K. Phillips, Ph.D.
J. Camille Cammack, Ph.D
CAMMACK, FALL, 2003
analyzing what we ignore, we can glimpse the discourses of the unconscious
that influence our actions and attitudes.
this paper, we draw from a cluster of stories to illustrate the
need for new spaces in teacher education where preservice teachers
can "speak the unspeakable" in order to open up possibilities
in their teacher identities. We want to demonstrate how discourses
surrounding what it means to be a teacher restrict preservice teachers'
abilities to problem-solve and respond critically to important
educational issues. We want to show how discourses silence students
to a dangerous politeness where issues of importance are denied
discussion. The stories told here lead us to theorize a need for
a space where preservice teachers can "speak the unspeakable,"
and, through this, identify and deconstruct public discourses defining
what it means to be "female" and "teacher."
Ultimately, we believe that such discussions are imperative if
preservice teachers are to be prepared to work with sensitive issues
such as gender, race, and class.
a metaphor for our work, we consider the natural beauty of such
places as Zion National Park. Hiking in the area, one cannot help
but notice that the landscape is punctuated with human-made warnings.
Along the trails are signs such as "Danger! Sharp drop off!"
and "Do not go beyond this point! Cliff ahead!" In the
space of this park and the space of our collaboration as teacher
educators, two opposing questions are raised: How are thoughts
limited by the codified, persistent and authoritative warnings
of danger? How do spaces uncharted by the persistence of our daily
lives open up new possibilities for thought and action?
relate this metaphor to our practice as teacher educators and our
ongoing research into "how women construct their subjectivities
within the limits and possibilities of the discourses and cultural
practices that are available to them" (St. Pierre, 1997, p.
365). "Subjectivity" here refers to the site of self,
a site constantly changing and being both assaulted and wooed by
competing powers, vying for allegiance. At this site of self, female
preservice teachers struggle with what it means to be female and
what it means to be teacher. There are "danger signs"
warning them to conform and to not question authority. There are
other signs reminding them to stay on the path of the popular notions
of teacher. We want to explore how our preservice teachers (as
well as ourselves as teacher educators) might resist these codified
structures defining the teacher. We also theorize the possibilities
for using this resistance to re-invent the teaching identity. One
way of doing this, we propose, is to "speak the unspeakable"
as a way to embrace desires, conflicts, tensions and questions,
and as a space where we confront discourses of power.
Sources and Context for the Study
first began studying how female preservice teachers constructed
their teaching subjectivities within and among the cultural boundaries
and discourses available in teacher education during two dissertation
projects (Cammack, 1998; Phillips, 1998). Through Phillips (2002)
close analysis of language we began to see the relationship between
discourse and subjectivity. What became apparent was how the discourses
of the codified, structured space of teacher education pressured
participants into choosing between possible subject-forming
positions. These dissertation studies helped us see the strong
desire our students bring with them for a "tidy" or unified
teaching identity. We noted the multiple and contradictory subject
positions our students assumed to define female and teacher using
labels such as feminist, care-giver, good wife, "girly"
girl, business woman and religious woman. We also found participants
unable to reconcile the contradictory nature of these subject positions.
Competition between possible identities troubled their emerging
teacher identities: What "female" or "teacher"
should they become if they could only become one? Finally, we have
noticed that their attempts to create and sustain a unified self
ultimately interfered with their ability to think in creative or
new ways about the complex problems of teaching. We began to wonder,
as Ellsworth (1997) wrote, how do we give our students "future
as undecidable, possibility as undeterminable"? (p. 173).
How could we open up our classrooms to be a space for "emigrant
thinkers who deterritorialize accepted notions of space" (Conely
as cited in St. Pierre, 1997, p. 376), to strive not for resolution
and acceptance of a "real identity" but rather embrace
conflict and chaos and forever conflicting subjectivities? How
could such a space be "liberating" for females donning
the label "teacher" by opening up a kind of movement
between what is "perpetual, without aim or destination, without
departure or arrival" (Deleuze & Guattari, as cited in
St. Pierre, 1997, p. 369). We also began to wonder if this re-invention
of the teaching identity could give preservice teachers space to
think in new ways about issues of gender, race, and class.
our ongoing work as teacher educators, we have collected numerous
stories that illustrate the allegiance preservice teachers feel
to the development of a coherent, consistent teaching identity
and the inevitable fissures and slips in these identities. From
these stories we have selected six that illustrate how the need
for a fixed identity makes certain topics "unspeakable"
or "taboo" and how the regulating nature of the "unspeakable"
traps female teachers in closed systems of thought. Two types of
stories are told here; those that illustrate how discourses restrict
thinking, and those that show the limits of silenced politeness.
