Education in a Multicultural Society
Review of Educating Citizens
in a Multicultural Society
Educating Citizens in a Multicultural Society
by James A. Banks
Published by Teachers College Press: NY, 2007 ( 199 pp)
I was a bit surprised by the polemical and provocative tone of this book. I had expected it to be a somewhat more accessible, user-friendly combination of analysis and teacher guide. Instead, I found a sharply argued and intensely political volume that has an unmistakable agenda.
The author, James A. Banks, who is the Kerry and Linda Killinger Professor in Diversity Studies and Director of the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington in Seattle—as well as the editor for this Teachers College Press series on Multicultural Education—views multicultural education through the lens of racism. At one point, he blithely reports that “Many teachers are unaware of the extent to which they embrace racist and sexist attitudes”, or that the groups he refers to lack the respect granted to “more privileged ethnic and cultural groups such as Greeks and Jews in the United States.” He believes that schools need to be radically transformed in order to effectively deliver the kind of education that will embrace all students.
Banks hurls his first salvo in the preface: “Our nation’s motto is e pluribus unum—out of many, one. Throughout most of its history, the United States has been able to forge a shared community by imposing on the pluribus (the many) the dominant culture constructed by the elite descendants of the British who settled in America…Becoming citizens of the commonwealth has been much more difficult for ethnic groups of color and for women from all racial, ethnic and cultural groups than for mainstream males.”
Okay. He certainly got my attention. And throughout the book, Banks argues that the “gap between American democratic ideals and American racism” is something that schools need to confront head on. He believes that schools, and classroom teachers, have to respect and confer legitimacy on cultural and ethnic groups. According to evidence he presents from the most recent United States census, 2006, “more than half of the nation’s citizens will be individuals of color by 2050.” But rather than work from the traditional assimilationist model, a model that Banks contends often made students of color and from ethnic groups feel de-legimitized, he believes that schools need to embrace culturally sensitive teaching and learning strategies.
Banks further makes the distinction between what’s loosely referred to as multiculturalism and multicultural education, writing that “ multicultural education describes ways in which some students are denied equal educational opportunities because of their racial, ethnic, social class or gender characteristics. Multicultural education is also an educational reform movement that tries to reform schools in ways that will give all students an equal opportunity to learn. It describes teaching strategies that empower all students and give them voice.”
The author also discusses a term he calls “equity pedagogy”,which means “teaching strategies and classroom environments that help students from diverse racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Students make connections between the autobiographical experience of knowers and the knowledge they create.”
A tall order, perhaps, but one that Banks advocates in the strongest possible terms. This is not a book for the classroom teacher, who hopes to dip into its pages and find some ready steps to incorporate in her lesson plans. Rather, it is the departure point for some serious discussion and conversation at a school district’s highest levels about racism and responding to the needs of an increasingly diverse student body.#