom activities? (p. 128). Secondly,

Ibrahim wrote, The issue at stake, then, is not only to motivate and empower students

but, more importantly, to enable them to locate themselves in time and history and at the

same time critically interrogate the adequacy of that location (p. 128). Music provides

compelling, educational curriculum to help students critically identify their own realities,

develop critical literacy, and resist dominant culture (Alim, Ibrahim, & Pennycook, 2009;

Duncan-Andrade & Morrell, 2008; Ibrahim, 2004; Morrell, 2002, 2008).

Mass Media

Since most people will spend approximately one-third of their lives engaged

with mass media (Morrell, 2004, p. 92), educators should know how to deconstruct mass

media by examining concepts such as advertising, commercialization, presentation of

image, news stories and content, and analysis of news satires (Giroux 1994, 1998/2006,

1999/2006, 2000/2006; Morrell, 2004; Shor, 1992; Trier, 2008a, 2008b).

Critical pedagogue Henry A. Giroux (1994, 1998/2006, 1999/2006, 2000/2006)

discusses the importance of critically examining mass media popular culture as a way to

critical literacy. Giroux analyzed media and culture through examples from advertising,

(1994) beauty pageants (1998/2006), and Disneyland (1999/2006) to illustrate how to

deconstruct dominant and controlling ideology conveyed through media. He analyzed the

corporate model of Benetton (Giroux, 1994) and critiqued a then-current controversial

advertising campaign by Benetton that reconfigured racial power in support of White

supremacy. Giroux (1998/2006) also examined beauty pageants for young girls to show

how children are increasingly subjected to social and economic forces that exploit them

through the dynamics of sexualization, commodification, and commercialization (p.

128). Finally, Giroux (1999/2006) examined the deeply problematized cultural politics of

Disneyland and how it presented a world cleansed of contradictions and free of politics

(p. 223). Teachers must attack such advertising and visual imagery with critical analysis

to resist the destructive nature of consumerism and its construction of identities in a

multicultural and multiracial world (Giroux, 1994). Giroux writings provide effective

models and insights for critical educators deconstructing dominant culture through media

imagery and messages.

Media critique engages students in critical literacy (Shor, 1992). In Empowering

Education Shor (1992) approached newspaper critique in a mass media class. Students

questioned who made decisions to run lead stories and who controlled the media while

analyzing newspapers to see societal inequities, such as the differences between

portrayals and space given to labor and business issues. Morrell (2004) described another

approach to critical media analysis. He told about a summer program for urban youth

where some students chose to analyze media. Guided by their instructor, they read texts

on critical media literacy, studied consumerism through newspapers, and conducted

analysis of various newspapers stories and their portrayal of the 2000 Democratic

National Convention (Morrell, 2004). Media satires also provide a means to critical

literacy. News satire, such as Jon Stewarts The Daily Show, which critiques mainstream

medias news coverage, as well as journalistic conventions (Trier, 2008a, p. 424)

provides an important form of critical literacy. Students study the satirical content and the

techniques of visual and news media to understand how power and bias affect media

(Trier, 2008b). The process of media critique builds critical literacy.


Films provide a compelling and accessible way to engage students in critical

examination (Giroux 2000/2006). Giroux discusses the politics of multiculturalism and

provides incisive social analysis into Hollywoods racial coding in movies dealing with

out-of-control public schools. Giroux (2000/2006) noted patterns of development in

movies with public schools populated with stereotyped people, and where minority

students have turned classroom discipline into a joke, that administrators are paralyzed by

insensitive bureaucracies and the only thing that teachers and students share is the desire

to survive the day. (Giroux, 2000/2006, p. 247). Giroux thoroughly analyzed film 187

(Davey, McEveety, & Reynolds, 1997) where poor, urban African American, Hispanic,

Latino, Native American, Asian, and Middle Eastern ethnic students were characterized

as a threat to society (Giroux, 2000/2006). In order to critically understand the film,

students examined the absencesthe omission of the conditions that caused problems

like racial stereotyping, poverty, family problems, lack of material resources, tax

injustices, and the need for educational resources, effective teachers, small classes, and

competent administrators. Giroux connected the racial stereotyping to the

disproportionate numbers of incarcerated men from racial and ethnic minorities. Film

study provides opportunities for critical literacy.

Bell (2001) notes similar advantages in using films as a means of critical literacy

and advocates the use of popular culture films for critical literacy. However, Bell also

identifies important limitations in using films as an alternative to studying critical

pedagogy and critical theory. Bell showed films to student teachers to illustrate how

popular texts can be used to facilitate dialogue and critical education. Bell found the films

useful in examining alienation and social voicelessness, (p. 234). However, student

teachers struggled with critical dialogue, with understanding their connections to society,

and in envisioning meaningful, collective protest. Finally, Bell asserts that the ephemeral

nature of experiencing film reveals a disadvantage for critical action. The viewer felt the

desire for a different reality but these feelings for change often occurred only within the

time bracket of the film experience. (p. 235). Critical educators need to consider the

benefits and limitations of film study.

Theoretical Approaches

Graff (1996) approached critical literacy through teaching the conflicts and

structured his classes around cultural conflicts. Teaching non-Western and Western

writers makes it easier for students to understand and identify non-Western and Western

beliefs. As part of organizing his work around the conflicts, Graff centered his literature

courses on current culture war[s] (p. 132-133), and he used emerging debates as

curriculum for the literature courses. Using culture wars, Graff gained relevant,

immediate conflicts through which to question textual authority and conflicting

ideologies, and to help students see how knowledge and curriculum reflected

contemporary ideology.

Literary Theory

Language Arts educators use literary theories, forms of critical theories, to build

critical literacy in high school students (Appleman, 2000, 2009; Hines, 1995; Hines &

Appleman, 2000; Schade, 1996). Teachers use literature in the high school classroom in

ways that do not question power (Appleman, 2000, 2009). In her groundbreaking book,

Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents,

Appleman (2009) argued that students need a theoretical background in literary theories

in order to develop important critical literacy skills because teaching and learning are

deeply political, because theories include multiple ways of examination, and because of

pedagogical changes in contemporary society. Like Appleman, Morrells (2008)

emergent theory of critical literacy (p. 58) includes critical literary theories as essential

ways students make meanings out of texts. Literary theory provides high school students

ways to challenge texts and power in transformative ways (Appleman, 2000; 2009; Cella,

2002; Hines, 1995; Hines & Appleman, 2000; Morrell, 2008; Schade, 1996).

Critical Theory

Critical theory develops critical literacy in urban high school students (Morrell,

2008). Critical theory provides an essential component to their educationsespecially

the inclusion of Othered (p. 57) writers who are overlooked in comparison to

traditional Western critical theorists. Morrell asserts that post-colonial theorists such as

Frantz Fanon, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Edward W. Said, and Homi K. Bhabha need

to be included in high school studies, and students need to apply these writers ideas to

literary texts. Morrells definition of critical literacy is expansive, and he consistently

connects contemporary educational practices and issues with Othered, and traditional

critical theory. He traced and applied critical study to all elements of literacy for

secondary educators. Morrells ideas not only inform secondary educators about critical

theory and critical ideas, but they also provide a curriculum guide for those educators

wishing to connect critical theory to curriculum. These critical lessons lead to

transformative learning in urban youth.

Themes of transformation also emerged from the work of Roulis (2003a, 2003b,

2004) and her curriculum for the Voyager: Direction for Learning & Career Program, A

Transformative School-to-Work Program (Roulis, 2004). The program used critical

pedagogy and critical theory embedded throughout the curriculum in order to prepare a

diverse group of students who were critically literate, creative and prepared for the 21st

century work world. Students read selections from autobiographies, letters, historical

writings, organizational development materials, quotations from critical pedagogy, social

activists, and critical theory. Powerful themes of transformation ran through the students

narratives as they told their stories and described the impact of the program (Roulis,


Transformational Learning

Themes of transformation appearing from the work of Appleman (2000, 2009),

Cella (2002), Hines (1995), Hines & Appleman (2000) Morrell (2008); Roulis (2004),

and Schade (1996) raise significant questions about critical theorys potential for

transformational learning for teenage and young adult learners. Mezirow (2000),

Brookfield (2005), Kitchener and King (1990, 1994), and Taylor (2000) all examined

transformational learning occurring in adulthood. Their work and analysis of adult

education provide ways of examining critical thought development in teens.

Adult Learning Theory and Transformational Learning

Mezirows (2000) work provides a starting point for examining transformative

teen learning. Mezirow defines an adult as a person old enough to be held responsible

for his or her acts (p. 24). Mezirow acknowledges that adolescents think critically about

others, but that adolescents are far less likely to be critically reflective of their own

assumptionsa process that initially involves personal dissonance. Transformative

learning includes the important disorienting dilemma (Mezirow, 2000; Taylor, 2000) as

the first movement toward critical reflection and transformational change. Studies

included people as young as 17, but research needs to be done to link age with the

development of critical frames of reference (Taylor, 2000). The work on adult learning

and transformative change offers tentative possibilities for understanding teen learning

through adult models, but clear links between adult and teen transformative learning

theories still need to be established (Mezirow 2000; Taylor, 2000).

Mezirows (2000) work on Transformation Theory (p. 8) presents qualities of

transformational learning experiences as they relate to adults. Mezirow focused on how

we learn to negotiate and act on our own purposes, values, feelings, and meanings rather

than those we have uncritically assimilated from othersto gain greater control over our

lives as socially responsible, clear-thinking decision makers (p. 8). The connection of

the self to society plays an important part in Mezirows theory of transformative learning

as he describes adult learning processes.

Mezirow (2000) discusses how adults structure meaning through frames of

reference, which are also known as meaning perspectives. A frame of reference becomes

the structure of assumptions and expectations through which we filter sense

impressions (p. 16). Frames of reference involve the ways assumptions affect both the

assimilation of a new event and the transformation of this event through interpretation.

People interpret the event through higher-order schemata, theories, propositions, beliefs,

prototypes, goal orientation and evaluations, and what linguists call networks of

arguments (p. 2). Frames of reference include moral, ethical, and ego development and

different stages of reflective judgment (p. 2), and these meaning perspectives tend to be

global and metaphorical in nature, reflecting a more inclusive worldview (Taylor,

2000, p. 296-97). While most frames of reference come from uncritical socialization and

cultural assimilation, some frames of reference involve intentional learning and ways of

understanding and using knowledge and ways of dealing with feelings about oneself

(Mezirow, 2000, p. 3).

Frames of references include cultural understandings (Mezirow, 2000). Frames of

reference comprise two dimensions, a habit of mind and resulting points of view (p.

17). The habit of mind consists of ways of knowing the world through points of view,

such as sociolinguistic, moral-ethical, philosophical, psychological, aesthetic, and

epistemic approaches to knowing the world. Mezirow terms these points of view

meaning schemes (p. 2) that are habitual, implicit rules for interpreting (p. 2). Such

rules of interpretation affect peoples expectations and work unconsciously in forming

peoples responses and beliefs about understanding the world. Taylor (2000) defines

meaning schemes as more specific and less global, and refer to a particular belief (p.

296). Examining meaning perspectives and meaning schemes reveals how people

develop their worldviews, how they learn, and how they incorporate their learning into

their perspectives (Mezirow, 2000).

Reflective Judgment Development

Kitchener and King (1990, 1994) extensively studied how people use learning to

shape their perspectives and views toward knowledge and beliefs. They created the

Reflective Judgment Model (RJM) to illustrate the development of knowledge and ways

people justify their beliefs about what they term ill-structured problems (1994, p. 13).

Over time, people develop reflective judgment skills. Profound developmental changes

occur between peoples junior years in high school and 10 years later (1994). Age and

education impact developmental progression through reflective judgment stages (1990,

1994). This developmental progression of reflective judgment breaks down into 7 stages.

A Reflective Judgment Interview (1994) illustrated peoples views toward knowledge

and justification of beliefs.

The 7 stages of the RJM clearly illustrate a developmental progression in peoples

attitudes towards knowledge and knowing, and in peoples abilities to justify their beliefs

about ill-structured problems (Kitchener & King, 1990, 1994). The RJM strongly

connects peoples views of knowledge to their justification of beliefs. These views on

knowledge and justification also correlate loosely to moral development (1994).

Kitchener and King administered Rests (1979) Defining Issues Test with the Reflective

Judgment Interview to establish the correlations between knowledge, justification, and

moral development. Table 1 presents the qualities of each stage as found in Exhibit 1

(Kitchener & King, 1994, pp. 14-16) and Table 8.1 (pp. 208-209).

Table 1

Kitchener and Kings Reflective Judgment Model

Stage Conceptualization of Conceptualization of Conceptualization of
Knowledge Justification Morality
Stage 1 People assume People do not justify People believe in
knowledge exists beliefs because of the single, concrete
absolutely and absoluteness and categories for good and
concretely. certainty of knowledge. bad.
People do not People do not perceive People believe that
understand knowledge as alternate beliefs. good is rewarded and
an abstraction. bad is punished.
People obtain
knowledge with certainty
by direct observation.

Stage 2 People assume People do not examine People believe in two

knowledge to be or justify their beliefs. concrete categories of
absolutely certain. People Or, people justify their morality.
know some knowledge is beliefs by their People express this
not certain but thought correspondence with the morality by thinking in
that knowledge is not beliefs of an authority terms that good is what
immediately available. figure (such as teacher I (or you) want, and bad
People obtain or parent). is what I (or you) do
knowledge directly People assume most not want.
through the senses (as in issues had a right
direct observation) or via answer, so there is little
authority figures. or no conflict in making
decisions about disputed

Stage 3 People assume People justify beliefs People see several

knowledge is absolutely by reference to concrete moral
certain or temporarily authorities views in categories that
uncertain. areas of certainty. interrelate for self and
People eventually People defend beliefs others.
obtain uncertain as personal opinion Good people show
knowledge. Until they since the link between consideration, niceness,
receive absolute evidence and beliefs is and kindness.
knowledge, people know unclear in areas of Bad people show
knowledge through uncertainty. inconsideration,
personal beliefs. meanness, and
People obtain unkindness.
knowledge by authorities
in areas of certainty.

Stage 4 People believe People justify beliefs People understand
knowledge is uncertain, by giving reasons and morality as a single
and knowledge claims using evidence. abstraction.
vary by individual. People use People understand
People believe idiosyncratic arguments laws as a mechanism
situational variables and evidence to justify for coordinating
dictate that knowing their beliefs (for expectations about
always involves some example, choosing acceptable and
ambiguity (such as evidence that fits an unacceptable behavior
incorrect reporting of established belief). within communities.
data, data lost over time,
or disparities in access to

Stage 5 People believe People justify beliefs People relate two or

knowledge is contextual within a particular more abstract concepts
and subjective since context by means of the of morality.
people filter knowledge rules of inquiry for that The moral framework
through their perceptions context and by context- from one context (such
and criteria for judgment. specific interpretations as a communitys laws
People know only of evidence. or standards of
interpretations of People assume specific conduct) relate to the
evidence, events, or beliefs are context moral framework in
issues. specific or are balanced another context (those
against other laws of another
interpretations, which community).
complicate (and
sometimes delay)

Stage 6 People construct People justify beliefs People relate abstract

knowledge into by comparing evidence concepts of morality.
individual conclusions and opinion from People understand
about ill-structured different perspectives on that fairness of a given
problems on the basis of an issue or across law may be interpreted
information from a different contexts. differently, but people
variety of sources. People justify beliefs consider other peoples
People interpret by constructing well-being in morality.
knowledge based on solutions that people
evaluations of evidence evaluate by criteria such
across contexts and on as the weight of
the evaluated opinions of evidence, the utility of
reputable others. the solution, or the
pragmatic need for

Stage 7 People believe People justify beliefs People understand
knowledge emerges as probabilistically on the abstract concepts of
the outcome of a process basis of a variety of morality as a system.
of reasonable inquiry in interpretive People consider
which people construct considerations, such as principles such as the
solutions to ill-structured the weight of the value of human life,
problems. evidence, the justice, serving others,
People evaluate the explanatory value of the and contributing to the
adequacy of those interpretations, and the common good. These
solutions in terms of interrelationships of principles unify diverse
reasonability or these factors. concepts of morality.
probability according to People defend
the current evidence. conclusions as
People reevaluate representing the most
knowledge when relevant complete, plausible, or
new evidence, compelling
perspectives, or tools of understanding of an
inquiry become issue based on available
available. evidence.

Note. The content of Table 1 is compiled from Kitchener and Kings (1994) Exhibit 1 (pp.14-16) and from

Table 8.1 (pp. 208-209).

Pre-reflective stages (Kitchener and King, 1994) included Stages 1-3. In Stage 1,

people view knowledge in certain terms where knowledge exists absolutely and

concretely. It is not understood as an abstraction. (p. 48) People at Stage 1 rely on

authorities for knowledge and do not need to justify knowledge because it is absolute and

certain. Morality is also absolute, and only good is rewarded and only bad is punished.

Young children exemplify Stage 1 (Kitchener & King, 1990, 1994). People in Stage 2 see

knowledge as more complex, and not everyone knows the truth. People at Stage 2 still

assume truth will be found; some people know truth and others do not (1994).

Knowledge comes from sensory observations or authorities. Stage 2 includes two

concrete areas of morality: good and bad. People want good, and people do not want bad.

In Stage 3, people recognize certain and uncertain knowledge (Kitchener & King,

1994, 1990). People see authorities as knowing, or having truth. In some areas, though,

even authorities may not currently have the truth (1994, p. 55). People in Stage 3

maintain the assumption that ultimately all problems have solutions and that certainty

will, in the long run, be attained. (1990, p. 163) When people in Stage 3 justify their

positions, they use knowledge from authorities views. Sometimes, people in Stage 3

simply use their personal beliefs as justification because people cannot connect evidence

to opinions. High school students appeared commonly at this stage in development in

their views of knowledge and justification of knowledge (1990, 1994). People in Stage 3

understand morality in concrete terms in several areas for self and others; people defined

good and bad into clear behaviors.

Quasi-reflective stages include Stages 4 and 5 (Kitchener & King 1994). At Stage

4 people recognize the uncertainty of knowledge, doubt authorities, and understand

knowledge as abstract. People know that knowledge cannot be validated externally

(Kitchener & King, 1990, p. 164), and that knowledge varied from individual to

individual. Uncertainty about knowledge characterizes this stage, but knowledge and

justification remain poorly differentiated. (Kitchener & King, 1994, p. 58) People in

Stage 4 recognize the need for evidence but typically justify positions with difficulty.

People in Stage 4 discern differences in types of problems such as math problems, and

real-world problems (1990, p. 164) or ill-structured problems (1990, p. 164). People

in Stage 4 see morality as an abstraction, and laws dictate appropriate and inappropriate

behaviors for people in society (1994).

People in Stage 5 recognize that people filter knowledge through their perceptions

and personal biases (Kitchener & King, 1990, 1994). People in Stage 5 know that

knowledge must be contextualized because what is known is always limited by the

perspective of the knower. (Kitchener & King, 1994, p. 62). People in Stage 5

understand interpretations of evidence and lack the ability to compare knowledge from

one context to another. The inability to compare evidence leaves people unable to weigh

evidence for competing views beyond the perspective each allows (1994, p. 63). People

could not integrate perspectives and draw conclusions beyond limited relationships.

(1994, p. 63) People in Stage 5 understand abstract concepts of morality and relate these

concepts from one context to another; people understand the laws of one community and

relate these laws to those of another community (Kitchener & King, 1994).

Reflective stages include Stages 6 and 7 (Kitchener & King, 1990, 1994). In

Stages 6 and 7, people incorporate reflective thinking (Kitchener & King, 1994, p. 66).

Like Stage 5 thinkers, people in Stage 6 recognize the uncertain and contextual nature of

knowledge; however, unlike Stage 5 thinkers, people in Stage 6 justify their views by

comparing evidence, opinions, and perspectives. In Stage 6, people evaluate knowledge,

construct solutions, and recognize the need for action (1994). People in Stage 6 evaluate

the credibility of perspectives and evidence. People at Stage 6 compare evidence and

opinion across contexts (1990, p. 165) which leads to judgment formation about ill-

structured problems (1990, p. 165). People in Stage 6 understand abstract concepts of

morality. While people in Stage 6 recognize the validity of differing interpretations;

people at this stage consider fairness and well-being of people in relation to

interpretations of rules or laws (1994).

People at Stage 7 understand the uncertainty of knowledge, the process of inquiry,

and the need to construct solutions based on the best available evidence (Kitchener &

King, 1990, 1994). People in Stage 7 discern some truths or solutions as being more

warranted (1990, p. 165) than others. People in Stage 6 fail to understand the larger

system of knowing in which some comparisons and conclusions are embedded,

conclusions remain limited and situational. (Kitchener & King, 1994, p. 70) In Stage 7,

people construct knowledge by using skills of critical inquiry or by synthesizing

evidence, and opinion into cohesive and coherent explanations for beliefs about

problems. (1994, p. 70) People in Stage 7 actively inquire into ill-structured problems,

draw conclusions, recognize that conclusions change over time, integrate knowledge

from multiple areas to have a generalization of assumptions and a clarity of judgment

that were not apparent at Stage 6 (Kitchener & King, 1994, p. 71). People in Stage 7

understand morality as an abstract and diverse concept unified by valuing human life,

desiring justice, serving others, and contributing to a common good (1994).

The active nature of Kitchener and Kings (1990, 1994) Stages 6 and 7 in

reflective judgment development indicate that transformational learning is inherent

within the critical reflection process. While Kitchener and King (1990, 1994) found

strong correlations between the stages to age and education level, they recognized the

complexities within these connections and remained hesitant to assert firm age

guidelineseven though their research consistently placed high school students below or

at Stage 3. Kitchener and King (1994) recognize that other complex factors such as life

events and personal transitions play a role in developing reflective judgment (p. 160).

The RJM breaks down reflective judgment processes, examines the relationship between

knowledge and perspective, and establishes parallels between reflective judgment and

moral development (1994).

Transformational Learning, Moral Development, and Story

Kitchener and Kings work (1994) presents one way to examine the connections

between critical thought and potential transformational learning in personal and moral

development. However, their work does not provide tangible ways to discover

transformational learninga difficult and nebulous process. Other work in

transformational learning gives insight into ways of identifying and measuring personal

development and change (Brookfield, 1990; Nash, 2004; Noonan & Fish 2007; Rest,

1986). Rests (1986) framework for understanding moral behavior provides another way

to examine transformational development. Moral development is not the result of a

single, unitary process. (p. 4) Rather, people need four psychological processes

necessary for moral behavior, and even then, morality cannot be represented as a single

variable or process.(p. 4) These psychological processes include development in moral

sensitivity, moral judgment, moral intention, and moral action. Once people develop

these psychological processes, they develop moral maturity.

Peoples stories potentially convey evidence of transformational learning

(Brookfield, 1990; Nash, 2004; Noonan & Fish 2007). Brookfield (1990) used critical

narratives to help adult learners break down personal assumptions and identify meaning

schemes in adults livesa process Brookfield describes having the potential to explode

with psychological dynamite (p. 178). In adult education Brookfield used critical

narratives where adults told and examined their own personal stories. Peoples narratives

revealed assumptions about education, about intimate relationships, and about political

assumptions. Such examination, while potentially painful, revealed to people how their

personal assumptions, daily lives, decisions, and dilemmas connected to each other; such

revelations sometimes changed how people lived their lives (Brookfield, 1990).

Educator Robert J. Nash (2004), too, recognizes the potential emotional

difficulties of self-examination and believes in the inherent power in peoples stories. As

a result, he advocates for the use of scholarly personal narratives within academia as

powerful learning experiences for learners and readers. Nash sees the power of story as

looking deeply within ourselves for the meaning that just might, when done well,

resonate with other lives; maybe even inspire them in some significant ways. (p. 22)

Nash believes that We do not live in reality itself. We live in stories about reality. (p.

33) Nash showed transformational effects of story in his own and other peoples lives.

Like Brookfield (1990) and Nash (2004), adult educators Sarah J. Noonan and

Thomas L. Fish (2007) recognized the power of stories and storytelling. In their book

Leadership Through Story: Diverse Voices in Dialogue, Noonan and Fish focused on

stories multifaceted nature, their transformational power, and their connections to

leadership through culture and community. As a foundation of society, people,

community, and leadership need stories. Stories convey personal and cultural values,

motivate people, create meanings, cultivate identity, heal lives, foster connections, deter

behaviors, inspire courage, and change people. Stories give leaders ways to examine

underlying assumptions and biases (p. 5) of people and incite action (p. 6). Conversely,

people use stories to examine the assumptions, biases and actions of leaders to reveal

character, ethics, motivations and personal qualities (Noonan & Fish, 2007).


The literature review examines critical pedagogy, critical literacy, and the role of

critical theory in a critical education for teens. The literature on these topics establishes a

precedent for the use of critical theory with teen learners and a connection between

critical theory and transformational learning in teens. The review of the literature also

discusses conceptual issues from adult learning that relate to teen learning and the

possibility of transformative learning. The literature provides possible ways to recognize

transformational learning in people. The next chapter presents the methodology used to

conduct this research into whether or not studying critical theory affected teens attitudes,

assumptions, and actions.



This chapter provides a description of the methodology and procedures used to

determine how studying critical theory affects teens attitudes, assumptions, and actions. I

describe the methodology and design, the research participant sampling, the participant

profiles, the setting, the data gathering procedures, and then discuss data analysis


Methodology and Design

As a qualitative researcher studying the language of analysis (McLaren, 2005a, p.

105), I believe my role as researcher is to capture what people say and do (Maykut &

Morehouse, 1994/2004, p. 18) in order to explore how people interpret the world (p.

18). My role in the research is what Maykut and Morehouse (1994/2004) term the

human-as-instrument for data gathering and data analysis. As the tool for gathering the

research, I bring my own experience, background, and knowledge as well as biases (p.

26) to the research. Thus, as researcher, I need to be transparent in articulating my own

biases in the study.

The purpose of this research is to conduct within-case and across-case analysis

(Creswell, 1998, p. 63), to examine the following research question: How does the study

of critical theory affect the attitudes, assumptions and actions of teens? The following

questions guided the research:

How does the study of critical theory affect teen understanding of identity of self

and others?

How does the study of critical theory influence the ways teens view local,

national, and global society?

How does the study of critical theory offer the possibility of transformative

learning for teens?

According to Creswell (1998), a case study is an exploration of a bounded

system which evolved over time through detailed, in-depth data collection involving

multiple sources of information rich in context. (p. 61) To gather data from multiple

sources, I used the following research methods: interviews, focus group discussions, and

Internet discussion boards. All interviews and focus groups were audio taped. I

transcribed all interviews and focus group discussions for a total word count of 315,971.

To ensure the accuracy of the research, all participants reviewed transcriptions of

interviews and focus group sessions for content and clarification (Lincoln & Guba, 1985;

Maykut & Morehouse, 1994/2004; Merriam, 1998). Additionally, each participant read

an initial draft of the profile I wrote. All participants received a draft of my synthesis of

their ideas to read for accuracy of interpretation (Stake, 1995). Two participants

responded to the complete draftEsther responded with general comments and John

with some questions and clarifications. After the dissertation was approved with

modifications, I emailed participants a description of changes to be made. Abby wanted

clarification of what the changes meant for the content of the dissertation.

Ethics/Confidentiality and Institutional Review Board

Before completing this research, I submitted my proposal to the Institutional

Review Board (IRB) at St. Thomas and was approved to conduct this research study in

the fall of 2006. I used informed consent and pseudonyms to protect participants

identities. Participants pseudonyms were used in all stages of the process. I did not share

participants identities with anyone during the course of the study or after the research

was completed.

Research Participant Sampling

I selected the research participants based on their participation in the Advanced

Placement Language and Composition (APLC) course I taught. The APLC course was

available to all juniors and seniors, and students who took the course self-selected it; no

requirements determined enrollment in the course outside of a desire to be in the course.

All 8 participants were socially constructed as White. Four females and 4 males

participated in the study. Prior to the study, 2 female and 2 male participants had just

completed their junior years in high school, and 2 female and 2 male participants had just

completed their senior years in high school. Participants self-identified as follows: 1 as

lower class, 2 as lower-middle class, 4 as middle class, and 1 as upper class. Participant

ages ranged from 17-19 years old.

Because I developed a teacher-student relationship with participants prior to the

research study, I did not ask participants to identify their sexual orientations. I did not

want a situation similar to Foucaults (1978/1990) confessional where I, as researcher,

worked as the authority who requires the confession (p. 61). In such a situation, the

agency of domination does not reside in the one who speaks (for it is he [she] who is

constrained), but in the one who listens and says nothing (p. 62). Thus, out of respect for

participants identities, I did not ask about this aspect of their personal identities. If

participants volunteered information regarding their sexual orientation, I included that in

the discussion of their personal identities.

I sent all participants a consent form (Appendix A) inviting them to participate in

the study. Participation was voluntary, and the information made this clear. This form

overviewed the expectations for participation, the difficult nature of discussing social

justice issues, and the fact that participating in the study might reveal personal

information. The consent form described how I planned to use pseudonyms. I notified

participants and parents about a guidance counselor present for the focus group

discussions to monitor the emotional mood and to be available to talk to any participants

who struggled with the content of the sessions. The consent form made it clear that

participants could withdraw from the study at any point without being questioned and

without affecting their relationship with me. For participants under age 18, both the

participants and the parents received consent forms. Participants 18 years and older

signed the consent forms once they decided to participate.

Participant Profiles

Abigail Elizabeth BensonAbby

Abby, a 17-year-old White female from a lower middle class home, had just

completed her junior year of high school at the time of the study. Abby lived with her

dad, her stepmother, and her two younger half-siblings. Abbys biological mother died

when she was four. After that, Abbys grandmother cared for Abby while her father

worked; her grandmother and the people living in her apartment building gave Abby

extensive interactions with older adults. Abby maintained close family relationships.

Abby undertook significant responsibilities at home, and she cared for her siblings,

cleaned, and completed household jobs. Abby grew up in the Catholic Church but

questioned aspects of church doctrine and practice. She read imaginative, fantasy

books geared to people younger than she. She believed childrens books held

profound insight for people of all ages and disagreed with categorizing books by age.

Abby saw the world through the perspectives of children; she often connected new

information to what she knew about childrens cartoons, stories, toys, and conceptsa

way of knowing that isolated her from peers. Abby liked to know the facts of knowledge

and the conceptual framework for how things worked. She loved math, science, and

understanding the human body; she wanted to be a doctor.


Aquafina had just completed his junior year in high school as a 17-year-old White

male from a middle class background. Aquafina was born in Landsthl, Germany, where

his father was stationed with the Air Force. After Aquafinas father retired, Aquafinas

family moved to Minnesota where his younger sister was born. Aquafina enjoyed being a

role model for her. Aquafinas parents divorced and his father remarried, giving Aquafina

a stepmother and a stepsister a year younger than him. Aquafina felt close to his

biological family, including his grandparents. Aquafina identified as a Christian and

believed he could reconcile criticality and religion. Since age 12, Aquafina wrote and

published poetry with his father. Aquafina perceived significant ageism in writers.

Aquafina savored words and expression through language and ideas. Aquafina welcomed

multiple points of view and enjoyed discussing ideas with other people; he frequently

played devils advocate to challenge his own and others perspectives. Aquafina

wanted to continue writing and publishing poetry, and he considered becoming an

English teacher or professor.

Cowboy WayneWayne

Wayne skipped sixth grade as a gifted student and was young for his age. A 17-

year-old White male from a middle class background, he had just completed his senior

year of high school. Wayne grew up on a farm with his biological parents and his older

sister. Wayne identified as a spiritual existentialist. He connected with nature as a way to

resist consumerism and capitalist power. Waynes family influenced his liberal political

views and his passion for politics. Wayne closely followed political issues and political

leadership and conceptualized his knowledge by articulating historical, philosophical, and

cultural influences. Wayne read voraciously to understand human nature, society,

politics, culture, power, powerlessness, art, action, complacency, action, resistance, and

history. Wayne contextualized his experiences as a White, Jewish-looking male to the

larger society even though, to his knowledge, Jewish ancestry did not appear in his

familys lineage. He enjoyed all types of discussion. Wayne valued adapting to a

constantly changing world, reinterpreting his life based on new knowledge, being heard,

connecting seemingly random experiences and knowledge, and using sarcasm and humor.


Esther self-identified as a White, 18-year-old female with a middle class

background and had just completed her senior year in high school. She lived with her

parents and four siblingstwo older sisters, a younger sister, and a younger brother.

Esthers family raised her in a strong Christian home and chose a church with female

leaders. Esther questioned religious contradictions and developed her own vision of a

strong personal faith, which included acting for social justice. Esthers parents and sisters

helped shape Esthers personal development, particularly her strong feminist beliefs.

Esther appreciated being surrounded by people who understood sexism and worked to

counteract negative messages about females. The medias manipulation of women

through their feelings of weakness and self-esteem concerned Esther. She saw herself as

both oppressed and privileged. She initially connected her personal development and

biases to areas of her identity such as gender, race, sexual orientation, family, economic

circumstances, and place of residence. Esther enjoyed studying music, theater, political

elections, and social issues. Esther felt tension between her artsy and studious selves

and expressed uncertainty about what to study in college.