Finally, we theorize how we can use these stories to help us work
with preservice teachers to "speak the unspeakable" as
an act of resistance that opens up new avenues of thought and practice.
of the Unspeakable: How Discourses Restrict Thinking
District Recruiter. During a Gender Issues in Education seminar
for preservice teachers, a recruiter from a local school district
met with the students. One small group of students had a lengthy
discussion about what the recruiter had said. Apparently the recruiter
had specifically mentioned an interest in male elementary teachers.
The female preservice teachers expressed fear over what this might
mean to them as women. Two notable discourses were evidenced in
this discussion. First, was the discourse that men entering teaching
will add an important element that they, as women, cannot supply
i.e., men can provide necessary authoritative male role models
for children. One participant said, "I see that it's important
to have male figures out there in the field." The other members
of the group agreed. Another participant added, "It makes
you wonder as a white woman, 'Are my contributions as meaningful
because I am not a man?' I mean right away it makes you feel defensive."
The conversation then wandered into territory that further positioned
them as women inferior to men. These preservice teachers began
to discuss whether or not men were better suited as "authority
figures." Several told stories of young boys who did not respond
when they gave directions, but did respond when a male teacher
or counselor gave directions, adding leverage to the recruiter's
preference for males.
second discourse present was that these preservice teachers trusted
those doing the hiring. They assumed the recruiters would try to
be "neutral" when selecting future teachers. They trusted
those hiring to act in benevolent ways and do what was best for
children. One participant said, "They want the best candidate."
These preservice teachers were clearly troubled by what it might
mean to assume the title "male teacher" as opposed to
"female teacher," but they were unable to articulate
these fears thus illustrating how the discourse of patriarchy can
silence women learning to teach (Miller, 1997). Even within the
space of a gender seminar, these preservice teachers could not
speak outside the discourse of male superiority. The students took
up a position of the submissive female. They lacked a way to analyze
this situation believing those in authority must be "right"
and know best thus rendering their fears, doubts, anger, or sense
of injustice "unspeakable."
Angry Father. Another story illustrates how discourses of gender
regulate ways to think about solutions to problems. When discussing
a scenario about an angry father, who was upset because his young
son was playing in the housekeeping area at school, a group of
preservice teachers struggled to find an acceptable way for the
teacher to deal with this situation. They could only think of two
possible ways to handle the problem. The preservice teachers decided
they could either try to explain the activity to the parent or
they could go along with his wishes. They discussed how they could
explain the value of the activity to the father but they wanted
to do this cautiously. They decided, "The way to approach
it [is] that it is not a gender thing." They concluded that
it might be more palatable to the parent if they sold the activity
as a way to develop fine motor coordination. "What we are
learning over here is how to button." They seemed satisfied
with a solution that avoided the sticky issue of gender altogether.
The students had a sense that there were conflicting desires related
to gender here. They knew the father's desire for his son did not
match the "educationally appropriate" desire for children
to experience a wide range of gender roles that they, as teachers,
are hailed to support. However, their discussion of this issue
is circumscribed within the discourse of patriarchy; Father's wishes
must prevail. Upholding the father's wishes demeans their own female
identity and raises questions about their professional knowledge.
To "keep the peace" they submitted to the male authority
and the students were left feeling trapped by the power of this
a Sexist." One preservice teacher who was a participant
in the dissertation research defined herself in a way she saw appropriate
to the setting, "Okay, I admit it, I'm a sexist," she
confessed. Later, however, she finds herself unable to fit this
definition into her teaching identity. "Yes, I did feel that
way. But now, I mean, I don't feel that way at all because I was
trying to help kids that needed help. And to me, now I'm going
back to what's the purpose of me? Who am I and what's my purpose?
My purpose is to help children. And so if I was helping those students,
who were lower than other students, oh well. So, I'm kind of, I
don't know this gender thing is getting to me." While the
preservice teacher could use language sanctioned in the educational
setting (Okay, I admit it, I'm a sexist.), she could not sustain
this language against a more powerful discourse of teacher as helper
and, believing a need to choose between the two, returned to a
more familiar definition of herself as a gender-neutral teacher.
of the Unspeakable: Silenced Politeness
Interviews. The next story illustrates how preservice teachers
come to teacher education already steeped in discourses of "silenced
politeness" that limit their speech acts. During the interview
process for candidates applying to the Master of Arts in Teaching
program at one of our universities, prospective teachers are asked
the following question:
that it is a year from now and you have just accepted a job in
a fourth grade classroom. The class is 78% boys and 22% girls.
