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Race Lessons: Using Inquiry To Teach About Race In Social Studies

reviewed by Jane C. Lo - February 05, 2018

coverTitle: Race Lessons: Using Inquiry To Teach About Race In Social Studies
Author(s): Prentice T. Chandler (Ed.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 168123890X, Pages: 474, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com

Since Critical Race Theory (CRT) was first introduced as a framework for analyzing educational inequities (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995), it has blossomed as an epistemological and methodological tool in many areas of educational research.1 Broadly, CRT in the education literature has produced works that examine how racism plays a role in education (Brown & De Lissovoy, 2011; Gillborn, 2008; Leonardo, 2013). These works parallel a sociological tradition (e.g., Bonilla-Silva, 2013; Mills, 1999; Omi & Winant, 2014) that demonstrates the permanence of racism within US institutions. Along those lines, authors in Ladson-Billings' (2003) book challenged the field of social studies education to examine its role in reifying the racial structures and attitudes that exist in the field. To address this challenge, Chandler and Hawley's (2017) volume presents a well-known pedagogical tool (inquiry) as a potential vehicle to carry the work of CRT in social studies classrooms.

Race Lessons aims to provide a resource on how to teach about race using a combination of the Inquiry Design Model (IDM) and Critical Race Theory (CRT). This is a lofty goal, since co-opting a complex pedagogy (IDM) as a vehicle to deliver an equally complex theory (CRT) requires thorough intellectual work. It is worthwhile to remember that inquiry has a long and respected tradition in the social studies (Thornton, 2017). The history of inquiry in the social studies can be traced back to humble beginnings during the progressive era, a resurgence during the 1960s New Social Studies movement, and finally taking hold during the cognitive revolution at the turn of the 21st century (Saye, 2017). As a constructivist pedagogy, inquiry engages students by asking them to construct their own understandings of content through rigorous questioning and research. IDM is the field’s most recent take on inquiry and has been incorporated into the National Council for the Social Studies’ latest standards, the C3 framework (Grant, Swan, & Lee, 2017). As juxtaposition, explicit conversations about race have not always been a part of the social studies tradition, with notable exceptions (e.g., Brown & Brown, 2011; Epstein, 2008; Howard, 2004). Admittedly, both inquiry and race are difficult for teachers to incorporate into their teaching (e.g., Barton & Levstik, 2003; Brown & Brown, 2011; Saye, 2017; Sue, Lin, Torino, Capodilupo, & Rivera, 2009); nonetheless this volume attempts to combine these two concepts in a way that is useful for practitioners.

As an extension of Chandler's (2015) earlier collection on teaching about race in the social studies, the book provides some theoretical underpinning for teaching about race (section one), lesson plans that align with standards (section two), and reflections on challenges for doing this work in the classroom (section three). Chandler and Hawley attempt to weave together the theoretical prowess of CRT and the practical implications of IDM in order to provide examples of real-world applications of Racial Pedagogical Content Knowledge (RPCK) with varying success. Some of the chapters seem more like CRT content in IDM format rather than rigorous inquiry via CRT principles. And unfortunately, readers do not get to fully unpack RPCK, nor its foundational theory (PCK)2 in the volume, although chapters one and four do introduce RPCK briefly to the reader. These shortcomings are a testament to the arduous task of fully attending to both CRT and IDM in one setting. Nonetheless, the editors are successful in presenting new ways to teach about race.

The first section of the book consists of three chapters, each outlining a foundational theory of the book: CRT, IDM, and RPCK, respectively. The chapter on IDM is the most successful as it explains the concept and provides practical details on how teachers might utilize it in their own teaching. It also includes useful resources for teachers who want to dive more deeply into the inquiry method. Separately, the chapters could be useful in teacher preparation courses as short summaries of each theory and how they apply to social studies teaching.

Section two makes up the bulk of the volume. Featuring fifteen chapters (each a different lesson plan) and some 320 pages, this section of the book provides readers with lesson plans and resources on how to teach about race. With a broad sampling of content, the authors deliver examples of how RPCK might exist within an IDM framework. While the chapters are regrettably uneven in depth and substance, lessons like “What is Race” and “Africans in New Amsterdam” exemplify the spirit of the volume, and ask students to think through CRT principles using the IDM framework. Chapters like these show the practical possibilities of CRT done well within genuine inquiry.

The four chapters in the final section of the book tackle issues faced by teachers when attempting RPCK in social studies. Framed as reflections from the field that provide insights into the challenges of teaching about race, these chapters perhaps raise more questions than they answer, questions about how to engage with emotions in the classroom, represent counter narratives, provide professional support, and navigate genuine relationships with students. Even though these chapters present lingering questions, they are examples of real educators wrestling with the pervasiveness of racial inequity in institutional structures. Readers of this volume might be able to gain strength from recognizing their own struggles within these chapters.

