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Multicultural Social Studies: Using Local History in the Classroom

reviewed by Dean Cristol - 2006

coverTitle: Multicultural Social Studies: Using Local History in the Classroom
Author(s): Anita C. Danker
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807745855, Pages: 197, Year: 2005
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Danker begins the book with a brief, post-World War II, historical introduction that defines multicultural education.  The introduction makes a dramatic claim that social studies is the “most affected” (p. 1) content area for multicultural initiatives—a striking claim, which potentially diminishes the impact of the work for non-social studies educators. This introductory claim seems to be exclusionary, running directly counter to the inclusive nature of multicultural education.

Her argument for this belief is that social studies educators have a deeper responsibility to multicultural education than other content teachers because they are better equipped to teach about multicultural issues, such as diversity, equal opportunity, and social reform. Ironically, this is an elitist perspective which is contrary to the essence of multicultural education.  

If you accept Danker’s line of reasoning that social studies teachers are the primary emissaries for multicultural education, then it follows that social studies should be the place where we begin our multicultural pedagogical quest.  Social studies teachers must use their own communities as a source to help their students connect to the “broad themes and big events” found in U.S. history.

Using local history as way for students to understand history from a multicultural context loses credibility when Danker describes all local history as being multicultural, because it is “people’s history” (p. 2). What does she mean by the “people’s history"?  Should the reader assume history that is not local, is not history of the people but owned by another species?

Danker furthers her claim that local history is naturally multicultural because it “builds pride and connections to the community” (p. 2), which instill “values of good citizenship” (p. 2). These commonly found goals of social studies are not grounded on any research, but a belief that we all agree with Danker’s assessment of local history.  Has Danker forgotten about the horrendous injustices found in history such as the slavery of African Americans, the Klu Klux Klan, anti-Semitism, and anti-Gay and Lesbian legislation?  I am not sure how many local communities celebrate and take pride in these events.

An example of Danker’s out of historical context celebration is found in chapter 3, "Exploring Race and Class in Nashville."  Her historical descriptions of the black and white communities are simplistic, and they gloss over the history of violence most blacks faced throughout the history she describes.  It is as if the discrimination against blacks was nothing more than an inconvenience rather than a brutal, repressive social and legal policy perpetrated by the white majority on the black minority. Danker’s intent is not a multicultural perspective.  She presents a history more analogous to the traditionally bad methods for children to study history, by presenting a whitewashed version of history rather than studying the difficult and often painful reality many blacks suffered through most of American history.  If one embarks in the study and teaching about race relations, one must be prepared to accept that it is not a study of happy coexistence among racial and ethnic groups, but a study of violence interspersed with occasional acts of bravery and reconciliation. I believe this was not Danker’s goal judging from her intention for the book, which was to “highlight the unique and diverse histories of a number of communities whose stories, like those of countless other cities and towns throughout the United States, mirror or provide insights to the development of the nation as a whole” (p. 5).

The book is divided into three parts; the first is an introduction to social studies and its connection to multicultural education. The second part is a series of four chapters that give examples of local histories across the country.  The third part’s purpose is to tie the study of local history to the National Standards of History leading to the development of methods teacher educators can use to teach preservice teachers how to use local history when teaching U.S. History.

The introduction to social studies is a concise history of the content area and provides the reader with the necessary information to understand why Danker is connecting social studies, multicultural education, and local history.  She acknowledges in chapter 1 that this perspective is based on a liberal ideology; but she makes the mistake of calling Diane Ravitch and Arthur Schlesinger liberals, an affront to the authors and to the liberal cause.

The following four chapters focus on local histories in Framingham, Massachusetts; Nashville, Tennessee; Woonsocket, Rhode Island; and Shaker Communities in the United States.  Each chapter is a condescend version of each community’s history.  At the end of each chapter she presents lesson plans and project plans which demonstrate how teachers can use the local history of the community as a vehicle to understand and connect to the national standards.

The final part is about connecting local history to national standards and teaching preservice teachers about using local history as a vehicle to get children interested in the study of history.  Danker presents three major events in American history and demonstrates how they are connected to students’ understanding of the content, the local community, and multicultural themes/issues.  She provides suggested activities to help students meet the standards.  It would have been beneficial to have the template found in Table 6.1 completed for each event.  By not completing the template, it is rendered useless as a tool to help understand how to teach local history.

The last chapter focuses on teaching preservice teachers how to use local history and is based on Danker’s own experiences educating aspiring teachers.  While she presents anecdotal evidence that her method impacts the new teachers in positive ways, readers are left to question the long-term effects on the teachers once they leave Danker’s class.  It would have been useful to read about how the new teachers are using and capitalizing on learning to use local history in their own classrooms.

Overall, the book provides some useful ways to incorporate local history in the study of social studies, but it falls short in making the connections between the study of local history and the larger issues of social justice and diversity, the essence of multicultural education.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 8, 2006, p. 1699-1702
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12208, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 8:16:21 AM

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About the Author
  • Dean Cristol
    Ohio State University at Lima
    E-mail Author
    DEAN CRISTOL is the Academic Coordinator at The Ohio State University at Lima. His interests are in social studies, university-school partnerships, and alternative licensure for teachers. Currently, he is making a transition from Old Dominion University to The Ohio State University at Lima. His recent publications include Cristol, D. and Gimbert, B. (2004) Learning to teach with technology: Designing and implementing technology-enhanced curriculum during teacher preparation. In C. Vrasidas and G. Glass (Eds.) Current Perspectives on Applied Information Technologies: Preparing Teachers to Teach with Technology. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing, and Gimbert, G., Cristol, D., Sene, A. and Wallace, D. (2005) A case study of a competency-driven alternative route to teacher licensure in an urban 'hard-to-staff' school system. Action in Teacher Education.
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