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Chapter 4

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Chapter Excerpts

It becomes evident that power is closely aligned with privilege—and that holding social, economic, cultural, and legislative power in our country provides clear opportunities for the exercise of privilege. Privilege confers a sense of entitlement in which those who have power are unwilling to support changes that increase equity but that they perceive to increase their competition. This plays out in numerous ways, including a resistance to end academic programs that enhance the opportunities of the privileged or to providing additional resources for those who need it. (p. 55)

The essential understanding leaders must take from this chapter is that power is not only individual but collective, that it is expressed in individual words and actions, but also in societal norms, beliefs, values, and collective acts. To address this misuse of power requires, once again, tremendous moral courage, for it often means going against the norms of the group within which one was raised. This is the role of the transformative leader—to find the courage to challenge inequities wherever they may be found and to work to ensure fully inclusive learning communities for all students. (p. 59)

Supplemental Chapter Resources

Color-Blind Racism

One evening during a graduate class in leadership, the students were discussing the concept of “color-blind racism.” As they explored the concept, wondering if there were not times when it is best to say, “I don’t see color” in recognition that we are all members of the “same race—the human race,” one student explained:

As you know I am Asian-American. My best friend is White and he often says, “I think of you as exactly the same as I am. I don’t see color.” The student responded, “I look in the mirror, I look at my skin (showing his hands and arms); I think I look different. I know I am different. What is he missing?”

At that point, another student, a member of an Indigenous group, exploded:

What do you mean, there is no difference? If there were no difference, my people would finish high school at the same rate! They would graduate from university at the same rate! They would be incarcerated at the same rate! They would find employment at the same rate! What do you mean, “there is no difference?”

Following a stunned silence, a lively discussion ensued in which the well-intentioned White students came face to face with the privilege and racism inherent in their stance. After all, it is really only people from the dominant majority who can afford the luxury of saying, “I don’t see difference.”

Monument Valley High School

Monument Valley High School is located on the Utah portion of the Navajo reservation in southeast Utah and serves primarily Navajo students. The long-standing principal has made a concerted effort to provide all students with numerous cultural events and connections as well as a high quality education. The small school (approximately 230 students) therefore regularly fields a football team, as well as a range of other teams for both male and female students. The school offer a wide range of programs, including shops, computer, and academic subjects. And perhaps most impressive, it also offers a wide range of Navajo cultural activities.

Some years ago, when the principal was relatively new to her position, a group of visitors arrived from Salt Lake City, the state capital. After touring the school, they proffered what was obviously intended to be a compliment: “Thank you for the visit. This school looks just like any other school in the state; you’d never know it is on the reservation.”

The principal was taken aback and promptly determined to ensure that the school visibly represents its community. So, the students set out to paint the pillars with traditional Navajo designs, the science teacher began an ethno-botany project; they enlisted the help of community members to build a traditional hogan—used for school meetings as well as to house visitors who want a more traditional experience than that offered by the local hotel. Through an arch that proclaims ‘Ndahoo’aah (relearning and learning) one finds, not only the hogan, but a churro sheep project, a shade house and other traditional artifacts of Navajo culture.

The churro sheep project is an excellent example of the activities introduced at the school to reintroduce Navajo culture and ensure students both know and are proud of their traditions. To read more about this project, to see pictures of both the sheep and the llamas that guard them, go to the video on their website. As you can see, the sheep provide wool that the students shear, clean, spin, dye, and learn to weave into traditional Navajo rug patterns.

Additional pictures on this site come from the personal collection of the author, and represent the school’s activities over the years of the principal’s tenure. They are not intended to be comprehensive, but to show how it is possible to offer a sanctioned state curriculum and ensure its cultural relevance at the same time.

I offer the pictures for another reason as well. Frequently applicants for teaching positions at the school expect to find a depressed, ill-equipped school that prompts a kind of “missionary zeal” and a desire to “help the poor Navajo children.” The misplaced assumption too often leads to a kind of hegemonic “helping syndrome” that fails to hold the students to high expectations or to acknowledge the powerful combination of learning that takes place in the school—as students search the web, interact with others around the world, and, at the same time, maintain connections with the local elders and with their cultural roots.

Figure 4.1 Figure 4.2 Figure 4.3 Figure 4.4 Figure 4.5 Figure 4.6 Figure 4.7

Carla Cox

As a basis for discussion in other sites, I offer here a more complete version of the exchange between Dr. Carla Cox and Amjar, one of her students, and of the follow-up with her staff. The incident began with a student asking to see his principal—something with which many students in this situation would not feel comfortable. It already demonstrates the trust and the climate of dialogue being created in the school.

Amjar: Mrs. Cox, what do you do when people are racist?

Mrs. Cox: Why? Has someone been racist to you?

Amjar: You know I’m Arabic, right?

Mrs. Cox: Yes. Why?

Amjar: People are calling me terrorist and suicide bomber.

Mrs. Cox: Who?

Amjar: I can’t say who. It happens all of the time—all day, every day.

Mrs. Cox: Amjar, how does it make you feel when students call you terrorist and suicide bomber?