John KerryJohn

John, 19, had just completed his senior year of high school. John understood his

social identity as a white male from a lower class background but explicitly rejected

social constructs that defined peoples identities. (In the member checking process, John

requested that I not use an uppercase letter on race in his descriptions and quotations

because he felt an uppercase letter gave legitimacy to that social construct.) John believed

people should define themselves culturally rather than have society define them by

incidental aspects of their lives. Johns biological parents divorced when he was 10. He

had two biological brothers, one half brother, two step-brothers, and another half-sibling

on the way. Prior to his parents divorce, Johns parents raised him in a structured

Christian background; after the divorce, he stopped going to church and developed his

own moral code, which evolved, in part, from critical theory ideas. John competed on the

high school debate team, and he used critical theory in debate argumentation to examine

systems of power through anthropocentrism, speciesism, biopower, normative power,

popular fascism, postmodernism, linguistics, and semantics. These concepts provided a

catalyst for personal change. John valued fluidity in identity. He conceptualized himself

as a world citizen and as a pacifist in opposition to violence, nuclear weapons, and

nuclear war.


An 18-year-old White female from an upper-class background, Moira was

physically short and had just completed her senior year in high school. Moira lived with

her biological parents and came from an extended family with extensive medical careers.

Moiras mother practiced psychiatry, and her father practiced dentistry. Moira developed

strong friendships with her older brother, 21, and her younger sister, 13. Moiras family

raised her as a Presbyterian. While Moira did not currently practice the faith, the religious

community and beliefs shaped her core values. Moira identified herself as an ardent

feminist influenced by strong women in her family, especially her mother. Moira

consistently examined issues shaping her own identityespecially personal and

institutional examples of sexism. Moira participated in National History Day, a

competition that played a large part of Moiras academic life in high school. As a senior

in high school, Moira produced a documentary on the resettlement of Jewish Holocaust

survivors in Minnesota after World War II, and she won 7th place at the national

competition. Moira liked to travel. After much personal research on sexism in education,

Moira decided to attend a selective all-womens college and planned to pursue a medical

career. Moira contemplated how to use her leadership to contribute positively to society

and whether or not to run for public office as an adult.

Rebecca HendersonRebecca

Rebecca identified herself as a 17-year-old White female from a middle class

background; she had just completed her junior year in high school. Rebecca lived with

her parents and had a 20-year-old sister. Rebecca maintained close relationships with her

family, and they supported her activities, personal reflection, and personal development.

Raised as a Lutheran, Rebecca lived life committed to her Christian faith and attended

regular worship services. Rebecca thought and acted consciously on her religious faith,

values and knowledge from her church community. A pivotal experience in Rebeccas

life was going on a 12-day church mission trip to Guatemala. The trip profoundly

changed Rebecca as she witnessed life in a different culture. During and after the trip,

Rebecca actively worked to understand her observations, reactions, and experiences. One

lasting change emerged out of Rebeccas trip; she wanted to resist materialism and

consumerism. Social injustices and the long-term personal impact of oppression on

people concerned Rebecca, and she responded empathetically to peoples experiences

with oppression. Rebecca wanted a career where she could help people and considered

psychology, sociology, counseling, social work, or nursing.

Silas DeaneSilas

Silas identified as a 17-year-old White male from a lower middle class

background and had just completed his junior year in high school. Silas lived with his

parents and his two younger brothers. Silas became interested in national and

international politics because of discussing political issues with his family; he saw a

direct connection between what happened in politics and his fathers wages and health

care coverage. Silas grew up in the Catholic Church but opposed the heterosexist and

sexist oppression he saw within the churchpractices for which he found no Biblical

support. Heterosexism concerned Silas because of its theoretical legality in the United

States. Silas believed government and religious bodies sanctioned heterosexist ideology;

religion empowered people who discriminated against others based on sexual orientation

and allowed people to hide behind the veil of religion or values or morals. Silas

contemplated leaving Catholicism. However, he tentatively planned on staying with the

church because his parents valued his faith, and church membership would help Silas if

he ran for public office. Silas involved himself heavily in politics and political activism.

He planned a career in journalism.


I conducted all interviews and focus group meetings in public settings that

included classrooms or conference rooms at Mankato West High School and a conference

room at the Mankato Public Library. Scheduling issues, school construction, and heat

index forecasts affected the location of the interviews and focus group discussions.

Data Gathering Procedures

Each participant completed all 3 phases of the research process between June-

August 2007. Phase A consisted of an initial interview lasting between 1 hour and 1

hours. Phase B included participating in three focus group discussions lasting between 2

and 3 hours and participating on message boards. These message board discussions

started after the first focus group discussion and concluded after the final focus group

discussion. For Phase B focus group and message board discussions, participants each

read a minimum of three article-length readings. Participants created one collage or

symbol of identity; participants also wrote short reflections after focus group discussions.

In Phase C, participants completed a final interview with me; the final interview lasted

between 1 hours and 2 hours. The format for Phase A, B, and C of the research drew

upon the three-interview format (Schuman, 1982; Seidman, 2006).

Phase A: The Initial Interview

During the initial interview, I wanted to get participants stories told in their own

words. The initial interview was what Seidman (2006) termed a focused life history (p.

17) in which a participant tells as much as possible about him or herself in light of the

topic up to the present time (p. 17). This interview was a semi-structured interview

where neither the exact wording nor the order of questions is predetermined (Merriam,

1998, p. 93). I also was influenced by Spradleys (1979) ideas on the processes of

developing rapport and eliciting information (p. 78) through open-ended questioning

techniques. I used what Spradley (1979) termed grand tour questions asking for sweeping

explanations from informants, mini-tour questions asking for detailed but shorter

explanations of experience, example questions asking participants to answer with

examples from their perspectives, and experience questions (p.86-88) asking participants

to answer with details from their personal experiences.

I asked participants to select personal pseudonyms. I asked questions to generate

discussion regarding family, personal interests and background, reading interests for

pleasure and for school, influential readings, influential people, activities and/or ideas,

and personal interests in social justice issues. In this interview, I also wanted to get a

sense of participants critical perspectives as they discussed ideas. Initial interviews took

place between June 28, 2007, and July 26, 2007. Participants had 1 week to submit

further reflections on the interview; Rebecca submitted reflections about the types of

readings that interested her and about her own process of critical reflection and breaking

down economic privileges.

Phase B: Focus Group and Message Board Discussions

Seidmans (2006) second interview gets at the details of life experience (p. 18).

In this research study, three focus group sessions and message board discussions focused

on experience details as participants made meaning of the texts and discussed the reading

assignments. I planned a semi-structured approach (Merriam, 1998) to the focus groups,

and I continued to use Spradleys (1979) ideas on the processes of developing rapport and

eliciting information through open-ended questioning techniques. I also used Morgan and

Kruegers (1998) work with focus groups in planning, structuring, and moderating the


My role as facilitator. In all focus group and message board discussions, I drew on

my experiences as a teacher in facilitating group discussions. I created possible questions

for discussion and offered participants choice in whether or not they wished to use those

questions. I paid attention to who spoke, led discussions, and who did not. When less

vocal participants signaled their desire to make points through comments or body

language, I offered these participants space to make the comments. At times, I

specifically called on participants who remained silent for long periods of time; at other

times, I provided time in the discussion for any participants who had not spoken much to

make points.

I supported discussion through inclusion and encouragement of participants points.

I synthesized themes and points participants made to prompt further discussion. At times,

I asked follow-up questions on their topics to prompt further consideration of ideas that

offered potential for further development. I listened to the points participants discussed

and identified times participants became bogged down on points either through

clarification or redirecting discussion. When participants asked for guidance on

discussion topics such as racism, I provided it. When participants presented ideas that

appeared problematic, such as naming the ideal solution for racism colorblindness, I

explained my position on the ideas. I worked to understand all perspectives and points

brought to the focus group discussions and to question my biases in relation to the

perspectives and points. I allowed the group time to feel dissonance and to reflect in

silence when discussion waned.

Focus group one. Focus group session one took place on July 30, 2007. Nine days

prior to the focus group, I mailed out an excerpt on panoptic power by French critical

theorist Michel Foucault (1977/1996) and provided an online link for critical theorist

Herbert Marcuses (1969) essay Repressive Tolerance. I knew that 2 participants were

familiar with some of Foucaults ideas, so I gave participants the choice to read one of

the two readings.

Since all participants chose to read the excerpt on panoptic power by French

critical theorist Michel Foucault (1977/1996), I will summarize only this reading. This

excerpt examined the perfect prison model for maximum control of inmates. Such a

model created permanent visibility for the inmates through a circular, cellular structure.

The system used a central monitoring center where a person or small group of people

could monitor all surrounding individual cells where prisoners remained entirely visible.

This observation room lay in the middle of the circular structure in an enclosed area

where the monitor(s) viewed all prisoners in their individual cells. The prisoners,

however, could not see the central power. The goal of this structure was to induce in the

inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic

functioning of power. (p. 183). This permanent state of visibility ideally led people to

behave as if they were constantly under surveillance.

Visibility controlled peoples behaviors, and invisibility gave other people power,

particularly in disciplinary actions against those who break the boundaries (Foucault,

1977/1996). This panoptic model can be viewed literally or metaphorically. This panoptic

power model worked not only for prisons, but also for other institutions within society

such as hospitals, production factories, and schools. The model potentially applied to

social relationships and to historical, economic, scientific, and juridico-political areas of


Before the participants engaged in discussion at the first focus group meeting, I

reviewed participants rights within the study. These included the right not to answer any

questions participants did not want to answer, the ability to leave the study at any time,

and the fact that if participants left the study, their departure did not affect their

relationship with me, or the references that I provided for participants. I explained that

the guidance counselor attended the discussions to monitor the emotional mood and to

help participants process difficult concepts. I presented a definition of critical theory for

participants and compiled a list of oppressions mentioned by them in their initial

interviews. I also gave participants a list of possible questions for the focus group, which

participants did not use in their discussion. Participants discussed for 2 hours with a

20-minute break.

At the end of the discussion, I gave participants instructions to post on the message

boards between focus group sessions. I suggested that participants post two reflective

comments on ideas from the focus group, and three responses to others commentsa

format which became too cumbersome for participants to use and for me to monitor. I

also asked participants to create a collage or select a symbol representing their personal

identities for the second focus session. I gave participants copies of chapters four, five

and six of Beverly Daniel Tatums Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the

Cafeteria? (1997); I asked participants to read at least chapter six. Before leaving the

focus group, each participant reflected in writing on the focus group ideas and

experiences on a critical incident form (see Appendix B). Participants had 1 week to

submit further reflections on the focus group discussion. No one submitted reflections.

Focus group two. The second focus group session took place on August 13, 2007,

and centered on the guiding concept of personal identity, specifically racial identity. I

required participants to read chapter six and gave them the option of reading chapters

four and five of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? (Tatum,

1997). Chapter four of the book dealt with racial identity development issues, stages, and

processes for Black teens. In this chapter, Tatum explained why Blacks sat together in the

high school cafeteria. The chapter included many anecdotes illustrating important

concepts within Black identity development, particularly from Black students who

attended predominantly White schools. Tatum showed how experiencing racism made

sitting at this table necessary for many students who were Black and how their identity

development affected that decision. Chapter five dealt with racial identity in college and

adulthood for Blacks. The chapter included information on how racial identity issues

became especially important for people in the workplace and for parents of children.

Participants read chapter six for the focus group discussion. In this chapter, Tatum

(1997) drew on the work of psychologist Janet Helms (1990) to discuss White identity

development issues, stages, and processes. Tatum spent much of the chapter explaining

the characteristics and examples of Whites in the following stages of racial identity

development: contact, disintegration, reintegration, pseudo-independent,

immersion/emersion, and autonomy. In the first stage, Whites do not examine their racial

identities; Whites see themselves as normal and internalize societys racist messages.

In the second stage, disintegration, Whites become increasingly aware of racism and the

social significance of it; people in this stage see racism in the world around them and feel

discomfort about the racism. The discomfort frequently appears in feelings of guilt,

anger, shame, denial, and/or withdrawal. Some Whites in disintegration name the ways

racism impacts their lives. Most Whites also go through periods of reintegration, the third

stage. In reintegration, Whites turn feelings of dissonance into ways to avoid

responsibility of action, such as fear of racial groups different than their own, blaming the

victims, and collusion in racism through silence. People in the reintegration stage

sometimes express anger because they identify themselves as members of a racial group

rather than as individuals. People in this stage decide whether or not to turn dissonance

into action against racism.

Once Whites notice racism around them, they see many examples of it (Tatum,

1997). If Whites choose to act against the racism, they move into the final three stages:

pseudo-independent, immersion/emersion, and autonomy. Whites in the pseudo-

independent stage want to act against racism, but do not know how to do so. Whites in

this stage often feel shame and guilt; they do not know how to speak against racism even

when they spent time with people of African American, Hispanic, Latino, Native

American, Asian, and Middle Eastern ethnic descent. At this point, Whites need other

Whites to help them learn how to be allies and to see themselves as being White in ways

outside of being the oppressor. Whites in the fifth stage, immersion/emersion, no longer

feel guilt and shame about being White; they redefine for themselves what being White

means. Once Whites incorporate this newly defined White identity into their personal

identities, these Whites reach the final stage, autonomy. People in autonomy feel

positively about being White, understand racism, respect the struggles of African

Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and Middle Eastern ethnic

groups. Whites in autonomy act against racism.

Participants began the second focus group by scanning the transcript of the first

focus group discussion. Participants started discussion by reflecting on the first focus

group and the message board discussions. Participants also presented information about

their own identities through discussion of their collages or symbols. Before participants

discussed the reading, I overviewed guidelines for their discussion on racism from

Singleton and Linton (2006). These guidelines encouraged participants to: stay

engaged (p. 17), speak your truth (p. 17), experience discomfort (p. 17), and expect

and accept non-closure. (p. 17) I also gave participants a list of possible concepts to

discuss during the group meeting, which they did not refer to during the discussion.

Participants discussed for 2 hours with a 20-minute break. I gave participants a

binder with a collection of 16 readings on gender, sexism, and heterosexism. See

Appendix C for an annotated bibliography of these readings. I selected readings that

emerged as topics of interest to participants from personal interviews and from topics that

emerged in examples in the initial interviews and the first focus group discussions. I

instructed participants to choose one article to read and to post their choices on the

message boards. I asked participants to continue discussion on Tatums (1997) reading

and racism topics on the message boards. Participants requested a framework to use in

discussing racism to help guide their discussion, which I posted later that day. Before

leaving the focus group, each participant wrote a reflection on the critical incident form

(Appendix B) about the focus group ideas and experiences. Participants had 1 week to

submit further reflections on the focus group discussion. No one submitted reflections.

Focus group three. The third focus group took place on August 23, 2007. I started

the focus group by presenting a collage of my own identity since a couple participants

asked about my identity collage at the second focus group. Then, I provided reflective

comments on their discussions on racism, specifically about the use of the word

colorblindness, and considerations for future discussions that they may have on racism,

especially in multiracial discussions. After that, participants reflected on the second focus

group meeting and the message boards before moving into a discussion over the readings

on gender, sexism, and heterosexism. Because participants effectively chose discussion

topics, I did not prepare questions for this focus group discussion. Participants discussed

for nearly 3 hours with a 20-minute break. After the focus group, participants filled out

the critical incident questionnaires (Appendix B) on the third focus group discussion. I

asked participants to post at least five times on the message boards. Participants had 1

week to submit further reflections on the focus group discussion. No one submitted


Message boards. The message board discussions provided another way to get the

participants details of life experience (Seidman, 2006, p. 18). Participants posted

written discussion topics on the message boards during the course of the research study.

Most of the postings occurred after the first and second focus group discussions because

participants were getting ready to start school and college after the third focus group.

Initially, I asked participants to post two reflective comments on ideas from the focus

group and three responses to others comments. But, these guidelines became too difficult

to monitorespecially since the threads contained lengthy, complex discussions of ideas.

Since the postings were much longer than I anticipated, I asked participants to end the

study with approximately five total postings.

Phase C: The Final Interview

The final interviews took place after all focus group discussions. Final interviews

occurred between August 24 and August 31, 2007. The final interview lasted between 1

hours and 2 hours with each individual participant involved reflection on the

meaning of the experience (Seidman, 2006, p. 18). Like the initial interview and focus

group discussions, the final interview was a semi-structured interview (Merriam, 1998)

that was influenced by Spradleys (1979) ideas on the processes of developing rapport (p.

78) and eliciting information (p. 78) through questioning techniques. I asked participants

to reflect specifically on the content of each focus group discussion and on the message

boards. I also asked participants to reflect on the male-dominance emerging in the first

focus group and on the differences between the number of females and males completing

the collages. I asked participants to discuss feelings of dissonance, critical theory and

action, critical theory and classroom curriculum, and what was important for me to know

in my framing of their individual identities.

Data Analysis Procedures

I used within-case and across-case analysis (Creswell, 1998) in all phases of the

research. Each time I worked with new data, I followed Strauss and Corbins (1998)

model for analyzing data through reading and coding. I coded all interview transcripts,

focus group transcripts, and message board discussions using open, axial, and selective

coding techniques. Strauss and Corbin (1998) defined open coding as the analytic

process through which concepts are identified and their properties and dimensions are

discovered in the data (p. 101). I identified initial categories relevant to each

participants initial and final interviews for within-case analysis. After I completed the

open coding process, I used axial coding, the process of relating categories to their

subcategories, termed axial because coding occurs around the axis of a category, linking

categories at the level of properties and dimensions (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 123). I

then used selective coding to go through the process of integrating and refining

categories (Strauss & Corbin, 1998, p. 143). I linked together related categories, formed

supporting categories, and created new classifications for the data. After I coded all

individual interviews, I followed the same process for the interview across-case analysis,

and for the focus group and message board discussions.

Once I coded all initial and final interviews, I compiled a list of the salient critical

points from each interview. I examined each of these points in relation to Kitchener and

Kings (1990, 1994) 7 stages of reflective judgment development. I assessed each critical

point and assigned it a stage. I always took into account participants discussion of ill-

structured problems; participants construction of their positions; and participants

justification of their beliefs. At times, I considered participants conception of morality.

In this process, I also considered multiple examples of sample interviews excerpted by

Kitchener and King. I closely examined their scoring rationale for assigning particular

stages of reflective judgment to people based on interview responses.

To distinguish the nebulous line between Stages 6 and 7 (Kitchener & King,

1994), I considered participants comments, the issues participants discussed, the

connections they made between ideas, the ways they justified their opinions, and the

overall contexts of comments. I used the following ideas to delineate between stages:

1. People in Stage 6 fail to understand the larger system of knowing in which

some comparisons and conclusions are embedded (p. 70).

2. People in Stage 6 draw conclusions that are limited and situational. (p. 70).

3. People in Stage 7 take on the role of critical inquirers (p. 70).

4. People in Stage 7 are agents involved in constructing knowledge (p. 70).

5. People at Stage 7 have a generalization of assumptions and a clarity of

judgment that were not apparent at Stage 6. (Kitchener & King, 1994, p. 71)

I strove for consistency in assigning stages from interview to interview, from participant

to participant. I used these scores to examine pieces of reflective judgment numerically as

part of showing the increases in critical thought processes from the initial to the final



This chapter overviewed the methodology and design, the research participant

sampling, the participant profiles, the setting, the data gathering procedures, and the data

analysis procedures used to determine whether or not studying critical theory affected

teens attitudes, assumptions, and actions. The next chapter presents the research findings

in Phase A, the initial interview; Phase B, the focus group and message board discussions

over readings in critical theory; and Phase C, the final interview.


Data Analysis

This chapter presents the research findings and analysis from all phases of the

research study. As discussed in the last chapter, this qualitative research project was

conducted in three phases: Phase A, which was an initial interview; Phase B, which

included three focus group discussions and online message board discussions; and Phase

C, which was a final interview after the discussions. I transcribed all interviews and focus

group discussions. I coded all initial interviews, the three focus group discussions, the

message board discussions, and the final interviews by using open, axial, and selective

coding techniques (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) as defined in the previous chapter. The

coding procedures were used in both within and across-case analyses (Creswell, 1998),

focus group discussions, and message board discussions. Participants read over all

transcripts for content and clarification (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Maykut & Morehouse,

1994/2004; Merriam, 1998).

Phase A: The Initial Interview

I wanted to get participants stories told in their own words. As I described in

chapter three, I used Seidmans (2006) framework to get a focused life history (p. 17)

in a semi-structured interview (Merriam, 1998). In the semi-structured interview, I

wanted to develop rapport as a part of eliciting information (Spradley, 1979), and I

developed open-ended questions designed for participants to explain their meanings

(Spradley, 1979). I had two main goals in the initial interview: getting to know the

participants and providing participants opportunities to engage in critical discussions.

These discussions gave me a partial understanding of their critical perspectives and the

ways they viewed the world. I asked questions about the following topics:

1. Family background

2. Personal interests and activities

3. Books participants liked to read for pleasure and for school

4. Influential readings

5. Influential people, activities and/or ideas

6. Interests in social justice issues

The interviews lasted 1 hour to 1 hour in length. Participants took the interviews

seriously and discussed the answers to the questions with sophisticated insight.

Participants appeared to enjoy discussing their answers to the questions, their reading

interests, the influences in their lives, and the ways they viewed the world around them. I

transcribed all interviews. Participants read the transcripts for accuracy and clarification.

I used open, axial, and selective coding techniques for all interview transcripts (Strauss &

Corbin, 1998).

The initial interview served as a means of getting participants personal

backgrounds and stories. As participants told their stories, described their readings,

experiences, and interests in social justice issues, the following four themes emerged.

1. Participants were highly literate with wide reading interests. Most participants

cited critical theorists who influenced their perspectives in some way.

2. Participants applied critical analysis to what they read and used readings to

probe and understand the world around them.

3. Participants revealed critical perspectives in at least one area of thought while

discussing their perspectives on the world and their interests in social justice.

4. Multiple sources influenced participants critical perspectives.

After all participants completed the initial interviews, the research moved into Phase B.

Phase B: Focus Group and Message Board Discussions

In Phase B, participants read critical theory and discussed the reading in focus

groups and on message boards. I transcribed the focus group discussions and used open,

axial, and selective coding techniques for all focus group and message board discussions

(Strauss & Corbin, 1998) for emerging themes. I prepared a semi-structured list of topics

for each focus group discussion (Merriam, 1998), but participants did not need the lists to

come up with topics for discussion. Participants read over transcripts of the focus group

discussions, and I gave participants the opportunity to clarify their points. Emerging

themes came out of participant discussions. These emerging themes illustrate two ways

the participants made meaning from the ideas: the approaches participants used to

understand the texts, and the insights participants made into the content of the readings.

After I discuss the emerging themes, I include brief observations about group dynamics

within each focus group discussion. Following the discussion of all focus group and

message board discussions, I include Table 2, which outlines the emerging themes from

the discussions.

Focus Group One Analysis

Participants received a reading on panoptic power by French critical theorist

Michel Foucault (1977/1996). The excerpt presented the ideal structure, panopticon, for

monitoring and controlling prisoner behaviors through constant visibility of prisoners and

constant invisibility of monitors. This panoptic power structure provided participants a

literal and metaphorical means of understanding a model of how power controlled people

in institutions and social interactions.

At the beginning of the focus group, I overviewed the participation expectations

as discussed in Chapter Two. I presented participants with a definition of critical theory, a

list of social justice concerns coming out of individual interviews, and a list of possible

discussion questions. Participants were given the choice to discuss specific guided

questions or to engage in open-ended discussion, which they preferred. The focus group

discussion lasted 2 hours with a 20-minute break. Participants filled out critical

incident questionnaires (Appendix B) about the most engaging, distancing, affirming,

confusing, and surprising moments, and what points they would continue to consider, so I

could gauge their emotional and intellectual reactions to the discussion.

Emerging Theme One: Foucaults Attitude and Bias as a Starting Point for Discussion

As participants started to make meaning of Foucaults (1977/1996) ideas,

participants questioned Foucaults attitude toward panopticon and power. Participants

wanted to understand his biases as they worked to understand the text and develop their

own points of view. Participants examined repeated ideas from the text (Esther),

questioned content of statements (Moira), and tried to name Foucaults tone in his

discussion of these ideas (Moira, Rebecca, & Silas). Throughout the first half of

discussion, participants wanted to define Foucaults attitude toward panoptic power as

positive or negative. Because much of participants early discussion centered on

assigning value judgment to power, I referenced another section of Foucaults book

(1977/1995) where he asserts that people need to refrain from judging power as either

positive or negative, and view power for what it is. Most participants developed a shared

understanding of panoptic power as a negative but effective means of control.

Participants analyzed Foucaults biases toward panoptic power through discussing literal

and metaphorical examples of surveillance, cells, visibility, invisibility, efficiency, and

social control.

Emerging Theme Two: Panoptic Power, Individual Identities, and Labels

Much of the first focus group discussion concentrated on individuals

relationships to panoptic power. Participants examined panoptic powers impact on

individual identities and developed several interpretations about humans responses to

panoptic power. Participants examined whether or not panoptic power ignored,

destroyed, repressed, compartmentalized, or encouraged the development of individual

identities (Aquafina, Moira, Rebecca & Wayne). While participants disagreed on the

ways panoptic power impacted individual identities, most participants believed that the

concepts of surveillance and visibility played roles in development of individual

identitiesprimarily through the development and influence of labels. The impact of

these labels quickly became a central issue throughout the entire discussion.

Participants examined how identity labels named differences within society and

debated whether or not these labels oppressed people. Participants examined examples of

sexism, heterosexism, and racism to probe connections between individual identities,

oppression, normality, stereotyping, and social control. Participants examined how labels

classified, named, defined, established, and stereotyped individual identities in society.

Silas articulated a connection participants considered in many facets. He said, If society

interprets you as a homosexual, and a homosexual only, ultimately, that starts to affect

your sense of self as an individual and you, in turn, become the homosexual society

expects you to be. Some participants questioned the degree to which peoples identity

went beyond labels and noted that differences existedlabeled or not. All participants

voiced opinions on the influence of labels, but participants did not reach group consensus

on the relationship between power, labels, and identities.

A disagreement between Esther and John illustrates further the types of points

participants examined in looking at issues of identity, labels, and oppression. Of all

participants, Esther spoke most adamantly about how classifying others and labeling

people by differences led to oppression of individuals. She explained how If there were

no fear of being watched as a woman, then there would be no such thing as that as a

classification. Esther believed Foucaults (1977/1995) model of panoptic power

explained how we all take the role of the person looking on into the panopticon at

different times and how people from dominant culture became monitors in identity

issues to judge and classify others through standards of normality. Esther strongly

believed these labels of normality and abnormality influenced how people viewed and

treated others.

John countered the notion of labels mattering in peoples minds. He believed

there were analytical differences. John saw differing repercussions between labeling

people based on characteristics incidental to their nature such as race, and labeling

people based on the actions that were consequences of a lifestyle such as sexual acts

where people were against the deeper meaning to it, like youre against that act.

However, since most people did not distinguish between types of labels for personal

characteristics and for lifestyles, labels did not really matter in the cycle of oppression.

After John differentiated between labels of characteristics and labels of actions, some

participants incorporated these distinctions to their views of individual identities.

Participant discussion on panoptic power, individual identities, and labels

occurred early in the focus group discussion. Participants revisited similar issues at the

end of the focus group discussion. Participants repeated earlier points in more precise,

complex ways. Overall, the longer group members discussed labels, the more inclusive

the discussion became.

Emerging Theme Three: Panoptic Power, Its Structure, and Its Effects on Peoples

Emotions and Behaviors

Participants discussed the ways panoptic power exerted control on peoples

behaviors in vertical and horizontal power arrangements. These forms of power elicited

various emotional and behavioral responses from people in society.

In a panoptic situation, a top-down structure existed where people in power, and

institutions exerted influence and control on those with less power (John & Wayne). An

important part of societys internal social order came through the institutional actions

against those who transgressed societys rules. Panoptic power also worked horizontally

where people monitored themselves and each other against social norms. Because

individuals avoided active means of punishment by institutions or other people, the

majority of people kept their actions within accepted societal standards of normality.

Participants discussed several effects of this power structure on people, including how

individuals who were monitored by panoptic power provided a form of service to those in

power (Rebecca). Most participants explored slavery to identify how panoptic power

impacted slaves cooperation, rebellion, and self-perception, and whether or not slavery

provided an effective model for studying panoptic power.

Within this vertical and horizontal model of power, most participants noted how

the system depended on human judgment and fear to operate effectively. Human

judgment served as a metaphorical panopticon where some people were closely watched

and others controlled people through their judgmentsjudgments that created fear in

people about consequences of deviating from social norms. Most participants saw this

fear as an integral part of panoptic society. Participants explored an example of a driver at

a deserted, country stoplight for insight into how people internalized fear and panoptic

power. Participants differed in their opinions as to how societal rules conditioned human

response when an individual did not need to abide by rules. Abby, Aquafina, and Silas

saw how a drivers engrained fears caused the driver to act in accordance with societal

ruleseven with no one present. Moira and Rebecca challenged the role of fear and

emphasized the role of human choice in determining a drivers personal actions at a

deserted stoplight.

Most participants drew upon the vertical and horizontal nature of panoptic power

in making their points, and most participants believed a system of panoptic power relied

on human judgment and fear as part of controlling peoples behaviors.

Emerging Theme Four: The Central Disagreement of the Discussion: Moiras Challenge

to Panopticon as a Valid Theory of Power

While most participants viewed panoptic power as a valid theory for explaining

how power worked, Moira adamantly challenged the validity of panoptic power and

repeatedly urged the group not to accept the theory complacently. Her continued dissent

within the group discussion forced participants to examine their positions, to probe new

examples, to articulate their positions more clearly, and to develop new arguments.

Moira believed that panopticon presented only one theory. Moira thought it

dangerous to assume that panopticon existed, and approaching the discussion with such

an assumption revealed a narrow minded attitude. Moira believed that panoptic power

remained ineffective if people did not think or live in fear of it. John disagreed with

Moira, and the two directly challenged each others views. John questioned Moiras

behavior as a law-abiding citizen within society, and how it impacted her bias because

someone who did not break laws had no reason to fear or be aware of the panoptic

society. Moira maintained the validity of her position and challenged Johns definition

of panoptic power. She wondered if panoptic power defined people through making them

follow rules and questioned whether panoptic power emerged as more of a social thing

and how you act? John saw rules and social behavior both as inextricably linked with

the panopticon because it permeated society in a powerful, invisible system influencing

peoples behaviors alone and with each other.

Other participants clarified their positions and developed new arguments in

response to Moiras challenge. The following arguments exemplify how participants

developed their views. Aquafina thought invisible power negated peoples abilities to

make decisions by undermining human conscience. Silas agreed that panoptic power was

invisible, but people experienced its restraints daily through social norms. Wayne noted

people chose panoptic power based on convenience and self-preservation because

people preferred being watched to being tortured and killed. Rebecca did not believe

people consented to panoptic power because panoptic power existed as a form of

internalized oppression causing people to accept their circumstances as normal. Rebecca

advocated the necessity of raising critical consciousness for people to see their lives


Wayne and Esther agreed with the necessity of raising critical consciousness in

people. Wayne believed people needed to question panoptic power to raise critical

consciousness because panoptic power as a self-sustaining system was very successful

and carried on from generation to generation. Esther worried that describing panoptic

power as self-sustaining positively characterized panopticon. She noted how hatred

was also self-sustaining and explained that, the point of critical theory is to get rid of

oppression, and, panopticism is a way displaying of how that power is. Esther urged

group members not to separate panoptic power from individual oppression.

Moiras impassioned challenge to the validity of panoptic power elicited strong

responses from group members, deepened group insights, and provided the impetus for

them to explore the validity of panoptic power as a controlling force in society.

Participants grappled with whether or not invisibility of power equaled the effectiveness

of power. Panoptic power in society was seen as a choice, a lack of choice, a means for

control, a means of preventing human decisions, a means of influencing human decisions,

a cause of oppression, and a call to action against acceptance, and for raising critical

consciousness about how power impacted individuals in society.

Emerging Theme Five: The Research Study as Panopticon

Participants discussed this research study as an example of a panopticon.

Participants examined my role as administrator and authority, how I interacted with the

group, and how my power differed from participants power (Esther, John, & Silas).

Participants also looked at their own roles within the study and how they accepted the

conditions of the study. Participants noted how social norms dictated their own behaviors

(Esther, John, Silas, & Wayne). Reading and discussing panoptic power led Esther to

understand her own role in the study differently. Esther saw how the wording in the

consent forms gave participants ways to act within the study. Wayne found irony in

participants willing involvement in the research study and their overall negative

perception of panoptic power in the discussion. Some participants also explored the

microphone as a symbol and tool of power within the study and their reactions to it

(Aquafina, Esther, & Wayne). Examining the research study as an example of panoptic

power provided participants with an immediate, pragmatic example on which to test their


Emerging Theme Six: The Arbitrary Nature of Social Norms and Culture

An awareness of the arbitrary nature of social norms permeated the entire focus

group discussion. This idea emerged in participants discussion of how arbitrary social

norms dictated human behavior through examining Foucaults (1977/1996) text, applying

his ideas to examples, connecting his ideas to those of other writers, and proposing a

potential solution.

