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Race in the Schools: Perpetuating White Dominance?

reviewed by Kitty Kelly Epstein - 2005

coverTitle: Race in the Schools: Perpetuating White Dominance?
Author(s): Judith R. Blau with Elizabeth Stearns
Publisher: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder
ISBN: 1588262294, Pages: 250 , Year: 2003
Search for book at Amazon.com

Lots of Americans believe that low-income urban youngsters use more drugs than their more affluent suburban counterparts

Judith Blau’s unusual book, Race in the Schools:  Perpetuating White Dominance, takes a statistics-based sledgehammer to certain American stereotypes about schools, students, and race.  Blau and her co-authors study such questions as integrity, tracking, social responsibility, and going to college, using databases from the National Center for Education Statistics,


In the chapter on “Locating Difference,” for example, Blau notes that “the processes of late modernity advantaged whites in the United States because the New Economy magnified racial differences in incomes and wealth.”   These magnified differences combined with spatial isolation and contributed to white inclinations to construct race “in terms of moral categories” (p. 72). 


In her examination of the moral values of Black and White teens Blau upends some of these stereotypes about character and responsibility by demonstrating that black seniors gave greater importance to social goals than did white seniors in the NCES surveys.  In 1992, for example, 26 percent of black teens as compared to 13 percent of whites reported that it was very important to work “to correct social and economic inequalities.”  Black teens were also more likely to respond that “being a leader in my community” and “making a contribution to society” were important, and these differences persisted through the end of the  period studied, 1999.   


In other chapters, Blau uses her statistical analysis to contribute to some school policy debates.   Analyzing how the curriculum is tracked for various groups, Blau concludes that the racial climate on a campus improves with greater diversity, but this is not the case in the very largest schools.  She also notes that the presence of an arts curriculum “reduces the distance” between social classes and racial groups.


In some cases, the subjects under investigation would need the sort of in-depth interviewing which Blau herself suggests as a follow-up.   In the chapter “Encountering Character,” for example, Blau and coauthor Elizabeth Stearns use studies from the National Center for Education Statistics to compare the “integrity” of white and non-white students.   They conclude that white teens have the lowest integrity scores, while black and Latino teens score higher, even when the statistics are controlled for socio-economic status, school size, and other potential variables.  The authors suggest that the explanation may lie in the differential child-rearing practices of white and non-white families, because white families emphasize individuality and Black and Latino families emphasize collective responsibility.  While I tend to agree that these differences are present and may indeed have precisely the impact the authors suggest, the NCES questions used to reach this conclusion are inadequate.  Students are asked whether they think it is “O.K.” to cut school, talk back to teachers, and so on.  Their responses are interesting, but paper and pencil answers to these questions cannot provide an entirely sufficient measure of integrity. 


The authors of this book do a terrific job of exploring the connection between their data and the theoretical debates which surround race and liberal American ideology.  In a very clear repudiation of color-blind liberalism, the authors caution against “essentialism,” (the practice of assuming that all members of a group are naturally alike), and then explain that there are nevertheless important differences between black and white cultures that are produced by historic and economic differences.  Ignoring these differences in social position leads whites to the harmful fiction that race is irrelevant.  Thus, while asserting racial tolerance,, many whites are, in fact, accepting the racial privilege which accompanies the inaccurate assumption that all have the same opportunity.   While the authors’ use of critical race theory is excellent, their work would benefit by the inclusion of ideas developed by critical race theorists within the field of education, such as Gloria Ladson-Billings.


This is an unusual and interesting book.   Its authors use quantitative measures to analyze complex racial issues that are often addressed only by qualitative researchers.  It deserves to be read, not only by sociologists, but by educators as well.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 2, 2005, p. 265-267
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11378, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 2:42:43 PM

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About the Author
  • Kitty Epstein

    E-mail Author
    KITTY KELLY EPSTEIN, Ph.D. works with graduate students and teachers on research and action to create humane, exciting, anti-racist and egalitarian schools. Her recent work includes "Miracle School: Child of the Civil Rights Movement" (Phi Delta Kappan, June 2004) and "Civil Rights, Critical Race Theory, and the Oakland Public Schools" presented at the 2004 American Educational Research Association. She is currently active in attempts to remove barriers for Black, Latino, Asian and Native American college graduates attempting to enter the field of teaching.
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