Queering Classrooms: Personal Narratives and Educational Practices to Support LGBTQ Youth in Schools
reviewed by Catherine Taylor - May 31, 2017
Title: Queering Classrooms: Personal Narratives and Educational Practices to Support LGBTQ Youth in Schools
Author(s): Erin A. Mikulec and Paul Chamness Miller
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681236508, Pages: 238, Year: 2016
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By now the erasure and stigmatization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans* and queer (LGBTQ) people throughout K12 schooling has been well established by large scale studies in the U.S., Canada, and internationally. There is also evidence that teachers are well aware of the situation and that there is broad support among them for LGBTQ inclusive education. However, far more teachers approve of this type of work than practice it. Among the chief reasons they cite for inaction are professional concerns about job repercussions and a lack of training or resources that are available for them. LGBTQ inclusive education scholars increasingly argue that teacher education on inclusion is not only vital to individual teachers, but could also effect significant system wide changes. It would do this by equipping new teachers with the knowledge and resources that educators who are already in the system generally lack. Erin A. Mikulec and Paul Chamness Millers Queering Classrooms: Personal Narratives and Educational Practices to Support LGBTQ Youth in Schools joins only two other volumes, Olivia Murrays Queer Inclusion in Teacher Education (2015) and Rita M. Kissens earlier Getting Ready for Benjamin (2002), in focusing on teacher education as a key component in the struggle for safe and respectful schools for LGBTQ students.
The title of this timely collection suggests that the editors have set their sights on what happens in classrooms, a focus glaringly absent from most LGBTQ policies and programming. These initiatives tend to focus on what occurs in the vice principals and counselors offices (e.g., harassment prevention and response procedures that can be justified as meeting safety obligations). However, they shy away from the more politically contentious stance of supporting the work of LGBTQ inclusive teachers. These are educators who not only watch out for marginalized students and perhaps facilitate a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club, but who also discuss LGBTQ topics in class. They queer the binary gender system by exposing it as culturally imposed and a misrepresentation of the actual rainbow of gender identities and sexual orientations.
What the title does not make clear is the ambitiousness of the editors concept of queering classrooms. For example, are they advocating for a new type of teacher education that would support a gender paradigm shift in K12 education? Or are they advocating for something more modest, but still very much needed? Specifically, are they looking for a generation of ally teachers who support the wellbeing of LGBTQ students? The introduction to the volume clarifies that Mikulec and Miller mean both of these ideas. After reviewing the U.S. research on school climate (and the volume is largely American based in authorship, literature cited, and school experiences), they argue that teacher education should prepare teacher candidates to advocate for and support the needs of LGBTQ students. They also aim to disrupt heteronormativity and gender normativity in their classrooms.
The volume proceeds eclectically through 14 chapters that are variously reflective or conceptual and also include research reports. They are loosely organized into four themes: assessments of progress made and challenges remaining, personal reflections of pre-service and in-service teachers, using literature to address LGBTQ youth in schools, and creating safe or supportive K20 school climates.
The first section begins with a gender-queer teachers reflections on LGBTQ student issues written 14 years ago that sadly required little updating. In itself, this is an argument for LGBTQ inclusive curricula and teacher education. The next two chapters offer theoretically sophisticated reflections on two key issues. First, what is involved in being an ally to LGBTQ people? Second, which children are we hoping to protect? The second section begins with personal essays offering hopeful reflections by teachers, education professors, and teacher education students on their sometimes difficult experiences of attempting to achieve LGBTQ inclusion. Section Three moves into approaches to using LGBTQ themed literature in K12 classrooms and teacher education. Interestingly, the title of one chapter on library holdings advocates the thoroughly critiqued aim of teaching tolerance. This suggests just how unrealistic the ambitious goal of disrupting sexual and gender normativity must seem to educators in many K12 contexts. Section Four offers an essay on being a GSA sponsor, a call for teacher education, and a report on university campus climate (hence K20).
Overall, the collection uniquely offers multiple personal reflections from LGBTQ educators and ally educators that point to the need for better and more widespread teacher education regarding these issues. As a result, most readers will likely find several chapters of interest. As with many diverse collections, it is possible to point to problems of uneven quality and of asymmetry. For example, if there is one non-American author, why are there not more of them? Why is there a section on using literature to the exclusion of other content areas? Why is there a research report on university campus climate in a volume focused on K12 schools? However, the central issue for this book is that its diverse contents present only an indirect argument for LGBTQ inclusive teacher education. It is not a methodologically diverse text, but instead a thematically sustained one. It is certainly not one that lives up to the paradigm shifting potential that is implied in its title. The editors try to address this problem in a concluding chapter titled "Tying It All Together that points out how each chapter directly or indirectly supports the need for teacher education.
In the end, Mikulec and Millers Queering Classrooms may be a useful collection for readers looking for personal accounts of the ins and outs of supporting LGBTQ students, specifically as LGBTQ teachers and particularly those who work in hostile contexts. However, it is less useful for readers hoping for insight into how teacher education programs might prepare teachers to queer classrooms in the intensely heteronormative and gender normative world of K12 education where increasing tolerance often counts as a major achievement. The volume is, as its subtitle accurately states, a set of Personal Narratives and Educational Practices to Support LGBTQ Youth in Schools. As a result, readers should approach it without expectations of a queer conceptual framework or a focus on teacher education.
Kissen, R. M. (2002). Getting ready for Benjamin: Preparing teachers for sexual diversity in the classroom. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Murray, O. J. (2015). Queer inclusion in teacher education: Bridging theory, research, and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.