The students are ethnically diverse with the majority of students
being African American, Asian, and Hispanic; the minority is
white. The school is located in a lower socio-economic neighborhood.
What are your hesitations, questions, and wonderings as you consider
candidates display physical signs of nervousness when this question
is posed and are unable to engage (or refuse to engage) in the
issues presented. During a typical interview cycle, only two of
the multiple candidates interviewed even addressed gender and class
as issues. Most respond with something like this, "I would
be concerned about creating a sense of community. It would be important
in this situation to make sure everyone learned to respect one
another and to appreciate the different cultures present. I would
want to teach tolerance." This constitutes their "discussion"
of race. Although the question gives license for the candidates
to discuss "hesitations, questions and wonderings," few
are able to voice hesitations, questions and wonderings but rather
form their response as I would statements of intention,
using acceptable language like community, respect,
appreciate and tolerance. This is clearly a situation
where prospective teachers need to please, impress, and be correct.
Use of polite and appropriate language limits opportunities for
exploration of possibilities. They are not able, then, to problem-solve
or think critically; the discourse of silenced politeness denies
them the ability to even "wonder or "question."
Acceptable language seems to deny the importance of race, class,
or gender so that they remain unseen by the classroom teacher.
second story concerning silenced politeness has to do with a white
female graduate student's reading of Lisa Delpit (1988). Students
in a graduate level initial certification program read and discussed
a portion of the book for each class meeting. This student had
shown signs of agitation in prior discussions but on this day blurted
out, "I just don't get this. I mean, look here she says one
thing and earlier she said something different. Which way is it
supposed to be? I just don't get this!" After a moment of
silence, the student quickly smoothed over her statement with the
help of other students. "Politeness" reigned in the situation
and students resumed the discussion using "correct" terms
else might the student have said given a different kind of space
to engage with conflictual discourses and defining moments of subjectivity?
The frustration was directed at Delpit for a lack of "alignment"
of perceived concepts but the student stopped short of deconstructing
what seemed wrong with the reading based upon her position as a
white woman preservice teacher or how she saw this as "one
more thing to do" in the classroom.
American Male. A final story involves a white female undergraduate
student during her student teaching experience. Daily, the student
teacher faced conflict with a young African American male in her
class. At every student teaching seminar she would bring up her
frustrations with the student. Her comments were couched in terms
"appropriate" for discussing classroom management in
the academic setting. As the term continued, it became apparent
the student teacher had grown to dislike the student and saw him
as a hindrance to her own success in the classroom. She began to
dread dealing with him and, in fact, dreaded going to teach. While
she physically demonstrated signs of anger, the student teacher's
careful language only occasionally leaked convictions that the
situation was really one of race and gender. The topics of gender
and race were touched upon but this was clearly territory the student
teacher did not feel she could, or did not want to, trespass. In
this case we see the student trapped in a sort of "political
correctness' that keeps her from exploring the range of her own
emotions. Unable to reconcile her dislike of this student with
her ideas about race and appropriate behavior for a teacher she
is unable to problem-solve.
might exploring the unspeakable, as illustrated in these stories,
be used to create new spaces and new ways for preservice teachers
and us to think about these issues? We theorize that it is the
very attention to the conflictual constructions of gender and race
across discursive fields that allow for critique of the teacher
Pierre (1997) worked with images from Deleuze and Guattari in describing
"smooth space," spaces that "gnaw and tend to grow
in all directions" (p. 369). This space unlike striated space,
which is "coded, defined, bounded, and limited", has
a nomadic quality. While smooth space does not promise "liberty"
and is constantly being reversed to striated space, it "always
possesses a greater power of deterritorialization than striated
space" (Deleuze & Guattari as cited in St. Pierre, p.
369). How would such nomadic space allow for female preservice
teachers to "play" with discourses defining their subjectivities?
How would such space resist efforts that code and bind? How would
such space allow preservice teachers to say the scandalous and
proper, allowing them to embrace conflicting discourses, rather
than attempting to resolve them? How would it allow them to resist
the dangerous territory of "aligning" a "true"
self to pedagogical decisions? We return now to stories from the
data to first identify patterns of existing space in teacher education
and then to propose possibilities for alternative space.
Unspeakable and Alternative Space
see common patterns in each of these stories that illustrate why
students were unable to critique conflictual constructions of gender
across the various discursive fields. We see in these stories the
space of teacher education being one that "binds" and
"codes" students' responses and their subjectivities.
