Critical Multiculturalism: Uncommon Voices in a Common Struggle
reviewed by Cherry A. Banks - 2001
Title: Critical Multiculturalism: Uncommon Voices in a Common Struggle
Author(s): Barry Kanpol and Peter McLaren, Eds.
Publisher: Bergin & Garvey, Westport
ISBN: , Pages: 267, Year: 1995
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Critical Multiculturalism: Uncommon Voices in a Common Struggle edited by Barry Kanpol and Peter McLaren, is part of a growing genre of multicultural publications that are grounded in critical theory and practice. It is one of more than a dozen books published in the "Critical Studies in Education and Culture Series," edited by Henry Giroux. In this important text, fourteen educators who are committed to developing a vision of democracy in schools and in other public sites collaborate and share keen insights about their common struggle. The authors use a variety of approaches, including critical ethnography, case studies, and narratives, to explore issues related to gender, language, class, race, power, and curriculum.
The text opens with an introduction by Kanpol and McLaren in which they lay out their vision for the text and explicate the intellectual foundation that locates the text within critical multiculturalism. They also give readers a succinct overview of each chapter. This foundational chapter is highly informative and is an important departure point for the remaining chapters in the text. Readers will find the chapters written by Gordon, Giroux, Grant and Sachs, and Gutierrez and McClaren, particularly perceptive and instructive.
Giroux wrote the forward for the book as well as a thought-provoking chapter on white supremacy and the need to deconstruct it. Gordon's skillfully crafted chapter reminds readers that voices from the margins such as those of African American women are frequently ignored or trivialized. She argues that those voices have much to add to the conversation on critical multiculturalism and must be included for that conversation to have authenticity. Grant and Sachs bring the voices of scholars who work in the field of multicultural education into their conversation with critical multiculturalists. Their chapter reminds readers that the issues raised by critical multiculturalists are not new and that scholars working in the field of multicultural education are also naming and critically examining institutions and other social structures that create, support, and sustain difference and inequality. Grant and Sachs argue that the barriers between various multicultural discourses should be broken down and replaced by an understanding and recognition of their academic solidarity. They conclude that academic solidarity can provide a foundation for a discourse that would be more inclusive, open, democratic, and fruitful. The dialogue between Kris Gutierrez and Peter McClaren provides a framework for readers to explore the ways in which classrooms, communities, and global capitalism are linked. As Gutierrez and McClaren exchange insights and experiences, readers are able to share a powerful conversation between two thoughtful, committed, and perceptive scholars engaging the concept of multiculturalism.
Taken as a whole Critical Multiculturalism is a well crafted and thought provoking text. It provides readers with an understanding of the theoretical underpinnings of critical multiculturalism and gives them glimpses into power struggles in K-12 classrooms and in other sites. However, while there is much to recommend in this work, it will be hard going for readers who are not well grounded in critical education theory and literature. The language, references, and assumptions of prior knowledge will be a barrier to some readers who might put the text aside after reading a few hard-to-decode pages.
I encourage readers to stick with Critical Multiculturalism because it has much to say to educators who are interested in implementing thoughtful and reflective change in classrooms, schools, and communities. The myriad of voices that serve as a backdrop for the dialogue across differences is a key strength of the text. Kanpol and McLaren, through their selection of authors, model the importance of listening to and learning from others. However, while multiple voices were included in Critical Multiculturalism, none of the chapters ventured far from the writing style, precepts, and perspectives typically associated with critical theory. Consequently, Critical Multiculturalism is more like a conversation among insiders than one that reaches beyond borders to involve outsiders. The dialogue begun in Critical Multiculturalism needs to be expanded to include the voices of educators who are not part of the critical theory community and whose work is not viewed as "critical," even though they too are committed to developing a vision of democracy in schools and have worked long and hard to do so. Voices outside the critical theory community can help locate critical multiculturalism within the ongoing historic struggle mounted by people on the margins to critique social structures that limit and prevent social justice for many marginalized groups (Banks, 1996). The important conversation begun in Critical Multiculturalism is an important first step in an essential journey. The diversity of individuals included in the conversation needs to be expanded and the conversation needs to be on-going.
Banks, J.A. (Ed). (1996). Multicultural Education, Transformative Knowledge, and Action: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Teachers College Press.