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Other Kinds of Families: Embracing Diversity in Schools

reviewed by Virginia Casper - March 24, 2008

coverTitle: Other Kinds of Families: Embracing Diversity in Schools
Author(s): Turner-Vorback and Monica Miller Marsh (Eds.)
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807748382, Pages: 204, Year: 2007
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Other Kinds of Families is a most welcome addition to the growing, yet urgently needed literature on family diversity. Each of the chapters in this edited volume conveys themes of transformation and change. The diversity of families and experiences represented here are multiple and layered. Each speaks not solely to the dilemmas and invisibility of families outside the hegemonic playing field, but to the strengths of families and their members. In this book we meet children growing up in foster care who defy the odds and enter college, bi-racial families of two fathers and their adopted children, and newcomer families to the United States, to name but a few. Moreover, each chapter, in its own way, helps educators and teacher educators consider routes toward activism for more inclusive and responsive school and societal practices. Other Kinds of Families is an excellent selection for teacher education courses that cover the role of families in society and that guide students to work successfully with many kinds of families. Individual chapters could be a wonderful addition to almost any course in a teacher education program.

The collection is divided into two sections. Part One, “Narratives of Experience,” is highlighted by the editors as having a more personal and anecdotal quality than Part Two, “Representations of Family in School Culture and Curriculum.” In reality, there is an intimate quality to all the writing that binds these very diverse chapters into a coherent book. The diversity extends beyond the topic to method and style as well, including personal stories linked with research, an analysis of children’s books, and a unifying “Questions for Reflection” section at the end of each chapter. Families composed of individuals who are physically or mentally challenged is the only area that I noticed to be absent from this thoughtful collection.

Chapter One, by Elizabeth Heilman is entitled “Hegemonies and ‘Transgressions’ of Family: Tales of Pride and Prejudice.” The author sets a clear tone by beginning with a wide range of definitions of family. Citing John Gillis, (1996) she constructs a stark framework: we all live in two families. One is the actual family that we live in, and the other is the ideal family to which we compare ourselves. Using her own family, current statistics and pop culture, the reader sees how resistance and negation of step-, adoptive, foster families and marriage partners with wide age discrepancies are but a few of the constellations that can lead these family members to feelings of otherness. In spite of this, she argues that there has been scant research on stigma and prejudice about family structures. It is beyond tiresome when family members feel compelled to try to “pass” to become part of the hegemonic ideal, which they must do in some educational settings. Heilman’s point is that the effects of such transgressions cannot be easily undone.

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 are each about welcoming and listening to the needs of families. In Chapter 2, “Immigrant Families and Schools: The Need for a Better Relationship,” A.Y. “Fred” Ramirez provides a very useful history of U.S. immigration policies and uses story to illustrate the need for teachers to know more about how to teach English Language Learners. Some mention of the key role of curriculum as a way to engage families would have been illustrative. Chapter 3, “From the Principal’s Desk: Making the School Environment More Inclusive,” by Teresa J. Rishel, combines powerful stories from the author’s own experiences as a teacher and principal with cultural capital theory to show how families are excluded from the dominant culture/s in schools. In Chapter 4, “A Welcoming Tone in the Classroom: Developing the Potential of Diverse Students and Their Families,” Lisa Rieger uses her first-grade teaching experiences to provide rich examples of how to reach out to all families. The reader understands that her solutions to one family’s rejection of all holiday celebrations means finding a way to re-think celebrations and gifts in general, not just remove that child from the class on festive occasions. The reader is clear that this endeavor is not just problem-solving for Lisa, but community-building.

Chapter 5 takes on the issue of children in foster care, from a young age through higher education. “Wards of Wisdom: Foster Youth on a Path Toward Postsecondary Education” by Ilyana Marks helps the reader see how emancipated adults from the foster care system are underrepresented in postsecondary educational institutions but overrepresented in social service and welfare agencies. While suffering from multiple insults within the system, children in foster care are still subject to federal mandates for high academic performance. Marks’ approach is truly strengths-based. She recommends that culturally and ethnically appropriate supports must be identified early on so that children can strengthen their identities and confidence to know how to seek the help they need to make it beyond high school and function well in post-secondary learning environments.

I found Chapter 6, “Evolving Images: Crafting Family Lives in Colonial Pennsylvanina” to have the most creative scholarship. Monica Marsh Miller provides an historical analysis of three different kinds of families living in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, over a twenty-year period, during the mid-1700’s. Miller uses Bakhtin’s notion of chronotypes to compare the family structures of Moravians (initially communal), Lutheran families (corporate and nuclear) and the matrilineal Lenape Native Americans whose large family was based on unity and reciprocity.      

Chapters 7, 8 and 9 focus on GLBTQ issues, adoption, and homelessness, respectively.  “Doing the Difficult: Schools and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer Families,” by Janice Kroeger, brings the reader up to date with recent activist approaches to GLBTQ oppression, especially in schools. Chapter 8 authors Lesley Colabucci and Matthew Conley make their points about the variety of ways to think about adoption by taking the reader through their extremely thoughtful critique of contemporary realistic children’s fiction on adoption. We see the books written from the point of view of the adopted child, adoptive parents’ and/or adoptive siblings’ points of view. Readers will have an opportunity to consider what it means to render birth parents as deficient or lacking in abilities or resources to raise a child, or view adoptive single mothers as “lonely,” versus more sensitive portrayals of both. A more positive example is provided by a father in Beginnings (Kroll, 1994), who states that he “knew our family wasn’t finished yet.”  Chapter 9, “Emerging Faces of Homelessnes: Young Children, Their Families, and Schooling, by Tracy Thoennes, is a short but pithy chapter that helps the reader understand all the ways homelessness interrupts the development and family life of the 1.35 million children who have experienced having no home. The experience may be temporary for some, but the effects are long lasting for most. The author provides concrete ways to keep children who are homeless on the minds of educators and advocate for them.

Family forms are often a “hidden” part of the curriculum, but Chapter 10, by Tammy Turner-Vorbeck, also helps us consider the effects of what is too often a null  (Eisner, 1994) curriculum—a complete absence of explicit reference to families and their many forms, especially beyond the early childhood grades. How can family be represented in the curriculum? This chapter is a perfect summary chapter to the entire book. Here Turner-Vorbeck offers a Dewey-inspired Awareness––Reflection––Action approach as a first step for teachers to be able to explicitly represent ideas of family in their school curricula in closer balance with the reality of today’s family structures.


Eisner, E.W. (1994).  The educational imagination: On design and evaluation of school programs (3rd ed.). New York: Macmillan.

Gillis, J.R. (1996). A world of their own making: Myth, ritual, and the quest for family values. New York: Basic Books.

Kroll, V. (1994). How families come to be. Morton Grove, IL:  Albert Whitman.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 24, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15163, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 6:27:53 AM

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About the Author
  • Virginia Casper
    Bank Street College of Education
    VIRGINIA CASPER is a developmental psychologist and teacher educator who has worked with children and families in early intervention and research. At Bank Street College of Education, she directed the Infant and Parent Development and Early Intervention Program and served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the Graduate School from 2002- 2007. Dr. Casper has also worked internationally and continues to work in South Africa, in curriculum development, teacher training and infant advocacy.

    Her work on attachment, gender and teacher-parent relationships has been published in Teacherís College Record, The Harvard Education Review and Zero to Three. Her co-authored books include: Gay Parent/Straight Schools: Building Communication and Trust (1999) and an undergraduate Early Childhood Education textbook, to be published by McGraw-Hill in fall 2009.

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