But we also see in each story, the student cannot control the language
she uses to react to the situation. "One speaks a language
that is never fully one's own" (Butler, 1997) so who else
is present in these outbursts? Whose language is speaking? Ellsworth
(1997) calls this the "third participant" (p. 64), or
the unconscious voice. The preservice teachers in these stories
find their unconscious voice speaking using discourses that express
anger, frustration and/or hopelessness. The unconscious interferes
with the conscious use of "politically correct language"
in these brief seconds. Students want to dismiss this participant
once they hear the words. They want to dismiss the object of unspeakable-ness
(the recruiter, Delpit, and the African American male student)
because to address the object would be to address a supposed "misalignment"
of character, that is, a misalignment between the perceived "good"
teacher identity and the leaked response. Why does each response
make the student feel angry, frustrated and/or hopeless? One explanation
is that if the recruiter, Delpit, or the African American male
student is "right" then they are "wrong" and
the student teacher becomes implicated. In part, this is the result
of the belief in an essentialist self that forces a choice between
"right" and "wrong" rather than allowing a
space where the conflict of discourses can be deconstructed and
could space in teacher education be re-invented as nomadic space
allowing for students to "play" with these conflictual
discourses defining their subjectivities? How could such space
allow for the discourses of the outburst and blurts to be confronted?
We suggest that as teacher educators we need to speak the unspeakable
for students. We need to pose the questions and re-frame them not
as an implication of "self" but as a history of implications.
Imagine a student teacher that is learning to "hear"
such implications, the very implications she speaks in moments
of uncontrolled outbursts, as implications of discourses of historicity.
Imagine the same student teacher learning to interpret and to place
such outbursts into a nomadic space that moves in multiple directions
at the site of subjectivity. Imagine a seminar where students ask,
"Where, when I read this author, do I get stuck, do I forget,
do I resist? Where, when I listen to a classmate's response to
this reading, does my own project of 'becoming a teacher' get shifted,
troubled, unsettled - Why there? Why now?" (Ellsworth, 1997,
p. 73.) What if we would have asked of the students in the first
group, "Why do you want to believe the district will hire
the most qualified candidate and do what is best for children?"
What if the white graduate preservice teacher would have received
a response like, "How does Delpit bother your image of "teacher"?
How does it make a difference that you are white and female?"
And what if the white female preservice teacher was questioned
with, "What is it about the fact that this student is male
and African American that makes you feel most out -of-control?
What is the picture of control that you believe is rewarded in
kind of questioning can open up a space that is otherwise pushed
aside and as Felman (1997) said, "ignorance itself can
teach us something--become itself " (p. 26). By
analyzing what we ignore, we can glimpse the discourses of the
unconscious that influence our actions and attitudes. In the stories
told, preservice teachers actively refuse to engage with the language
of their outburst, but such engagement can be instructive. Learning
to re-position ourselves as teacher educators from a place where
we engage with what both our students and we resist, with what
is ignored, allows us to imagine a space where interpreting discourses,
myths, teacher descriptions, and pedagogical choices becomes a
space of possibility and change. In such instances where we speak
the unspeakable for students, we embrace conflict and controversies,
resisting a goal of resolution; we use ignorance as an instructive
tool. By speaking the unspeakable, we take back some of the power
of discourses to subject students to a teacher identity coded in
genderless terms of neutrality. Student teachers, interpreting
their own responses, begin to see how discourses return, implicate,
and subjugate, but in the naming of these discourses, they can
restructure their own imagined image of "teacher." In
this space of positioning, we see the returning of ignorance, the
returning of the discourses that seek to bind and code, into a
powerful form of resistance where female preservice teachers may
find alternative visions of what it means to be "teacher."
could such a space "shatter the illusion of arriving?"
(Ellsworth, 1997, p. 163.) We realize that preservice teachers
all stand in different spaces on the never-ending converging circles
of their lives, but a space in teacher education programs that
1) actively identifies "myths" of female/teacher, 2)
uses multiple "languages" or discourses to deconstruct
such myths, 3) provides alternative descriptions of power-conflicting
terms like "woman," "feminist," "care,"
and "dedication," and 4) approaches pedagogical choices
as intersections of larger discourses of time and place, would
be a step away from regulated teacher education and a step towards
nomadic space where subjectivities are honored.
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Dr. Donna K.
Phillips is Associate Professor of Education at George Fox
University. Her research interests include the application of poststructural
theories of subjectivity to teacher education.
Dr. J. Camille
Cammack is Assistant Professor of Education at Saginaw Valley
State University. Her research interests include gender in education
and discourse analysis.