Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Instruction and Teacher Education


Foundations of Education

First Advisor

Michelle Bryan


In the United States, approximately 82% of teachers are white and middle-class, yet their students are strikingly diverse and becoming more so. The mismatch between teachers’ and students’ racial backgrounds is important because teachers who have limited experience with students of color may misinterpret their students’ unfamiliar behaviors and make stereotyped assumptions from a deficit perspective. It is well documented that U.S. schools systematically marginalize and fail many children of color. Disparities in funding, access, and achievement in education are intimately tied to race. Everyday practices in schools perpetuate inequities, but the actual processes can be hard to see. If we want to understand why schools continue to reproduce social inequities, we must develop a more complex understanding of the role that white teachers play, consciously and unconsciously, in perpetuating institutionalized racism. Understanding white teachers’ racial and generational identities, and the ways in which they have been socialized to conceptualize race in particular historical, social, and cultural contexts is crucial to this task. The purpose of this study was to examine the racial socialization of three white, non-traditionally aged pre-service teachers, and to explore the impact of transformational learning experiences on their conceptualizations of racism. Each of the participants engaged in a semester-long undergraduate course with a social justice curriculum and a 20-hour service-learning project. A qualitative, interpretive case study approach was used in conjunction with a critical family history project to examine the events, experiences, and contexts that have shaped the participants’ understandings of race and racism. Initial conversations revealed evidence of us/them “othering,” denial, colorblindness, meritocracy, and “a culture of niceness” (McIntyre, 1997; Pimentel, 2010; Rogers & Mosley, 2008). The critical family history project (Sleeter, 2008, 2011, 2013, 2014) was used as a tool to trace intergenerational capital, link family stories to larger social issues, and reveal ways in which power and privilege have been constructed over time in deeply personal ways.


© 2015, Deborah H. McMurtrie