Chandler and Hawley began the book by suggesting it is “designed to bridge the gap between what state and NCSS sponsored documents have failed to do and what the profession of social studies education is required to do (i. e., prepare our students for the worlds in which they live)” (p. 10). The volume achieves this by providing teachers with some resources to teach about race, but it might have fallen short on the rigorous intents behind CRT and IDM.

In the end, Race Lessons is a useful resource for teachers who have some background in CRT and IDM, and who need help incorporating CRT into their existing inquiry practices. However, the volume might prove to be particularly challenging for teachers who already struggle with CRT, content, pedagogy, and PCK, let alone RPCK. Nevertheless, the book might be well suited for a teacher preparation setting, since it presents a strong argument for why teaching about race and teaching with IDM are necessary aspects of the profession. In the same way that social studies teachers tend to obsess over content, it is time we begin to attend to race (or the lack of) in our own teaching. Race Lessons has nudged us along on that journey.


1. See Ledesma and Calderon's (2015) review.

2. See Shulman's (1986) seminal work on the concept.


I wish to thank Walter C. Parker for helpful comments and suggestions on earlier drafts of this review.


Barton, K. C., & Levstik, L. S. (2003). Why don’t more history teachers engage students in interpretation? Social Education(6), 358.

Bonilla-Silva, E. (2013). Racism without racists: Color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in America (4 edition). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Brown, A. L., & De Lissovoy, N. (2011). Economies of racism: Grounding education policy research in the complex dialectic of race, class, and capital. Journal of Education Policy, 26(5), 595–619.

Brown, K. D., & Brown, A. L. (2011). Teaching K-8 students about race: African Americans, racism, and the struggle for social justice in the U.S. Multicultural Education, 19(1), 9–13.

Chandler, P. T. (Ed.). (2015). Doing race in social studies: Critical perspectives. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Chandler, P. T., & Hawley, T. S. (Eds.). (2017). Race lessons: Using inquiry to teach about race in social studies (Vol. Teaching and Learning Social Studies). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Epstein, T. (2008). Interpreting national history: Race, identity, and pedagogy in classrooms and communities (1st edition). New York: Routledge.

Gillborn, D. (2008). Racism and education: Coincidence or conspiracy? New York: Routledge.

Grant, S. G., Swan, K., & Lee, J. (2017). Inquiry-based practice in social studies education: Understanding the inquiry design model (1st edition). New York: Routledge.

Howard, T. C. (2004). “Does race really matter?” Secondary students’ constructions of racial dialogue in the social studies. Theory & Research in Social Education, 32(4), 484–502.

Ladson-Billings, G. (Ed.). (2003). Critical race theory perspectives on the social studies: The profession, policies, and curriculum. Greenwich, Conn: Information Age Publishing.

Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate, W. F. (1995). Toward a critical race theory of education. Teachers College Record, 97(1), 47–68.

Ledesma, M. C., & Calderon, D. (2015). Critical Race Theory in education: A review of past literature and a look to the future. Qualitative Inquiry, 21(3), 206–222.

Leonardo, Z. (2013). Race frameworks: A multidimensional theory of racism and education. New York: Teachers College.

Mills, C. W. (1999). The racial contract (1 edition). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Omi, M., & Winant, H. (2014). Racial formation in the United States (3rd edition). New York: Routledge.

Saye, J. W. (2017). Disciplined inquiry in social studies classrooms. In M. M. Manfra & C. M. Bolick (Eds.), The Wiley Handbook of Social Studies Research (pp. 336–359). John Wiley & Sons.

Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4–14.

Sue, D. W., Lin, A. I., Torino, G. C., Capodilupo, C. M., & Rivera, D. P. (2009). Racial microaggressions and difficult dialogues on race in the classroom. Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology, 15(2), 183–190.

Thornton, S. J. (2017). A concise historiography of the social studies. In M. M. Manfra & C. M. Bolick (Eds.), The Wiley Handbook of Social Studies Research (pp. 9–41). John Wiley & Sons.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 05, 2018
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22265, Date Accessed: 5/21/2022 8:12:48 AM

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About the Author
  • Jane Lo
    Florida State University
    E-mail Author
    JANE C. LO is Assistant Professor of Social Science Education in the School of Teacher Education at Florida State University. She studies social studies education broadly, with a specific focus on civic education. Her recent works on student political engagement and agonistic deliberative democracy can be found in Theory and Research in Social Education as well as Democracy & Education.
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