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Professor Wins Critics Choice Award for Book on Racism, Sexism in Schools

By Lori Wright, Media Relations
September 16, 2009


Sarah Stitzlein, assistant professor of education and core faculty member in women's studies

A UNH professor has been awarded the 2009 American Educational Studies Association Critics’ Choice Award for her book about the prominent role of racism and sexism in today’s classrooms, with behavior in some children starting in kindergarten.

Sarah Stitzlein, assistant professor of education and core faculty member in women’s studies, has been recognized for her book, “Breaking Bad Habits of Race and Gender: Transforming Identity in Schools.” The award recognizes and aims to increase awareness of exceptional scholarship in the field of educational studies.

“Sarah is an excellent scholar who is building a robust research agenda. Receiving this award so early in her career is a noteworthy achievement,” says Todd DeMitchell, chair of the department of education.

Stitzlein’s book is the first to unite two major schools of educational philosophy, traditional American pragmatism and contemporary post-structuralism, to offer both theoretical and concrete suggestions for dealing with actual classroom oppression based on race and gender.

“Every day teachers encounter moments of racial and gender tension in their classrooms. In the most drastic cases, these situations erupt into overt conflict or violence, while in other instances they go largely unnoted. Such incidents reveal that despite equality legislation and the good intentions of many teachers, racial and gender problems persist,” Stitzlein says.

Stitzlein’s book also provides a historical overview of how oppression tied to race and gender has changed in America in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“Today, racism and sexism have become more internalized. They shape our behaviors and self-expectations about how we should walk, talk, and think. They shape our habits, including the way we move, talk, and interact with others,” she says.

According to Stitzlein, overt sexism is more likely to occur in high school, but the more tacitly embodied behaviors of race and gender begin at early age – even in kindergarten.

“It's part of the process of becoming a human being in America. We pick it up through images and direct teachings, but also through the more subtle work of language -- the way we speak, are described, and respond to others,” she says.

And while schools are one of the most common settings of race and gender discord, schools also are the primary locations for alleviating systems of oppression, she says. It is within schools that children learn how to enact and respond to race and gender.

To combat racism and sexism in the classroom, Stitzlein encourages teachers to have more direct and open conversations about how race and gender work in society and how they affect the lives of all students.

“I encourage teachers to make children uncomfortable with their racial positions, especially white students who live rather privileged lives. I also recommend that teachers help students reflect on themselves in ways that can make their habits of race and gender more flexible,” she says.

Stitzlein’s book has been well received by the education community.

"Stitzlein makes a great theoretical case for the intelligent treatment of race and gender in schools. This is an important and timely book that Rowman & Littlefield will be happy to have published," said Gregory Seals, College of Staten Island, CUNY.

The American Educational Studies Association, an international society for students, teachers, research scholars and administrators interested in the foundations of education, provides a cross-disciplinary forum wherein scholars gather to exchange and debate theoretical issues and empirical research that address the social context of education.



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