Critical Multiculturalism: Rethinking Multicultural and Antiracist Education
reviewed by Irma M. Olmedo - 2001
Title: Critical Multiculturalism: Rethinking Multicultural and Antiracist Education
Author(s): Stephen May, ed.
Publisher: Falmer Press, London
ISBN: 0750707682, Pages: 296, Year: 1999
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Although multicultural educators and theorists support the recognition and affirmation of diversity, especially in the educational arena, frequently their arguments are presented within the context of particular societies. It is rare that multiculturalists in the USA incorporate or address the writings of theorists in other countries or examine how these issues are handled across the oceans. Critical Multiculturalism: Rethinking Multicultural and Antiracist Education, goes a long way to redress this problem. It is composed of 10 articles addressing a variety of debates over multiculturalism, diversity and education from the perspective of scholars in North America (USA and Canada), Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. It provides a broader perspective than is generally the case in such writings.
The book is very substantive in addressing issues such as the debates and battles between multiculturalists and anti-racists, the impact of critical pedagogy on multicultural education theory, the implications of hybridity theory and postmodernism on conceptions of culture, the effect of globalization and transnationalism on ethnicity and otherness. The authors engage the issues at a high intellectual level by examining the broader social and political context in which questions of culture and equity are raised. The audience for the book would include researchers and educational theorists seeking to broaden their thinking about these issues by examining multiculturalism and antiracism through transnational perspectives.
Chapters 1-3 (May; McLaren & Torres; Carrim & Soudien) present the broader theoretical issues in the book. Chapters 4-8 (Sleeter & Montecinos; Moodley; Carrim & Soudien; Short & Carrington; and Nieto) discuss the possibilities and limitations of multicuturalism and antiracist theory and practice in different nations and in schools. Chapter 9 (Hodson) addresses specific educational implications in science and technology; and Chapter l0 (Kalantzis & Cope) differentiates among three types of curricular models and how they address issues of culture, race and ethnicity.
The book can be read as a kind of dialogue among scholars from various countries who share similarities in their perspectives on multiculturalism and antiracism though certainly not uniformity. The authors are critical of facile explanations for addressing diversity. Such explanations can conceal in themselves various contradictions. May, in an excellent overview of the debates, argues for the need for a critical multiculturalism that does not essentialize culture and ethnic identities. Rattansi addresses the effect of the postmodern frame on the ways ethnicity is conceptualized, raising questions about how individuals and groups are or can be represented. He adopts the term "reflexive multiculturalism" whose key element would be to "engage the monoculturalists and racists in dialogue" (p. 105). Moodley argues that "a cosmopolitan political literacy" may be key for combating racism, by "providing an historical understanding about the nature of prejudice, discrimination and racism" (p. 150). McLaren and Torres on the other hand, are not as optimistic. They critique multicultural and antiracist discourse for ignoring or downplaying the impact of globalization of capital and the "exploitative practices of the oligarchic industrialized powers" (p. 74). They are not optimistic that intellectual understanding alone can challenge racism and domination and they call for the "destruction of whiteness" (p. 66) as part of the solution.
Sleeter and Montecinos, while not avoiding the socio-political debates, propose a pedagogical model for how teachers can engage with communities in partnerships for service learning, partnerships which are not viewed as charity endeavors but which can help the participants critique power relations. Hodson, also looking at the curricular arena, calls for the politization of science and science education by critiquing "myths" about these areas, especially the supposed "value free" nature of science. Kalantzis and Cope provide an excellent overview of many of the debates on multiculturalism by examining three types of curricular models and how they would address those issues.
Nieto links critical pedagogy with multiculturalism by identifying the role of students, using two case studies of an African American and Latino student in the USA. She demonstrates the possibilities but also the limitations of multicultural education to address the issues of school failure. Short and Carrington also look at children, drawing upon empirical research on children’s construction of national identity in several US, British and Scottish primary schools. They call for a reconstructed multiculturalism that would combine critical pedagogy with antiracist education to address the policy implications of children’s views.
Carrim & Soudien provide a fascinating discussion of school desegregation in two provinces of South Africa, describing the differing strategies used by school officials in this process. Through some powerful examples of implementation of an assimilationist multicultural education in the schools he argues for a critical antiracist education to combat the stereotypical and charicatured ways that different groups are represented.
The book is intellectually challenging and some of the arguments difficult to follow, especially for the reader who is not already well-read in the field. The more successful reader would be one who is well acquainted with postmodernism, deconstruction, hybridity theories, and the writings of Giroux on border crossings, Bourdieu and Foucault.
A major value of the book is that it demonstrates the complexity of understanding cultural differences and the ways in which nations respond to these. The transnational dialogue begun by this book should benefit theorists in each country as they try to address the socio-political, pedagogical and intellectual dimensions of multiculturalism and anti-racist education.