My research centres on three main themes: 1) community learning through shared narratives, 2) intersectional experiences of classism, racism, sexism, and homophobia in education, and 3) the preparation of teacher candidates for critical pedagogy. I am interested in how individuals understand their processes of learning, as well as the narratives (creative writing, poetry, short stories, oral story-telling) they create to make meaning of their lives. Dialogue serves as the basic structure of classroom interaction. Critical pedagogy and democratic education are the foundations, where expressions of power in educational settings are investigated, and attention is focused on the encouragement of traditionally marginalized voices.

In particular, I investigate the experiences of lgbt (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) students, teachers, parents, and community members in places of learning (inside and outside of formal classrooms). These voices are often excluded in traditional learning settings where any type of sexuality is a taboo topic of discussion, and where queer sexuality and gender expression can be actively shunned. Ethnicity, gender, and class further shape the ways in which lgbt people are treated in learning settings, and how we develop expression. I am interested in how we experience identity, community, family, confidence, and shame, and what perspectives we can share about schooling. As relative outsiders, we often possess valuable insights into the workings of hegemonic structures of education.

Overview of Projects

  1. Community Learning through Shared Narratives
    1. Lengua Latina: Latina Canadians Shaping Identity and Community through Writing

      My dissertation is a comprehensive ethnography of a Latina community writing group that met and wrote together for six years in a downtown Toronto, (primarily queer) community centre. Through a framework of decolonizing and social learning theory, I investigated how articulations of artistic, ethnic, and sexual identities shifted through community engagement. The work integrates Latina Canadian experiences of immigration, language, and racism, with the geography of the “gay village”, and the techniques of writing pedagogy.
    2. Unleashing the Unpopular: Talking about Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity in Education, a book I co-edited with Isabel Killoran (York University), brings together my three research themes, and is a strong example of the type of scholarly projects I choose. We invited submissions for an anthology based on the following premise: What stories and research do teachers need in order to truly understand the importance of educating against homophobia in their classrooms? We were motivated by our concern that while plenty of lgbt (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) resources exist for schools today, many teachers do not access them. Our project is an attempt to disrupt the silence, fear, and discomfort many educators possess, through shared narratives and research on these very struggles. It is our hope that the collection of writings will support teacher candidates and teachers in fulfilling their responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for all of their students, including lgbt students or students from lgbt families.
  2. Intersectional Experiences of Classism, Racism, Sexism, and Homophobia in Education
    1. Safe Walk Home: Cultural Literacy in the Regent Park Community

      with Esther Fine

      We address biography through the experiences of a middle school student whose ability to express and act upon her understanding of the needs of her community strengthened with cultural literacy. A vice principal and social worker at Nelson Mandela Park School in the Regent Park community of Toronto offered alternative space and specialized language to the student who already knew how to think critically but had difficulty being heard. Drawing upon social learning theory, we consider notions of “periphery”, and “shared-repertoire”, and the life stories that motivated each participant to learn through the forging of relationships. We address the following questions: 1) How do alternative educational biographies shape relationships and learning within the fringe spaces on school sites? And 2) How can cultural literacy serve to protect and empower critical thinkers?
    2. When the Faculty Meetings End: Women on the Trent Severn Waterway

      with Donna Southern

      The School of Education is composed of tenure track faculty and an established contract faculty who have led education in the region for decades as teachers and school principals. Both groups enter into this institution carrying a complex combination of privilege and marginalization in relation to the cultural capital required to build a university education program. Through fieldnotes, personal essay, food, wine, and the sharing of gardens, we explore what motivates two faculty (one a new tenure track faculty member and the other a part-time lecturer/retired principal) to engage in critical conversations about education. Why do we desire the pedagogical space of the university? How do our gender, sexuality, age and ethnicity shape our motivations and experiences?
  3. The Preparation of Teacher Candidates for Critical Pedagogy
    1. Teaching to the Learning Deficiencies of the Privileged

      In this essay, I address the issue of the deficits of the privileged. While the cultural and resource “deficits” of marginalized children have been thoroughly investigated to gain greater understanding of their exclusion from systems of education, the deficits of the privileged need further exploration. I am concerned with questions such as what resources or literacies do privileged students lack that result in the difficulties they encounter when receiving instruction on social oppression? Through an investigation of both critical pedagogy and cognitive theory, possible causes for their struggles will be offered, in addition to an examination of potential pedagogical practices. Issues of language, power and (dis)comfort will be central to the discussion and to the role that educators present to their students.
    2. Centring Education in Regent Park: A Study of Inner City Teacher Education:

      with Betty Jane Richmond

      This research provides a description and analysis of a unique teacher education program, operating since 2002 under the aegis of York University but situated in the middle of Regent Park, a large low-income housing project extending over several city blocks in downtown Toronto. Designed to better prepare teachers for diverse, inner-city schools, the York-Regent program is committed to grappling with the (elusive) notion of “community” — to interrogate and ground teacher education in exploring what community means in a diverse inner-city neighbourhood. I am a co-investigator on this project, having conducted interviews, observing and writing fieldnotes on faculty meetings, and leading a writing workshop for faculty. My individual focus for the project is an analysis of the individual paths, a collection of identity and political quests, each faculty member followed toward their eventual appointments at Regent Park.

Future Directions for Research

Tomboys and Other Gender Heroes

I am embarking on a new research project: a broad qualitative investigation of narratives of gender construction and policing that emerge in response to my animated film “Tomboy” (2008). I will be drawing upon artistic expression (narratives and film) to create dialogue and capture what hurts these individuals, where their resiliency lies, and how they conceptualize beauty and meaning. Ultimately, my intent is to offer opportunities for participant empowerment, to create rich, diverse representations, and to provide analyses for the development of more inclusive school environments.

I am the creator and screenwriter for the animated short “Tomboy”. Since its release in early 2008, the film has become an important curriculum resource for education centred on bullying/discrimination and gender identity in schools and in the public at large. In addition to numerous film festivals and community events, it has been screened for thousands of children in North America, South America and Europe. The film has received several awards and media attention by CBC Television, CBC Radio, and The Toronto Star. I have had the opportunity to attend many of these screenings where children and adults alike begin to share their own stories of gender discrimination during question/answer periods. I have decided to develop a broad qualitative project to collect these stories. I see it as an important complement to the quantitative survey conducted by EGALE Canada on homophobia and transphobia in Canadian schools.

I conceptualized the curriculum resource “Tomboy” (2008) as an invitation for pedagogical conversations of gender. The story originated from my childhood experiences of walking the world as a tomboy, as well as volunteer experience in a kindergarten class over a dozen years ago. What I have encountered since, is that when I can express with humour, hurt, and honesty, stories of nonconforming gender expression, students and teachers respond with their own stories. In addition, I will explore the ways in which dialogical narratives support the teaching of social equity.