Keeping the Faith in Education was proud to publish Kevin Lally’s essay “Shortening the Shadow of Whiteness.” He is a busy man, but I caught him long enough to ask a few questions about himself, his work and his studies:
Ellie: Your essay poignantly addresses race in the classroom. When did you first begin to realize your whiteness as a person? As a teacher?
Kevin: My whiteness was evident from the very start, though I did not fully recognize it as such until I read Thandeka’s ‘Learning to be White.’ As a person, I had felt particularly distant from Black and Latina culture, though I attributed that to them somehow, rather than to my own ethnic discomfort. Similarly, as a teacher, it was hard to avoid attributing behavioral or academic ‘deficits’ to the students rather than to my own distorted sense of what a classroom or a student should look like. When I began thinking of these discrepancies in terms of whiteness, not only did these confusing issues make more sense, but the solution became evident; in addition to the good work of education, focus on what whiteness means.
Ellie: You are currently studying as well as teaching. How does your work as a student compliment your work as an educator? Any book recommendations for people who want to learn more?
Kevin: For my first few years of being a teacher, teaching was enough – way more than enough really. But finding my feet in the classroom was only the first step in a life-long process of becoming an education person. Being a student helps me to empathize with students, it makes me think hard about what work to do and how to do that work with students. Being around other educators is always productive and reassuring for me. Teaching can be so isolating. Making relationships with other teachers outside of the hallways and teacher’s lounge is essential for me to stay alive in my work. And of course! Book recommendations! I will say first that my reading list is long, and I am no expert on these titles. The authors that have been influential to me are ‘Learning to be White’ by Thandeka as I mentioned, ‘The History of White People’ by Nell Irving Porter is a good introduction to the idea of whiteness. I’ve found Peggy McIntosh’s work with the ‘Invisible Backpack’ to be more harmful than helpful when working with white students.
Kevin Lally is a proud Minnesotan, and a proud bicyclist. He teaches Language Arts at a Catholic high school in St. Paul and is pursuing a PhD at the University of Minnesota.