All participants demonstrated understanding of the arbitrary nature of social

norms in relation to Foucaults (1977/1996) text and applied his ideas to examples

throughout their discussion. Even Moira, who disagreed with panoptic power, noted how

one interpretation of Foucaults work included looking at his ideas as saying that

everyone thinks within their own limitations of the society. Participants repeatedly

applied Foucaults ideas to examples of stereotyping, labels, standards of normalcy in

areas of gender, sexual orientation, and mental abilities to illustrate how social norms

arbitrarily defined peoples lives. Participants almost always emphasized the negative

aspects of social norms, but some participants acknowledged the positive impacts of such

norms when it came to deterring murder (Aquafina, Esther, & Wayne).

Participants connected these arbitrary social norms to peoples careers,

established scientific norms, and personal development. Silas frequently expressed how

people such as doctors, psychologists, teachers, and psychiatrists used their expertise to

define people inside and outside of standards of normalcy within society. Abby paralleled

these standards of normalcy to arbitrary scientific paradigms discussed by Kuhn (1962) in

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Abby saw the question of What is truth? as

central to both writers. Abby explained how social and scientific paradigms evolve into

accepted ways of thinking that influence, structure, and limit peoples knowledge.

Similarly, Rebecca explained how writer Annie Dillard illustrated the invisible impact of

arbitrary social behaviors, categories, and rules on personal development. Rebecca saw

how We teach each other You are a girl. You will be this way. . . . And, then, you have

to figure out for yourself later on that, if you want to go with it.

As a whole, the group explored the negative ramifications of arbitrary social

norms. John offered a possible solution. He challenged the group to consider the

possibility of eliminating normalizing statements such as Nobody should kill each other

because thats not okay. John observed how statements like that put that burden on

society to be that way, but it also puts it back on you, so youre made to follow the

rules of society. While participants referenced this possible solution several times, they

never engaged in a sustained discussion of whether or not this approach provided a viable

means of eliminating arbitrary social norms.

Participants examined the complex nature of arbitrary social norms through

examining Foucaults (1977/1996) text and applying his ideas to contemporary society.

Participants started to examine ramifications of these arbitraries in relation to peoples

jobs, other types of knowledge, and personal development. Participants observed how

these social norms controlled people in society and started to theorize about solving the

negative aspects of arbitrary social norms.

Group Dynamics

The overall group discussion was male dominated. Esther, Moira, and Rebecca

initially led the discussion by commenting on Foucaults (1977/1996) ideas and

questioning his meanings. After the first few minutes, male participation increased.

Esther, John, Silas, Wayne participated frequently and developed lengthy points. John

emerged as a leader in the discussion since he raised many ideas throughout the

discussion, and he directly responded to nearly every idea raised throughout the

discussion. Moiras strong stance in questioning the validity of panopticon as a theory to

explain power heavily influenced the end of the discussion and later message board

discussions. Abby, Aquafina, and Rebecca participated least often in the discussions. All

participants added incisive comments to the discussion.

Summary of First Focus Group

Participants discussed many layers of panoptic power. Viewing panoptic structure

as a metaphor for power provided participants with a language to probe the world around

themwhether or not they agreed with the ideas. Participants developed a shared

understanding of the importance of analyzing power but disagreed on the overall

effectiveness of panopticon as a means of examining power. The majority of the

participants saw some validity in using panoptic power as a means of examining

normalcy, surveillance, labels, personal identity, discipline, stereotypes, biases,

experiences, social norms, and social control. Even though participants did not always

agree with each other, they explored, listened, challenged, and probed the ideas with each

other in order to gain deeper understanding of society and the world around them.

Focus Group Two Analysis

I gave participants the reading for the second focus group at the conclusion of the

first focus group. The reading came from Beverly Daniel Tatums (1997) Why Are All the

Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? Participants received chapters four, five,

and six. I required participants to read chapter six on White racial identity development.

The reading presented and discussed 6 stages of racial identity development for Whites as

they moved from passively accepting racism to developing independent anti-racist

identities. I also gave participants the options of reading chapter four on stages of racial

identity development in Blacks, and chapter five on issues of racial development in Black

college students and adults.

The second focus group began with a short review of the first transcript. I asked

each participant to come to the discussion with an identity collage or a symbol of

personal identity. Before participants discussed racism, participants reflected on the

Foucault (1977/1996) focus group and message board discussions and presented their

collages/symbols of personal identity. Also, I overviewed Singleton and Lintons (2006)

guidelines for discussing racism and encouraged participants to stay engaged (p. 17),

speak your truth (p. 17), experience discomfort (p. 17), and expect and accept non-

closure. (p. 17) The entire focus group was approximately 2 hours long with a 20-

minute break. Participants filled out critical incident questionnaires (Appendix B) about

the most engaging, distancing, affirming, confusing, and surprising moments, and what

points they would continue to consider, so I could gauge their emotional and intellectual

reactions to the discussion.

Activity One: Reflection on the First Focus Group and Message Board Discussions

Participants reflected on the first focus group and message board discussions on

Foucaults (1977/1996) ideas. Participant reactions ranged from feeling weary,

disappointed, dissatisfied, and distanced from the discussions (Aquafina, Abby, Esther

Moira & Rebecca) to enjoying the differing perspectives and the depth of discussions

(John, Silas, & Wayne). Some participants felt they had synthesized the ideas and

developed opinions about the ideas while other participants felt they had not yet

solidified their own opinions on panoptic power.

Activity Two: Presentation of Collages or Symbols of Personal Identities

I asked participants to bring collages or symbols of personal identities. The

thoroughness, quality, and content of the collages varied dramatically between

participants, particularly between females and males. All four of the females, Abby,

Esther, Moira and Rebecca, came with either collages or symbols while only one male,

Silas, came with a collage. The three other males, Aquafina, John, and Wayne, did not

prepare collages and selected symbols revealing little to nothing about their personalities.

A brief overview of the collages/symbols illustrates the wide-ranging content.

Abby made a small, intricate origami stellated dodecahedron to symbolize her

identity and to illustrate that she was complex and multifaceted. She explained the

parallels between herself and her symbol and how you turn it and you can see different

sides of it, and sometimes you see different colors. Abby did not explain facets of

herself besides how she created origami pieces.

Aquafina held up his folder. He explained, This is my identity right here. This

unorganized mess with a cover. There. Im not sure why. Aquafina did not explain


Esther explained a detailed collage. She had pictures of her family and friends,

including Moira. Esther told anecdotes, described her connections to people, and

explained important events. Esther included an Amnesty International poster for her

interest in social justice, symbols of her religious faith, inspirational quotes, and a college

sign representing her upcoming move.

Wayne chose a favorite, hardcover, cynical, slightly depressing book as a

symbol. He explained how people could know a little about him, But, to understand me,

you have to read the whole thing. Wayne gave no further information.

John selected Ernest Hemingways The Sun Also Rises (1926/1995) as a symbol

because the book was really good and fairly trite, but its like whats life all about.

Lifes just the little things. John paralleled his life to the book, but did not explain


Moira explained her detailed collage. Moira included pictures of her family,

familys career choices, and trips. She used symbols to show she was a good listener

and laid-back. She enjoyed nature, music, National History Day, and technology.

Moira included a picture of a girl holding a sign saying Girls are strong! to illustrate

her strong feminist beliefs and a human rights movement symbol to show her interest for

politics and social justice. Moira included the sentence, I will! on her collage to

represent her internal motivation.

Silas used symbols to illustrate his busy schedule, love of school, friends from

school, and concerns about political issues. An American flag symbolized Silas passion

for democracy and free speech; an equal sign symbolized his concern for global equality

and criticized current inequality in the United States. Silas included devils advocate to

convey his passion for discussion.

Rebecca specifically explained a collage representing her life locally and globally.

Rebecca used words and pictures to describe her life, personality, and experiences. Her

collage included an in-depth critical view of herself. She thoroughly described the impact

of the following on her life and experiences: ethnicity; race; gender; age; social class;

able-body; place of residence by community, state and country; family; travel; physical

appearance; religion; education; interests; and extracurricular activities. Rebecca

explained stereotypes people had of her in relation to academic activities, and

participation in sports. She told of moments she had fun and felt respected. Rebecca

presented a thorough critical perspective.

The female completion of the collages centered the female voices for a significant

portion of the beginning of the second focus group discussion. Females told stories about

their interests, their experiences, and their views on the world. All the males except for

Silas remained silent during this time. After this point, females participated more

frequently in the second focus group discussion. Silas stated later that Rebeccas

discussion of her collage made him wish he revealed more information about his own


Emerging Theme One: Tatums (1997) Attitude and Bias as a Starting Point for


Participants appeared hesitant to begin the discussion on racism and started by

asking multiple questions about Tatum (1997) and her ideas. The awkwardness continued

throughout the discussion with some participants directly referencing personal discomfort

and/or discomfort in the room. Participants first examined Tatums position as a Black

woman writing about White identity through her word choices, sentence structures, tone,

effects, and meanings to understand her perspective. Wayne eventually plunged into

discussion by recognizing Tatum as a psychologist who approached her subject as a

researcher in a way that was not necessarily biased. Wayne explained he was not

uncomfortable by the idea of White normalcy, but felt Tatum presented White identity

in more a negative and accusatory way than she presents the Black identity. Wayne

noted the differences in her solutions for Blacks and Whites. Wayne felt Tatum gave big

solutions for Blacks, such as centering Black role models, emphasizing education, and

breaking free of negative stereotypes. Wayne believed Tatum offered no specific

solutions for Whites other than to break down racism on an individual basis.

Waynes comments opened up discussion from other participants. Like Wayne,

other participants focused first on Tatums (1997) positionality. Rebecca thought Tatum

was credible, respectful, and understanding as she discussed White identity, but she

questioned whether or not Tatum felt comfortable giving advice as someone who did

not experience White identity. Aquafina noticed Tatums points were passive because

she used may a lot in discussing White identity. Aquafina found Tatums wording

effective for communicating her researched ideas without the experience of being

White. Overall, the more participants examined how Tatum handled her positionality, the

more they noted her credibility as a speaker on the subject.

Emerging Theme Two: Gender Connections and Participant Motivation for Getting off

the Topic of Racism

Some of the participants moved into a discussion on gender. Aquafina discussed

how deeply embedded racism is in peoples subconscious, and he connected racism to

other oppressive ideologies evident in usually really short, concise, just almost

unconscious statements, like Youre such a woman. The group segued into a lengthy

discussion of gender and other differences and sometimes reconnected with racism. Silas

observed that the group discussion had gotten off the topic of race. He believed this

deviation directly related to the participants White identities because we do feel

uncomfortable trying to discuss race. On one hand, Silas thought the environment was a

comfortable setting for us to discuss race because we dont feel if we slip and say

something offensive, theres not a person of a non-differing race, a non-White race. See?

Already Im like, Well, whats the right phrase to use? On the other hand, Silas

believed an all-White discussion made it difficult to get layers and differing

perspectives because group members did not experience racial oppression and strayed

from the topic more easily.

Some participants expressed frustration when discussion focused more on gender

than race, and other participants believed connecting to other forms of oppression helped

them understand racial oppression more fully. In the context of the comments and

discussion, both of these perspectives appeared and felt authentic even though they were

contradictory about the role of gender in discussion. Although the group avoided the

uncomfortable discussion of racism, some participants connected their points on sexism

to racism. Once participants resumed their discussion of racism, they continued

discussing racism in spite of discomfort.

Emerging Theme Three: Standards of White Normalcy

Participants spent a considerable amount of time discussing standards of White

normalcy. These standards of normalcy created White privilege and systemic racism.

Participants examined language usage and invisible standards of White normalcy and the

relationships between social experiences, environment, and racial identity.

Participants discussed how language usage communicated standards of normalcy.

Wayne observed that Tatums (1997) book could have been called, Why Are All the

White Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? because Whites also sat together out of

fear and protectionist solidarity. Standards of White normalcy left that question

unspoken and allowed uncomfortable feelings to remain unquestioned. Participants noted

other facets of how the language of self-identity carried messages of White normalcy.

Whites often did not identify race and/or ethnicity in describing identities while people of

African, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, Asian, and Middle Eastern ethnic descent

did identify race and/or ethnicity (Abby, Aquafina, Wayne, Esther & Silas). Silas felt the

language of personal identity conveyed broader systemic biases, prejudices, and

discriminations reflecting engrained societal White privilege. While people had

prejudices about Whites, Silas saw government, laws, and racial profiling as favoring

Whites. Racial bias was, thus, inherent in the system that favors us, and whether or not

Whites defined themselves, they ended up on top (Silas). John interpreted such

behavior as a social norm, not a privilege.

The language of White normalcy allowed Whites to define others and themselves

in daily life. Whites defined people of other races in ways conveying societal stereotypes,

which all participants saw as a form of systemic racism. Whites also defined and

classified themselves within the system. Esther explained, Part of White privilege is the

idea that we can say there are racist White people, but not everyones racist, so I can

separate myself from that because we are the majority. This power of separating the self

took Whites away from acknowledging and understanding racism. Similarly, Moira

wondered about the impact of discussing racism in classrooms where White normalcy

existed as an unquestioned norm and where teachers did not appear to consider their own

and students racial identities. The narratives people told about important role models

also kept people divided. When people discussed White role models, they advanced

humanity. When people discussed role models of other races, the people advanced their

race (Wayne).

Standards of White normalcy created experiences that influenced personal racial

identity development by excluding and including people in social relations. Most

participants stressed the importance of shared cultural connections and experiences in

resisting White normalcy for African American, Hispanic, Latino, Native American,

Asian, and Middle Eastern ethnic group people (Abby, Esther, Moira, Rebecca, &

Wayne). All participants acknowledged their lack of experience with racism in some

way. Wayne believed Whites lack of experience made empathizing difficult, upheld

racial boundaries, and created divisions in peoples day-to-day connections with each

other. Inclusion in White normalcy delayed racial identity development (Abby, Aquafina,

Esther, Silas, & Wayne). Living in a predominantly White community also affected racial

identity development (Abby, Aquafina, Esther, Moira, Rebecca, & Silas). Participants

wanted more peer experiences with people of African, Hispanic, Latino, Native

American, Asian, and Middle Eastern ethnic group descent (Aquafina, Esther, Moira,

Rebecca, Silas, & Wayne). Silas believed his racial identity development occurred only

at a really shallow level which made discussing racism difficult for him, and he

theorized, for other Whites. Participants recognized myriad ways White normalcy

excluded, included, and influenced social relations and personal experiences.

Emerging Theme Four: Are We All Racist?

Participants engaged in a brief, but tense discussion about whether or not they

were racist. Silas initiated this discussion by saying, we are all racist, that we all have

tendencies that lean towards creating biases and stereotypes toward other races, but

maybe we can be the person who doesnt act on that racism, or tries to fight against it.

When several participants vehemently disagreed, Esther recognized that participants used

different definitions of racism. She explained how their definitions created the conflict

because some people defined racism as having stereotypes taught to you, and that being

your immediate reaction to seeing someone who looks different, and others defined

racism as actually hating and being willing to act out against someone who looks

different from you. Esthers comments diffused the tension.

Emerging Theme Five: Panoptic Power, Racism, and Stereotypes

Since participants connected racism to panoptic power during the first focus

group, I asked them to consider panoptic power in relation to racism. Participants looked

at the physical and mental compartmentalization of people. Panoptic power potentially

influenced racism physically with self-segregation within the cafeteria. Silas believed that

peer observations perhaps made us lean towards wanting to sit with White kids. Some

participants examined the ways panoptic power influenced how people mentally

compartmentalized people through language, contrasts, race, experiences, and stereotypes

(Abby, Aquafina, Esther, Moira, Silas, & Wayne). Participants discussed local and

national examples of how of Black men were unfairly viewed as criminals in day-to-day

interactions (Aquafina & Wayne). Participants examined the destructive nature of

stereotyping Asians as being respectful, strong in math, and good in academics (Abby &

Wayne). Some participants explored how seemingly benevolent (Wayne) racial

stereotypes damaged peoples sense of identity (Wayne, Silas, & Rebecca). Participants

noted how peoples impressions and assumptions created stereotypes.

Emerging Theme Six: The Central Disagreement of the Discussion: Johns Stance

Against White Identity Theory

Toward the end of the discussion, John asserted his position against building

positive racial identities and changed the direction of discussion. John believed people

constructed and perpetuated race and racism. John did not believe that encouraging

people to embrace their racial identities presented a viable way to solve racism. Rather,

defining positive identity on characteristics of race, sexual orientation, sex, and other

aspects of identity was reifying the system that you are trying to break down because

you have to place so much into the standards of normalcy. Thus, the social

construction of race and peoples identification of race and heritage served to separate

people further. Since race and heritage worked as signifiers that did not carry the same

meanings from person to person, this system perpetuated differences without breaking

them down. All participants agreed with Johns idea about race as a social construction.

Emerging Theme Seven: Colorblindness as a Solution to Racism

The deeply problematic term colorblindness emerged as a symbolic word for

the ideal world where people would not be judged on race. The term came into this

symbolic usage toward the end of the discussion when John named colorblindness as

his solution to positive identity developmenta solution even John believed was not

viable all the time because of constant racial images and messages in society. John

thought people should identify themselves as the human race and by cultures of their

choices. Because I found colorblindness deeply problematic in racist and ableist terms,

I cautioned the group against using it during the second focus group meeting, on the

message boards, and at the beginning of focus group three; my input did not stop the

usageperhaps because of the lack of an alternative word to describe an ideal society.

All participants agreed that an ideal society would not judge, discriminate, or hurt

people based on race. While Johns solution intrigued participants, not all participants

agreed that John presented a viable solution in contemporary society. Moira understood

Johns point but believed his solution remained impractical in a racist society and ignored

important elements of history. Moira believed historical examples showed how the

separation of a group of people resulted in positive effects on individual and collective

identities. After the Holocaust, Moira explained how Jews reaffirmed their identity,

united as a community, and reestablished their group identity locally and globally. Other

participants also disagreed with John (Aquafina, Abby, Wayne, Esther, & Rebecca). All

participants supported intercultural interactions, but understood the need for shared

community in facing racism.

Emerging Theme Eight: Taking Action as a Solution to Racism

Naming the ideal society helped participants move to discussing action needed to

get to that ideal. Ultimately, participants wanted to know what they could do to help

break down racial boundaries in the cafeteria and in society. As participants debated how

to act against racism, they theorized about what taking action meant and examined action

from personal experiences and observations. Participants had varied perspectives on what

taking action meant, and many participants included their reactions to Tatums (1997)

ideas in their theories about action.

The process of White identity development presented a solution for some

participants but not others. Aquafina believed that identifying ones own role in

perpetuating racism and recognizing the processes of racism led people to solutions.

Identification and recognition both constructed and deconstructed identities, and

Aquafina saw how people avoided deconstructing the barriers of separation. He

believed that deconstructing differences and finding similarities helped people understand

personal identity, which then impelled subtle acts that resisted racism. John asserted

that the research study provided an example of how constructing and deconstructing

personal identity did not offer a solution. Participants constructed identity through

collages and symbols, but most participants listed things that are intellectual or

psychological about us, things that we can change, and that we choose to make about

ourselves (John). John believed that constructing and deconstructing racial identity

proved ineffective as a solution because most participants did not see race as a salient

part of their identities.

Wayne, Esther, and Moira all incorporated Tatums (1997) ideas into their views

of solutions. Wayne saw how steps in racial identity formation appeared in daily life, and

he believed positive racial identity development offered a partial solution. Citing border

issues with Mexico, Wayne expected more problems with racism because increased racial

interaction did not equal greater racial understanding. Wayne noted that any solution to

end racism took a great deal of effort from everyone involved because forcing integration

did not work. Esther felt deconstructing personal identity and naming personal privilege

was a step, but understanding racial privilege did not stop racial privilege given to

Whites. Moiras solution drew on Tatums ideas and included four active steps: (a)

understanding ones own identity, (b) reflecting consciously on racism and related issues,

(c) understanding cultural differences, and (d) sharing group identifications. Moira

believed these processes created a more integrated and just society. Moira believed the

ideal situation occurred when we will recognize that were different, but well learn to

live in harmony.

Participants constructed theories about what taking action meant as they reacted

to each others comments and synthesized ideas. Participants incorporated Tatums

(1997) ideas into their theories, but did not rely solely on her solutions. Participants who

did not discuss their theories for action and solutions shared these later on the message

boards and/or in the final interviews.

Emerging Theme Nine: The Efficacy of Mix-It-Up-at-Lunch Day as a Means of Breaking

Down Racism

Participants engaged in an impassioned discussion about why Seeking Harmony

in Neighborhoods Everyday (S.H.i.N.E.) Mix-It-Up-at-Lunch Day did not succeed in

breaking down the racial barriers in the cafeteria. Some participants believed that

confronting racial differences in this way potentially reinforced racism (Esther, John, &

Silas). Sitting with different people engendered strong emotional responses, and as

Aquafina explained, the change pushed people to feeling vulnerable and then fear takes

place and then sometimes anger. Feelings of vulnerability, fear, and anger potentially

led to increased racism; these feelings needed to be addressed before the activity could


Group Dynamics

Females dominated the first part of the focus group as participants discussed their

collages, and males participated minimally during this part of the discussion. After the

presentation of collages, overall participation in the second focus group developed more

equitably between females and males, and different participants led discussion at various

timesespecially Esther, Moira, Silas, and Wayne. Johns proposal of colorblindness

as a solution changed the course of the discussion as participants reacted to whether or

not this presented a viable solution. Abby and Aquafina participated more in the second

focus group discussion, while Rebecca participated less after her collage presentation. All

participants added incisive comments to the discussion.

Summary of Second Focus Group

Participants discussed racism thoroughlyeven though they initially seemed

hesitant to discuss it. Even though participants felt awkwardness, discomfort, and

dissonance, they discussed White privilege, systemic racism, examples from experiences,

school and society, actions, and solutions. Participants questioned White identity

development as a valid solution to racism and theorized about other potential solutions.

While participants disagreed over issues and solutions, all participants wanted to find

ways they could act ethically to break down racism. Naming their ideal world, discussing

actions, and theorizing about solutions positively energized the discussion. Participants

asked me to post a definition of racism and a framework to guide further discussions on

the message boards.

Focus Group Three Analysis

I gave participants a binder of 16 readings on gender, sexism, and heterosexism

(Appendix C) at the second focus group discussion. Participants selected one article to

read for the third focus group discussion, and most participants read more than one

article. I overviewed my collage at the beginning of the discussion. Participants reflected

on the second focus group, and I shared reflections about their discussion and ideas

participants might wish to consider before approaching interracial discussion on racism.

The focus group discussion lasted nearly 3 hours with a short break. Participants

appeared more comfortable discussing with each other. Afterwards, participants viewed

the third focus group discussion as the strongest, most productive, and most complex.

Participants wanted to continue discussion, but I ended the discussion at the designated

time. Participants filled out critical incident questionnaires (Appendix B) about the most

engaging, distancing, affirming, confusing, and surprising moments, and what points they

would continue to consider, so I could gauge their emotional and intellectual reactions to

the discussion.

Activity One: Reflection on Racism Discussions

Participants found revisiting racism difficult. Awareness of the difficulty and

complexity of the process of breaking down racism appeared to hinder initial discussion.

Participants noted the role of education (Moira), the need for Freirean (1990/2003)

dialogue (Rebecca), the role of personal understanding of identity (Rebecca), and the

need for multiple discussions and opinions (Rebecca) in breaking down racism. Aquafina

discussed how he actively resisted racism in ways that empowered a peer and himself.

Several participants discussed the benefits and drawbacks of annual Diversity Council

school workshops. John challenged two aspects of the language of white privilege. He

preferred the term standard to privilege because privilege conveyed benefits in the

system, whether or not people wanted these benefits. Also, John did not believe people

should define how others should act against racism because these statements oppressed

people by burdening them to act certain ways. John rejected the discourse, but he did not

reject acting against racism. Participants reflection covered systematic, individual, and

ideological aspects of change.

Emerging Theme One: Authors Attitudes and Biases as Starting Points for Discussions

Participants began the discussion on gender, sexism, and heterosexism by listing

the articles they read. Participants decided to take turns discussing central arguments of

the articles. Participants consistently articulated the writers attitudes and biases as they

described the authors positions. Silas read about the differences in male and female

writing in elementary schools (Newkirk, 2000/2002). Silas explained that Newkirk

should have used phrases like masculine and feminine so it could be interchangeable

between males and females. John believed political activist Suzanne Pharr (1988/2004)

romanticizes homosexual relationships because she assumed domestic violence was

always a male-on-female repression. John also thought Pharr contradicted her own

arguments about the negativity of using sex lenses to analyze relationships by failing to

recognize how we define sex and how different sexes have different reactions.

Participants consistently conveyed awareness of the validity and/or limitations of the

writers perspectives and ideas.

Emerging Theme Two: Sexist and Heterosexist Messages and Power in Sex Education

Participants discussed Michelle Fines (1993/2002) seminal piece Sexuality,

Schooling, and Adolescent Females: The Missing Discourse of Desire. Moira

summarized how sex education courses omitted a female discourse of desire and

framed female sexuality through protection against victimization. This perspective

denied a female the right to acknowledge herself as a sexual being, objectified women,

and led to sex-negative attitudes. Moira explained how similar actions negatively

objectified alternative sexual orientations. Reading Fines piece led Moira to see

connections between sexism and heterosexisman insight that became a foundational

concept for the discussion.

Participants deconstructed their elementary and secondary sex education courses

where they found pervasive sexist and heterosexist messages. Several participants noted

school silences and awkwardness at sex education as they recounted how their

elementary sex education classes awkwardly separated people by gender. Moira pointed

out gendered content differences in sex education where males learned about sexual

experiences such as wet dreams, and females learned about the science, anatomy, and

supplies needed for female menstruation (Fine 1993/2002). Secondary health class

covered oral, vaginal, and anal intercourses, which, Esther believed, recognized

alternative sexualities. Several participants noticed how sex education strongly

emphasized pregnancy prevention for females and how sex education covered oral and

anal sex in heterosexist ways, primarily for preventing pregnancy (Esther, Silas, &

Wayne). Administrative power impacted sex education. Esthers health teacher showed

students how to use a diaphragm but not a condom. When students questioned this policy,

the teacher asked administration about it; after that, the teacher could no longer

demonstrate how to use any contraception. Most participants engaged in examining the

discourses of sex education courses.

Emerging Theme Three: Sexism in Education

Participants discussed how they saw sexism in school through curriculum, teacher

stereotypes, and expected behaviors. Participants probed sexism in education through

discussing the readings, sharing personal experiences, and considering ideas about

behavioral and curricular expectations in ways that elicited strong emotional responses.

Reading about sexism in education awakened Abbys critical consciousness about

her own experiences. Abby read several chapters from Failing at Fairness (Sadker &

Sadker, 1994) and reflected at length about sexism in curriculum, stereotypes, and

expected behaviors. She described her changing emotional response to the article; she

moved from finding the article interesting to becoming angry at the sexism in schools.

Abbys anger stemmed, in part, from her seeing how sexism impacted her own

experiences. Her frustrations transpired from how males received more personal

attention, more tolerance for disruptive behaviors, more help on assignments, and higher

academic expectations. Teachers who assumed girls were sensitive and emotional and

feared girls crying frustrated Abby. However, recognizing her experiences reflected in

the research on education empowered her, too.

Other participants voiced similar feelings of empowerment as they reflected on

how behavioral and curricular expectations defined their educational experiences. Moira

described frequently being in trouble in elementary school for reasons that did not make

sense. Moira theorized that she was in trouble because she broke gender boundaries by

spending most of her time with boys and being too loud. Moira wondered about the

degree to which sexism influenced teachers responses to her behaviors. Silas, too,

discussed how teachers responded to his writing based on gender. He explained how

teachers negatively reacted to the violence in male writing without recognizing overall

themes of friendship and community similar to themes found in female stories (Newkirk,

2000/2002). Silas found his own experiences reflected in the reading, and reading about

how sexism negatively impacted him affirmed his feelings.

Participants used their insights into sexism in schools to question the purpose of

education. A reading about discrepancies in standardized test scores led Aquafina to view

sexism in standardized tests as a metaphor. Standardized tests quantified peoples

learning in order to measure and reflect the subtle messages of inequalities within

education. Similarly, Wayne read about an authority figure that harassed a girl and told

her that harassment prepared her for life. Examining sexism revealed individual and

systemic insights about the purpose and nature of education.

Participants shared personal reactions, personal experiences, and personal insights

into sexism in school. The process evoked emotional responses and raised critical

consciousness among some participants.

Emerging Theme Four: Project for Teens, Its Messages about Sex and Sexual

Orientation, and Participants Complicity in Heterosexism

Three participants particpated in an activity called Project for Teens (PFT) where

high school students delivered sex education to middle school students in sixth, seventh,

and eighth grades. Many people in the district considered PFT a progressive sex

education program. Aquafina, Esther, and Silas participated in this activity. Esther

participated in PFT a year before this research study while Aquafina and Silas completed

their PFT involvement the year this study took place. Participants examined messages

about sex, sexual orientation, and heterosexism in their trainings, presentations, and


Participants examined the messages PFT sent about sex, gender, and sexual

orientation in their training and presentations to middle school students. Research study

participants believed PFT training contained strong heterosexist biases (Aquafina, Esther,

Moira, Rebecca, Silas, & Wayne). Aquafina, Esther, and Silas explained how a

prominent local adult trained them with a strong heterosexist bias. This leader

consistently told PFT participants about how anal sex stresses out the anal sphincter,

and that it was filthy and unhealthy. The message disturbed Silas because people

connected anal sex with gay men, and then, in turn, homosexuality and filth. PFT

participants explained how they did not teach about alternative sexual orientations, and

many research study participants saw dangers in this silence. Aquafina recognized the

role of his own bias in conveying heterosexism to the students because he never thought

about homosexuality and he didnt think that any of the children were homosexual.

The middle school students frequently raised the topic of homosexuality in negative

ways, and Silas saw how a PFT member who identified as a gay man faced assault each

time the students disdainfully brought up homosexuality.

Heterosexist and sexist stereotypes influenced the decisions of Aquafina and

Silas group. Gender and sex stereotypes made them want to recruit a strong, silent,

heterosexual male to PFT for similar heterosexual males in classrooms to look up to

and identify with. Silas had not thought about this inclusion as negative or heterosexist

until the focus group discussion, and he questioned whether the group would have

considered including a lesbian, gay man, bisexual woman or man in the same way to

allow for representation. Other research study participants strongly challenged

representation by sexual orientation in PFT (Esther, Moira, Rebecca, & Wayne). PFT

groups also created skits perpetuating stereotypes of victimization and protectionism of

female sexuality because their skits always situated the man as aggressive (Aquafina).

PFT members made decisions that encouraged heterosexism.

Research participants involved in PFT examined how heterosexism worked on

and through them in their trainings, presentations, and decisions. Discussing personal

experiences and examples raised participants critical consciousnesses in powerful ways.

Other research study participants actively engaged in the discussion by sharing their

perspectives and supporting peers in the process of naming and deconstructing personal


Emerging Theme Five: Gender Binaries

Participants examined how gender binaries negatively impacted people through

statistics, stereotypes, assumptions, and standards of masculinity.

Participants examined statistics, stereotypes, and assumptions about sexual

violence to break down gender binaries. Participants believed violence against women

was a significant social problem, and they discussed the frequency of violence against

women through reported statistics and projected incidents of rape and assault (Abby &

Esther). Participants also examined how violence against males did not receive the same

attention within society. Participants noted the lack of statistics presented on male rape

(Moira), the low number of men reporting rape (Esther), and the expectation for raped

men, as Rebecca summarized, to not think of it as a negative experience, like as opposed

to having enjoyed it. (Trepal, 2005) Participants also examined and rejected gendered

assumptions about sex where men enjoyed sex without emotional connections and where

women needed emotional connections with sex (Aquafina, Esther, Moira, Rebecca, &

Silas). Participants noted how assumptions about violence, experiences, and sex

negatively impacted people.

Standards of masculinity negatively defined gendered expectations for females

and males in ways that impacted peoples identities. Participants cited familiarity with

female oppression and its impacts before examining how females and males internalized

these standards in damaging ways. Participants examined sexism and heterosexism

through the socially acceptable use of girl as an acceptable insult (Wayne, Esther, &

Moira); the stereotype that men could not show emotion and weakness (Esther); and the

negative reactions to families with stay-at-home dads, breadwinner moms (Silas), and

descriptions of females and males in literature (Wayne). Participants also analyzed how

social expectations influenced their experiences as females and males (Aquafina, Wayne,

Esther, Moira, & Silas). Female and male participants who broke gendered social

boundaries repeatedly experienced having their sexualities questioned in derogatory

ways. Participants recognized how these experiences were particularly harmful, leading

some people to suppress their sexualities through marriage, secret affairs, or overt

homophobia (Wayne). Standards of masculinity defined female and male lives in

complex ways.

Participants discussed the negative effects of gender binaries in statistics,

assumptions, and stereotypes about gender, experiences, and identities. Widespread

societal standards of masculinity oppressed people, regardless of gender.

Emerging Theme Six: Heterosexist Standards and Fear of Differences

Participants examined heterosexist standards, their impacts, and the need for

education. Human fears perpetuated peoples responses to sex, heterosexism, and sexism.