Amjar: I feel horrible. I just feel like I don’t belong here.

Shortly thereafter, the author was with Mrs. Cox, visiting classrooms and meeting with her teachers in the role of critical friend. During each team meeting Mrs. Cox initiated a conversation by saying:

Mrs. Cox: Teachers—are you aware that our Arabic students are being called terrorist and suicide bomber?

Teacher: No, I am not. I have never heard that before and I have worked here for years. Is it everyone or is it just one kid? I’ll bet I know who it is.

Mrs. Cox: No it’s not just one or two students. It seems to be much more widespread than that.

Teacher: It’s probably just kids being kids. I doubt they mean anything by it.

Mrs. Cox: Does it matter what is meant? Isn’t one student who has to face that type of racist comment enough to address it as a school? How do we address the situation in which a student says he or she does not feel he belongs?

In every team meeting the conversation proceeded in a very similar fashion. First the teachers tried to identify the one or two students they believed might be either making the statements or recipients of such teasing. The teachers were not convinced there was a problem, believing it was simply harmless teasing because kids will be kids. But Mrs. Cox was determined not to let the teachers “off the hook.” At the next school-wide staff meeting, she again raised the issue:

Mrs. Cox: Why don’t we all go back to our 1st period classes today and ask if anyone has ever heard someone in our building called a terrorist or suicide bomber?

Teacher: I am not comfortable with that.

Mrs. Cox: Why not?

Teacher: Because it is probably just one student. Why should I take time out of my lesson to talk to a group of students who it probably doesn’t affect anyway?

Mrs. Cox: Don’t we care about each, individual student? Let’s just have the conversation today and we’ll report back as a staff. I hear what you’re saying about the importance of students learning content; however, we have to focus on the social aspect and have expectations for social and emotional needs, too. If you’re right and no one in your class has heard that comment to our students then you’ll be able to move on with your lesson, right?

Teacher: (reluctantly) I guess you’re right.

Mrs. Cox: I’ll look forward to hearing your reports. I appreciate you taking the time to have the conversation.

Here we see the importance of holding teachers accountable for initiating dialogue about important topics with their students. Despite teachers’ reluctance, Mrs. Cox expected them to follow through and let them know that she would be following up again.

To everyone’s surprise, the topic had legs. Shortly thereafter the following conversation, typical of many held that week, occurred.

Teacher: Mrs. Cox—you won’t believe this.

Mrs. Cox: What?

Teacher: I had the conversation with my students this morning. Every single student said that they had heard students in our building called terrorist and suicide bomber.

Mrs. Cox: Really? So what did you do?

Teacher: We spent the entire period discussing it. Did you know that many of our Arabic students are being called this? Did you know that our Arabic students don’t want to come to school because of these comments?

Mrs. Cox: I can imagine. It’s horrible. So what did your class say about it?

Teacher: We are going to make time weekly to discuss it, but we all agreed that as a school we need to talk about it. Do you think we could make it part of our Advisory lessons next week since it appears to be impacting the school? So many of my students said they feel awful about it but don’t know how to address it. I think we need to help them.

Mrs. Cox: Sounds great. Why don’t you put something together for the staff and we can continue the discussion next week in Advisory?

Teacher: Great, but I really want the students to help me. Is that ok?

Mrs. Cox: I think it’s a great idea. Thanks for your leadership.

Over the course of the year, many similar conversations were held, with Mrs. Cox turning more and more responsibility over to the teachers. The surprising outcome was not only heightened awareness, but a total revision of how the advisory block of time was used. The advisory period had been a kind of unstructured holding period during which students had the opportunity to talk about their grades, specific procedures, or a memo from the principal. There was very little time spent on meaningful interactions. It became a haven designed to specifically address issues affecting students’ lives. Mrs. Cox explained: “We host a scenario-based conversation every Friday. Advisory is now about dialogue. It’s about understanding. It’s about getting to the root of why these issues are happening.”

How can you use a similar incident to promote meaningful change in your school?

Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon

According to Wikipedia (see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon), “the Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late eighteenth century. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. The design comprises a circular structure with an ‘inspection house’ at its centre, from which the managers or staff of the institution are able to watch the inmates, who are stationed around the perimeter. Bentham conceived the basic plan as being equally applicable to hospitals, schools, poorhouses, and madhouses, but he devoted most of his efforts to developing a design for a Panopticon prison, and it is his prison which is most widely understood by the term. Bentham himself described the Panopticon as ‘a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example’.”

As you search the web for more articles about the Panopticon, you will see many images similar to the following:


Scholar Michel Foucault, in his 1975 Discipline and punish,used the Panopticon as a metaphor for the kind of surveillance he was critiquing in societies that engaged in what he believed to be excessive monitoring, control, or surveillance. In his discussion, he wrote about the military, hospitals, as well as schools and educational organizations, emphasizing how simply the threat of surveillance and punishment can bring people into compliance.  In education, during the last decade since the authorization of No Child Left Behind, much has been written about how the threat of not meeting adequate yearly progress guidelines has resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum, a singular and unhealthy focus on test taking and test scores, and hence has reduced education to a series of strategies related to avoiding sanctions.