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Translating the Curriculum: Multiculturalism into Cultural Studies

reviewed by Michelle G. Knight-Manuel - 2000

coverTitle: Translating the Curriculum: Multiculturalism into Cultural Studies
Author(s): Susan Huddleston Edgerton
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 0415914019, Pages: 224 pp, Year: 1996
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The overarching project within this book is the call, argument, and challenge of bringing the discourses of cultural studies to bear on curriculum and pedagogy in the field of teacher education. This call for an emphasis on cultural studies in teacher education is situated within the debates of multicultural education. While acknowledging the contributions of the field of multicultural education, Edgerton effectively describes and succinctly critiques historical and contemporary debates surrounding multicultural education. Her critique sets forth some of the limitations of multicultural education and positions cultural studies as a site of possibility for interdisciplinary, cross-cultural approaches that go beyond multicultural practices as currently conceived. She describes the limits of “add-on” multicultural curriculum and recommends a move toward a translated curriculum of difference that permits cross-cultural encounters of discourses that speak lives as they are or might be lived. For example, Edgerton argues for the use of “literary works authored by members of marginalized groups” as well as “canonized” literary works in conversation with philosophy, history, social theory, and students’ self-reflective autobiographical pieces. She posits that cultural studies renders possible a translated curriculum that works with and against marginalization and essentialism and does not impose translation responsibilities on those with the least power. However, the distinctions the author wants to make between multicultural education and cultural studies are not sharply drawn. Additionally, “cultural studies” as exemplified throughout the book is limited to extensive examples from literature and autobiographical writings while excluding multiple forms of popular culture.

One of the strengths of this book is the manifold ways in which the politics of location provide the basis of Edgerton’s argument for cultural studies to intersect with teacher education (Pinar, Reynolds, Slattery, & Taubman, 1994). First, the author gives the reader a sense of who she is and how she came to cultural studies. She then argues for the discourse of cultural studies to be brought into the field of teacher education through a situated pedagogy based on place. This pedagogy of place is emphasized through Edgerton’s inclusion of the local contexts in which she works: the “deep South” in Louisiana and the “northern South” in Chicago. Attention to these local contexts allows the author to engage literary works and the teachers’ own lives in conversations that focus on race and gender with an emphasis on black and white relations. Although Edgerton asserts that a translated curriculum engenders less resistance in students than a multicultural curriculum, there is no evidence given from her teacher education classes to support this claim.

Second, the author’s own rereading of, and autobiographical writing with, a work of historical fiction set in Louisiana, her childhood home, provides teacher education students and readers with a “demonstration of the significance of place.” As the author looks closely into the particularities of concrete situations readers are able to understand the fluidity and transformative potential of learning from one’s own rereadings of historical moments across time. Through the situated analysis of this demonstration, educators can make sense of the contradictory complexities of power, privilege, and oppression within the local situation. In making the argument for discourses within cultural studies to be brought into conversation with teacher educators, it would be helpful for Edgerton to attend to and discuss how these rereadings and the situated analysis contribute to educators’ pedagogical insight and ability to construct practices for the particularities of their contexts within public education (Lather & Ellsworth, 1996).

The challenge of bringing the discourses of cultural studies and the relationships of difference, marginalization, and essentialism into teacher education through a translated curriculum cannot occur without a pedagogy engaging the mind, body, and spirit. In part, this engagement locates itself in the notion of love in the margins. A standpoint that emphasizes love (or feelings/emotions) is often considered a marginalized discourse in relation to those of rationality in certain locations of Western society. Yet, as Tierney (1993) contends, agape/love is a central organizing tenet that awaits our interpretation and use in reorienting our dealings with one another. In explicating the intertexuality of literary readings Edgerton states that a good translation of marginality is premised on love. For example, love conceived as listening offers an engagement with the rereadings of a text that opens up channels of possibilities and connections between love and social action as enacted by Ellison in Invisible Man.

Love and the pedagogical imperative in the cultural studies curriculum and classroom also require cross-cultural encounters in the literacy of the imagination. These encounters include rereading and rewriting from a multifaceted perspective of autobiographical theorizing of one’s own place historically, geographically, and psychologically. An example of love and the pedagogical imperative is seen in one of the teacher education students’ writings and her reconstructed perceptions of the significance of difference and otherness between her teachers and within herself. Unfortunately, this example also provides us with one of the major shortcomings of this book. Edgerton does a much better job of illustrating the connections between cultural studies and the pedagogical imperative of love and social action in literary texts such as Invisible Man, than she does illustrating those between her teacher education students and their work in public schools. The above student example and the author’s decision not to include more student examples from the teacher education classroom raise questions about a translated curriculum and classroom practices with preservice teachers in K–12 public schools. Nonetheless, this work is an important step in establishing the theoretical contribution of cultural studies in teacher education.


Ellison, R. (1995). Invisible man. New York: Vintage Books.

Lather, P., & Ellsworth, E. (1996). Situated pedagogies–classroom practices in postmodern times. Theory Into Practice (College of Education, Ohio State University), 35(2), 70–71.

Pinar, W., Reynolds, W., Slattery, P, & Taubman, P. (1994). Understanding curriculum. New York: Peter Lang.

Tierney, W. (1993). Building communities of difference. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

MICHELLE G. KNIGHT is an assistant professor of education in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching, Teachers College, Columbia University. Her research focuses on educational equity in teacher and urban education, youth policy, and feminist qualitative methodologies. Among her recent publications is “Ethics in Qualitative Research: Multicultural Feminist Activist Research” in Theory Into Practice.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 102 Number 5, 2000, p. 939-940
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10622, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 1:17:28 AM

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