Heterosexist standards manifested themselves throughout society, harmed people,

and needed to be addressed in schools. Participants advocated open discussions about

sexual orientation. Participants discussed how ubiquitous heterosexist standards remained

invisible to many people, how bisexuality was the most invisible sexuality, and how the

invisible standards of heterosexism prolonged peoples recognition and identification of

alternate sexual orientations (Aquafina, John, & Wayne). The strong presence of

heterosexism and the invisible standards of heterosexism caused lesbians, gay men, and

bisexual women and men to experience difficulties and vulnerabilities when coming

out to others. Participants considered the extensive emotional and social ramifications of

deciding to pass for heterosexual or coming out as a lesbian, gay man, or bisexual woman

or man (Esther, Wayne, Moira, Rebecca, & Silas). Participants empathized with the

emotional dilemmas people faced when making such a personal decision, and with the

myriad reactions people encountered when telling others about their sexual orientations.

Ultimately, participants believed society needed to create a more open, respectful

situation where people do not have to decide whether or not to come out. Participants

agreed that silence about sexual orientations created difficult situations, and that

discussion about sexual orientations in schools would help people feel less isolated and

break down stereotypes.

All participants recognized how fear played an important role in heterosexism and

sexism. Wayne synthesized the role of fear in sex, sexism, and heterosexism in his

observations about how fear worked as a common thread in the focus group readings

and discussions. Fear consistently occurred as an undercurrent in discussion topics

including gender treachery (Hopkins 1994/2002), homophobia, heterosexism, sex

education issues, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Wayne believed people

transmitted fear about issues of sex and sexual orientation generationally and culturally

through illegal aspects of sex such as underage sex, sex outside of marriage, and rape;

through moral aspects stemming from religious beliefs; through health, social, and

emotional issues such sexually transmitted diseases, personal rejection, and heterosexist

norms. As a prevalent emotional response, fear fueled the cycle of heterosexist and sexist


Participants identified heterosexist standards and their effects on people, and

participants asserted the need for people to talk about sexual orientation and sexuality,

and to break down stereotypes and fears of sex, heterosexism, and sexism.

Emerging Theme Seven: The Connection of Heterosexism and Sexism to Other Forms of


Throughout the discussion, participants connected heterosexism and sexism to

other forms of oppression such as racism and classism. Focusing on race, class, gender,

and sexual orientation, participants compared and contrasted how the oppressions worked

in society. Participants points included differences between being a race traitor and a

gender traitor (Wayne); fewer clearer role models for those who committed gender

treachery (Wayne); the religious, moral, and social acceptance of heterosexism (Silas);

and the role of economics in sexism and racism (Esther). These points helped participants

find similarities and differences in how systems of oppression privileged some and

disadvantaged others.

Emerging Theme Eight: Assumptions Enforce Oppression

Participants examined the impact of assumptions on oppression. Participants

discussed how dominant ideology infiltrated peoples consciousnesses at early ages to

create unconscious oppressive sexist, heterosexist, and racist mindsets (Wayne, Esther,

Moira, Rebecca, & Silas)ideas that could be applied to other forms of oppression.

These unconscious paradigms led people to categorize others and label their differences.

Participants revisited the helpfulness and harmfulness of labels that named differences

from their Foucault (1977/1996) discussion. Participants discussed the importance of

understanding and accepting non-dominant cultures (Rebecca), the importance of

recognizing differences when they were central to peoples identities (Moira & Rebecca),

and the dangers of identifying people by their differences (Rebecca). Participants

recognized complexities in peoples identities, reactions to others, and assumptions;

participants emphasized that assumptions about people enforced oppression.

Emerging Theme Nine: The Central Disagreement of the Discussion: The Use of Critical

Theory in Secondary Education

Participants engaged in an energetic, empowering, and contentious discussion at

the very end of the focus group about the role of critical theory in education. Participants

examined curriculum content of classes and teachers use of critical theory. Participants

ended the focus group with a heated debate about the role of critical theory in secondary


All participants believed that most secondary classes did not engage meaningful

critical thought and that the lack of critical curriculum led to an ineffective education

about the world in which they lived. Some participants noted how social issues impacted

students lives and how education left many students unprepared to ask and answer

difficult questions about diversity, race, sex, heterosexism, and other social issues

(Wayne, Esther, Moira, & Rebecca). Some participants believed critical theory and

critical ideas empowered students (Esther, Moira, & Rebecca). Because critical theory

and ideas led people to see their own lives differently, critical theory needed to be

incorporated into curriculum, embedded into classroom structures, and made accessible

to younger students (Moira). Other participants believed teaching critical thought proved

more important than teaching critical theory (Wayne, John, & Silas). Books and

curriculum already contained critical content if teachers approached the ideas from

critical perspectives, and critical theory did not necessarily offer a less oppressive

curriculum (John). The group did not find consensus on the social issues, and critical

theory offered contradictory answers (Silas). Although participants disagreed on specific

approaches to critical education, all participants agreed that secondary education courses

need much stronger critical focuses.

Participants discussed the importance of teachers in critical education and how

their power and perspectives impacted the knowledge and dynamics in the classroom.

Participants examined how the teacher filtered (Moira) all knowledge within the

classroom and how that filtering gave teachers tremendous power within the classroom

(Esther, Moira, & Rebecca)power which teachers did not necessarily understand

(Rebecca). Some participants identified important critical issues within elementary and

middle school classrooms and believed elementary, middle school, and high school

teachers needed training for developing critical thought (Aquafina, Esther, Moira, &

Rebecca). Participants recognized the power of teachers in conveying knowledge and saw

teachers as needing training for critical education.

The discussion developed into a heated debate on the specific role of critical

theory in secondary education. Moira and Esther strongly supported critical theory in

secondary classes because of the personal insight and empowerment critical theory

offered. John confronted the usefulness of critical theory in breaking down identity

oppression because people were not oppressed to the degree portrayed, except through

the possible exception of homophobiaan opinion he knew could come from being

socially constructed as a white male. John did not like critical theory addressed to a

specific group because it reinforced stereotypes, made people act in prescribed ways, and

created a new system of hierarchy and normalcy that left people oppressed and

hindered social change. The articles participants read assumed a grand scheme which

created binaries between the oppressed and oppressors. John used Pharrs (1988/2004)

article Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism to illustrate these conceptual flaws of

critical theory. He felt that Pharr ignored larger society because she focused on small

parts of society. John believed Pharr falsely asserted that 10-20% of people identified as

lesbians, gay men, and bisexual women and mena percentage John believed to be too

high. To John, Pharrs article illustrated how one perspective misrepresented reality.

Some participants vehemently rejected Johns arguments based on their

interpretations of Pharrs (1988/2004) points. Moira and Esther justified their opinions

supporting critical theory in secondary classrooms by challenging Johns interpretation of

the limitations of critical theorists. Moira and Esther both felt John misrepresented

Pharrs points by focusing on the number of people Pharr asserts identify outside of

heterosexism rather than the content of her points. Moira contended that the significance

of Pharrs article came from her point that a lot more people are homosexual than

commonly thought. Similarly, Esther argued that the significance of Pharrs article came

from showing how people are living in fear. That they cant show who they are. John

rebutted that inaccurate numbers gave people an unfair representation and became

detrimental to the way we act. John believed people needed a clearer view where

we dont think we need to take the extremist points of critical theorists, and we dont

need to read critical theory articles to know what its all about. John emphasized the

importance of critical thought, not critical theory, in helping people understand society.

The group debated the importance of reading critical theory and whether or not it

helped people understand society. Most participants asserted personal positions on the

topic. Wayne, Moira, and Esther saw value in critical theory as part of a critical

education. Wayne believed that probing issues in multiple pieces of critical theory led to

our most fully realized discussion. Moira thought people needed to compare

perspectives, and Esther emphasized the importance of getting multiple perspectives,

and of recognizing people filtered knowledge. Rebecca and Aquafina argued against

critical theory in classes for different reasons than John. Rebecca believed there were

multiple solutions to problems, and that solutions came from discussing the ideas, not

reading critical theory. Aquafina believed critical theory was imperfect and that people

romanticize[d] critical theory in ways that made people close their minds. Silas took a

middle position because critical theory helped people develop personal opinions by

examining a certain subject from certain points of view and that there was nothing

wrong with this. But, the process of questioning articles and other viewpoints led Silas to

believe that were the critical theorists, and that a critical perspective necessitated a

persons active construction of knowledge.

Discussing the current lack of critical education, identifying the role of teachers in

critical education, and debating extensively the role of critical theory in secondary

education provided participants with an intense conclusion to their focus group

discussions. While participants unanimously agreed on the importance of educating for

critical perspectives, most participants ended the discussion in an uneasy agreement to

disagree about the role and value of critical theory in that critical education. Silas aptly

noted that the strong disagreement allows for our lenses to be the last focus then for the


Group Dynamics

Participant discussion occurred more equitably between females and males in the

third focus group. Participants took turns leading discussion, and every participant led

discussion for at least a short period of time. Johns comments about not teaching critical

theory to secondary students and Esthers challenge to his ideas engendered impassioned

discussion among participants during the final half hour of the focus groups. Overall,

Abby, Aquafina, and Rebecca participated less frequently than other participants.

Participants appeared more comfortable speaking, more comfortable including each

other, and more comfortable asserting themselveseither in making points or in listening

silently. At one point, Moira asked Abby to participate, and Abby politely and strongly

declined by saying, So far, Im content to listen, and Im just digesting now Ill say

something when I feel like it. All participants added incisive comments to the


Summary of Third Focus Group

The third focus group discussion was a complex examination of heterosexism,

sexism, and gender from multiple viewpoints. Students used readings as springboards for

ideas and analysis. Participants examined the impact of the standards of masculinity on

females and males and connected heterosexism to sexism. Discussion often centered on

heterosexisma topic widely excluded from their secondary education. Some

participants examined aspects of their own complicity in heterosexism and sexism, and

some participants examined how instances of heterosexism and sexism defined their own

lives. Participants frequently analyzed heterosexism and sexism in schools, and they

explored and challenged multiple ideas and perspectives. At the end of the discussion,

participants examined whether or not using critical theory presented a viable means of

building critical perspectives in secondary education students. Some participants

challenged each other, and in the end, agreed to disagree. Debating the place of critical

theory in a secondary education led participants to actively construct and justify their

personal positions on how to educate for greater equity and social justice.

Message Board Analysis

Participants used message board threads to continue discussion on issues related

to focus group discussions. I included optional topics for participant discussions, such as

topic threads, a definition of racism, and an additional online reading link on racism for

an article on race treason (Ignatiev, 2007). Additionally, participants started their own

discussion thread topics. Because participants developed lengthy posts on the message

boards, I asked participants to post approximately five times over the course of the study.

Participants posted on seven message board threads, which evolved into the emerging

themes for the discussions. The following analysis of the message board discussion

threads follows the same format as the focus group discussions. Since many of the points

on the message boards paralleled points made in focus group discussions, I only include

points adding depth and complexity to participants understandings of discussion topics.

The following message board threads developed: panoptic power and education, the

function of panoptic power in contemporary society, race treason as an alternative to

Tatums (1997) ideas, action against racism, differences between prejudices and racism,

the issue of identity politics, and the conceptual integration of multiple forms of


Emerging Theme One: Panoptic Power and Education

Participants explored panoptic power and education. Participants explored the

topics of government control and standardized tests (Abby, Moira, & Esther). Participants

examined whether or not standardized tests proved or contradicted Foucaults

(1977/1996) model of panoptic power. Participants expressed varied opinions as they

considered control over students (Abby, Esther, & Moira), surveillance of students (Abby

& Esther), schools connections to the government (Esther), and labeling of academic

abilities (Esther). The thread ended with the need to further break down the system to

examine where the power lies (Esther). The application of panoptic power illustrated

participants abilities to apply Foucaults theory to pragmatic examples.

Emerging Theme Two: The Function of Panoptic Power in Contemporary Society

Esther started a message board thread to explore minority opinion about panoptic

power. This thread developed into the lengthiest thread on the message boards; every

participant except Abby posted. The thread was complex and contained long, perceptive

posts and mature, sophisticated responses to preceding ideas from the focus group

discussions and the message board discussions. Moira and John, who spent the most time

in direct disagreement during the first focus group discussion, developed several points of

agreement that brought their ideas closer together rather than further apart even though

they still fundamentally disagreed about the validity of panoptic power. More participants

explored Moiras challenge to the validity of panoptic power, and participants did not

complacently accept Foucaults (1977/1996) ideaseven when participants agreed with

his ideas. In most posts, participants refined, developed, and clarified points from the

focus group discussion as participants applied complex conceptual insights to many

examples stemming from observations, readings, experiences, and examples. Participants

examined panoptic power and human nature, panoptic powers structure, and

metaphorical interpretations of panoptic power.

Participants looked extensively at whether or not human nature disproved

panoptic power as a valid theory for understanding power in society. Participants

explored several facets of the human nature and panoptic power. Human connections and

interactions disproved panoptic power (Wayne & Esther). Panoptic power did not

account for people who acted outside of social norms and protested social injustices;

peoples individual consciences negated collective panoptic power (Moira). Collective

and individual consciences showed how system was not perfect. Panoptic power created

the illusion of free will in people who controlled others and in those people who were

controlled by others (John). Human judgment of oneself and others divided and

diluted power (Moira). This diffusion of power led to many centers of power rather

than one central power (Silas). Fear came from within humans, an occurrence which

disproved panoptic powers influence (Aquafina). These nuanced ideas took participants

into several philosophical ideas about human nature as participants explored the validity

of panoptic power.

Participants further explored the panoptic power structure to test the relevance of

Foucaults (1977/1996) theory. Participants expressed varied opinions about the structure

of panopticon. The panopticon exemplified a model for institutional power rather than

societal power (Wayne). But, the government did not effectively establish a sense of

normalcy (Moira). Ideas of normalcy were intertwined with legality and morality in

Western democracies (Silas). The panopticon was not an effective physical model for

examining power because people were not supposed to be able to identify panoptic power

(John). Reducing power to a structure oversimplified power and ignored its emotional

nuances (Aquafina). Participants reached no clear conclusion about the effectiveness of

panoptic powers structure.

Several participants alluded to metaphorical aspects of panoptic power and how

those aspects impacted human behaviors. Rebecca examined at length how surveillance,

discipline, and standards of normalcy prohibited self-actualization, even when people

were aware of oppression and how they internalized it. Exploring examples of race, sex,

gender, sexual orientation, and family, Rebecca believed peoples prejudices and

assumptions about others promoted normalization through establishing standards of

abnormalcy and internal insecurity. Rebeccas posts conveyed a deepening awareness

of how cultural norms acutely affected peoples interpretations, assumptions, judgments,

and responses to the world and led to discrimination of all kinds. Rebecca concluded

that putting people into boxes = bad. Panoptic power provided a metaphor for Rebecca

and others understandings of human identity, knowledge, and behavior.

The message board thread on exploring the validity of panoptic power allowed

participants to do just that: explore. Participants did not necessarily change their

perspectives on panoptic power, but they examined panoptic power with more depth and

complexity as they articulated insights, adopted multiple possible critical stances on

panoptic power, developed positions, and responded to the ideas of others.

Emerging Theme Three: Race Treason (Ignatiev, 2007) as an Alternative to Tatums

(1997) Ideas

Because participants weighed solutions to racism in the focus group discussion, I

posted a link to Ignatievs (2007) article on race treason for participants to read as a

potential solution to racism. Ignatiev explains how the current racist system favors

Whites and confers benefits to Whites in exchange for racial loyalty and expected

cultural behaviors that maintain the system. The solution to racism comes when Whites

commit race treason by separating whiteness from culture and defying the cultural

expectations. If enough Whites commit race treason and refuse to adhere to the cultural

expectations, these Whites dismantle the system of power, oppression, and privilege

(Ignatiev, 2007). John and Rebecca wrote thoughtful and lengthy posts on this thread.

Although both John and Rebecca liked the idea of separating whiteness from culture and

examining whiteness as social position, both disagreed with race treason as a viable

solution to racism.

One major flaw in Ignatievs (2007) assertions about race treason was his failure

to define whiteness (John & Rebecca). Ignatiev did not define whiteness beyond white

racial stereotypes + stereotypes about rich people = corporate CEOs in suits (John).

Thus, race treason became a pseudo-solution to racial binaries where people still had to

accept a standard of what it means to be of a certain race. (John) When whites adopted

practices of other cultures, they frequently encountered resentment and reactions viewing

their actions as cooption and dilution (John). Additionally, race treason did not account

for people influenced by more than one culture, and Rebecca wondered how race treason

allowed someone with multicultural perspectives to act within society. Rebecca asserted

her personal observations about the connections between race and culture in a spectrum

where one side is restricting definitions of cultural groups and stereotypes and

assumptions and the other side is denying the existence of culture, holding that

individuals are all different, and shouldnt be put into cultural groups because they are

too complex for common generalizations. John and Rebeccas thoughtful responses

about race treason as a solution to racism illustrate complex evaluative judgment.

Emerging Theme Four: Action Against Racism

Participants examined reasons people did not take action against racism and

actions needed to break down racism. Fear prevented people from taking action because

people were afraid of what they might find in themselves, how that knowledge might

affect their personal relationships, and how that knowledge influenced their sense of self

(Esther). The lack of dialogue between oppressed and oppressor prevented people from

taking action; privilege engendered tensions even when recognized and understood

(Moira). While participants understood these reasons prevented action against racism,

participants recognized the need for interracial alliances. At some point oppressed and

oppressor needed to find common understandings to work together for change (Moira),

and dialogue, led by the oppressed, played a key role in building the understandings

(Moira & Silas). Dialogue motivated Moira to act because critical theory awakens that

sense of social consciousness and empathy necessary to acknowledge the oppression that

our society fosters. Participants believed critical theory in schools could reveal power

inequities, motivate others to act, and strengthen critical identities (Abby, Moira & Silas).

Participants theorized solutions while examining the reasons why people did not act

against racism and the actions needed to break it down.

Emerging Theme Five: The Differences Between Prejudice and Racism

Participants clarified definitions of terms relevant to their discussion. Abby

summarized Tatums (1997) definitions of prejudice and racism. Tatum defined racism as

a system where Whites benefited, and Tatum defined prejudice as a preconceived

judgment or opinion, usually based on limited information. (Tatum, 1997, p. 5) Abby

noted that according to Tatum, only Whites can be racist, and only men can be sexist,

though we are all capable of prejudice. Esther observed that tension in the discussion

came from differing definitions of racism and prejudice and wondered how other

participants felt about racial power and affirmative action. Whites controlled the

affirmative action system (Moira). However, affirmative action positively alleviated

institutional racism because it gave opportunities to those without privilege (Esther).

Affirmative action did not break down individual racism because physical proximity did

not address personal and cultural sources of racial prejudices (Wayne). Through

examining specific definitions of prejudice and racism, participants analyzed the conflicts

in their focus group discussion and explored new topics as they considered solutions.

Emerging Theme Six: The Issue of Identity Politics

Participants looked at identity politics. Esther posted an excerpt from Tracy

Kidders (2003) book Mountains Beyond Mountains that asserted that suffering was not

equal in society. Participants agreed that people did not experience the same levels of

oppression based on features of their identities (Esther, Moira, & Rebecca). People who

suffered oppression also experienced the beauty and richness of life (Rebecca) Moira

noted how Kidder used oppression and suffering as synonyms and asserted that the

quotation relied on flawed logic because suffering could be universal, but oppression

did not exist universally. Discussion of identity politics led participants to consider the

nature of oppression and suffering.

Emerging Theme Seven: The Conceptual Integration of Multiple Forms of Oppression

Participants frequently integrated examples of multiple forms of oppression as

they examined power and social issues. Participants supported their points through

discussion of the following oppressions: racism, sexism, sexual orientation, heterosexism,

classism, intellect, medicalization, mental illnesses, family, and ageism. After the final

focus group discussion, Aquafina added a thread on the destructive nature of ageism and

how it caused gaps between people. Aquafina included an original poem he wrote in

response to the constant abasement both I (and I am sure others) felt/feel in the presence

of and [sic] older and thusly more authoritative, powerful person. Silas agreed that

ageism was frustrating and odious, but he found ageism to be minuscule compared

to other forms of oppression. As participants explicitly discussed racism, heterosexism,

and sexism, participants connected their insights to other systems of power and


Summary of Message Boards

The message board discussions repeated, complemented, and developed ideas

from focus group discussions. Four central ideas emerged from the dynamics and content

of the message board discussions. (a) Message board discussions did not reveal the

pronounced differences in female and male participation like the focus group discussions.

(b) Participants posted lengthy and complex posts that illustrated sophisticated

understandings of power, society, individual identity, oppression, social issues, and

cultural norms. (c) Participants typically started with an articulation of common ground

with previous participants. Then, participants developed their own views, explored

examples, introduced new points, and reflected on ideas. (d) All participants articulated

perceptive insights on topics, and most participants developed cogent positions on issues

emerging from focus group discussions.

Summary of Phase B: Focus Group and Message Board Discussions

Participants engaged in mature discussions with perceptive observations in the

focus group and message board discussions. Participants probed various themes during

their in-person and online discussions (see Table 2). As participants worked to

understand the content of the readings, participants consistently examined the limitations,

biases, and strengths of writers positions. Participants connected the ideas from the

readings to their experiences, observations, other readings and topics. The challenges

participants made to the content of the readings and to the discussion points led most

participants to probe issues in more depth as they articulated their stances more

thoroughly and clearly. Participants recognized complexities within the issues and

weighed the complexities against each other in order evaluate solutions and construct

their positions. Participants frequently referred to ideas from previous readings and

discussions to defend, challenge, or qualify new ideas emerging in later discussions. As

participants developed relationships discussing issues with each other, equity in

participation increasedalthough there were still clearly differences participation levels.

Table 2

Emerging Themes From Focus Group and Message Board Discussions

Focus Group 1 Focus Group 2 Focus Group 3 Message Board
Themes Themes Themes Themes

1) Foucaults 1) Tatums (1997) 1) Authors 1) Panoptic power

(1977/1996) attitude attitude and bias as a attitudes and biases and education
and bias as a starting point for as starting points for
starting point for discussion discussions 2) The function of
discussion panoptic power in
2) Gender 2) Sexist and contemporary
2) Panoptic power, connections and heterosexist society
individual participant messages and power
identities, and labels motivation for in sex education 3) Race treason
getting off the topic (Ignatiev, 2007) as
3) Panoptic power, of racism 3) Sexism in an alternative to
its structure, and its education Tatums (1997)
effects on peoples 3) Standards of ideas
emotions and White normalcy 4) Project for Teens,
behaviors its messages about 4) Action against
4) Are we all racist? sex and sexual racism
4) The central orientation, and
disagreement of the 5) Panoptic power, participants 5) The differences
discussion: Moiras racism, and complicity in between prejudice
challenge to stereotypes heterosexism and racism
panopticon as a
valid theory of 6) The central 5) Gender binaries 6) The issue of
power disagreement of the identity politics
discussion: Johns 6) Heterosexist
5) The research stance against white standards and fear 7) The conceptual
study as panopticon identity theory of differences integration of
multiple forms of
6) The arbitrary 7) Colorblindness 7) The connection oppression
nature of social as a solution to of heterosexism and
norms and culture racism sexism to other
forms of oppression
8) Taking action as a
solution to racism 8) Assumptions
enforce oppression
9) The efficacy of
Mix-It-Up-at-Lunch 9) The central
Day as a means of disagreement of the
breaking down discussion: the use
racism of critical theory in
secondary education

Phase C: The Final Interview

After the final focus group and message board discussions, I interviewed each

participant a second time, which provided Phase C of the research study. As in the initial

interview, I used Seidmans (2006) framework to get a focused life history in a semi-

structured interview (Merriam, 1998). I wanted develop rapport as a part of eliciting

information and developed questions designed for participants to explain their meanings

(Spradley, 1979). In this interview, I asked participants to reflect on:

1. Their reactions to the content of each reading and focus group discussion

2. Their reactions to the content and process of participating on the message


3. Their reactions to the male-dominated first focus group discussion

4. Their reactions to female completion and male incompletion of personal


5. Their experiences of dissonance during the study

6. Their connections of critical theory to action

7. Their advice to me as a teacher in regards to content of the research study

8. Their individual identities and what was important to them for me to consider

in writing about their identities

9. Their final thoughts

Participants thoroughly discussed their reactions to these questions. In every case, the

final interview lasted longer than the first; interviews took between 1 1/2 and 2 hours. I

asked participants to review interview transcriptions for content and clarification (Lincoln

& Guba, 1985; Maykut & Morehouse, 1994/2004; Merriam, 1998).

As in the case of the initial interview, all participants approached the interviews

seriously and shared sophisticated, perceptive insights. Again, participants seemed to

appreciate taking the time to talk through their reactions and ideas. Four central themes

emerged from these final interviews. (a) Critical theory provided multiple angles from

which participants could examine and understand themselves, others, and society. (b)

Critical thought involved a process including dissonance, reflection, and growth. (c)

Critical theory led participants to personal changes in attitudes, assumptions, and/or

actions. (d) Having critical perspectives provoked personal uncertainties and challenges.

As part of Phase C analysis, I have included side-by-side table of the critical

content from the first and final interviews for each participant. These tables present the

salient critical points of interest in the interviews and illustrate how reading critical

theory impacted participants assumptions, attitudes, and actions. I coded each critical

point with a number that places the insight into a stage of the Reflective Judgment Model

(Kitchener & King 1990, 1994). These numbers best represent my assessment of

participants critical thinking and reflection based on Kitchener and Kings descriptions

of each stage. I did not formally administer an inventory to measure participants

reflective judgment. I discussed how I completed this process in Chapter Three.

After each table, I discuss each participants critical narrative by starting with a

salient critical point from the initial interview then by quickly moving into how each

participant processed the content of the research study in the final interview. These

participant descriptions articulate similarities and differences in critical content from the

initial and final interviews. The descriptions also portray in more depth how each

participant responded to the critical theory read for the study. The discussions create

nuanced portraits of the complexity and maturity of participants and their ideas. After the

discussion of individual participants, I summarize the overall emerging themes from

participants' initial and final interviews.

Abigail Elizabeth BensonAbby

Table 3

Abbys Interview Comparison Chart and Stage of Reflective Judgment

Abbys Initial Interview Stage Abbys Final Interview Stage

Discussed disconnect between who Joined Facebook discussion

she felt she was and who she group on Foucault, power, and
perceived herself to be 5 reality 6

Evaluated her personal academic Developed more thoroughly and

success as coming from having more specifically her personal
personal strengths that were valued theories about fear, stereotypes,
by the system: Im not smart in and oppressionsupported her
essence. Im smart as a product. 7 theory with examples from her
readings, connections, and
Theorized about how oppression personal observations 7
resulted from fear of the unknown
and stereotypes 6 Reflected on participation in
focus groups by sex and learning
Discussed her processes of thought style 6
and how making connections
between ideas was important in Connected critical theory to
making personal meaning of new performance group Blue Man
knowledge 6 Group and how both helped break
down dominant thought patterns
Evaluated ageism in society through surprising people,
through multiple examples of self challenging assumptions, and
and others 7 push[ing] toward
nonconformity 7
Challenged societal distinctions
separating childrens literature Analyzed extensively how Blue
from adult literature through Man Group raised her critical
myriad examples of books and consciousness 7
content 7
Applied stages of White identity
to self 7

Questioned contradictions in Identified herself in critical
gender roles within Catholic Church, theory readings on sexism and
particularly male privilege, voiced was excited to see her experiences
uncertainty about her stance on these reflected in the research 6
discrepancies, and expressed desire
to judge intention and policies fairly 6 Recognized sexism in self and
world around hera realization
Examined intent and outcome of that led to personal dissonance 7
religious practices 5
Paralleled process of recognizing
Evaluated cultural practices as sexism to recognizing racism in
arbitrary social norms through self, especially in relation to
examination of multiple views about dissonance, zeal, apathy, and
Islamic practices, the intents behind action 7
the practices, the views of practices
by outsiders, and the potential Included more critical examples
effects of these interpretations and into her personal beliefs and
practices on others 7 observations 7

Examined cultural and religious Examined toys, childrens

practices from multiple perspectives television programming, and jokes
for deeper understanding of issues from an in-depth critical
beyond judging as right or perspective to see what these
wrong 6 revealed about the values within
society 7

Felt empowered and liberated

by the knowledge and like she
should educate everybody else 6

Discussed critical ideas with

friends outside of the study 6

Discussed the developmental

process of critical thought 7

Challenged the purpose of

education and nature of school 7

Read Beverly Daniel Tatums

(1997) Why Are All the Black Kids
Sitting Together in the Cafeteria,
evaluated its ideas, and
incorporated relevant parts to her
opinion 7

Explained how facts on racism
supported current power structures
and incorporated these points into
the cycle of oppression 7

Discussed medical treatment and

the human body from Western and
alternative perspectives and how
she advocated for her own health
knowledge and needs 7

In the initial interview, Abby theorized about oppression. Many of her critical

points focused on stereotypes and how people did not understand each other, which led to

oppression. Because people were fallible, Abby thought it was really good to understand

things because not understanding is a kind of oppression. Thats what leads to

oppression. Abby continually referenced how the lack of understanding caused

oppression through fear and stereotypes, which worked in her own life and the lives of

others in complex ways. Although she primarily discussed the impact of negative

stereotypes, Abby believed that not all stereotypes are wrong and that maybe the

majority of people can be that way, but its just that theyre not all that way. Abby

believed fear caused people to lack understanding of others. Abby described how a lot

of peopleme includedcan be afraid of things they dont know about yet. She cited

historical examples such as the Holocaust and the Salem Witch Trials to support her


Abbys discussion of critical issues became more nuanced and specific in the

final interview. Abby developed her theory of oppression in more depth by examining

contemporary systemic oppression and by discussing her own critical development. After

the second focus group, Abby read the entire book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting

Together in the Cafeteria? (Tatum, 1997), which helped her see how individual

prejudices created systemic racism. Abby discussed how people stereotyped Asians as

good in math and science, smart and too quiet to be bothersomeall of which led

people to believe that Asians are doing better than Whites. But, Abby explained how

Tatum said, 70% of the Asian population live in areas like California where its high

income but also high cost of living, and that Asian families often have more people

contributing to the income. Abby saw how facts supported stereotypes that benefited

Whites and upheld systems of White privilege. Reading Tatums book helped Abby

support her conceptual theories asserted in the first interview with relevant contemporary

examples; Tatums ideas also helped Abby break down dominant ideology and examine

stereotypes and biases.

Abby applied the stages of White identity development (Tatum, 1997) to her life

as she recounted a film and discussion designed to break down racial prejudices in

Advanced Placement Language and Composition. Abby discussed how writing a

grueling and terrible paper on racism triggered personal dissonance in herself when she

first became conscious of her own racism. Abby recognized how she initially became

overzealous in her discussions with friends about racism. Abby matter-of-factly stated her

racial prejudices in the interview and discussed how her personal dissonance dissipated

over time just as Tatum predicted. Abby soon got to the Okay, well, lets fix things


Understanding the process of building White identity also helped Abby

understand sexism in her life. Abby discussed at length how the third focus group

readings about sexism in schools engendered deconstructing sexism in her own life and

the world around her. Although Abby saw how some sexism in school was more subtle

than we expect, she wondered how could you not notice that in the classroom?

Reading about repeated incidents of sexism in schools made Abby mad, which she

expressed by making angry faces in the margins of the articles. She experienced

dissonance, zeal, uncertainty, and apathy in regards to observing female oppression as

she discussed examples from the readings and her own life. Abby explained how

feminism causes dissonance because I look for it and wait for it to happen. After she

saw sexism, I jump all over it. Abby expected to act in extremeness before moving

into an apathetic phase and then even out as part of an exploration process.

Although sexism triggered dissonance in her, Abby found it especially

empowering to see herself as a student reflected in the critical theory she read. She

explained how girls said I dont know more than guyseither because they negate

their own feelings or because theyre open to other interpretations . . . Yeah, and [both]

apply to me. She described how she identified with a classroom example where students

took turns reading aloud by going up and down rows. She had a realization because

she was the person in the middle who counts and practices reading their paragraph.

Abby liked seeing parts of herself in the research, even if the researchers saw the practice

as negative because it diminished reading comprehension. Critical reflection empowered

Abby as she recognized how the research on sexism in schools reflected parts of her own


Abby did not participate as often as most participants in the focus group and

message board discussions and encountered dissonance in these discussions. She

experienced dissonance because she discussed with new people and because she did not

know her positions on political issues and sexual orientation. Thus, Abby couldnt talk

because I honestly dont know what I think yet. Also, Abby believed she lacked a

language and a framework for expressing her ideas; she said, I know that I have ideas. I

just cant always get them out or I dont have a framework to put them into to talk about

it yet. Abby explained how Its like having something to say but no language to say it.

Abby also believed her ways of knowing concepts differed significantly from her peers

ways of knowing, which silenced her. Differences in ways of knowing led Abby to

silence and to see her own contributions as less valuable to discussion.

Overall, Abby found critical theory and participating in the discussions

empowering and liberating. Studying critical theory spurred Abby to action. She

joined a Facebook discussion group on Foucault; she read Tatums (1997) book in its

entirety, and she processed the ideas through discussion with friends outside of the study.

