Marginal Syllabus 2019-20 (November)—Whiteness is a White Problem: Whiteness in English Education

November 04, 2019
By Educator Innovator

The first reading for the 2019-20 Literacy, Equity + Remarkable Notes = LEARN Marginal Syllabus employs racial storytelling as a means to think critically about whiteness. In a piece written for English Education, Samuel Jaye Tanner reflects on problematic and transformative experiences teaching high school that centered race and racial identity in his work with students. He argues that white people in an American context have problems with race that are distinct from the racism people of color experience, and he specifically calls on white English educators to rethink their roles in dismantling white supremacy.

This reading launches the second iteration of LEARN, a Marginal Syllabus co-developed with the National Writing Project (NWP) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). During each month, from November to June during the 2019-20 academic year, we will collaboratively read and discuss an article, published in four different NCTE journals, that investigates the intersection of literacy and equity. Refer to the 2019-20 syllabus for information on all the annotatable readings; these will go “live” on the first Monday of each month, along with related events hosted by the National Writing Project.

November Topic: White educators’ role in dismantling white supremacy

My intention is that this article be a signal to our field [English education] that white folks ought to more deliberately wrestle with whiteness, without making race always and only about people of color.

“Whiteness Is a White Problem: Whiteness in English Education”

To kick off this month’s social reading, guest reader Andrea Zellner and the Marginal Syllabus team had an opportunity to discuss the article with this month’s partner author Samuel Jaye Tanner.

In November, we read Samuel Jaye Tanner’s stories as a call to action for white English educators to investigate and dismantle white supremacy. He shares his experiences teaching—and teaching explicitly about race—at two different high schools with very different demographics, varying commitments to antiracism, and notable systemic challenges that he encountered as an educator. Tanner’s article is inspired by equity work advanced by scholars of color, and in particular scholars who have contributed to critical whiteness studies in English education. He wonders about the ways in which whiteness creates challenges for white educators to overcome in order to foster more equitable schools and learning opportunities.

Tanner’s article echoes a “second wave” of critical whiteness studies that departs from an exclusive focus on white privilege and, rather, moves toward a better understanding of the problems inherent to whiteness that prevent antiracist education. Tanner reflects on the impact of white silence and the over-reliance often placed upon people of color to initiate and sustain educational equity efforts and conversations about race. His observations are intermixed in this powerful piece with details from his teaching experiences investigating whiteness with white students, and thinking about his whiteness while discussing race with students of color. Tanner’s article challenges readers to think about the ways whiteness damages white people, and names the work white educators must embrace in order to enact antiracist and more equitable learning futures.

Join the Annotated Conversation

We invite you to read “Whiteness is a White Problem: Whiteness in English Education,” and annotate the text with your own thoughts, reactions, and questions. Annotations may be added using the web annotation tool Hypothesis. To add your own annotations, as well as to respond to others, sign up for your free account.

Share your annotations as you read or any time throughout the month of November. We also encourage you to use this reading and the opportunity to annotate however the Marginal Syllabus best suits your interests—organize a study group among colleagues, bring a class you are teaching to participate in this online discussion either publicly or privately, engage as an individual, or connect this text and conversation to other interest-driven activities.