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Beyond Black and White: New Faces and Voices in U.S. Schools


by Diane S. Pollard - 1998

During the past decade there has been increasing discussion of the changing demographic profile of the United States. Much of the interest and concern about the increasingly multicultural character of the United States is centered on schools that enroll the youth of diverse cultural backgrounds and often fail to meet their needs. This edited book provides an important contribution to this discussion. It offers descriptions of the experiences of young people and their families from a variety of cultural groups, many of whom have not heretofore been widely considered or, in some cases, even recognized. In addition, the book centers the young people, who are described in the various chapters within their own cultural milieu and presents their school experiences from this perspective. This is a welcome departure from the more commonly held view of “minority” students as problems schools have to cope with. The rich descriptions of both the background... (preview truncated at 150 words.)

During the past decade there has been increasing discussion of the changing demographic profile of the United States. Much of the interest and concern about the increasingly multicultural character of the United States is centered on schools that enroll the youth of diverse cultural backgrounds and often fail to meet their needs.


This edited book provides an important contribution to this discussion. It offers descriptions of the experiences of young people and their families from a variety of cultural groups, many of whom have not heretofore been widely considered or, in some cases, even recognized. In addition, the book centers the young people, who are described in the various chapters within their own cultural milieu and presents their school experiences from this perspective. This is a welcome departure from the more commonly held view of “minority” students as problems schools have to cope with. The rich descriptions of both the background conditions surrounding the groups’ entry to the United States, as well as the ways their cultures have adapted to provide support to young people, provide a useful explanatory backdrop to the students’ experiences in-schools which often do not recognize, understand, or support these important cultural experiences.


In the introduction, Seller and Weis present a brief historical sketch arguing that diversity has always been a part of the character of this country and place their discussion of diversity issues within the framework of school-community conflict. This is a much-needed discussion because a great deal of educational research, practice, and policy is ahistorical. The editors point out the varieties of ways that schools have treated students from different racial, ethnic, and cultural groups. Although generally on target, the attempt to cover a great deal of material in a few pages leads to a somewhat cursory discussion of some issues, such as public schools’ continuing political roles in maintaining privilege and the status quo.


The remainder of the book is divided into three parts. Part l, “Rethinking Familiar ‘Minorities”’ consists of four chapters. They describe the experiences of Mexican immigrant, urban American Indian, Chicano, and African-American youth and families, respectively. A common theme running through all of these chapters is the oppression and negation of the cultural worth of these groups by the dominant culture of the schools and the students’ and their families’ attempts to resist this.


Part 2, “Newcomers: School and Community,” consists of six chapters, each focusing on an immigrant group whose presence in U.S. schools became more pronounced in the 1970s and later. Included are chapters focusing on immigrants from Central America, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, South Asia, China, and Vietnam. Several themes are common among the chapters in this section. One is the orientation of these “newcomers.” The cases describe families whose goal to assimilate to some aspects of U.S. society, particularly attitudes and behaviors toward education, while maintaining cultural identity and tradition in other aspects of their lives. Another theme is that the newcomers, although facing discrimination, have been able to develop cultural enclaves that protect and support their youth as they struggle with schools that may not understand them.


Part 3, “Hearing Silenced Voices: Other ‘Minorities,“’ consists of three chapters, addressing groups that are often omitted from discussions of diversity and multiculturalism. These are gay youth, poor white females, and poor and working-class white males. These groups are often rendered invisible in schools by force (in the case of gay youth and poor white women) or by choice (in the case of white males).


It is important to recognize that the chapters in this book, although richly descriptive, do not present comprehensive portraits of racial and ethnic groups, but rather are case studies, limited both temporally and spatially. Unfortunately, a single chapter cannot possibly do justice to the complexities of culture and cultural conflict, not to mention the intersections of race, ethnicity, class and gender issues, that youth and families must deal with in relation to schooling experiences. One hopes that this book will encourage readers to pursue further study and understanding of the many cultures which contribute to this society.


The last chapter presents an ironic gap between the realities of the richness of diversity in this country and the perception of the white male respondents that African Americans and, to a lesser extent, other “minorities” were the primary source of most of their problems. Unfortunately, this view is perpetuated by many more powerful individuals, groups, and institutions today. Books such as this one should help change such perceptions by illustrating the important contributions of culture to understanding the complexities of contemporary public schools.




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 100 Number 1, 1998, p. 191-192
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10305, Date Accessed: 10/21/2021 5:13:29 AM

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