Abby needed to discuss the theory and focus group sessions first on a selfish level as a

way to get her thoughts out to someone. After her initial processing, Abby recognized,

I really do want to tell people and educate them. She was surprised to consider

discussion with others as a form of action since it was not physically doing something

perceived as dramatic and heroic. Yet, discussing ideas served as a form of education

for Abby and otherseven though she was selective about whom she told. She

observed that sometimes, it [critical theory] can be well received and that people have

to want to talk about critical theory. Abby also recognized the power of other means of

breaking down dominant thought and analyzed extensively how the theatrical

performance of Blue Man Group affected her critical consciousness and challenged her

expectations, assumptions, and actions. Other ways of thinking precipitated critical

insights, such as examining toy development over time, analyzing characters and issues

in childrens television programming, and scrutinizing the content of jokes.


Table 4

Aquafinas Interview Comparison Chart and Stages of Reflective Judgment

Aquafinas Initial Interview Stage Aquafina: Final Interview Stage

Discussed playing devils Identified male dominance in

advocate in taking on many discussion as socialized within
perspectives for self-learning 5 males 7

Presented many contradictory Explained how White males had

qualities about himself 4 a hard time defining themselves
because they were a dominant
Discussed his personal writing part of even Caucasian society
process, his passion for words and and females have an easier time
meanings, and his experiences defining themselves. 7
getting new ideas from reading 5
Discussed solutions to
Did not see self as political activist, oppression for the first time in the
but held strong opinions about second focus group 7
humanity and human rights 6
Moved from a nihilistic
Compelled to understand the social standpoint to being active and
and political forces shaping people 7 trying to make a difference 7

Discussed racism in Understood and labeled steps in

family, self, and society 6 White identity development in
self and othersespecially in
Discussed ageism in the writing resisting conversation,
world 7 dissonance, and rejection of ideas 7

Saw people as being oppressed by Recognized importance in

the world around them in different Whites discussing racism together 7
ways and discussed how family,
media, and teachers oppressed him 6 Applied feminist lens to world
around him and noticed how
Recognized that stating his opinion males led discussions and how
verbally or in writing was using language communicated deep-
power 6 seated, gendered power
differences 7

Believed repeating I dont
know was partly a way he gave
himself social voicelessness 6

Believed discussion with others

about how to fix problems was a
form of action 7

Saw small subtle acts as

important in changing views of
others and as a means of social
change 7

Believed that being immersed

in an area with many cultures
does not necessarily help a person
become less racist 7

Reading and acting on critical

theory provided ways for taking
control of self and gaining power 7

Struggled with his own identity

as a White male as part of
dominant majority and how he
was trying to topple himself by
eliminating my own tendencies 7

Believed role for action was

clearer for people who were
oppressed than for oppressors
who simultaneously oppressed
others and worked for change 6

Saw one of his roles was to

convince people of his own
culture to change 7

Struggled with encouraging

change in people around him
because he knew the dissonance
upset their ability to live
comfortably 6

Viewed family as product of

society 7

Noticed ageism at a deeper,
more pervasive level and shared
examples 7

Connected ageism and classism 7

Believed that critical self-

examination was difficult process
involving change but that people
should not be protected from it by
age 7

Recognized the ongoing process

of understanding racism and other
social justice issues in self and
society 7

Hoped for solace in self in

regards to racism 7

Associated his contradictory

nature to lack of confidence 5

In the initial interview, Aquafina discussed oppression generally with specific

references to forms of oppression such as ageism and racism. As a teen writer, Aquafina

revealed perceptive awareness of ageism in the writing world. He specifically examined

overt racism in racial insults made by family members. Aquafina did not participate in

these insults, but he articulated how deeply embedded the racism existed in his culture

and in himself. Aquafina saw contradictions between what people said and what he

experienced. People said young children did not see race, but he recognized racial

differences at a very young age and recalled being somewhat afraid of African


In the final interview Aquafinas insights on racism became more thoroughly

developed, nuanced, and focused after reading Tatums (1997) chapter on White identity

formation. He recognized the stages in White identity formation in himself, including

guilt and resentment toward minorities after watching and discussing Skin Deep

(Reid, 1995) in Advanced Placement Language and Composition. He identified similar

responses of resentment, discomfort, dread and unwillingness in his peers who lived as

White males and who did not want to discuss racisma group to which he initially

belonged. But, the more Aquafina discussed racism, the more he slowly started to

develop the desire to break down racism.

Until the second focus group discussion, Aquafina had never actually talked

about a solution to the problems of oppression. Ive never heard anyone try to talk about

that. This discussion prompted his vision for a solution that involved a society where

cultures existed harmoniously and where people were not judged or oppressed by the

physical properties of the skin. This ideal society included accepting multiple cultures

and intertwining them. Having an ideal vision helped Aquafina work toward solutions,

which involved thought and dialogue with others. Aquafina believed that discussing

solutions to oppression contributed to an important part of societal change. He explained

how thought and dialogue led to change in occupying your time trying to fix the

problem, youre actually fixing the problem with others. Such discussion involved

constructing something thats more internal and not societal anymore, like some kind of

human bond. Human bonds forged through dialogue led to other important acts for

changeespecially in trying to change the minds of those who accepted the status quo.

Aquafina recognized how such dialogue and uprooting racism required open self-

reflection and willingness to face dissonance. Aquafina explained how racism brought

about feelings of dissonance that he even experienced during this interview. Aquafina

found the dissonance uncomfortable but familiar; he knew what to expect, and

appreciated the growth coming from dissonance. However, he noted the difficulty people

had when their worldview was challenged, and that such difficulty/personal dissonance

could be both constructive and harmful to people to break down their psychology.

In the final interview, Aquafina discussed other personal changes. He used a

gender and feminist perspective as a way to examine the world around him. Aquafina

noticed how gender differences went beyond anatomical differences that sometimes

allowed people to avoid seeing female oppression. He discussed how word choices and

popular culture carried messages of female inferiority. Men were called gentlemen, but

theres no such thing as a gentlewoman in the same respect, and how that shows some

type of power over women even though men are actually seemingly humble in that act.

Popular music portrayed females through references where males frequently used baby

and girl in a power-hungry way. Aquafina thought these words perpetuated sexism

because youre treating them [women] like children in that respect, then, and usually

adults have power over children. Aquafina noted that women used boy, but it was

used in a more playful way. Messages of male power and female oppression impacted

Aquafinas self-awareness and actions. He just started to pick up on those nuances and

was noticing things I do that arent right at all but Ive been trying to see if I can act

differently. Seeing society through a feminist perspective gave Aquafina insight into

how societal messages of inequality impacted him as a male and prompted him to act in

ways counter to his socialization, in ways he believed were right. Aquafina grew to like

critical theory because he liked the idea of being active in working against injustice.

Aquafina spoke up more frequently against injustice in conversations with others.

While Aquafina believed that critical theory led him to a stronger understanding

of what was right, having a critical perspective brought about challenges. Aquafina

wanted to change systemic oppression, but he experienced uncertainty and discomfort

with his own role in social change. As part of the dominant majority, Aquafina wanted

to topple myself, but he could not initiate revolution since Im oppressing people at

the same time. Aquafina thought the perspective of people who were oppressed was

clearer because they knew their role was to act and stick it to the people who are

oppressing. Aquafina discussed how his perception of the oppressed presented potential

problems because he might be just romanticizing the idea of the take-over. Also,

Aquafina expressed uncertainty about acting critically with family members. He saw his

family as a product of society, but he didnt want to disrupt their comfort. Aquafina noted

the difficulty of holding a critical perspective in a Christian faith, but he believed he

could bring together critical thought and faith for his own life.

Overall, Aquafina saw a need for developing critical thinking abilities with

secondary students. Because of the potential for personal growth, Aquafina did not

believe that teens should be protected from critical thought by age; to do so was a form of

ageisma concept he also discussed extensively. Throughout the study, Aquafina noted

more deep-rooted, pervasive ageism that affected people as he considered forms of

oppression and how they worked on him and through him. The more Aquafina probed

critical issues of identity, the more layers of meaning he found in and for himself.

Cowboy WayneWayne

Table 5

Waynes Interview Comparison Chart and Stages of Reflective Judgment

Waynes Initial Interview Stage Waynes Final Interview Stage

Believed the world fit together in a Noted that Foucaults theory

series of random convergences and gave him a new way to define or
embraced unusual connections 5 classify power and articulated
ideas he had not put into words 7
Believed in environmentalism as a
political issue and connected it with Analyzed participation by sex in
the declining amount of time discussions and situated self
children spent outside and increased within the discussions 7
playground time and restrictions 7
Applied concepts from research
Believed environmentalism study readings in self-examination
opposed materialism and of gender, power and discussion
consumerism 7 especially gender treachery
(Hopkins, 1992/2004) 7
Situated self as the fat kid in an
elementary school that valued male Discussed multiple and nuanced
athleticism and developed sense of ways White privilege impacted the
humor as a way to set himself apart discussion and identified racism
and compensate for lack of within the discussion 7
athleticism 7
Identified participants controlled
Traced the theme of being heard emotions and restraint at
in his life from elementary school to beginning of focus group as forms
present 7 of racism 7

Followed and discussed politics Articulated benefits that conflicts

with special interests in maintaining and tension bring to discussion 6
human rights and civil liberties 7
Saw need to make race salient
Recognized the power inherent in for Mankato Wests White high
the teachers role within society 7 school students 7

Examined the role of Other in Situated self in ageism in

society and the role of art in discussion 6
conveying Others critique of
mainstream society 7 Reflected on his personal racial
development 7

Situated self within multiple power Had not previously considered
structures that included areas of the rage racism caused in African
privilege and stereotyping others 7 American, Hispanic, Latino,
Native American, Asian, and
Expressed frustration about how Middle Eastern ethnic group
societal inequalities and oppressions people and how well-meaning
remained unresolved even when the people can really have racist
capacities for resolution existed 6 sentiment 7

Observed how discussing sexual

orientation and heterosexism was
new ground for participants 6

Had not previously considered

the emotional impact of passing
as heterosexual 7

Acknowledged personal
complicity in stereotyping and
discussed the process of breaking
down assumptions in self in much
more specific terms 7

Examined complications and

cause-effect nature of action and
social change 7

Reflected on how he presented

his social identity 7

Connected dissonance and

peoples recognition of social
identity and social differences 7

In the initial interview, Wayne demonstrated an extensive critical perspective that

he applied specifically to art, politics, and readings. Wayne included himself inside of

power structures in general ways. While discussing whether or not American society was

being dumbed down, Wayne explained how if he said everyone in our society now is

dumb, our society is going downhill, then automatically, Ive excluded myself from the

power structurean exclusion he did not want to make. Wayne also explained how he

was not completely innocent in the terms of stereotyping in the cycle of privilege and

oppression, but he offered no specifics.

In the final interview, Wayne reflected on the content of the critical theory and

explicitly situated himself personally within societal power matrixes. Reading Foucault

(1977/1996) helped Wayne articulate insights about panoptic power because he

considered how power worked previously, but I never really had a way to define or

classify it. Foucaults theory reinforced what I had been thinking but not necessarily

been able to name or voice. Wayne examined socialization, biases, and identity. In

considering the role of gender in the first focus group, Wayne thought John Kerrys prior

knowledge powerfully influenced discussion. Even though Wayne maintained a strong

friendship with John, Wayne felt intimidated by him when we had differing

viewpoints. Because the reading challenged people, Wayne sense[d] how Johns

knowledge and articulation could be stressful and intimidating particularly for

people who took direct opposition to Johns ideas. Wayne noted that gender and

knowledge could be connected subconsciously because the person who was most well

versed in the idea of a panopticon was male, and males then took subconscious

solidarity with John. Wayne explained when he and John had similar opinions, he

felt sort of sheltered or guardeda feeling that helped perpetuate male dominance in

the discussion.

Wayne willingly examined how power worked through and on him, and he drew

upon the content of the readings in his self-analysis. Wayne reflected on how he had the

tendency to connect what we had read to other things we had read and on how such

connections could be intimidating. When participants discussed their identities through

collages or symbols, Wayne linked his lack of collage to Hopkins (1992/2004) gender

treachery. Wayne saw how completing this assignment and sharing about himself was a

very predetermined jeopardation [sic] of masculinity because basic emotions,

compassion, empathy and all that have to be masked in order to be masculine. Wayne

believed the same feelings of gender treachery possibly impacted other males.

Wayne enjoyed the tense discussion group on racism and White identity. Wayne

developed several significant insights about how racism worked on group members

during the discussion. Wayne noticed how they as White participants were not as well

versed on race because racism isnt a salient point. He observed how the group

initially avoided the topic and how we as White people were all sort of skirting around

the edges of generalization, which I would say is somewhat a form of racism. This

skirting of specific issues took the form of framing our . . . controversial comments in . .

. vague, clouded language because participants did not want to appear generalizing or

dividing on race issues. Wayne believed the group members awkwardness, reluctance,

and controlled, measured tone in the discussion were direct forms of racism. The most

real part of the discussion came when participants control started to falter, and

people started to really say what they meant to or what they thought was necessary.

As a result of reading Tatums (1997) chapter and the group discussion, Wayne

considered new dimensions of racism. He saw racism appearing covertly as well-

meaning racist sentiment and had not considered how actions intended to be

benevolent were harmful. Wayne considered the stages of Black identity and the

anger African American, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, Asian, and Middle Eastern

ethnic group people felt because of experiencing racism. Naming his own assumptions,

Wayne explained how Tatum took him deeper into the perspective of others. Wayne had

always just assumed that Black students were, if not happy, then at least comforted by the

presence of other Black students, and their ability to sort of band together when needed.

Wayne did not realize there was a lot of rage for many people, especially when we

discussed it at West. Tatums (1997) discussion of Black identity provoked Waynes

deeper insight into racism and about how he perpetuate[d] it still. Wayne openly

discussed how Tatum challenged his personal assumptions, which engendered self-


Wayne reflected on how his White racial identity impacted his relationships and

personal development. Wayne had some meaningful interaction with Asian Americans

because of his mothers business. Otherwise, Wayne had limited relationships with

people of African, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, and Middle Eastern ethnic group

descent. He never had a relationship really at all with Black students. There were no

Blacks in his elementary school and only a few in his middle school and high school.

Wayne played soccer with a boy whose mother was a Mexican immigrant but there

wasnt any really meaningful relationship. Wayne recognized that this gap in his

social development caused a serious disconnect. Wayne observed how much Tatum

(1997) knew about the racial discoveries of Whites, but he did not find similar knowledge

and experiences in his own life where he could draw upon his knowledge and experiences

in understanding of Black identity issues. Wayne believed this discrepancy was a form of

White privilege as he realized how racial identity impacted him and others.

Overall, Wayne thoroughly enjoyed the discussions. Wayne liked the final focus

group best because I had the most to say, and because no one person led the discussion,

which allowed for more perspectives and more balanced discussion. Wayne also liked

how the discussion centered on sexual orientation because we had never discussed that

before and it was new groundespecially in the ways the writers approached sexual

orientation and heterosexism. Wayne embraced dissonance in critical dialogue because

tension in discussion made the discussion more ultimately meaningful as participants

probed points and worked to clarify their stances. Wayne connected dissonance to

personal identity and believed that dissonance was essential in making people realize

their lives were influenced by outside factors depending on who you are socially.

Wayne examined his social identity at the end of the final interview and described

himself as a White, male, able-bodied, of middle class, heterosexual. This description

provided the the best way to frame Wayne since critical theory was about making

people realize the intersections of social, and ethnic, and racial, and gender differences.

Wayne wanted to communicate his understanding of how differences shaped personal



Table 6

Esthers Interview Comparison Chart and Stages of Reflective Judgment

Esthers Initial interview Stage Esthers Final interview Stage

Situated how family, place, sex, Recognized importance of

race, experiences, religion, and critical theory in educating
activities formed sense of self and people and saw education
interests 6 process as a form of action 7

Analyzed educational experiences Believed people with

by gender 7 knowledge of inequities could
not be complacent with our
Analyzed media influences and knowledge and ability to create
societal forces that make girls and change 7
young women see themselves as
weak 7 Viewed her final challenge of
Johns point about critical theory
Reflected on how sexism impacted as a victory over sexism for her 7
her life 7
Analyzed focus groups by
Noted the number of people in her gender, age and personality 7
life that helped her intercept sexist
messages and recognized the Noted that discussing racism
importance of counter-stories in was the most emotionally
resisting sexism 7 charged issue and reflected on
encountering racism in others 6
Identified herself as fortunate 6
Observed how she went through
Recognized the value of multiple White identity cycles in
perspectives and importance of not conversations and recognized
placing these in hierarchy 7 them from Tatums (1997) work
and previous experiences 7
Identified challenges that personal
identity brings to people in society 7 Articulated personal challenge
of holding a critical
Articulated contradictions she saw perspectiveespecially the
in religious teachings, beliefs, and overwhelming nature of work
actions and asserted her own beliefs that needed to be done and
about faith 7 expressed frustration that more
was not being done to solve
Valued discussion as learning tool 6 social inequalities 6

Regretted complicity in
Discussed value in acting for social heterosexism by not addressing it
change and belief in societys in Project for Teens 7
structural ability to progress 7
Observed institutional racism at
high school with Student Council
and S.H.i.N.E. diversity group
meetings scheduled at the same
time 7

Reflected on her assumptions

about race and sexual orientation
and questioned her racial and
heterosexist biases and how to
change them 7

Desired more dialogue to break

down personal assumptions
further and address
contradictions between religion,
science, and society 7

Changed language to reflect

more inclusive ideology, such as
using partner or significant
other in place of heterosexist
terms 7

Continued to speak against

oppressionfelt more compelled
the more knowledge she had 6

Reflected on how she presented

her personal identity and
concluded she did not convey her
awareness of privilege explicitly
enough 7

Discussed how experiences of

family and friends made her
accepting of differences in race
and sexual orientation 7

In the initial interview, Esther discussed herself as oppressed as a female and as

part of the dominant culture in other ways. Initially, Esther frequently referred to herself

as fortunate, and blessed; she communicated that her life circumstances impacted her

development and experiences. Esther recognized that everybody was in a different

situation because of finances, sex, race, and family. Thus, Esther could not necessarily

identify with what that is like to have one parent living in the Cities and one here, or, to

be Black in Mankato. Esther felt that it was important to realize that there are some

things that make my life a lot easier, and that I should be able to take responsibility in

recognizing her privilege.

In the final interview, Esther spent much of the time exploring what acting

responsibly meant in contemporary society for her. She struggled with the complexity of

social change as she confronted societal oppression and her own role in it. Esther knew

societal change was difficult; saw herself as not doing enough to change or help with

the discrimination and the ignorance; and found it frustrating to never be able to have

everybody understand oppression. Esther worried about how gaining more knowledge

about oppression would lead her to feeling more frustration. Esther confronted her own

role in societal injustice by examining her personal prejudices and her own complicity in

oppression because she had racial prejudices and prejudices against homosexuals.

Examining her complicity in oppression prompted Esther to take action through

examining and changing thought. She said, In order to not be racist, or homophobic, or

sexist, I feel as though I need to decide in my mind what Im okay with thinking and

what not, and like control my thoughts and therefore, control my actions. Esther

believed this process included important actions in breaking down personal prejudices

and changing ideology.

Paradoxically, Esther found making changes in her thoughts, language, and

actions to be simple, complex, challenging, and empowering. Esther believed that little

things like using significant other and partner revealed active ways to communicate

inclusive ideology positively. Such changes gave Esther an alternative to saying things

like Do you realize how offensive it is to use the word gay? Which I do everyday to

people my age. Its less nagging. Esther found personal empowerment in how

positive action could be just making the change there for myself, for things I havent

fixed yet. But, she knew acting for social justice presented challenges, and she believed

more discussion could help her with these challenges. Esther wished participants could

have further discussed complexities within sexual orientation stereotypes because she

was unsure about how to approach the issues with others. She wanted to understand the

sense of masculinity with being a lesbian and femininity with being a homosexual male.

And, I dont know what to make of that. And, that still bothers me because I dont want

to just ignore the issue. Esther wanted to respect peoples sexual identities by

acknowledging truths and rejecting stereotypes.

Moving beyond such stereotypes provided difficulties for Esther, in part, because

of conflicting messages between religion and science and society. Esther explained her

long-standing questioning of religion in the initial interview and continued questioning

religious contradictions in the final interview as she used critical theory to deepen her

understanding of social justice issues. Esther believed people needed to see the Bible as a

flawed text because it condemned homosexuality as an abomination, gave rules for

slavery, and supported gang rape. Esther explained how one of the critical theory articles

said Jesus never spoke against alternative sexual orientations, yet people used the Bible to

condemn people with alternative sexual orientations. Esther also noticed how in the Bible

and in Jesus teachings, she noticed that there were many references to economic

equality and you dont see people going on rants about making sure everyone has food,

and making sure that everybody has equal protection. Esther saw human hypocrisy in

how people used Biblical teachings to perpetuate oppression. Esther applied her critical

perspective to the Bible and how people interpreted and acted on messages from it.

Additionally, Esther believed that being a Christian automatically stigmatizes me as this

bigot who hates everyone, and she did not want to be stereotyped in that manner.

Esther understood that not everyone saw the world critically. She observed apathy

in others toward social justice and believed apathy perpetuated social injustices in

society. Specifically discussing racism and sexism, Esther remarked how people dont

care and how frustrating such apathy was. She also saw how privilege and oppression

remained invisible for people who arent exposed to it, they just dont realize that its

even a problem. Esther knew society would never attain social justice, but Esther

believed in consistently moving and acting toward the ideal. Esther realized that that

even if we cant fix all the problems, that thats not the point. For Esther, the point of

working toward social justice was to keep making progress toward a more equitable

world. She identified action for social change as developing and sharing personal

opinions; discussing issues with others; listening to and gathering multiple opinions;

examining herself; challenging and changing her assumptions; voting; and working

within the system through the government and elected officials. Esther repeatedly

wondered what further action she could take to move toward a more equitable world.

Overall, Esther felt privileged to have participated in the research study. Before

the study, she had never heard the word heterosexism and said the Google group

dictionary did not even recognize it as a word. Esther reflected on how participation

affected her sense of self. In the final interview, Esther examined how she presented

herself, what she said, and what she omitted throughout the study. Although Esther

initially presented herself with an awareness of personal privilege, she felt she did not

effectively communicate a personal understanding of her privileged identity. Esther

believed, I should have put on there [the collage] that Im White, heterosexual, female,

able-bodied, middle class. Esther thought adding this list at the end of the study was

clich, but she understood that part her personal privilege included how I contrast

myself is by personality among her friends and her sisters, and the fact that Im so

privileged in many ways that I dont have to say all those things. Esther did not want to

come off as Well, Im privileged so I dont have to mention that Im White. And, Im

writing off those things and that Im taking advantage of my privilege, and Im going to

keep oppressing everybody. Esther embraced critical dialogue with her peers as a

means of learning about herself, others, and society. She accepted and worked through

the dissonance that came with personal reflection as she applied critical concepts to

herself to grow, to gain more understanding, and to act more responsibly in the world.

John KerryJohn

Table 7

Johns Interview Comparison Chart and Stages of Reflective Judgment

Johns Initial Interview Stage Johns Final Interview Stage

Converted to vegetarianism because Named differences in

of previous study of critical theory 7 philosophical biases in himself,
authors of critical theory, some
Examined the education system participants, and this researcher 7
from a critical perspective 7
Refined views and gained
Discussed extensively how nuanced understanding of
anthropocentrism, speciesism, Foucault (1977/1996) and his
biopower, normative power, popular ideas 7
fascism, postmodernism, linguistics
and semantics provided catalysts Analyzed discussions by
for change in his thinking 7 content addressed and content
unaddressed 7
Analyzed critical issues and
asserted critical positions on Reflected on power in focus
governmental policy, welfare, racism, groups by sex, age, and
ageism, history, popular culture, and participation style 7
just and unjust uses of power 7
Reflected on how his
Articulated multiple perspectives on participation and points impacted
social issues 6 discussion 6

Defined self as pacifist and in Reflected on whether he

opposition to violence for social disagreed with Tatum (1997) or
change 7 he was reacting defensively to her
ideas as a member of her target
Rejected defining self in terms of audience 7
social identity, particularly by race,
sex, and sexual orientation 7 Asserted critical opinions while
qualifying them with potential
Identified importance of fluidity in factors impacting bias such as
personal identity 7 skin color, personal experiences,
and knowledge base 7
Identified how background shaped
his thinking 6 Emphasized importance of
critical thought, not critical
theory 7

Identified complicity with
racism and power and identified
differences between benign
examples of complicity and more
harmful examples of complicity 7

Discussed resistance of
educational hegemony through
disrupting classroom power 6

Challenged my interpretation of
his disruptive actions as
resistance 6

Discussed importance of
prudent action for social justice 7

Coming into the initial interview, John had the most extensive, direct experience

with critical theory from debate. A critical perspective enabled John to see how systems

of power functioned in society and on individuals. John immediately rejected socially

constructing his personal identity through defining race, sex, and sexual orientation. John

changed personally from studying critical concepts such as anthropocentrism, speciesism,

biopower, normative power, popular fascism, postmodernism, government power, and

linguistics and semantics. Critical theorist Peter Singers arguments against speciesism

and for animal liberation significantly affected Johns life. John rejected unlawful

detainment of people for moral reasons and believed that unlawful detainment of animals

in current farming practices paralleled what happened to people in situations such as

Guantanamo Bay. Thus, John renounced an anthropocentric view of the world, converted

to vegetarianism, and developed into a critical practitioner instead of just a thinker.

In the initial interview, John discussed racism. He acknowledged the historical

connections between skin color and culture but believed people should be able to choose

cultures best representing them. He discussed how racial consciousness impacted him and

how racial identities influenced peoples social identities. John explained how

oppressions intersected within people to define their realities. In both interviews, Johns

comments illustrated his complex understanding of connections between personal beliefs,

beliefs of others, identity, experiences, and biases. In the final interview, Johns

fundamental positions on these issues did not change. However, the readings and

discussions gave John specific points to defend, challenge, or qualify as he assessed their

validity. He refined his perspective on the points while keeping open the possibility that

his bias may obfuscate his view.

While articulating his view, John recognized how his experiences as a socially

constructed white person potentially impacted his view. John knew he had to accept

what people tell me about racism. John did not believe racism existed to the degree

people believed it did. John strongly opposed to affirmative action and not just because

Im white because I dont get a piece of the pie. Admittedly, John had never been hurt

by affirmative action; he disagreed with it on principle. He explained how affirmative

action was not backwards racism, but its preferential treatment for certain people based

on arbitrary factors, which was as bad as racism. John acknowledged the reality of

racism but believed that the NAACP or Affirmative Action can overcompensate for that

if white privilege exists to the diminished level that I think it does. But, again, like, I

dont have a big background in it, so I can kind of diminish it in my own mind. John

asserted his view of racism and critically contextualized his view in recognition of how

his socially constructed racial identity might impact his opinion.

John vehemently disagreed with Tatums (1997) ideas on developing positive

racial identities. He believed that its a step in the other direction; because if youre

proud of your race, its hard to not make judgments about other people. John examined

how Europeans used racism as justification to civilize othersa separation that led to a

long history of racism. John felt Tatum had a weird double standard when she asserted

that theres nothing good about white pride ... But, like if it didnt necessarily work out

for white people and caused more problems, I dont know why shed think it would be

entirely different for people of color. John recognized her reasons included historical

racial oppression, but he believed telling people to be proud of their race and proud of

their heritage, its not a viable solution to actually get rid of racism. It just reinforces the

idea that were all different. John believed such thinking would create differences and

binaries that operate in the system of power relations to perpetuate racism. John

carefully considered his personal reaction to white identity development because he

recognized his potential to minimize racism. John knew his reaction could be described

as defensive, which was a stage in white identity development that Tatum directed at

me or my group of people. He reflected,

If I react in a way thats defensive, is that because Im racist, or is it because I

dont believe her ideas? And, do I not believe them because I choose not to see it

or because they dont really exist? You have to check yourself. Critical theory.

Ultimately, John believed his defensiveness originated from his personal convictions.

In the final interview, John extensively discussed his views on acting against

oppression and the necessity for complicity. John discussed times when he did not

actively fight racial stereotypes or unfair power. John illustrated his complicity with

racism and classroom hegemony in an American Literature class. He did not speak up to

challenge a racist portrayal of Africa because speaking up was not worth the effort and

the time given the people in the class and the way that its structuredmaking a

comment like that, even if it is counter to the hegemonic flow would be lost. Yet,

Johns discussion of the class contained numerous examples of subversive resistance

against curricular and instructor hegemony. John became the John Gotti of

disruptiveness and acted in ways so that the power structure becomes just one big joke

and nobody has to care whats going on anymore. Johns subversive and sometimes

angry actions in this class showed an active resistance against hegemony.

Overall, John urged caution for people in approaching critical theory in secondary

classrooms and in acting on it. John believed some people acted on critical theory in an

overly zealous manner by addressing all injustices. Such zeal led others to not want to

know about critical theory and not want to hear it out. Once people quit listening,

that really hurts movements that are trying to stop social injustices because activists

seemed crazy and like they were regulating everyone. John advocated teaching

critical thinking skills over the theory because theory will teach them [students] certain

ways of viewing the world, rather than how to think which was ultimately what critical

theory is all about.

John observed how critical theory in a banking education system would be a

wasted effort because students would not interact with the views to test their validity. He

believed people had to recognize bias because theres some crazy stuff in critical

theory that cannot be taken at face value. John applied his perception of bias to the

final interview. He recognized that I interpreted more active resistance in his narrative

than he. John partially acknowledged his actions as resistance and simultaneously

challenged my interpretation. He defined his actions as not as much as you might think

they are. Like, theyre not as consistent specific actions that I always take. Or, theyre not

as frequent as you might think they are. John explained he was not always a person

who is out there with critical theory. But, I certainly think about it. John consistently

applied his critical perspective.


Table 8

Moiras Interview Comparison Chart and Stages of Reflective Judgment

Moiras Initial Interview Stage Moiras Final Interview Stage

Discussed complexities with Examined fluctuating power in

Jewish resettlement in Minneapolis focus group discussions in terms
after Holocaust 7 of sex, age, personality,
communication style, and learning
Discussed her strong feminist style 7
beliefs and cited examples from
society showing female oppression 7 Situated herself both outside and
inside power within focus group
Used feminist lens consistently as discussions 7
part of examining issues, people,
family, peers, reading, politics, Examined her use of language to
leadership, culture, and society 7 see whether or not she was
creating social voicelessness in her
Questioned U.S. policies in Iraq, speaking style or leaving room for
with immigration, and toward multiple interpretations 7
people in poverty 7
Examined how the invisibility
Examined positive and negative that comes with being online and
aspects of capitalism 7 the lack of facial expression and
body language made her more
Challenged U.S. policy that confident about being
imposed democracies as the vulnerable in discussing ideas 6
right way for other cultures,
specifically in the Middle East 6 Reflected on assumptions people
made of her 6

Discussed contrasts in herself Connected sexism and
about her cynicism about her own heterosexism to view them as
ability to change the world around complementary issues within the
her and her optimism for change in same system of power instead of
the world 6 separate issues 7

Considered how she would act in

future at college where there was
a very large GLBT (gay, lesbian,
bisexual, transgender) community
and wondered how her college
would handle their diverse student
body 7

Examined potential benefits of

going to an all-womens college
for personal development for
herself and others 7

Reflected on heterosexist nature

of sex ed and the structure of the
classroom and how that impacted
people who identified as lesbians,
gay men, and bisexual women and
men 7

Reflected on how Fines ideas on

female victimization and teaching
of protection against
victimization held true to her
experiences 7

Recognized complexities in
breaking down heterosexism in
sex ed and in classrooms 7

Noted the irony of how

heterosexual women tried to
protect themselves from
victimization by marrying a
male as a solution 7

Applied Fines ideas to analyze

whether or not ideas from
discussion were heterosexist 7

Compared and contrasted
solutions discussed for racism and
solutions for sexism and
heterosexism 7

Observed how Project for Teens

group members served as tool for
conveying values from higher
authority 7

Observed that most White

teachers did not seem to consider
racial identity, racism, sexism,
heterosexism, and sexual
orientation of selves and others 7

Noted how dissonance and

conflict in groups worked in
positive ways 6

Explained that the critical theory

deepened and solidified my
perspective 7

Articulated her theory of action

as understand[ing] your own self
identity and living in way that
makes it an environment where
they [people who are oppressed]
dont have to feel that bubble
that oppressive tension 7

Discussed complexities in
identity development and social
issues 7

Reflected on how she presented

her identity and personality
added how physical characteristics
impacted peoples assumptions 6

Examined how incidents of

sexism in math and sciences
affected her and her sister 7

As a strong feminist, Moira discussed her concerns with sexism in the initial

interview. She examined her family, how she had strong female role models who

discussed sexism with her, and how institutional sexism within the government impacted

legal decisions. She believed people reluctantly addressed sexism as oppression and saw

sexism intersecting with racial and religious oppression. Moira said feminism was lens

that I use when approaching different topics. She extensively applied that lens to

multiple topics such as books, laws, experiences, cultures, and academics.

