Group: Tomas Blomqvist, Lucy Kaplan (author), Heidi Urpilainen & Tero Väisänen
Normally, I am accustomed to hearing the word “intersectionality” used in activist circles when discussing praxis. Especially in feminist circles, discussion of intersectionality often comes about when stressing the importance of advocating for women of all races, sexual orientations, religions, et cetera. Ann Phoenix’s presentation situated intersectionality in an entirely new place for me- applied to education, intersectionality can create a deeper understanding of sensitive classroom management, as well as a more nuanced understanding of student performance data.
Ann Phoenix’s primary argument is that social categories do not operate in isolation from one another; rather, they simultaneously position people in multiple ways, meaning that their oppression will be different than what one might first assume. For instance, one might assume that white students, who all benefit positively from institutional racism, would attain the most knowledge in UK schools. However, this assessment lacks an understanding of the many societal factors that position a student in this way. Student performance data is not only affected by race- gender, sexual orientation, and social class also affect it. A more complex understanding of how societal positioning affects student performance brings in as many societal categories as possible. Thus, rich and male white students tend to perform well in school, while working-class male white students tend to perform poorly.
A situational understanding is important as well. Social categories’ effect on student performance can change depending on the place and time being studied. We know that race is made to be socially significant, rather than being natural; the way race is socially significant is very different between, for example, the United States in 1917 and Finland in 2017. Opportunities change from country to country, and they certainly change quite a bit over time. Different categories can even decenter each other over time and place.
With the understanding that education produces and magnifies inequalities, it becomes clear that intersectionality is essential not only to understanding student performance, but also is crucial for anti-discriminatory school practices. Antiracist, antisexist, antihomophobic pedagogies are all just parts of the larger issue- utilizing each independently is not enough for students. Intersectionality means that teachers will utilize these pedagogies while considering how they interact in order to truly work toward anti-discriminatory schools.