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Interrupting Discourses Around Gender Through Collective Memory Work and Collaborative Curriculum Research in Middle School

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Many schools in recent years have implemented curricular projects to 'deal with' homophobia and sexism as problems that affect adolescent students and make schools unsafe. The ways in which we, as teachers and researchers, confront such problems, however, depends upon how we view their power within schools. When viewed as discursive elements of a generally heteronormative school environment, gender and sexuality norms become more complicated and subtle, as they are a part of systems of language, actions, and expectations that can be difficult to problematize with students and teachers. Drawing on feminist post-structuralist theory related to normativity and discourse analysis, our research looks at two middle-school projects aimed at interrupting heteronormative thinking by including students in the process of analyzing and re-creating school discourse. In one project, a whole class looks at gender identity formation through analyzing collective memory works collaboratively with the teacher. In the second project, a smaller group of girls works to re-think ways that the science/math curriculum could be more responsive to girls, in the end also analyzing the work that comes out of the collaboration. Together, the projects raise important questions about the effectiveness of such curricular projects, the power of school language around 'adolescence', and the potential for addressing gender normativity on the level of discourse, especially in the face of such powerful ideas of gender/sexuality in the middle grades.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Columbia University Teachers College and Manhattan Academy of Technology, New York, USA

Publication date: July 1, 2003

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