Moira applied her feminist perspective in the final interview to examine how

power worked in the first discussion group. Moira reflected extensively on how power

impacted her and others participation. Moira noticed that at the beginning, everybody

was very articulate and confident, but as the discussion continued; We females said

less and less, and less often. Moira could not develop points, and her ideas were

misinterpreted without opportunity to clarify. Moira questioned her ability to articulate

her ideas. Moira understood internalized sexism generally led to female concession to

male authority because females felt they can never compete with males; Moira believed

internalized oppression influenced the discussion even though the four females were all

very confident and articulate females. Moira observed that the females used different

discussion styles than the males and that Waynes communication style, in particular,

made open-ended communication difficult. Wayne presented his ideas almost like an

academic paper with a thesis, a bunch of examples, and a conclusion. Moira noticed

his style worked effectively for him, but the approach made it less accessible to the rest

of us to really comment on. The lengthy, formal points made all of us who generally

dont speak that way, feel like we had to be a lot more concerned about how we speak.

Moira believed society viewed male and female communication styles differently.

She observed that three of the men asserted opinions definitively by saying; Its this

way. This prevalent male communication pattern exuded confidence. When females

made their points, they said, I think, or In my opinion, and people perceived women

lacked confidence. However, Moira believed this tentative communication style

recognized that there exist[ed] other perspectives. Moira did not want her opinion to be

the only right opinion or perspective, and she deliberately used language to include

multiple possibilities. The online message boards emerged as a better place for Moira to

express her ideas. She explained; Through the invisibility that comes with being online

and the lack of facial expression and body language, Im generally more confident

And, I feel like I can put myself in a more vulnerable position.

Moira examined ways she and others in the group marginalized people. Age and

voice volume intersected with sex to impact the 2 younger women, who participated less

frequently than Moira and Esther. Moira remained uncertain about whether or not

people really considered what they [Abby and Rebecca] were saying even though they

made excellent points. Moira believed she and other group members disregarded

Aquafinas points because his discussion style deviated from theirs and pulled us off

guard. And, so hed say something and wed kind of sit there for a minute and then would

be like, Okay and then wed kind of gear the conversation elsewhere.

Reading critical theory deepened Moiras critical perspective. She saw sexism and

heterosexism as separate issues until she read Michelle Fines (1993/2002) Sexuality,

Schooling, and Adolescent Females: The Missing Discourse of Desire. Moira was

bothered that her sexual education courses didnt talk about homosexuality, or lifestyles

considered alternative and empathized with students who did consider themselves

homosexual, how ostracized they must have felt in that classroom. Fine also influenced

Moiras interpretation of the Project for Teens (PFT) discussion in the third focus group.

Moira observed how the schools had kids present ideas that are very much filtered

through higher authority rather than them really having the opportunity to think about it.

Moira felt that heterosexism impacted participants because they felt they didnt have

heterosexual-enough-seeming males in the group, which was heterosexist, the idea

that you even needed to have specific examples of different types of people.

Fines (1993/2002) piece prompted Moiras closer examination of female

victimization. Moira found truth in how the structure of sex ed, and the structure of the

classroom in general is very sexist; sex education classes presented the whole idea of

female victimization and teaching of protection against victimization. Moira agreed with

Fine that females should be able to seek economic, social, and sexual entitlement without

solely pursuing the traditional role of the female and feeling like you have to submit

yourself to a male. Moira wryly observed; How ironic it is that marrying a male would

be the solution for female victimization. Moira described how educational sexism

impacted her and her sister. The middle school offered an intense math program. Moira

narrowly missed the cut-off score but was accepted because my brother was in the

programan admission showing belief in her capabilities or her connections. Moira

excelled in the program and did better than many of the boys partly because I

understood my own circumstance. Her sister, too, scored just underneath the

qualifying score. Administrators admitted a boy but discouraged her sister. Such sexism

made Moira angry.

Moira hoped for answers from Tatum (1997) about how to act against racism.

Moira found the stages of White identity familiar because she had considered her own

racial identity and thought about this a lot. Reading about the White identity stages led

Moira to feel that I was somehow simulating building my own identity. Moira

recognized the stages as an ongoing process from past experiences, but did not find

concrete answers in Tatum. Moira knew one tangible action was speaking with other

Whites, but she recognized limitations in this. Moira believed words only went so far

because people were going to be at their own point in their self-identity development

and you cant make them move any faster forward. A lack of clear directives for

action and a possibility that her actions might not facilitate visible change left Moira

frustrated. She reflected on action and identity and concluded the most you can do for

action is to first understand your own self identity in order to live in a way that makes

interacting with people who are oppressed by others, that makes it an environment where

they dont have to feel that bubblethat oppressive tensionis there. Moira believed

personal understanding of identity and daily actions in her environment held the greatest

potential for concrete action.

Overall, Moira felt privileged to participate in the study. Moira knew to expect

personal dissonance from discussions and knew that people would disagree with each

other. This was not negative dissonance by any means. She used her experiences to

look toward her future at college. Moira paid close attention to how the college handled

issues of diversity with its incoming class and anticipated how she would fit into an all

womens school with significant racial diversity and an active gay, lesbian, bisexual, and

transgender community.

Rebecca HendersonRebecca

Table 9

Rebeccas Interview Comparison Chart and Stages of Reflective Judgment

Rebeccas Initial Interview Stage Rebeccas Final Interview Stage

Identified critical identity by race Analyzed discussions by sex,

and sex 7 communication style, and
experiences 6
Discussed contradictions between
being perfectionist, pleasing others, Had never considered how
and being herself 5 U.S. government and power
structures oppressed people 6
Discussed ageism 7
Analyzed her own learning and
Analyzed extensively her communication styles 6
experiences in Guatemala and how
they changed her personally 7 Noted that Tatums (1997)
chapter on White identity
Examined the impact of material development helped her see the
privilege in her own life and the positive side of identity and
impact of poverty in the lives of others 7 how courage can come out of
privilege 7
Viewed self in negative ways from
perspectives of Guatemalan people Analyzed self in relation to
who did not want the Americans there 7 White identity development 7

Discussed the government and land Discussed struggle between

ownership power structure in staying connected to family and
Guatemala and how it impacted having a critical perspective and
people 7 wondered how to maintain the
balance between keeping
Discussed explicitly the long process relationships and addressing
of breaking down her biases and oppressive biases 7
assumptions in order to realize that
peoples lives were different and not Recognized how circumstances
terrible because they did not have and experiences shaped family
the material circumstances and members and defined their lives 7
educational opportunities she had 7
Analyzed contradictions within
Considered how people who were herself and her beliefs 6
oppressed in the United States viewed
her as a person of privilege 7

Noticed how peoples identities Connected content of readings
impacted other peoples reactions 7 in the study to her own
experiences and to other
Responded empathetically to the readings that helped her
struggles of others 7 understand the world 7

Discussed sexist oppression in Identified racism within

Guatemala 6 herself, especially how she
romanticized the people and
Discussed how reading critical saw them as victims rather than
theory such as Paulo Freires people that you can sit next to
Pedagogy of the Oppressed and appreciate for their
(1970/2003) helped her process her accomplishments and cultures 7
experiences the year after her mission
trip 7 Discussed her complex, broad
perspective of what needed to
Recognized how privilege in people happen for successful interracial
created an inner sense of superiority discussion and the difficulties
that was invisible to them 7 that could hinder productive
discussion 7
Articulated intersections between
racial, economic, and sexist Articulated need for people to
oppressions 6 know their own thought
processes, their own reactions,
and when they might not be
ready for critical dialogue 7

Identified the need for sharing

personal stories in critical
dialogue 7

Understood people differently

after reading about racial
identity development 7

Did not want to work for

change in ways that were
overbearing and arrogant 7

Recognized that there were

many ways of being White and
acting against racism 7

Realized heterosexism
impacted students, school, and
sexual identity in ways she had
not considered 7

Asserted need for dialogue

rather than silences about sex,
sexual identity, and sexual
orientation 7

Expressed need and wish to

understand further how sexism
defined her life 6

Explained how discussion of

issues helped her process them 6

Empowered by creating her

own theory for action 7

Reflected on her own identity

presentation and recognized how
peoples identities were socially
constructed 7

Reflected on how her actions

and perceptions of self changed
as her critical knowledge
increased 7

Anticipated that she would

continue defining and
developing her personal identity 6

In her initial interview, Rebecca spent a great deal of time reflecting on an

influential mission trip to Guatemala. She discussed her experiences and her ongoing

process of understanding the trip. A large part of her processing included breaking down

the assumptions she had of herself, others, and the trip. She found this process difficult,

time consuming and life changing. Reading Freires Pedagogy of the Oppressed

(1970/2003) a few months later helped Rebecca understand the process further as she

considered how privilege affected the oppressors superior mindset. She explained, I

wouldnt know how to take that if I was told that before I read Freire because people

dont want to be told that theyve done something wrong, which they havent done

anything wrongits just the way that theyve grown up. Critical theory helped explain

the cycle of oppression.

In her final interview, Rebecca reflected on the readings and applied the ideas to

herself and the world around her. Rebecca didnt realize how much heterosexism was

present. She observed how discussing sexual orientation was a bad thing to talk

about, which sets people up for awkward and dangerous ways of finding out about

sexuality. The discussion emphasized the need for open discussion on sexual

orientation and sexuality since teens were developing sexual identities. Peoples negative

experiences of identifying themselves as lesbians, gay men, bisexual women and men

outraged Rebecca because someone is just being who they are. Adult regulation of

teen discussions of sexual orientation and sexuality surprised Rebecca, especially since

thats the time when you are thinking about that more and making decisions and finding

out who you are, and so it should be more open. Reading about White identity

development (Tatum, 1997) helped Rebecca further understand her reaction to the

poverty she observed and her standards of judgment about what she thought people

needed on her Guatemala trip.

Rebecca reflected at length on racism as a socially constructed concept and

applied the steps of White identity development to her life (Tatum, 1997). She wanted to

be an ally standing next to African American, Hispanic, Latino, Native American,

Asian, and Middle Eastern ethnic group people, but she was not sure how to move

next. She struggled with feeling I have done something wrong and expressed

uncertainty about how to affirm individual and group identities without making them

[people] disempowered. Rebecca found discussion helpful within the interview as she

considered ways to keep being involved and how to use the privilege that I do have as

a socially constructed White person. Rebeccas biggest challenge in becoming an ally

involved moving away from seeing people of other races as victims.

Rebecca reflected on the potential difficulties with dialogue about racism. She

appreciated learning about Black identity development and considered how African

American, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, Asian, and Middle Eastern ethnic group

people might not want to hear the processing of White identity, people who are trying

to figure out their White identity because it brings on more hurt. Thus, Rebecca saw the

need for Whites to figure that out on our own before engaging in interracial dialogue.

Rebecca also thought African American, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, Asian, and

Middle Eastern ethnic group people needed to understand the process Whites went

through in understanding racial identity. Rebecca explained how dialogue designed to

break down racism could be counterproductive because you cant always just get a

group of people together, and have them discuss and think that good things are going to

come out of it right away. Rebecca recognized that people may not want to stay in it

and may not be ready for that type of discussion. Rebecca believed that people should

know about the potential difficulties and monitor themselves to determine participation.

Rebecca discussed examples of how she continued to break down racism in

herself. She visited a local farm where she saw a Black woman walking and I felt like I

should show her my friendliness, or my positive reinforcement or something and I waved

at her. And, I realized that I wouldnt wave at anyone else that was down there of a

different color. Rebecca discerned that she was just reinforcing getting the whole idea

of race as a socially constructed thing. Rebecca recognized her action as an overzealous

one and identified another way to uproot racism in her daily life. Rebecca found a great

deal of hope and empowerment from breaking down personal privilege and racism.

Tatum (1997) gave Rebecca hope for being encouraged to develop White identity

without [being] viewed as not quite there yet, and she wanted to figure out a positive

place of White identity. Rebecca also experienced hope from considering the open-

ended nature of what being White meant. When Rebecca considered acting and working

toward social justice, theorizing for herself as an individual became really empowering.

Rebecca did not delve much into the ways she was oppressed in society until the

end of the final interview. While Rebecca expressed awareness of sexism occurring in

classroom practices in schools, she still was developing her ideas on sex differences

that exist as part of her critical identity. She was noticing sexism more in the world

around her and in her own life. Rebecca believed she needed to explore what being

female meant more fully for herself in order to realize how thats affected me. Rebecca

noticed the male dominance and hesitantly explored how sexism may have impacted the

discussions. She connected with Abby because we both were kind of unsure about how

we thought and maybe not sure about how to phrase it and what to say, what to add. She

noted that 2 of the males in particular had a lot of confident insight. Rebecca did not

consciously think she was weaker, or that she had to listen first to the males;

however, she possibly felt intellectually uncertain at first and wary about adding

because she believed she did not read thoroughly. In terms of the collage, Rebecca also

did not want to believe completing it affected her talking and her confidence, but she

said, maybe it did. I think mainly like putting myself out there made me more open to

talking. She emphasized the importance of having everyone maybe open up that way

makes it a more equal playing field for talking.

Overall, Rebecca consistently engaged in difficult self-examination in order to

develop as a person. She experienced dissonance in the discussions, but never like I

wanted to get out of the discussion. Her main struggle lay with how to handle her

critical perspective with those around her. Rebeccas critical identity interrelated closely

with her personal faith, which remained rooted in treating others with compassion,

kindness, and understanding. Rebecca wanted to act morally and ethically for social

justice, but she did not know how to question family and friends examining their own

beliefs. Rebecca wanted to avoid hurting other people and making them lose their

dignity without trying to do it arrogantly or have them feel like I know more than they

do. Rebecca needed to stay connected to her family and friends, but she knew that

inaction meant unwanted complicity in oppression and that action could lead to unwanted


Silas DeaneSilas

Table 10

Silas Interview Comparison Chart and Stages of Reflective Judgment

Silas Initial Interview Stage Silas Final Interview Stage

Gave critical overview of himself in Observed personal growth in

race, sex, sexual orientation, religion 7 his abilities to discuss racism 7

Analyzed U.S. national and Discussed his personal White

international politicsboth identity development
contemporary and historical examples 7 especially a zeal which he
considered counterproductive
Understood multiple perspectives on to discussion and social change 7
issues 7
Analyzed focus group power
Analyzed use and misuse of by sex, leadership and
administrative power in school 6 experiences 6

Discussed incidents of standing up Discussed how Rebeccas

against racism in school and analyzed collage made him break down
how race worked in situations 7 his assumptions going into that
assignment, and he wished he
Discussed explicitly how people with had created a critical collage 6
social privilege do not see it and
applied examples to people around Appreciated discussing, How
him 7 does action work? in terms of
racism 7
Recognized his personal privilege
played a role in shaping his life 7 Noted the length of time it
took him to process the critical
Recognized complicity in oppression content from the second focus
in European American revolutionaries group discussion 7
such as Thomas Paine 7
Recognized personal and
Articulated role Western biases group growth in thought and
played in global conflicts 7 discussions about racism 7

Analyzed governments power on the Recognized value of White-

individual 7 with-White discussions on
racism before moving to
Discussed reflective process 6 interracial dialogue 7

Applied theoretical understandings Believed Whites needed to
of power to fiction for concrete develop a sense of their own
examples and deeper understanding of racial identities and noted the
theory 7 shallowness of his personal
understanding of what being
Discussed correlation between White meant for him 7
language and control over people 7
Disturbed by pervasive nature
Discussed examples of heterosexism of heterosexist and sexist
and sexism, analyzed the Bible to ideology in schools and his own
show a lack of doctrine for oppressive role in perpetuating heterosexist
religious ideology, and asserted ideology as a leader 7
support for legal override of religious
heterosexist and sexist practices 7 Wondered how being left out
of curriculum and discussion felt
Discussed personal experiences for people who identified as
coming from a lower middle class lesbians, gay men, bisexual
family and analyzed why he left out women and men, and how that
examining his social class 6 created internalized oppression 7

Recognized need not to

romanticize teachers and to
situate them within society and
socialization 7

Emphasized the need for

action against heterosexist
oppression because of the
legality and acceptance of it 7

Noted how students who were

good critical thinkers could miss
heterosexism as form of
oppression because of personal
religious beliefs and considered
the repercussions of that
omission 7

Discussed how reading about

males oppressed by socialization
intrigued him and how seeing
himself reflected in the writing
revealed important insights
about himself 7

Discussed how focus groups
broke down his own
assumptions and biases about
other participants 6

Struggled with how to act for

social change as a person with
multiple areas of privilege 6

Believed critical thought

should be taught at younger age 7

Questioned the degree to

which classism worked on
himself 6

Believed studying critical

theory complicated his sense of
self as he viewed and interpreted
himself from multiple
perspectives 7

Analyzed how socialization

forced him to participate in
society in roles in which he
experienced discomfort 7

Believed that protecting teens

from the dissonance coming
from recognizing privilege and
oppression was ageist 7

In the initial interview, Silas discussed his concerns about institutional

heterosexism and how governmental and religious bodies sanctioned it. He believed that

religion empowered people who discriminated on sexual orientation. The government

needed to play a larger role in breaking down systemic structures by overruling church

power that allowed heterosexism and sexism. Silas liked the idea of working through the

system to change the system.

In the final interview, Silas reflected much more personally about heterosexism

in education and how he perpetuated the bias. Discussing Project for Teens in the third

focus group gave Silas a clearer understanding of how dominant ideology remained

invisible in classroomsespecially for those with privilege. Examining how adults

communicated heterosexist curriculum to the Project for Teens group members and how

they, in turn, communicated dominant heterosexist paradigms provided the most

powerful part of the research study for Silas. This discussion prompted Silas to see the

prevalence of heterosexism and sexism in classrooms. In health class, Silas did not

consider the implications of teaching the whole, the heterosexuality, the marriage and

the partnership and the going through childbirth, without ever touching on homosexual

relationships or bisexual or all of the other various sexualities. Silas contemplated the

impact on those identifying outside of heterosexism, if I were bisexual or homosexual,

how that would impact me and, like, just suggest that I am indeed abnormal. That the

way I am is just so different than its not even worth discussing when were discussing


Silas expressed frustration with dominant power structures and difficulties

challenging them. Silas was disheartened to think that protesting the bias was futile

because health teachers could so easily dismiss it, and they would have the backing of

the community and the administration. Silas observed that student critical thinkers might

not help break down dominant ideology either because even if you have good critical

thinkers, some people believe that your sexuality, various sexualities arent even inherent

to a persons being. These beliefs limited the effectiveness of critical theory and teachers

trying to break down heterosexist bias.

Silas discussion of his own racial identity and unearned racial privilege

illustrated steps similar to the stages in White identity (Tatum, 1997). Silas believed it

was really important for us to discover our White identity and discuss racism within our

terms within ourselves. When he first recognized White privilege before the research

study, Silas overzealously called attention to racism and loved the idea of jumping on

anything that came out wrong, which, of course, is very counterproductive to any

discussion. Silas ability to consider and discuss racism improved with experience. Silas

knew dissonance was an integral part of learning to deal with these things and moved

past it for another stage in my own discussion of racism for the group sessions. Silas

expected to feel greater discomfort discussing racisman important step in personal

development. Silas personal growth during the second focus group discussion made him

almost wish we could have those discussions again now that Ive come to be more fully

realized concerning racism. Silas learned the value of all-White discussion groups but

believed these served as a step for Whites, not a substitute for interracial dialogue.

Discussing race and racism led Silas to insights and more difficult questions about his


Silas emphasized his struggle with White identity as important to him. He wanted

to probe and develop this aspect of his critical identity. Silas believed participants needed

to define whiteness, and how were defined by and in it because they did not define

whiteness or develop consensus on what that meant. Silas was pretty unclear, at least

through my own lens, of what it means to be White. Silas desired a deeper

understanding of what being White meant for him because that befuddles me the most.

Im not sure if its because its so close to home I cant see it, and I cant create the

distance for me to be able to work with it in a manner thats effective. Silas difficulty

with White identity came from the lack of opportunities to explore it. He noted the low

number of White role models who saw skin color affecting their identities and who spoke

about fighting individual and institutional racism. This situation provided significant

differences from sexism where Ive been surrounded by people who have had powerful

voices concerning sexism in my life. The lack of forums where we can discuss race in

actual manner frustrated Silas.

Silas expressed uncertainty about discussing racism with people of African,

Hispanic, Latino, Native American, Asian, and Middle Eastern ethnic group descent and

about participating in action against racism. Silas believed that the dialogue and the

action almost needs to start with the oppressed, so they initialize it and then the

oppressors can go and help them without being the ones leading the charge. Silas

wanted discussion to help him address the most complicated thing for me is: How does

one act without still being the oppressor through the action? He believed oppressors and

oppressed needed a shared understanding of the complex ways power worked on them in

order to facilitate cooperation. Silas did not know whether or not that knowledge came

from the different ways race plays out in an individuals life for African American,

Hispanic, Latino, Native American, Asian, and Middle Eastern ethnic group people. Silas

wanted interracial dialogue to seek more insight, to find ways to take action as a White,

to establish himself as an ally rather than a leader, and to understand the impact of his

own racial identity.

Critical reflection provided difficult and empowering realizations as he viewed

himself within societal contexts. Such critical examination did not take away from Silas

sense of self but complicates my sense of self because he could be looked at from so

many different angles and if I can use other peoples angles to help interpret myself, once

again, it just gets back to a more complex version than I saw before. Silas not only

examined his own privilege, but he also found discovering how he was oppressed within

the system to be empowering. He learned how the oppressor then needs to fill a certain

role that they may not be comfortable in. Silas examined his relationship to the societal

norm of masculinity to understand how social forces pushed him into a role in which he

experienced discomfort as a fairly feminine guy. Instead of seeing himself as the

oppressor through critical theory, once again, it got more complex when I recognized that

maybe Im not always the oppressor in that sense. This realization empowered Silas.

Overall, Silas believed that dissonance existed necessarily within the process of

breaking down critical ideas. He believed critical reflection depended on personal

willingness rather than age. The result of examining himself within society and into

all forms of oppression and helps me to understand . . . myself as part of a greater

population and, I dont know, maybe to get over myself a bit?

Summary of Phase C: The Final Interview

In the final interviews, participants reflected extensively on the content, process,

and dynamics of the study. Participants examined the content of the readings and their

reactions to the ideas in the readings. Also, participants analyzed their own roles within

the study and the roles of others. Four central ideas emerged from an across-case analysis

of the eight participants. These ideas are: (a) Critical theory provides ways for

participants to examine and understand themselves, others, and society. (b) Critical

thought is a process that involves dissonance, reflection, and growth. (c) Critical theory

leads teens to personal changes in attitudes, assumptions, and actions. (d) Having critical

perspectives leads to personal uncertainties and challenges.

Summary of Findings From Phases A, B, and C

This chapter presented the findings from Phases A, B, and C of the research

conducted to examine effects of critical theory on teens attitudes, assumptions, and

actions. In Phase A, participants shared information about themselves, their readings,

their critical understandings, and the complex influences on their thinking. In Phase B,

participants read critical theory and grappled with the complexities of the content.

Participants probed their own views and the views of others. Participants articulated and

explored many concepts and issues related to the theory. Sometimes, participants found

common ground in their beliefs, and other times they were in direct disagreement with

each other. A central conflict in each focus group emerged, and this conflict pushed

participants to go deeper with their thinking and examine new angle to the issues. As

participants articulated their views in discussions and in writings, participants synthesized

knowledge from experiences, observations, human nature, and society as part of

formulating, developing, and asserting their views. In Phase C, participants reflected on

the content, ideas, and discussions in ways that revealed how critical theory affected their

attitudes, assumptions, and actions.


This chapter presented the research findings from Phase A, the initial interview;

Phase B, the focus group and message board discussions; and Phase C, the final

interview. The final chapter presents an examination of the connections between critical

theory, critical pedagogy, and critical literacy in teens. The chapter examines specific

findings about the relationship between critical theory and teens attitudes, assumptions,

and actions. The chapter analyzes critical theorys effects on the attitudes, assumptions,

and actions of the participants and critical theorys role in their understandings of self,

others, and society. The final chapter examines participants critical perspectives and teen

learning in relation to adult learning models. The chapter provides insight into critical

perspectives in teens and discusses the implications of these research findings for

educators working within critical education fields. The chapter discusses the significance

of the research findings and ideas for further research, and the chapter concludes with my

learning insights.


Findings and Implications

This chapter begins with a summary of the study, the findings, and the

connections between critical theory, critical pedagogy, and critical literacy. The chapter

presents specific findings about the impact of critical theory on the attitudes,

assumptions, and actions of teens in terms of self, others, and society. The chapter

includes discussion of critical perspectives in teens and examines connections between

teen and adult transformational learning. The chapter presents critical learning issues

relevant for teens, and recommendations for secondary schools and educators who wish

to foster critical learning in teens. The chapter also presents the significance of the study,

and overviews areas of future research. An overview of my learning concludes the


Summary of the Study

The purpose of this study was to discover the effects studying critical theory

would have on the attitudes, assumptions, and actions of teens. In a qualitative research

case study involving 8 participants ranging in ages from 17-19, three research questions

guided this research study. These questions included:

1. How does the study of critical theory affect teen understanding of identity of

self and others?

2. How does the study of critical theory influence the ways teens view local,

national, and global society?

3. How does the study of critical theory offer the possibility of transformative

learning for teens?

The participants included 8 females and males who were socially constructed as White. I

balanced participant selection by age and gender. Two females and 2 males had just

completed their junior years, and 2 females and 2 males had just completed their senior

years. One participant self-identified as lower class, 2 as lower middle class, 4 as middle

class, and 1 as upper class. Participants had completed my Advanced Placement

Language and Composition courses in their junior years of high school; all participants

self-selected the course. Because of the potentially difficult nature of discussing social

issues, I selected participants based on their willingness and interests in discussing social

issues. All participants completed all three phases of the research.

In Phase A, participants had an initial interview with me. In Phase B, participants

read critical theory and discussed the ideas in focus groups and on message boards. In

Phase C, participants had a final interview with me. I transcribed all interviews and focus

group discussions, and members read the transcripts for accuracy and clarification. I

analyzed all data from the study using open, axial, and selective coding techniques

(Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Participants received a final draft of my synthesis to read for

accuracy of interpretation.

Summary of the Findings

Noonan and Fish (2007) discuss how stories work within leadership to

communicate values and to motivate people. From stories used by and for leadership,

people glean insights into the ethics and integrity of leaders. The stories these 8

participants told of their lives, and the stories they used to illustrate their points revealed

eight people who viewed and acted on the world with integrity, insight, strength of

character, and critical perspectives. Participants stories helped to illustrate the following

research findings that indicate strong connections between critical theory, critical literacy,

and critical pedagogy. The research study illustrates how reading and discussing critical

theory can effectively develop critical literacy in teens.

Critical theory in this study did not provide the impetus for participants initial

development of critical perspectives. All participants entered the study with strong

critical perspectives on at least one ill-structured problem (Kitchener & King, 1990,

1994) at the beginning of the study. In the initial interview, all participants shared critical

insights falling into Kitchener and Kings 6-7 range, and 79 critical insights emerged

from that range. These critical insights came from participants discussion of ill-

structured problems; the ways participants constructed their views with knowledge from

a range of experiences, observations, and sources; and the ways participants justified their

views on issues. Participants critically discussed issues such as racism, sexism, ageism,

heterosexism, materialism, and other social inequalities to illustrate their reflective

thinking. Participants came into the study with complex influences on their critical

identities and perspectives, and the desire to examine social issues in more depth.

However, the participants critical perspectives did not negate the value of reading

and discussing critical theory. Reading and discussing critical theory helped deepen,

broaden, foster, and solidify a language of analysis (McLaren, 2005a, pp. 103-104) in

participants for analyzing social issues, oppression, dominant culture, normalcy, and

unequal power relationships. The discussions that emerged over the critical theory

illustrated the importance of dialogic education in developing, probing, and refining

analytical language as participants explored ideas, multiple points of view, examples,

experiences, biases, assumptions, attitudes, and actions.

Critical theory and the dialogue over it provoked increased critical thought and

reactions to critical ideas. The number of critical insights fitting descriptions of Kitchener

and Kings 6-7 stages increased from 79, in the initial interview, to 144 in the second

interview. While reducing critical thought and its complexity to numbers poses some

problemsespecially in regards to high school students who typically do not perform at

this range, the number provides a concrete illustration of the increase in critical insights

and thought progression after reading and discussing critical theory. Participants

consistently demonstrated high-level critical thought and reflection as exemplified in

Kitchener and Kings (1990, 1994) work and excerpts from interviews of people in those

stages. Participants discussed ill-structured problems, incorporated relevant knowledge

from across contexts into their personal views, and justified logical and reasonable

positions based on the evidence they had. Participants understood the active and fluid

nature of constructing knowledge through examining new information and perspectives.

Additionally, participants sometimes justified their positions using the morality concepts

that paralleled the reflective judgment stages. Participants considered peoples well

being, issues of fairness, and diverse principles of morality in developing their stances on

ill-structured problems.

The following findings emerged from this study about the effects of critical theory

and its effects on teens assumptions, attitudes, and actions. Reading critical theory and

discussing the ideas with peers in a dialogic situation engaged participants in a Freirean

(1970/2003, 1974/2007, 1998) critical literacy where participants used the word to read

the world. Critical theory provided both theoretical frameworks and pragmatic examples

for participants to defend, challenge, and qualify their ideas as they articulated their

understandings of themselves, others, and society. Feelings of empowerment, action,

uncertainty, and caution surfaced as participants discussed critical theory, critical

perspectives, and critical stances. The results of the study indicate that reading and

discussing critical theory changes some teens attitudes, assumptions, and actions and

leads some teens to changed views of self, others, and society. Thus, critical theory

provides opportunities for transformative learning for some teens. These results give

direction for educators who wish to undertake critical education with teens. The results

also indicate that some teens develop the same critical thought processes as adults.

Critical educators should consider the types of dissonance teens feel, ways to help them

process this dissonance, and how to approach critical theory in ways that optimize critical

meaning schemes (Mezirow, 2000, p. 2).

Connections Between Critical Theory, Critical Pedagogy, and Critical Literacy

The study findings illustrate the connections between critical theory, critical

pedagogy, and critical literacy. Freire writes that:

true dialogue cannot occur unless the dialoguers engage in critical thinking

thinking which perceives reality as a process, as transformation, rather than as a

static entitythinking which does not separate itself from action, but constantly

immerses itself in temporality without fear of the risks involved (p. 92).

Participants engaged in this type of Freirean dialogue situated in critical thought. While

critical thought and dialogue did not present new skills to participants, the process of

dialogue prompted participants to engage in critical analysis of the world and themselves.

Participants critically examined theories of power; applied these theories to what they

observed as reality; used new and past knowledge to defend, challenge, and qualify

positions; and articulated personal stances on critical issues relating to self, others, and

society. While some participants remained less verbally involved in discussion, their

comments and insights showed these participants no less engaged in processing the ideas

than participants voicing ideas more frequently. Through this process of dialogue and

listening, participants grappled with complex ideas and issues.

Participants themselves noted the importance of having a critical education that

went beyond banking education, and their comments illustrated the need for such a

perspective. Familiar with Freires (1970/2003) Pedagogy of the Oppressed and banking

education, participants noted the dearth of critical education in their personal educational

experiences. While courses sometimes required what John termed linear content in

curriculum, participants believed teens needed critical education because of the relevancy

of the issues to their present and future lives. Power, oppression, privilege, and identity

impacted how the students thought, acted, and interacted in their daily lives. While

participants disagreed with each other on the specific role of critical theory in building

secondary critical education, their insights clearly challenge educators to make secondary

education more meaningful to teens lives by including critical thought and content.

Overall, participants asserted the need for space in education for teens to question

their own realities and the realities within society. Participants wanted to explore,

develop, deliberate, confirm, evaluate, and challenge personal viewpoints and potential

solutions. Some participants viewed curricular decisions that avoided critical dialogue,

critical curriculum, and critical approaches as forms of ageism. While participants agreed

that Foucaults (1977/1996) text challenged readers stylistically, some participants noted

that the language of contemporary critical theory and critical research on education

presented greater accessibility to a larger audience. In this way, the members of the group

challenged the notion that only teens with academic privilege could critically process the

ideas. Moira and Esther both believed that peers of all academic levels would benefit

from reading and discussing the same ideas. Moira thought that education could focus

less on student achievement on standardized tests and more on critical issues. Overall,

participants resoundingly advocated for a more comprehensive critical education for high

school students.

For such critical literacy to occur, educators and students alike must be able to

recognize the role of bias in education, how this bias impacts their own lives, and whose

interests education serves (Apple, 1979/1990, 1993/2000; Bourdieu & Passeron,

1977/2000; hooks, 1994; Jones, 2006; Morrell, 2008; Willis, 1977). As John noted,

fostering critical perspectives within a banking system of education presents an

irreconcilable difference and a futile effort. At the end of the final focus group, John

asserted that critical thought remained most important because people should not accept

critical theory simply because it challenged the status quo. People needed to question the

bias of critical writers with the same critical approaches that they used challenge the

status quo. Otherwise, the system operated in the same way, and one potentially

oppressive ideology replaced another oppressive ideology. Critical literacy involves using

a critical approach to examine whatever knowledge is being taught. Such a critical

approach toward all types of knowledge and perspectives needs to be embedded within

secondary education.

