Recognizing and critiquing whiteness through critical tools, dialogical praxis, and humanizing classroom labor relations : an exploratory case study of a grade eight U.S. history classroom activity system.


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Empirical studies of anti-racism in the secondary social studies classroom remain limited. This exploratory case study addressed this dearth in scholarship by describing the activity that emerged in a purposefully selected eighth-grade classroom with a teacher directing students toward recognizing and critiquing whiteness. I situated this study in literature focused on schools as sites for social reproduction and transformation. Using Cultural Historical Activity Theory, I studied the classroom as a collective and object-oriented system of culturally mediated actions connected to other activity systems. Studying the classroom as an activity system allowed me to focus on participant agency and avoid a behavioristic model for analyzing anti-racism in the secondary social studies classroom. The study took place during the spring 2021 semester in a course covering the history of the United States through the period of Reconstruction. I observed the classroom activity, took field notes, collected artifacts, and conducted interviews with the teacher and students. I analyzed data using a conceptual framework built on sociocultural theory, critical pedagogy, and critical theories of race. The first three findings focus on the patterns of activity that emerged as students engaged with critical social studies curricular tools, built a classroom culture from dialogical exchanges, and partook in a more humanizing division of classroom labor. Students displayed signs of unlearning and reinvesting in a white racial sign system. The fourth finding considers how the classroom activity system collided with neighboring systems of activity. Unfortunately, the collisions between the classroom activity system and neighboring activities manifested in barriers rather than opportunities for expansive social transformation. I discuss these findings concerning existing research and note opportunities for further research on anti-racist teaching and learning in the secondary social studies classroom. I argue that research and practice should give more attention to the social relations of production when studying and implementing critical and anti-racist social studies education. I conclude with a discussion of what this study means within a policy culture of standardization.