Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations


Contesting the Keys to Freedom: Rhetoric, K-12 Education Policy, and Whiteness as a Cultural Practice

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Media and Communication

First Advisor

Alberto González (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Catherine Stein (Other)

Third Advisor

John Dowd (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Ellen Gorsevski (Committee Member)


This manuscript attempts to broaden previously explored concepts about the nature of whiteness in order to describe and analyze its influence on past and current K-12 education policy discussions. From an orientation of critical rhetoric, I attempt to advance the critical intercultural communication project by taking seriously Kent Ono (2013) notion that assumptions about nation-states as homogeneous entities vastly undertheorize how nations and the people who embody them actually work. That said, my project makes use of Colin Woodard's (2011) mapping of 11 American nations. These nations, or dominant cultural hearths, as Woodard argues, reflect the embedded attitudes, deep seated preferences, and governing practices of the various EuroAtlantic colonizers who controlled them (p. 2). I assemble discursive fragments into a text directed at demystifying how--within these colonized lands--whiteness operates uniquely as a cultural practice. Taking education as a form of governmentality, as Foucault suggests (Foucault as cited in Lemke, 2002), I analyze deliberation on K-12 education that takes place where the borders of whiteness as a cultural practice meet. My goal is to shed light on rituals and strategies that work to maintain and/or challenge whiteness within these settings. The two overarching research questions guiding this work are: (1) what can critics learn about the connections between place, whiteness and cultural practices by analyzing deliberation about K-12 education at different locales within the U.S.? (2) How does whiteness intersect, influence, and mediate boundaries of civic identity and national belonging?