Critical Theory and Understanding Self

Critical theory gave participants opportunities to explore themselves in different

ways. Participants examined their own personal identities and theorized about the

individuals relationship to power based on their own experiences, observations, and

knowledges. Participants revealed differing understandings of the self in relation to

power. These differing understandings of the self emerged in the following three areas: in

personal identity, in personal perspectives, and in arbitrary social norms.

Personal Identity

Critical theory led participants to articulate and emphasize the social construction

of identity as a powerful, but arbitrary way of defining personal identity. In the second

focus group, John explicitly discussed his view of race as a social construction, and all

participants agreed with this point and some applied it to other aspects of identity.

Rebecca discussed the social construction of identity on multiple occasions, in particular

with her understanding of race and racism within society. Additionally, when I asked

Rebecca what was important to her in my framing of her identity, she wanted to include

her understanding of her own identity as socially constructed because this insight

contextualized her understanding of self in a new way. Esther and Wayne reflected on

how they presented their identities and added overviews of aspects of their critical

identities that they omitted in the initial interviews. Moira included physical descriptions

of herself that impacted the perceptions and assumptions of others. The reflections on the

social construction of identity and the changes participants made in situating their own

identities illustrated how the ideas from critical theory and discussion impelled reflection

on the self and presentations of it.

Personal Perspectives

Studying critical theory also provided an opportunity for participants to name,

explore, question, and understand their personal biases, prejudices, and assumptions.

Mezirow (2000) observed teens as capable of critical examination of others but less likely

to examine their personal assumptions than adults. This research study provided myriad

examples where participants examined their biases, prejudices, and assumptions. In fact,

the study suggests the opposite: Teens may be more willing than adults to go through the

difficult process of examining their personal assumptions. Every participant examined

and questioned multiple personal assumptions during the course of the study. The

following list of examples demonstrates the depth and breadth of participants analyses of

personal assumptions. Although the study revealed many examples of this type of self-

examination, I limited the examples to three examples per participant.

1. Abby named racial biases, identified sexism in herself and world around her,

and examined her difficulties in developing positions on social issues.

2. Aquafina named his racial biases, examined his heterosexist assumptions, and

discussed his behaviors and struggles as an oppressor within society.

3. Cowboy Wayne examined his role in positions of power in focus group

discussions and society, examined his own role in multiple types of stereotyping,

and discussed how he broke down personal assumptions.

4. Esther discussed her own racial biases, discussed her heterosexist biases, and

analyzed how a sense of being normal was cultivated in her in multiple ways.

5. John Kerry discussed personal racial consciousness, analyzed whether or not

his disagreement with Tatum (1997) came from the ideas themselves or from a

defensive reaction to racism as her target audience, and analyzed his complicity in

multiple systems of power.

6. Moira analyzed self inside and outside of power in focus group discussions,

reflected personally on how multiple systems of power impacted her, and

analyzed her own communication styles for messages about her internal

assumptions about herself.

7. Rebecca discussed her own racism, analyzed her struggle with viewing people

as victims, and engaged willingly in breaking down multiple forms of personal


8. Silas questioned his White identity development, discussed how he should act

as oppressor in breaking down oppression, and identified complicity within

multiple areas of heterosexism.

These reflections on personal assumptions and self within the interview, focus group, and

message board discussions provided strong challenges to Mezirows (2000) notion that

teens do not examine their own assumptions. Participants examined themselves from

multiple angles, considered their social and critical identities, and questioned their own

social positions. The breadth and depth participants used to examine themselves

illustrates teens capabilities in examining their own biases, prejudices, and assumptions.

Arbitrary Social Norms

Critical theory also led participants to articulate and discuss the cultural arbitraries

(Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977/2000) that defined individuals in society. Participants

examined how these cultural arbitraries impacted individuals theoretically and personally.

In the first focus group, participants directly examined the arbitrary nature of social

norms and how these norms affected individuals within systems of power. Through

general examples, participants examined the roles various people played in defining

normal. Participants observed how individuals themselves became part of the power

structures through scrutinizing the behaviors of others and themselves according to

societal standards of normalcy. While participants disagreed about the roles of

surveillance and panoptic power in societal control of people, participants comments

illustrated a shared understanding that arbitrary social norms kept some people within the

system of power and others outside the system of power. Participants applied these ideas

to their understandings of racism, heterosexism, sexism, culture, communication styles,

and personal assumptions.

Participants examination of gender binaries provided a less theoretical and more

personal illustration of social standards of masculinity and femininity. Participants

analyzed the arbitrary opposition as gender binaries defined the lives of men and women,

including themselves. Participants brought in personal, societal, and textual examples to

show that gendered social norms harmed an individuals sense of self. Several

participants discussed negative personal experiences with crossing peoples perceived

notions of gender identity boundaries for reasons such as physical features, behaviors in

school, academic performance and expectations, involvement in sports, completing

assignments, sharing about selves, or enjoying activities relegated in society to the

opposite sex. Often, participants experienced the consequence of crossing these

boundaries as having personal sexual orientations questioned. Individual and societal

assumptions about assault, rape, sex, sexual orientation, relationships, behaviors, and jobs

damaged those who did not fit social norms. While participants did not necessarily

dramatically change their views about sexism, heterosexism, and gender binaries, the

critical theory and discussions triggered personal reflections; introduced new areas of

thinking; established connections between sexism and heterosexism; and affirmed

personal beliefs already developed for participants.

Critical Theory and Understanding Others

Critical theory provided participants opportunities for considering the views and

perspectives of others. On multiple occasions, participants deliberately worked to see

situations from the points of view of others. In the focus group discussion on racism,

Abby, Esther, Moira, Rebecca, and Wayne all articulated the importance for African

American, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, Asian, and Middle Eastern ethnic group

people to have shared experiences of discussing racism with others who experienced it.

Esther, Rebecca, and Wayne considered the feelings and anger felt by people

experiencing racism, how these emotions shaped racial identity development, and how

they affected relationships with people who were White. In considering heterosexism,

Aquafina, Moira, Rebecca, and Silas discussed how silence in sex education ostracized

people who identified as lesbians, gay men, and bisexual women and men; participants

empathized with how people would feel abnormal in such a hostile environment.

Additionally, several participants considered the emotions people who were coming

out experienced as they identified themselves as lesbians, gay men or bisexual men or

women. To explore the emotions of others, participants used examples from the readings,

applied concepts from the readings to local examples, considered multiple viewpoints,

and developed examples shared previously in the discussions.

Critical theory helped participants see themselves from the perspectives of others.

Rebecca wondered how African American, Hispanic, Latino, Native American, Asian,

and Middle Eastern ethnic group students viewed her in the halls at school. Wayne and

Moira reflected at length about how power worked in the discussions and viewed their

own actions within the system of power that developed within the discussions. Wayne

examined how his sex, knowledge, and communication style all worked to place him in a

position of power that perhaps intimidated and silenced others. Moira examined herself

as one who was silenced at times and reflected on how she silenced others at times. Like

Wayne, she adopted the perspectives of others to examine how power worked in the

discussions. Silas discussed how reading and discussing critical theory complicates his

sense of self because he used other peoples angles to help interpret myself a process

that humbled him.

Critical theory helped participants recognize and consider the critical

development of others. Aquafina recognized stages of White identity development

(Tatum, 1997) in peers. He observed their defensiveness, dread, resentment, and

unwillingness to examine racism. Aquafina experienced similar emotions and recognized

nearly identical reactions in others. He also contrasted his own development through the

stages of White identity development with people unwilling to go through the stages.

Moira and Silas both drew upon racial identity development as they wondered how

alliances occurred between oppressed and privileged people for the cause of fighting

together for social justice. Moira, Silas, and Wayne recognized the role of personal

development in making those alliances happen. Moira observed how her White teachers

did not seem to consider their racial identities in classroom instruction and how teachers,

in general, did not seem to be familiar with how classroom practices perpetuated

oppression. Throughout the study, participants discerned when people had critical

perspectives and when they did not.

Critical Theory and Understanding Society

Reading and discussing a theoretical basis of power followed by two more

accessible readings on racism, sexism, gender, heterosexism, and sexual orientation

provided an effective format for the study. Participants examined theory, theorized on the

theory by pulling in examples, and then tested the validity of the ideas through the

discussions of specific examples. Participants held varying positions on whether or not

the theory applied to contemporary American society, themselves, and others. The

process of discussing the theory, working to understand how the theory applied to

examples, and questioning the validity of the theory brought out many incisive comments

and insights into power and its role in peoples lives. Dissent emerged as a necessary and

important element in deepening thought. Conflicting viewpoints motivated participants to

probe, reevaluate, and justify their positions and prevented participants from

complacently accepting theories and ideas. Critical theory gave participants ways to

consider and theorize about the nature of power, how power worked, what forms power

took, how power impacted individuals and groups of people within society, and what

type of education broke down these systems of power.

Critical theory also provided ways for participants to identify and articulate how

power worked through social norms that controlled people in various ways. On a societal

level, participants examined how power worked through institutions, government,

schools, prisons, laws, vertical and horizontal power structures, social norms, labels,

stereotypes, and surveillance techniques, including person-to-person surveillance of

others, and self-surveillance. Additionally, participants examined the emotional impact of

power and how it created fear, anger, internalized oppression, judgment, compliance, and

resistance. Participants applied these concepts to issues of personal identity, including

race, sex, sexual orientation, heterosexism, social class, age, and religion. Within these

social issues, participants examined the personal and systemic ramifications of how

systems of power kept oppressive ideology normal, natural, and inevitable" (Brookfield,

2005, p. viii)particularly in relation to individual and systemic racism, sexism, and

heterosexism. These discussions led participants to theorize solutions for changing social

inequalities and power imbalances. Sometimes, participants integrated solutions

presented in the readings into their own perspectives; other times, participants proposed

their own solutions. Participants most often applied their insights to their local

environment and American society. At times, participants discussed global society, but

most of their comments pertained to local and national society. This focus developed, in

part, because the readings on social issues related specifically to American society.

Critical Theory and Action

Participants addressed many forms of action in themselves. These forms of action

occurred in the past and present. The stories participants told of their own experiences

illustrated these actions. The content and actions of these stories paralleled stories used

and observed by adult educators in the field of adult transformational learning

(Brookfield, 1990; Nash, 2004; Noonan & Fish 2007). Brookfield (2005) believed that

critical theory facilitated adult learning through providing adults opportunities to

challenge ideology, contest hegemony, unmask power, overcome alienation, learn

liberation, reclaim reason, and practice democracy (pp. 43-65). Participants stories about

themselves revealed similar learning processes in these areas.

John, Moira, Rebecca, and Silas came into the study identifying their actions as

changed from reading critical theory prior to the study. For John, action involved

challenging dominant ideology and becoming a vegetarian. For Moira, action involved

unmasking sexism in her life and selecting an all-womens college for her education. For

Rebecca, action involved processing her mission trip to Guatemala and working to

understand her personal material privilege. For Silas, action involved identifying sources

of power and viewing and discussing the world around him in new ways.

During the research study, reading, and discussing critical theory engendered

stories of changes in thoughts and actions for participants. Again, these areas of action

related to actions Brookfield (2005) observed in adults as they challenged dominant

culture, social control, and power sources for liberation of self and others, and for a more

equitable world. Participants identified these areas of action and change as:

1. Discussing critical ideas with other people (Abby, Aquafina, Esther, & Silas)

2. Taking multiple points of view on topics (Abby, Aquafina, Rebecca, & Silas)

3. Renewing emphasis on the importance of recognizing bias and knowledge

filters (Esther, John, Moira, & Rebecca),

4. Understanding how making assumptions enforced oppression of others (Esther

& Rebecca)

5. Changing actions in recent social situations (Aquafina & Esther)

6. Anticipating personal actions to break down oppression in future situations

(Aquafina, Moira, Rebecca & Silas)

7. Reflecting on the presentation of self and what that says about personal

assumptions (Esther, Moira & Wayne)

8. Reframing identities differently at conclusion of study (Esther, Moira &


9. Breaking down personal assumptions and biases on social issues further (Abby,

Aquafina, Rebecca, Silas, & Wayne)

10. Seeing self as oppressed in new ways (Abby, Rebecca, & Silas)

Participants challenged patterns of thinking, uprooted dominant culture, identified

inequalities, and questioned power in order to understand and act for a more equitable


Because of the short timeframe of this study, measuring changes in thoughts and

behaviors presents difficulties. As Morrell (2008) believed, any learning is necessarily

situated in a sociocultural context (p. 209) Thus, to measure changes more accurately,

one would have to examine the sociocultural contexts of participants lives. Yet, Morrell

(2008) also believed it is impossible to exist outside the realm of ideology (p. 209). In

this way, the personal changes the participants name for their lives became more

significant. Even so, measuring the impact of a critical education involves challenges for

critical educators. Morrell (2008) asserted that only a true philosopher-citizen can act

meaningfully in social movements. In critically literate individuals, he recognized a

natural disconnect between critical literacy as an individual relationship with the world

and the critically literate person, the citizen philosopher, as engaged in collective

agency. (p. 209) Morrell did not see this disconnect as problematic because a person

who acted for social change made informed decisions about how much she is willing to

accept, how much she will subordinate her interests to those of a larger collective, and

when it may be time to leave one collective in search of another (p. 209). Morrells ideas

both support the importance of ideological beliefs in critical individuals and challenge

those who wish to see precise measurements of critical ideas and their influences.

Since measuring the influence of ideas remains difficult, Rests (1986) framework

allows for another way to examine the effects of critical theory and whether or not teens

undertook processes similar to adults. While morality remains a complex process, Rest

asserts that the development of four psychological processes leads to moral maturity.

These processes include moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral intention, and moral

action. People who developed these processes reached moral maturity. Participants

clearly demonstrated moral maturity in all four processes. Participants frequently

illustrated moral sensitivity while discussing and empathizing with other peoples

experiences with racism, heterosexism, and social norms. Participants discussions

included complex examinations of morality as they explored solutions to social issues.

Participants made moral judgments about these complex topics. Participants

discerned when rules, laws, and social norms perpetuated oppressions. Participants

demonstrated concern when people violated other peoples human rights. Participants

centered moral intention through discussion of how they should act in situations

involving oppression and in anticipating their future actions. Participants recognized

when discrepancies emerged between peoples moral intentions and moral actions. In

some cases, participants acknowledged their own tensions between intent and action.

Participants acted morally by changing their thinking and language, taking action against

oppression, discussing issues of oppression with others, and anticipating future actions in

situations. Participants demonstrated moral maturity through these four psychological

processesa fact that shows teens capability for acting on ideas from critical theory in

ways parallel to adults actions.

Participants named past and present changes in themselves that emerged from

studying critical theorychanges that compare to how critical theory instigates action in

adults. While measuring the transformational effects of critical theory remains

challenging, the stories they told about themselves reflected important changes in thought

and personal actions. Participants stories revealed moral maturity, which influences how

people act in situations.

The Problematics of Critical Perspectives

Throughout the study, all 8 participants observed and experienced challenges in

having critical perspectives. At the beginning and the end of the study, participants

voiced their concerns, wariness, and uncertainties about using these critical perspectives.

These feelings should be considered by critical educators, whether teachers, religious

leaders, or parents. Participants shared the following challenges about having critical


1. Discomfort and/or uncertainties with personal roles in social change (Abby,

Aquafina, Rebecca, & Silas)

2. Uncertainty how to act for social change as oppressor (Aquafina & Silas)

3. Uncertainty with how to share critical perspectives with family members and/or

friends of differing views (Abby, Aquafina & Rebecca)

4. Conflict between religious teachings and personal critical perspectives (Abby,

Aquafina, Esther, & Silas)

5. Frustration with inaction in situations where social inequalities could be

resolved (Cowboy Wayne, Esther, & Rebecca)

6. Frustration that more knowledge reveals more inequities (Esther)

Uncertainties about respectful approaches to sexual orientation stereotypes that

may be true (Esther)

7. Concern about when to act and when to be complicit in ways that further social

change (John)

8. Frustration with the complex, lengthy nature of social change and the authority

that hinders change (Moira)

9. Frustration with the stereotypes of social actions viewed as radical and with

protests not being socially acceptable (Moira)

10. Uncertainty about how to challenge oppressive thoughts in ways that avoid

arrogance and preserve peoples dignity (Rebecca & Silas)

These uncertainties and wariness appear to come from the recognition of the difficulties

and complexities of social change. If participants believed in absolute right and

wrong ways to act, participants would not see complexities and uncertainties.

Opportunities should be given for teens to express and discuss these uncertainties.

Critical Theory and Transformational Learning

In spite of uncertainties and wariness, 7 of the 8 participants explicitly discussed

some form of personal empowerment as a result of critical dialogue. Such empowerment

suggests that critical theory can lead some teens to transformational learning. This study

challenges Mezirows (2000) concern about teens inability to examine personal

assumptions. Teens may even be more capable of, and emotionally and cognitively

receptive to critical self-examination than adults believeperhaps, in part, because of

teens focus on identity development during those years. Since all participants engaged in

the process of examining personal assumptions throughout the research study, the

possibility exists that adult transformational learning theory applies to teens more

pervasively than Mezirow (2000) asserts, and more broadly than to the 8 participants in

this study.

Critical Theory and Reflective Judgment Development

The results from this small participant sampling challenge Kitchener and Kings

(1990, 1994) 7 stages of reflective judgment and how these stages relate to teens and high

school students. Kitchener and Kings 7-staged scale strongly correlates age and

education levels to the process of reflective judgment development. These study results

demonstrate that participants discussions met requirements for the stages that Kitchener

and King (1990, 1994) assert are not attainable by teenaged high school students. In order

to illustrate these findings, I will review Kitchener and Kings stages and articulate how

participants group discussions demonstrate the reflective thought in each of these stages.

People in Stage 1 assume knowledge to be absolute and truea stage Kitchener

and King (1994) found in young children (p. 50). When Kitchener and King tested high

school students, they found a few high school freshmen presented partially at Stage 1, but

not a pure Stage 1 (p. 50). None of the participants assumed knowledge was absolute

and true; participants perceived multiple perspectives. People in Stage 2 view knowledge

as complex and recognize that not everyone may know the truthalthough people at this

stage still assume there is a truth to be found (1994, p. 51). Participant discussions

recognized the complexity of knowledge. While participants looked for specific guidance

from people with other perspectives, specifically on racism, the participants never

assumed the existence of a truth. Participants did not conceptualize morality in

simplistic terms and categories of good and bad.

Kitchener and King (1990, 1994) placed high school students in Stage 3. People

see knowledge as absolutely uncertain or temporarily uncertain (1994, p. 57). People in

this stage see authorities (1990, p. 163) as knowing or having truth, and people

maintain the assumption that ultimately all problems have solutions and that certainty

will, in the long run, be attained. (1990, p. 163). People in Stage 3 justify beliefs through

knowledge of authorities. Morally, people place good and bad into concrete categories of

behaviors such as kindness and unkindness. Kitchener and King (1994) discussed how

the mean scores for the stages of development placed ninth graders at 3.1 and seniors at

3.3 (p. 163)scores that showed little variation for 4 years of time. Kitchener and King

urged caution for these scores because few ninth grade students had been tested;

additionally, the high school students tested were academically talented students, so these

results were not representative. In this study, participants discussions of heterosexism

illustrated that participants recognized the difficulty of finding a solution to an ill-

structured problem. Participants recognized complexity into how power structures

perpetuated heterosexism through schools, laws, and religion; participants recognized

how morality worked as a tool for dominant culture. Participants perceived school

authorities as complicit in perpetuating heterosexism through curriculum and atmosphere,

and participants discerned no simple solution to this complex problem. These insights

clearly placed participants beyond Stage 3.

People in Stage 4 recognize the uncertainty of knowledge and doubt authorities.

People in this stage believe one cannot know with certainty (Kitchener & King, 1994,

p. 58). Stage 4 people distinguish differences in types of problems, between math

problems and ill-structured problems (p. 1990, p. 164), also termed real-world

problems (1990, p. 164). People in Stage 4 use uneven evidence and reasons for their

beliefs and view morality as a single abstract concept. Using critical theory as a

springboard, participants extensively analyzed ill-structured problems such as racism,

heterosexism, sexism, and theories of power. As previously discussed, participants

recognized the difficulty in breaking down heterosexism in classrooms because of

dominant ideology, religious beliefs, current power structures, and authority figures that

supported, and even desired, heterosexist education. Kitchener and King (1994, p. 58)

state that one of the primary limitations at this stage of reasoning is that justification for

beliefs is an abstraction (p. 58). Consequently, people in Stage 4 do not know how to

construct arguments, and any judgment exists with validity because knowledge is

uncertain (1994, p. 58). Participants asserted positions on complex problems, constructed

arguments about the problems, and justified positions.

In Stage 5, people know that knowledge must be placed within a context (1990,

p. 165) and people understand knowledge is filtered through the perceptions of the

person making the interpretation, what is known is limited by the perspective of the

knower. (1994, p. 62) People in Stage 5 justify beliefs within a specific context and

compared interpretations, including two or more concepts of morality. Participants

consistently approached understanding themselves and their readings through a Stage 5

perspective. Whenever participants approached a text as part of making meaning of it,

they explicitly addressed the perspectives of the writers and the relevant details that

helped participants identify bias, perspectives, and limitations.

When participants examined their own points and perspectives, they situated these

perspectives. Participants consciously acknowledged their own filtering of information as

part of Stage 5 thinking. Rebecca defined myriad factors impacting how she experienced

the world in her identity collage, and her self-analysis included critical identity, family,

physical, local, national, and global insights. Silas and Esther frequently referenced their

own critical identities as they situated their experiences, personalities, and perspectives.

While asserting that racism did not exist to the degree people felt it existed, John

consistently qualified how his own perspective as a socially constructed White person

potentially influenced his view. Abby, Aquafina, Moira, and Wayne all named their

perspectives in equally strong and relevant ways.

Participants demonstrated an understanding of the strength and limitations of the

perspectives with which they were working. Whenever participants examined a new

reading or perspective, they defined the strengths and limitations of that perspective.

Before participants delved into focus group discussions, they articulated understandings

or questions about the writers beliefs and positions. Participants worked to identify

Foucaults (1977/1996) views on panoptic power through identifying his tone.

Participants examined Tatums (1997) position as a Black woman, how it impacted what

she said about White identity, and her overall credibility as a speaker on the topic before

they discussed her ideas. When participants shared central arguments from individual

readings, they consistently overviewed the writers perspectives. Esther, John, and Moira

disagreed about the credibility of Pharrs points (1988/2004). Using specific details and

inferring meaning from the text, all three participants convincingly justified their

positions about the credibility of Pharrs positionalityan ability that illustrated Stage 5.

However, the way Esther, Moira, and John used Pharrs positionality in their own

arguments clearly placed the discussion in Stage 6-7 range.

In Stage 6, people recognize that knowledge is uncertain and must be understood

in relationship to context and evidence. (Kitchener & King, 1994, p. 67). People at Stage

6 evaluate differing ideas and begin to draw conclusions across perspectives. These

techniques reflect the beginning of internalized categories of comparison and

evaluation (p. 68). People at Stage 6 make judgments about ill-structured problems,

construct solutions from various perspectives and evidences, and justify beliefs through

evidence, utility, and need. People in Stage 6 often relate abstract concepts of morality

and examine peoples well-being in looking at fairness.

Esther, John and Moira disagreed about Pharrs (1988/2004) positionality and

examined her credibility within the context of her pointsclearly a Stage 5 recognition.

Beyond that, the reason Esther, John, and Moira disagreed about Pharrs (1988/2004)

credibility went into their final disagreement about the role of critical theory. John used

Pharrs presentation of data as an argument for why critical theorists should be examined

criticallyto make a point about the limitations of critical theory. Esther and Moira saw

Pharrs position as showing overall important critical points about society and people.

Esther, John, and Moira all considered complex issues of fairness in their justifications

and used Pharrs ideas as part of their argumentation and justification for broader, more

abstract positionsa quality that may place their reflective abilities in Stages 7.

People in Stage 7 demonstrate strong abilities in interpreting evidence,

synthesizing multiple forms of information, and justifying evaluations of the ill-

structured problems (Kitchener & King, 1990, 1994). Stages 6 and 7 present strikingly

similar profiles. A major difference between Stage 6 and Stage 7 occurs because people

in Stage 6 fail to understand the larger system of knowing in which some comparisons

and conclusions are embedded (p. 70) leading to conclusions that remain limited and

situational. Kitchener and Kings description of people in Stage 7 took on a much more

active nature with people taking on the role of critical inquirers and acting as agents

involved in constructing knowledge (p. 70). People at Stage 7 also incorporated into

their views a generalization of assumptions and a clarity of judgment that were not

apparent at Stage 6. (p. 71) People at Stage 7 often see morality as a system and

understand moral principles related to community service, contributions to society,

human value, and acting justly. Participants discussions reached Stage 6-7 stagesa

delineation that is abstract, subjective, and difficult to define.

Focus group and message board discussions on all three topicspanoptic power,

racism, and heterosexism/sexism/genderbegan with Stages 5 considerations and

quickly moved to Stages 6-7. The discussion on racism effectively exemplified

participants abilities in Stage 6-7 reflective judgment. Moral considerations about social

fairness, diverse perspectives, common good, and social justice guided participants

thinking throughout discussion. Participants examined White identity theory (Tatum,

1997) as a potential solution to the ill-structured problem of racism amidst group tension

and personal dissonance. Participants weighed White identity theory (Tatum, 1997)

against a theory proposed by John and against race treason (Ignatiev, 2007). Participants

took various positions about solutions to racism, and these positions were discussed at

length in focus group, message board, and final interview discussions. Abby, Aquafina,

and Rebecca viewed building positive White identities as offering a potential solution to

racism because of what they observed in themselves and others; Abby, Aquafina, and

Rebecca all connected this development to other issues in assessing its validity.

Similarly, Esther saw building positive racial identities as a partial step toward

racial justicea step that corresponded with many other forms of action. John rejected

the idea of building positive racial identities because of problematic contradictions in

Tatums (1997) work and in the ideological assumptions that guided her solution.

Cowboy Wayne and Moira agreed with some of the problematic contradictions in

Tatums (1997) ideas, but ultimately felt that her ideas presented a realistic solution when

they considered the social contexts of White privilege, racisms history, historical

examples, current issues like immigration, and human nature. Silas took a middle

position between supporting and rejecting positive racial identity development for

reasons similar to those given by John, Wayne, and Moira.

John and Rebecca probed potential solutions in more depth on the message

boards. John and Rebecca were both intrigued by race treasons (Ignatiev, 2007)

separation of whiteness from culture, but both ultimately did not accept that race treason

provided a viable solution to racism. John believed race treason offered only a partial

solution to racial binaries and the theory relied too much on stereotypes of White culture.

Rebecca found White culture too one-dimensional for race treason to work, and she

observed benefits for people in uniting as a culture. Rebecca presented her own theory to

address the spectrum of beliefs about the relationships between cultures and individuals.

All participants gave careful consideration to the limitations and advantages of differing

theories as they examined which theory presented the best solution to racism.

Participants abilities to contextualize and evaluate knowledge on complex ill-

structured problems placed them clearly in Stage 6-7 (Kitchener & King, 1990, 1994).

Participantseven when listening more and participating less in discussionsactively

considered and constructed their opinions in relation to the evidence. Participants

connected forms of knowledge, used it to evaluate the views of others, and constructed

viable solutions with various forms of evidence. Participants discussion, consideration,

and evaluation of the admittedly uncomfortable and potentially contentious issue of

racism illustrated a competency in reflective judgment that did not newly develope for

any of the participants over the timeframe of the study. Participants used critical

reflection in more areas than just racism: they applied similar skills to discussing

Foucaults (1977/1996) theory of panoptic power, to uprooting heterosexism in schools,

and to using critical theory in schools. Participants adeptly weighed different perspectives

on complex, real problems, contextualized the knowledge and perspectives, and

evaluated and judged the options to determine the most just and viable options.

Redefining Critical Education for Secondary Students

Overall, Kitchener and King (1990, 1994) establish a scale that breaks down the

process of critical reflection into stages. The value of these stages lies in articulating the

process by which some people develop critical reflection. This study suggests the

progression holds true. Understanding this process may help educators facilitate critical

thought in teens. However, the results of this study challenge the age and educational

guidelines Kitchener and King establishespecially since, similar to their research, this

research study also included teens with strong academic backgrounds. Perhaps the time

has come to redefine what critical education means for secondary students. Since teens

demonstrate willingness and capabilities for engaging in critical self-examination and in

critical reflection, the people most detrimental to teens critical development may be the

adults who do not believe in their intellectual and emotional capabilities. Certainly, most

participants in this study believed this to be the case. On several occasions, participants

expressed the value of critical dialogue and thought for all teens, not just those who went

through Advanced Placement classes or this research study.

Indeed, the results of this study and participants perceptions align closely with

Morrells (2008) views of a challenging, comprehensive critical literacy based on

readings and ideas previously relegated to college students. While Morrell advocated this

literacy for urban youth, his ideas remain relevant for many critical classrooms.

Othered scholars (p. 57) developed in parallel manners to dominant culture critical

theorists and needed to be required readings for urban youth education. From these

Othered traditions, urban youth gained powerful anti-colonialist and critical

perspectives that examined race, religion, and nationcritical areas that Marxist

examination excluded. By reading pieces such as Jonathan Kozols Savage Inequalities

(1991) and Stereotype Threat (Steele & Aronson, 1995) students develop a

sociological language to understand structural inequalities in schools that would allow

students to separate the conditions of the schools from their own sense of self. (Morrell,

2008, p. 110). Similarly, this study proves another angle of Morrells assertions about the

value of high-level critical theory. Critical theory allowed teens with privileged

educational backgrounds to develop important methods of questioning, identifying, and

understanding critical issues to recognize the same inequalities within the system that

privileges some and marginalizes others.

In this new critical education, students need opportunities for critical thought,

critical dialogue, and critical exploration of identity. These issues currently impact

students lives and will continue to do so the future. Issues of power, identity, and social

justice shape students lives in visible and invisible ways. Students need opportunities to

name, explore, identify, question, and break down these issues alone and with their peers.

Their insights will shape how they act and interact in an increasingly diverse world where

inequalities continue to privilege some and oppress others. As a critical educator, I

caution against oversimplifying identity as solely privileged or oppressed. While there

may be cases where the absolute of one or the other is true, seeing oneself as exclusively

privileged or oppressed eliminates possible understanding of how larger forces socialize

people within a dominant cultureboth privileged and oppressed.

Silas insights in the final focus group illustrate this point. Self-identifying as a

White, heterosexual, Christian male, Silas was not accustomed to viewing himself as

oppressed. But, reading the article about how teachers devalued and dismissed male

writings helped Silas see himself as oppressed within the system in ways different than

others, yet important to him. Additionally, Silas recognition of how males also

internalized oppressive standards of masculinity added complexity to his view of self and

allowed Silas a view of himself beyond the oppressoran act that affirmed and

empowered him. Silas understood how oppressive social norms influenced his personal

development as he situated himself within the larger society. Avoiding oversimplification

of identity may help students understand how power shapes all their lives in similar and

different ways.

Developing Conditions Conducive to Critical Dialogue and Learning

Part of redefining critical secondary education involves creating space for critical

dialogue and learning. Group dynamics need consideration in creating environments

conducive to critical dialogue. Dialogue brings out important ideas in unpredictable,

imperfect ways, and critical dialogue presents risk for participants and facilitators.

Critical dialogue leads to disagreement, conflict, and cognitive dissonance. As facilitator,

I prepared participants for these realities, which started to establish the environment for

critical dialogue, partly through building trust between facilitator and participants.

Participants needed trust with each other, too, which came from building critical

relationships with each other throughout the dialogue. As participants went through this

study, their comfort in discussing issues with each other visibly increased.

Feelings of empowerment evolved, at least in part, from focusing discussion on

potential solutions and actions. Participants discussed difficult, complex topics in this

study, and at times, the magnitude of social injustices of these topicsespecially

racismtemporarily hindered discussion. Yet, most participants felt empowered by the

discussions. When participants proposed actions and solutions for social change, positive

energy infused the discussions. This energy correlated to feelings of empowerment. In the

final interviews, Aquafina and Esther explicitly noted the empowering nature of making

subtle quotidian changes to reflect their ideologies.

Discussion of social inequalities must become part of the learning process. Males

participated more than femalesespecially in the first focus group. Females completed

the identity collage assignment, and most males did not. Some group members remained

quiet while others asserted positions frequently. The inequalities raised questions for

reflection for all of us as we considered how power worked within the context of the

discussions. Sometimes, the disparities brought about both negative and positive effects.

The 3 mens lack of completion of the collages disappointed those who brought

collages/symbols. However, the effect of that activity centered womens voices in the

discussion. This may have been an important activity in changing discussion dynamics

after the male-dominated first focus group discussion. With the presentation of

collages/symbols of identity, the womens voices became more prominent in discussion

from that point on. Since all discussions will have flaws and inequalities, these should be

situated as learning opportunities for critical reflection.

Critical learning requires individual reflection on critical content. Several

participants referenced learning as they developed points in their individual interviews.

The final interview gave participants a chance to reflect extensively on the content of the

discussions. All participants reflected on their views and the content of the study.

Participants developed and deepened personal positions throughout the study.

