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Looking at Self as the Critical Element for Change in Multicultural Education: Pushing at the Seams of Theory, Research and Practice – Part 1

by María Torres-Guzmán & Robert T. Carter - 2000

An introduction to the first of two issues on multicultural education

In this and the following issue of Teachers College Record, the articles selected for our special theme collection on multicultural education appear. In our call for papers our goal was to bring together a series of articles that would push on the seams and advance the field of multicultural education. We wanted to offer new ideas and show effective practice that would shape and guide scholars and practitioners in their efforts to advance our thinking and practice. Our call was for work in theory, research and practice that would extend our knowledge and press upon the collective concepts that we believe to be central to the field. The articles submitted in response were numerous. We were very pleased with what we saw. In reading through them, we realized the submissions were reflective of our collective search for markers to guide the field and of the personal, social and institutional processes and dynamics that this search entails. The responses were also reflective of the various tendencies and directions of the field. Some fell more into the Western scientific traditions and some moved further away. All represent a desire to create a scholarship that improves the conditions of our society. Many focused on the interdependent relationships between the less dominant and the dominant and argued for ways that help enlighten all of us as we move towards practices and policies that will strengthen the ability of each individual to reach self-fulfillment and their human potential within a democratic society that promotes equality.

The sheer number of submissions required unanticipated time and, ultimately, affected the organization of the salient pieces that we brought to publication. The large number of articles required that we present the collection in two issues. Because of the types of papers requested in our call (not because we believe the articles or their content are separate), we decided to organize this first issue around articles focused on theory and conceptual models and research; the second brings together more research and articles focused on practice. The latter go beyond the theory to test, probe, and push on theory.

The historical roots of the multicultural movement are interdisciplinary and therefore are linked to different traditions of scholarship, research and practice. As Banks (1996) points out,

Although there is a high level of consensus among multicultural education theorists and specialists about the broad aims of the field, there is less agreement among them about its exact boundaries, dimensions, and specifics. (p. 30).

The assembled articles reflect the dynamism of the field - its multiple roots, its different starting points and philosophical tendencies. The Carter, Dolby, and Grant & Wieczorek articles in this issue reflect the different disciplinary and historical starting points. Carter, for example, echoes others in the field that situate the centrality of personal identity, race and racism in the historical development of multiculturalism in the United States. He does so by explicating the racial identity of individuals, the interpersonal interactions that result from combinations of racial identity statuses, and the group and institutional processes that occur as a consequence of group based racial identity resolutions. Racial identity is presented not as a socio-demographic characteristic but as a psychological and developmental aspect of personality (not in terms of stages). Carter shows how people thought of mostly as group members can be differentiated and how their development provides critical cues to their position in society (Tetreault, 1993).

From the international perspective of an outsider looking at the theory of multiculturalism as developed within the United States and situated in the aftermath of apartheid, Dolby pushes on the concept of identity itself, particularly on the limitations of the rigidity of naturalized categories of identities. The article by Grant and Wieczorek goes beyond the notions of identity offered by Carter and Dolby and offers a richer concept of context for teacher education and knowledge. Grant and Wieczorek do this in an innovative way by drawing on Popkewitz's (1998) concept of social mooring, that is, a "layering analysis of historical, social, and cultural processes" beyond the "specific context" of an event so as to understand it more fully. Grant and Weiczorek argue that knowledge should be moored in social realities.

The authors coincide in their attempts at explaining the lack of neatness and cohesion of multicultural education theory. Carter does so by taking the traditional paradigm that tends to limit multiculturalism as applicable solely to minorities and turns it on its head. He uses the lens of psychological development, expands on it, and applies it to both mainstream and non-mainstream populations. He echoes the call for multicultural education to implicate all populations in the problematic of racism. Dolby pokes at the seams of the traditional construct of identity while situating it contextually within present day South Africa. She presents the concept of identity-in-action, so to speak, by looking closely at the relationships in which identity is produced as well as the situations in which the relationships take place. She does so by looking at adolescents of the new South Africa and how affiliations and alliances, power relationships, and identities are shifting within the context of the global markets. The groundedness and fluidity of concepts Dolby works with echoes another call within the field of multicultural education that poses a challenge to all of us. The challenge is to break conceptual ground and methodological traditions; this is critical because staying within the bounderies could only lead us to recapitulating the past. Finally, the image the Grant and Weiczorek article conjures up is that of shifting waters, not just at the surface level - from still waters to strong waves - but also the currents and undertows present in its depth. Basically, they propose that an interactive event has the possibility of being just what is evident to the naked eye or can represent many more elements of the historical, social, cultural, and power relations embodied within it. By applying the analytical layering proposed by Grant and Weiczorek, the depth of an event has a greater chance of being uncovered. Grant' and Weiczorek's proposal that we use social mooring as a tool is a challenging one; it ehoes the need for the use of interdisciplinary methodologies that require collaboration between scholars and researchers and for social researchers to reconceptualize the questions they investigate.

Within the context of these three articles in the current issue, there are other themes that emerge in the field and are expanded upon in the articles in a second issue on research and practice. In the next issue of TCR we will explore these themes - culturally relevant teaching, positioning the relationship of self and other, and motivating changes in the relationship of self to the world, social justice, and social change.


Banks, J. (Ed.). (1996). Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action. New York: Teachers College Press.

Tetreault, M. K. T. (1993). Classrooms for diversity: Rethinking curriculum and pedagogy. In J. Banks & CAM Banks (Eds.). Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives (2nd ed., pp. 129-148) Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Popkewitz, T. S. (1998). Struggling for the Soul: The Politics of Schooling and the Constuction of the Teacher. New York: Teachers College Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 102 Number 5, 2000, p. 861-863
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10610, Date Accessed: 10/16/2021 10:29:25 PM

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About the Author
  • María Torres-Guzmán
    Teachers College
    E-mail Author
    Maria Torres-Guzmán is an Associate Professor of Bilingual Education and Director of the Program in Bilingual/Bicultural Education at Teachers College. Her research includes cross-cultural communication and classroom interaction, diversity and teacher education, bicultural /bilingual curriculum development, parental involvement in bilingual/bicultural education, and Spanish language arts. Her recent publications include "Stories about differences in a collaborative with middle school students" (Theory into Practice) and "Language, culture and literacy in Puerto Rican communities" (Literacy in Diverse Communities).
  • Robert Carter
    Teachers College
    E-mail Author
    Robert T. Carter is Professor of Psychology and Education, Chair of the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, and Director of Training of the Counseling Psychology Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is known internationally for his work on Black and White racial identity. He has published in the areas of psychotherapy process and outcome, career development, and equity in education through the lens of racial identity. He has been retained to consult on organizational, legal, and educational issues associated with race and diversity. He is also the conference director for the Teachers College Winter Roundtable on Cross-Cultural Psychology and Education.
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