Sometimes, participants changed views, broadened perspectives, and/or incorporated new

support/arguments into their perspectives. Participants frequently posed questions about

issues they still considered. Some participants shared excitement in developing new

insights. Participants also discussed how they reflected on the ideas to process them

outside of the study. At times, participants wanted to discuss the complexities of the

issues; other times, participants wanted to discuss action in order to develop personal

clarity on what action meant. Teens need opportunities for reflection in the process of

critical learning, and educators need to integrate these opportunities into critical learning.

Understanding Dissonance in the Critical Thought Processes in Teens

Mezirow (2000) and Taylor (2000) discuss the importance of the disorienting

dilemma (Mezirow, 2000, p. 22) to instigate personal change through challenging

people to examine their personal assumptions. Reading critical theory and discussing its

ideas incited disorienting dilemmas in teens. Participants themselves recognized the role

of personal dissonance as part of the critical thought process; they explained their

familiarity with dissonance from previous discussion and learning experiences. During

the study, all 8 participants reported various feelings of dissonance while being engaged

with critical ideas.

None of the participants discussed their feelings of dissonance with the guidance

counselor. Only John expressed concern about the guidance counselors presence in the

discussion. The guidance counselor shared her observations about the focus group

discussions, and the final interviews revealed her accuracy in identifying the types of

dissonance some participants experienced. Interestingly, the guidance counselor predicted

that some participants might challenge John in the final focus group. In her experience,

discussants eventually challenged those who led discussions and those who remained

silent in discussions. John emerged as a leader in the first group and remained silent

during most of the second focus group. When Esther and Moira challenged Johns

position on critical theory in the final focus group, the guidance counselors prediction

came true. Esther, in particular, expressed frustration that John waited until the final part

of the discussion to express his viewsa placement in discussion that came partly

because of coincidence. I had the participants go around the table to express their final

thoughts about the readings/research study content, and John reflected last. Had I gone

the other direction, Johns opinions would have emerged earlieralthough they still

would have emerged toward the end of the discussion. However, Esther and Moiras

challenges appeared to occur because of his position on critical theory rather than his

leadership and silences in the focus group discussions.

Identifying the different forms of dissonance participants experience can help

facilitators and participants understand the critical process better. These participants

generally reported feelings of dissonance in three areas: (a) the process of disagreeing

with each other, (b) the process of situating the self within the power dynamics, and (c)

the process of challenging personal assumptions.

Disagreeing With Others

The process of disagreeing with other participants engendered personal

dissonance. Each focus group discussion contained at least one central disagreement

where participants challenged the content of the readings and the positions of other

participants. These disagreements triggered palpable tension in the room and provoked

both vocal and quiet students to consider their views about the validity of Foucaults

(1977/1996) theory of panoptic power, about White identity development as a solution to

racism, about how to approach critical education, and the value of critical theory within

that education. These disagreements invariably encouraged Stage 6-7 reflective judgment

(Kitchener & King 1990, 1994) because participants actively constructed their positions

in regard to the challenge at hand. Moiras challenge in the first focus group initiated

lengthy discussions about the validity of panoptic power in contemporary society. In

response to the challenge, participants broadened their perspectives, considered more

viewpoints, deepened their knowledge base of available evidence, solidified their

viewpoints, and justified their positions more clearly. In every discussion, disagreement

incited Stage 6-7 reflective thinking.

Participants correlated disagreements to feelings of dissonance. Moira, John,

Silas, Esther, and Wayne frequently and directly disagreed with each other. They

discussed experiencing dissonance about holding, challenging, and maintaining differing

positions from peers in the discussions and on the content of the readings and issues.

Even though Abby, Aquafina, and Rebecca were less likely to be directly involved in a

verbal disagreement, they, too, discussed experiencing personal dissonance as they

considered the ideas. The process of discussing the texts, testing their validity, and taking

stances provoked participants to feel various forms of dissonance in ways that made them

develop or question their views on the issues. Some participants observed the necessity of

dissonance to personal growth; understanding the connection between dissonance and

growth helped these participants see the value in the process. Critical educators need to

understand and explain the necessity of dissonance in the process of critical thought, peer

discussion, and personal growth. Educators also should monitor their students for

dissonance and support students in the process of working through their discomfort.

Situating the Self Within Power

Since critical theory works as a means for individuals to examine and understand

the self in social relationships (Aronowitz, 1972; Brookfield, 2005; hooks, 1994;

Horkheimer 1968/1972; McLaren 1998/2003; Morrell, 2008), critical educators should

expect teens to apply the ideas to their surrounding environments. Participants examined

themselves within power relations inside and outside of the research study. Participants

examined their own roles in the focus groups, situated themselves within the power, and

considered my role as evidenced by their discussion about the research study as a form of

panoptic power. The dissonance came in varying degrees and from multiple factors, such

as situating oneself in social issues; analyzing ones own knowledge; presentation of self;

uncertainty how the information from the study was going to be used; uncertainty about

understanding the content; discussion dynamics; discomfort with participation; awareness

of sexism and racism impacting group dynamics; and issues of personal identity. While

reading and discussing how societal power works, participants applied the same ideas to

their discussions.

Challenging Personal Assumptions

Participants feelings of dissonance also developed from challenging their own

assumptionsa process that may or may not be visible in discussion. Sometimes,

participants shared with other participants how their assumptions were challenged; other

times, participants only shared these reactions in the final interview, and certainly, some

reactions remained private. The most thorough example from discussions came when

participants discussed Project for Teens (PFT) and how adult trainers conveyed

heterosexist ideology and how participants, in turn, examined if, and how they conveyed

such heterosexism. Aquafina, Esther and Silas all examined their personal roles in

perpetuating heterosexist ideology. Although Moira, Rebecca, and Wayne did not

participate in PFT, they involved themselves in the discussion, recognized the

significance of the process of examining personal complicity, supported their peers

critical reflection process, examined the implications, and developed their own

interpretations of PFT actions. In the final interviews, participants shared many examples

of how various ideas challenged personal assumptions and triggered personal dissonance.

While participants frequently challenged their own assumptions to examine, learn, and

grow from the ideas, participants recognized the difficulties inherent within the process.

Educators need to ensure that they support teens in the difficult process and encourage

peer support of those going through the process.

Teen Understanding of the Process of Breaking Down Assumptions

Understanding the process of critical examination provided valuable personal

insight to participants as they engaged in the study. Participants generally felt that my

initial explanation of dissonance helped them understand the process, and they

recognized the dissonance as a familiar feeling from previous discussions on social

issues. Reading about racial identity development (Tatum, 1997) naturally triggers self-

examination within the stages she presentsall 8 participants discussed examining their

own identities against her stages in some way. White identity development stages

provided a framework for participants to examine their own development and to question

their beliefs, feelings, and positions. Some participants found the stages to be true to their

own experiences, and others did not. Also, some participants recognized the stages in

people around them.

The value of reading about White identity development went beyond reflection on

racial identity and extended into examining ones personal reaction to having experiences

of conscientizao (Freire, 1970/2003, p. 35)the process by which people develop

critical consciousness through consciousness-raising experiences. Abby and Rebecca

both used the stages of White identity development to understand their reactions to other

social issues. After Abby read about pervasive sexism in schools, Abby identified herself

within early stages of recognizing sexism more fully in the world around her. Abby used

White identity development theory to help her contextualize the dissonance, anger, and

zeal in her initial reaction and to anticipate how she would eventually moderate her

reactions and actions. Similarly, Rebecca understood her reaction to the material

discrepancies and poverty in Guatemala through racial identity development (Tatum,

1997). Rebecca paralleled her initial reactions and her year-long processing of the

experiences to the stages Whites went through to move to positive White identity.

Understanding the theoretical framework for breaking down personal assumptions can

give students an invaluable perspective on their own critical development. Informing

teens about the process makes that process of developing critical perspectives more

accessibleperhaps making the process seem more natural and less isolating.

Situating Authors Bias: A Meaning Scheme Promoting Critical Development

Mezirow (2000) examined how habits of mind are expressed through points of

view (p. 18), which are meaning schemes (p. 2). Meaning schemes are habitual,

implicit rules for interpreting (p. 2) that affect peoples expectations and overall frames

of reference. One of the most interesting parts of the study was how participants made

meaning out of texts. Participants consistently used a meaning scheme (Mezirow, 2000)

that articulated an understanding of the writers perspectives. Participants began the first

two focus group discussions by articulating, clarifying, and questioning Foucault

(1977/1996) and Tatums (1997) attitudes, tones, biases, and stances. In the final focus

group, participants overviewed writers central points and perspectives. Participants used

the same meaning scheme in articulating their own perspectives. By consistently

contextualizing perspectives of others, participants engaged more critically with writers

ideas. Such an approach gave participants a means of contrasting their own perspectives

with those of othersa process which ultimately led participants toward fuller

development, articulation, and justification of their own perspectives. A direct correlation

existed between participants articulation of the biases of others and participants

examination of these biases against participants own. The process of articulating these

biases quickly moved into the articulations, constructions, and justifications of personal

stances on complex topics.

Significance of Study

This study is significant in five major ways. (a) The study illustrates how critical

theory can provide a language of analysis (McLaren, 2005a, pp. 103-104) for social

analysis. Critical theory gave the participants a means to express and share critical

insights within them about the world around them and themselves. (b) The study

illustrates the maturity and complexity permeating some teens interactions with critical

ideas. (c) The study establishes strong connections between teen learning and adult

learning and shows how adult learning theory may also apply to some teens. (d) The

study challenges Kitchener and Kings (1990, 1994) stages of critical reflection

specifically the delineation of stages by age and educational level. (e) Reading critical

theory and participating in critical dialogue personally empowers and transforms some

teens in ways that potentially change how they think and act in the world and in ways that

mirror adult development.

Recommendations to Educators

This study illustrates that critical theory develops critical literacy in some teens.

The study results contain relevant information for educators of teens, including teachers,

religious educators, and parents. Participants themselves asserted the need for secondary

schools to incorporate critical education for students in order to help them build critical

perspectives. Participants even viewed this as necessary preparation for a future in our

diverse, multicultural world. One other aspect of this particular research study illustrates

that need even further. Former students expressed disappointment about not being

included in the research study, and participants shared names and numbers of people who

wanted to be included. Surprisingly, I could have included 20-30 more participants who

had been in my AP classes from those 2 years.

English teachers should use a variety of critical approaches to their content. The

representative examples provided in Chapter Two of this dissertation can give educators

ideas for critical approaches to texts, music, mass media, films, theoretical approaches,

literary theory, and critical theory. Educators willing and able to include critical theory

should include both challenging pieces of critical theory and more accessible pieces.

These works should have some pragmatic applications to teens lives, so teens can

explore the theories by applying them to examples inside and outside of their lives. While

pragmatic texts that apply to teens lives may be helpful in fostering critical literacy,

educators can also maintain high standards for their students and introduce works

typically reserved for college students (Morrell, 2008). While the subject matter reading

may be difficult, such as in Foucault (1977/1996), the contentsurveillance as power

may be highly engaging as teens look at society and their lives. Participants in this study

read challenging texts as part of the study, course work, extracurricular activities, and

independent reading.

Although critical approaches to texts and curriculum must be a part of secondary

education, educators must also understand their own critical identities, and the processes

by which many people build critical identities. Modeling critical reflection provides the

most effective way to foster critical reflection in others (Brookfield, 1990). By

understanding critical processes, these educators recognize critical processes in teens and

facilitate dialogue with teens about the potential dissonance they experience as they

challenge their assumptions and views. I strongly encourage educators to share with teens

a theory of critical development such as Tatums (1997) processes of identity

development, Kitchener and Kings (1990, 1994) stages of reflective judgment, or even

Mezirows (2000) theory of transformational learning. Examining a theoretical model

before, or during the learning experiences, may help teens situate their own learning

through identifying their own processes, challenging the model through their own

experiences, or qualifying the parts of the model relevant to their own experiences.

Educators need to provide space and opportunities for teens to discuss critical

issues. Critical dialogue provides meaning and relevancy to teens development as

people, to how they act and interact in the present, and for what they will do in the future.

Additionally, teacher education programs need to make sure they prepare secondary

educators capable of and willing to be critical educators. Post-secondary education

programs need to engage their students in critical discussions in order to develop critical

perspectives among more future teachers. Teachers, too, should be familiar with theories

that explain critical development from writers such as Kitchener and King (1990,1994),

Mezirow (2000), and Tatum (1997). Furthermore, teacher education programs should

give future teachers practice and advice for facilitating critical dialogues. Educators must

foster appropriate conditions for dialogue by modeling critical thought, encouraging

honesty, developing trust within the group, and supporting and encouraging group

members critical growth.

Educators, parents, and administrators need to remember the importance and

power of student participation in extracurricular activities in building critical literacy and

perspectives. Participants discussed the importance of National History Day, speech, and

debate in fostering and developing their own critical perspectives. In tough economic

times, administrators often cut these activities from school programming because the

activities cost money but do not bring in revenue from spectators. The critical value of

these programs must be considered in students long-term development.

Finally, any background in social justice issues helps teens develop critical

perspectives. This background exposure occurs through school volunteer programs,

church programs such as mission trips, community service projects, local volunteering,

and exposure to people and perspectives different from the students own perspectives.

Future Research Needed

This study establishes that more research needs to be done on the use of critical

theory as part of a critical education. Research needs to explore the connections and

differences between teen and adult learning. Research needs to examine how teens

develop and strengthen critical identities. Future research needs to identify learning

processes that foster teens abilities to engage critically with ideas and others, and to

identify learning processes that foster self-examination and breaking down personal

assumptions. Research is also needed regarding teens and Kitchener and Kings (1990,

1994) stages of critical reflectiona developmental process they say can be influenced

by education. The research may or may not show that many teens can reach these stages,

but the possibility needs to be considered to include teens in a critical reflection model.

Personal Insights and Learning

Through the process of working with these participants and their stories over the

past 2 years, I learned a great deal. I remain grateful for the willingness of these 8

participants to share their time, their stories, and their insights in this research project.

Even though the project finished long ago for them, I continue to learn from the project in

ways that impact me daily in the classroom. I hear their voices frequently, and I think of

their stories, insights, and wisdom. I see dialogue differently having spent hours upon

hours transcribing their interviews and focus group discussions. I notice more clearly

how spoken ideas profoundly impact others after the words have been spoken. I pay

attention more to how one person may be affecting another person through ideas and

actions. I appreciate the depth that each comment adds to discussion and recognize more

clearly the complex personal perspective behind each comment. I recognize the social

dynamics of group and individual critical learning more clearly in the fast-paced

classroom. I value dialogue as a powerful means of learning in the classroom and

recognize the need for students to deliberately consider their social learning, their identity

development, and their assumptions of self and others.

I renew my commitment to critical education when I consider what transpired in

the studyparticularly during participants closing comments of the final focus group.

Because I left much of my learning on the proverbial cutting board, the following list

includes salient personal insights that have remained with me over the past 2 years

since I began working with the study. Some of these points have been communicated in

this dissertation; others have not. Like the participants critical perspectives, these ideas

did not evolve within the vacuum of the study. However, the study affirms the

importance of these ideas for my work in secondary education and as a parent.

1. Critical education means more to teens than banking education.

2. Standardized tests, while important to students futures, do not change students

actions beyond taking the test and do not prepare students for living in a

multicultural, diverse world.

3. Critical education impacts present and future actions and interactions.

4. Secondary education must include space for critical dialogue.

5. Critical education must include time for discussing solutions.

6. Teens need more opportunities for critical discussion.

7. Silence during a discussion does not equal a lack of attentiveness to ideas or a

lack of learning.

8. Teens must theorize for themselves.

9. Teens need opportunities to explore, discuss, name, and consider their own


10. Teens need to be able to explore how their identities are privileged, oppressed,

and socialized by greater society.

11. Teens need to develop, articulate, challenge, and assert their personal views

on social issues.

12. Teens need to discuss heterosexism with each other.

13. Issues of identity must be contextualized as social constructions.

14. Profound insights can arise from surprising readings such as dated articles and

outdated statistics.

15. Educators need to have understandings of their critical identities and how

these impact students.

16. Educators must model and validate the difficult process of self-examination.

17. Educators need more opportunities for critical discussion. For all the No Child

Left Behind attention to student group performance, real critical discussion

remains almost nonexistent in the process of addressing these inequalities in my

school environment.

18. School curriculum needs to provide multiple perspectives and opportunities

for critical discussion and development.

19. The language for discussion of racism is deeply problematic, illustrating its

moral wrongness.

20. I frequently make wrong assumptions about students.

In conclusion, I offer a final word of thanks to my participants. I feel so humbled

and honored by all the participants contributed to my learning. Each person shared

exceptional personal insights and taught me a great deal about the importance of space

for critical learning. These participants exemplify what I enjoy most in teaching:

witnessing and participating in thoughtful examination of the world. While these

participants are truly exceptional, I know there are many more teens capable of the same

levels of critical insights, discussions, and self-reflections. I have these students in my

classes every year, and I believe that similar results would occur with other teens.

I conclude this study with the knowledge that critical theory can be a viable path

to building critical literacy within critical pedagogy. In this time of top-down control of

curriculum, state-controlled standards, and administrative emphasis on uniformity of

curriculum delivery from materials to teacher-to-teacher delivery, critical education has

never been so difficult or so important. Critical educators need to continue to find ways

for students to have power, direction, and involvement in their own learning as they read

the words and their worlds.


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The Effects of Critical Theory on the
Attitudes, Assumptions, and Actions of Late Adolescent and Young Adult Students

I am conducting a study on the effects of critical theory on late adolescent and young adult students
attitudes, assumptions, and actions. I invite you to participate in this research. You were selected as a
possible participant because of your work in Advanced Placement Language and Composition. Please read
this form and ask any questions you may have before consenting to be a part of this study.

This study is being conducted by me, Tania Lyon, under advisement of Dissertation Chair Dr. Eleni Roulis
from the University of St. Thomas School of Education in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Background Information:
The purpose of this study is to discover the effects of reading critical theory on late adolescents and young
adults attitudes, assumptions, and actions. Late adolescent and young adult students have remarkable
insight into themselves and the world around them in relation to issues of social justice, oppression,
equality, democracy, identity, resistance, reflection, and action. I hope to discover the extent to which
critical theory informs participants attitudes, assumptions, and actions. There are no direct benefits to
participating in this study. There are no risks to participating in this study.

If you are in this study, I will ask you to participate in the following activities between January and June
2007: interviews, focus group meetings, art analysis, artifact collection, and written reflections. I anticipate
that you will be involved in the research for approximately 10-15 total hours over the six-month research
period. All work will be done outside of the classroom environment. You will receive gift certificates to the
local mall as compensation for your time.

Throughout the research period, I will schedule audio-taped interviews. Interviews will be arranged at your
convenience. Each interview will be transcribed, and I will give you a copy of the transcription to review.
You will have the opportunity to submit changes to transcripts for clarification and/or content. I have
attached a copy of sample interview questions that I intend to use.

Additionally, I will schedule a time for focus group meetings. Focus group meetings will involve small
group discussion about selected topics, writings, art, and artifacts. Focus group meetings will be audio-
taped sessions. Each focus group meeting will be transcribed, and I will give you a copy of the transcription
to review for clarification and/or content. I have attached a copy of sample focus group questions that I
intend to use.

During the research period, I will ask for written reflections on the themes of social justice, oppression,
equality, democracy, identity, resistance, and how you reflect and act upon what you know. I will also ask
for artifacts that relate to these same themes. Artifacts may include writings, artwork, and/or copies of any
coursework relating to these themes. If you have past writings that relate to these themes, you have the
choice to submit these for inclusion into the research.

At the conclusion of my research, I will reflect upon the content of the interviews, focus groups, written
reflections, art analysis topics, and artifacts. I intend to analyze your responses for recurring themes within
your experiences and in relation to the emerging themes from other participants. At the conclusion of my
work, I will submit a written draft of my synthesis to you.

The records of this study will be kept private. In any sort of report I publish, I will not include information
that will make it possible to identify you. You will be given a pseudonym that will be used in place of your
name for all personal identification relating to the research. All research records, including transcripts,
tapes, references, and documents, will be identified by this pseudonym. All research records, including
transcripts, tapes, and documents, will be stored in a locked file. I am the only person who will have access
to the records. Records may be viewed by Dissertation Chair Dr. Eleni Roulis and by dissertation
committee members to assist with any research or writing. Research records will be kept for five years.

Voluntary Nature of the Study:

Your participation in this study is entirely voluntary. Your decision whether or not to participate will not
affect your current or future relations with me, with Mankato Area Public Schools, or with the University
of St. Thomas. If you decide to participate, you are free to withdraw from the study without penalty at any
time. If you are currently a student in my class, you will not be penalized for withdrawing from the study;
your grade will not be connected to the research in any way. If I give you recommendations for college,
scholarships or job applications, a withdrawal from the study will not affect past or future
recommendations made on your behalf. Should you decide to withdraw from the study, no further data will
be collected pertaining to you, and no data about you will be used in this research.

Contacts and Questions:

My name is Tania Lyon. You may ask any questions you have now. If you have any questions later, you
may contact me at West High School at 507-387-3461, ext. 210, or at home at 507-625-5635. You may
contact my Dissertation Chair Dr. Eleni Roulis at 651-962-4405 at the University of St. Thomas. You may
also contact the University of St. Thomas Institutional Review Board at 651-962-5341 with any questions
or concerns.

You will be given a copy of this form for your records.

Statement of Consent:
I have read the above information. My questions have been answered to my satisfaction. I agree to
participate in the study.

___________________________________________ _________________
Signature of Participant Date

___________________________________________ _________________
Signature of Researcher Date


The Effects of Critical Social Theory on the

Attitudes, Assumptions, and Actions of High School Students

I am conducting a study on the effects of critical social theory on high school students attitudes,
assumptions and actions. I invite your teen to participate in this research. Your teen was selected as a
possible participant because she or he has studied critical social theory in Advanced Placement Language
and Composition and in a manner outside of this course curriculum. Additionally, I have observed your
teen to be exceptionally articulate and insightful in class discussion and in writing. Please read this form
and ask any questions you may have before consenting to your teen to be a part of this study.

This study is being conducted by me, Tania Lyon, under advisement of Dr. Eleni Roulis from the
University of St. Thomas School of Education in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Background Information:
The purpose of this study is to discover the effects of reading critical social theory on teens and young
adults. Your teen may potentially benefit from reflecting on how they view the world around them and by
discussing their observations with other teens in focus groups. Such discussion may provide intellectual
stimulation, educational discovery and peer connections. High school students have remarkable insight
into themselves and the world around them especially in relation to issues of social justice, oppression,
equality and democracy. I hope to discover the extent to which critical social theory informs the
participants attitudes, assumptions and actions.

If you allow your teen to be in this study, I will ask her or him to participate in the following activities
between January and June 2006: personal interviews, focus group meetings, arts analysis and artifact
collection. I have attached a copy of sample interview questions that I intend to use. I anticipate that each
participant will be involved in the research for approximately 10-15 total hours over the five-month
research period. Times for interviews and focus group meetings will be scheduled around what is most
convenient for participants. Participants will receive gift certificates as compensation for their time.

Throughout the research period, I will schedule audio-taped and written personal interviews. Personal
interviews will be set up at each participants convenience. Each audio-taped interview will be transcribed,
and I will give each participant a hard copy to review for content and clarification. Each participant will
have the opportunity to submit changes to transcripts for clarification or content.

Additionally, I will schedule a time for focus group meetings. Focus group meetings will involve small
group discussion about selected topics, writings, arts analysis and artifacts. Focus group meetings will be
audio-taped sessions. Each focus group meeting will be transcribed, and I will give each participant a hard
copy to review for clarification and content.

All work will be done outside of the classroom environment. This study has little to no risk to any
participant. The possible risk is an invasion of privacy. Before each interview and focus group meeting,
participants will be reminded that they do not have to answer any questions they do not want to answer.
Participants will also be reminded that they will be able to reflect, review and, if necessary, revise their
statements on discussion topics and the transcripts.

At the conclusion of my research, I will reflect upon the content of the personal interviews, focus groups,
and artifacts. I intend to analyze participant responses for recurring themes within each individual
experience and in relation to the emerging themes from other participants. {As I synthesize the research, I
will provide participants with written articulation of emerging themes so they will be able to review for
accuracy of interpretation.}

The records of this study will be kept private. In any sort of report I publish, I will not include information
that will make it possible to identify your teen. Participants will be given pseudonyms that will be used in
place of their names for all interviews and focus groups. All written documents including transcripts and
written references will use pseudonyms. All research records, including tapes and transcripts, will be
stored in a locked file. I am the only person who will have access to the records. Records may be viewed
by Dr. Eleni Roulis to assist with any research or writing. Research records will be kept for seven years.

Voluntary Nature of the Study:

Your teens participation in this study is entirely voluntary. Your decision whether or not to allow him or
her to participate will not affect your teens or your own current or future relations with me, with Mankato
Area Public Schools or with the University of St. Thomas. If you decide to consent to your teens
participation, you are free to withdraw your teen from the study at any time without penalty. If your teen is
currently a student in my class, your teen will not be penalized for withdrawing from the study. Your
teens grade will not in any way be connected to the research. If I have given your teen a recommendation
for college or scholarships, a withdrawal from the study will not affect this recommendation. Should you
decide to withdraw your teen from the study, no further data will be collected pertaining to him or her to be
used in this research.

Contacts and Questions:

My name is Tania Lyon. You may ask any questions you have now. If you have any questions later, you
may contact me at West High School at 507-387-3461, ext. 210 or at home at 507-625-5635. Also, you
may contact my advisor Dr. Eleni Roulis at 651-962-4405 at the University of St. Thomas. You may also
contact the University of St. Thomas Institutional Review Board at 651-962-5341 with any questions or

You will be given a copy of this form for your records.

Statement of Consent:
I have read the above information. My questions have been answered to my satisfaction. I give consent for
my teen to participate in the study.

___________________________________________ _________________
Signature of Parent or Guardian Date

___________________________________________ _________________
Signature of Researcher Date


Critical Incident Questionnaire

Discuss your answers to the following questions.

When did you feel most engaged in the dialogue?

When did you feel most distanced in the dialogue?

What was the most affirming moment or action for you?

What was the most confusing moment or action for you?

What was the most surprising moment for you?

What are parts of todays group dialogue that you will continue to consider?

Anything else? Please explain.



Focus Group One

Foucault, M. (1977/1996). Panopticism. In D. Bartholomae and A. Petrosky (Eds.), Ways

of reading, pp. 178-206. New York: St. Martins Press.

Foucault examined the ideal prison model developed by Jeremy Bentham. This

circular room included a monitoring booth in the middle and visible cells

surrounding it. The structure made those being monitored by authorities visible

and the authorities invisible. Foucault connected this panoptic power model to

many types of social behavior and institutions. Participants probed literal and

metaphorical interpretations of the model, theorized about panoptic power, and

connected panoptic power to issues of identity.

Focus Group Two

Tatum, B. D. (1997). Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? New

York: Basic Books.

Participants were required to read chapter six and had the options of reading

chapters four and five. In chapter six, Tatum traced stages of White identity

development. She examined how Whites went through these stages of

development: contact, disintegration, reintegration, pseudo-independent,

immersion/emersion, and autonomy. She provided many examples of people

experiencing these stages. In chapter four, Tatum examined Black identity

development and in chapter five, she examined Black identity development in

college students and adults. Participants used the ideas in the reading to examine

racism and potential solutions to racism.

Focus Group Three

Participants received a binder with these articles. I selected the articles based on

overall interests and themes of comments arising in the initial interview and the first

focus group discussion. Participants were to choose one of these articles to read for the

focus group discussion.

Cashwell, A. (2005). Increasing awareness of heterosexism and homophobia: Critical

incidents that increased awareness of privilege. In S. K. Anderson & V. A.

Middleton (Eds.), Explorations in privilege, oppression, and diversity (pp. 59-63).

Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Cashwell explained her critical recognition of heterosexism and how it

negatively shaped peoples lives. She discussed how she used her knowledge of

heterosexism in working with male domestic-violence offenders as part of her

ongoing efforts to break down heterosexism. Participants did not reference this

article in their focus group discussion.

Fine, M. (1993/2002). Sexuality, schooling, and adolescent: The missing discourse of

desire. In Jossey-Bass Reader on gender in education (pp. 375-406). San

Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fine examined adolescent sexuality through examination and analysis of sex

education courses curriculum, discussions and observations and through the

perspectives of adolescent females. Fine observed how public schools

prohibited discourses about female desire, fostered discourses about female

victimization, and sanctioned discourses favoring married heterosexuality over

other sexual orientations. These discourses engendered fear and silence about

female sexuality. Participants used the ideas in this piece to examine sex

education courses, curriculum, and experiences.

Hopkins, P. D. (1992/2004). Gender treachery: Homophobia, masculinity, and threatened

identities. In L. Heldke & P. OConnor (Eds.), Oppression, privilege, and

resistance: Theoretical perspectives on racism, sexism and heterosexism (pp. 230-

258). New York, McGraw Hill.

Hopkins examined homophobia and theories about its causes. He examined

what he termed gender treachery where people violated the rules of gender

identity/gender performance. Participants used this article to examine how

gender treachery impacted people personally and socially.

Langer, C. L. (2005). How I got my wings. In S. K. Anderson & V. A. Middleton (Eds.),

Explorations in privilege, oppression, and diversity (pp. 93-99). Belmont, CA:

Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Langer examined how being female impacted her life in myriad ways. She

reflected on social expectations, career, family, and personal decisions.

Participants did not reference this article in their discussions.

Newkirk, T. (2000/2002). Misreading masculinity: Speculations on the great gender gap

in writing. In Jossey-Bass Reader on gender in education (pp. 314-328). San

Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Newkirk summarized relevant studies on gender and writing to show differences

in male and female writing in regards to topic choice, themes and academic

performance. These differences led Newkirk to examine and deconstruct

examples of male writings to illustrate how teachers, academic expectations and

social reactions misread themes of violence especially and marginalized male

writings. This article showed participants how sexism negatively impacted males

in classrooms and provided examples for consideration.

Sadker, M. & Sadker, D. (1994). Failing at fairness: How our schools cheat girls. New

York, Touchstone.

Sadker and Sadker observed classrooms, teachers, and curriculum for thousands

of hours to see how sexism impacted education and gave girls and boys different

educations in the same classrooms. Girls received second-class educations

because boys received more help, attention, time, and constructive critique from

teachers; additionally, curriculum choices and resources featured males more

prominently. Participants received copies of chapters 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8. These

chapters provided participants with the following information: the ways sexism

occurred in education, the ways sexism historically affected female education,

the ways females received less educational interaction, the ways sexism

impacted females self-esteem, personal identities, and standardized test scores,

and the ways males received mis-education through sexism. Although the

research and ideas were dated, participants found the topics relevant to their own

educations and gave them ideas for discussion.

Pharr, S. (1988/2004). Homophobia: A weapon of sexism. In L. Heldke and P. OConnor

(Eds.), Oppression, privilege, and resistance: Theoretical perspectives on racism,

sexism and heterosexism (pp. 259-274). New York, McGraw Hill.

Pharr discussed homophobia from theoretical and personal perspectives. She

examined religious and mental health beliefs about homophobia, connections

between homophobia and sexism and other forms of oppression, and ways

women were vulnerable in a homophobic society. Participants examined this

article extensively as they debated whether or not critical theory should be

included in secondary education.

Sommer, S. C., Weatherman, S. M. & Cox, D. L. (2005). Reflections on heterosexual

privilege. In S. K. Anderson & V. A. Middleton (Eds.), Explorations in privilege,

oppression, and diversity (pp. 65-72). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Sommer, Weatherman, and Cox tell their own stories of identifying,

encountering, and breaking down heterosexism. They define heterosexism and

examine how it appears pervasively in education and society. Participants

referenced ideas in the article that helped them break down heterosexist norms.

Trepal, H. (2005). Men cant be raped: The challenge of sexism in counseling. In S. K.

Anderson & V. A. Middleton (Eds.), Explorations in privilege, oppression, and

diversity (pp. 73-78). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Trepal examined a critical incident that helped her break down her personal

assumptions about men and how they could not be raped. Trefal described the

critical incident, her own reflective process and how she made changes.

Participants used this article to examine how standards of masculinity hurt men

and to break down their assumptions about gender.

Thorne, B. (1993/2002). Do girls and boys have different cultures? In Jossey-Bass

Reader on gender in education (pp. 125-150). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Thorne questioned the separate-and-different cultures of between boys and

girls, examined the research on the topic, and concluded that seeing boys and

girls in contrasts is no longer an effective way to understand gender. Thorne

concluded that gender should be examined in the context of specific situations to

avoid destructive gender binaries. Several participants read parts of this article,

but the ideas did not provide a basis for group discussion.

Whitcomb, D. H. & Cummings, J. A. (2005). Exploring male privilege: Journey of two

White middle-class men. In S. K. Anderson & V. A. Middleton (Eds.),

Explorations in privilege, oppression, and diversity (pp. 79-91). Belmont, CA:

Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Whitcomb and Cummings examined their own experiences of male privilege as

White middle class men. They reflected on critical incidents that revealed their

privileges, explained how they broke down their privilege, and discussed how

they worked to raise awareness about male privilege. Participants did not

reference this article.