Race, Culture, and Education: The Selected Works of James A. Banks
reviewed by Tyrone C. Howard - December 20, 2006
Over the past century, a number of scholars have had a profound influence on the manner in which researchers think about important issues in education. However, the difficult terrain of examining race, culture, and ethnicity has always been a complicated and frequently avoided area of research for mainstream scholars. As the U.S. has become increasingly diverse, one could argue that perhaps no other scholar has been as prolific, informative, and transformative in examining race, culture, and history in education as James A. Banks has been over the past 40 years. The collection of Professor Banks works in Race, Culture, and Education: The selected works of James A. Banks offers a comprehensive account of his personal and professional journey to incorporate multicultural education into the mainstream discourse on educational research, theory, and practice.
A perusal of Professor Banks in this important volume published by Routledge Publishers shows the rigor and complexity that has guided his work and influenced countless other scholars. Undoubtedly, many education scholars whose works are concerned with issues of race, culture, ethnicity, and educational equity owe a degree of gratitude to Banks work. This historical evolution of Banks work reveals the manner in which his thinking about these topics continues to evolve. This work is a must read for any current and future scholars whose works are associated with race, diversity, and culture in education.
Race, Culture, and Education: The selected works of James A. Banks is divided into seven parts and 18 chapters. The introduction to the book is set up with what Banksthe Russell F. Stark University Professor and Director of the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington, Seattlerefers to as my epistemological journey. It is difficult to grasp the nature of Professor Banks scholarship without reading about his upbringing as an African American child reared in the segregated south during the 1940s and 50s. He states that his work has been influenced by his epistemological quest to find out why racial inequality exists in the United States (p. 2). The book lays out Banks early scholarship on Black Studies, to the development of ethnic studies, the evolution of multicultural education, and to more recent research on global issues on multicultural education and citizenship.
Chapter 1 documents Professor Banks early work in education, which emerged from his days as a fifth grade teacher in Chicago. Given the turmoil that existed in the late 1960s, Banks raised the importance of teaching Black Studies as part of the school curriculum. Moreover, Banks incorporates the teaching of Black Studies within the framework of the social studies. His work in Social Education documents the manner in which incorporating the black experience into a conceptual curriculum provides students with the knowledge and skills to inform their decision making about key concepts and issues central to living in a changing country. The richness of the model is exemplified by the manner in which Banks offers an interdisciplinary perspective of the historical work that incorporates each of the social sciences. One of the earlier works that is highlighted in the first part of the book is the importance of inquiry as an historical tool. The reprinted article from the Illinois Schools Journal in 1968 examines the manner in which learning about the methods of inquiry of historians can be used as a tool to investigate historical knowledge, and how it is influenced by the personal bias and cultural knowledge of its authors.
In the second part of the book, Banks scholarship on ethnic studies becomes more evident. He makes a strong rationale in several of his works for going beyond the melting pot idea, and he makes a call for a more enhanced notion of ethnic literacy. Citing from a 1973 published article in Social Education, he asserts that to treat [the] ethnicity of America like the Invisible Man, or to contend that ethnic groups in the United States have melted into one, is both intellectually indefensible and will result in a gross misinterpretation of the nature of American life (p. 57).
Professor Banks work on ethnic studies is important because he advocates the authentic integration of ethnic studies in school curriculum. He also writes about the need for incorporating ethnic studies as a means of curriculum reform that will help to foster new understandings and improved assumptions about what it means to be American. It becomes clear in reading Banks work on ethnic studies that he views the concepts and themes as being imperative to transforming the static and jaded accounts of how racial and ethnic diversity was viewed at the time. He writes in 1973 that the goal of ethnic studies is to foster democratic social change and yet reduce dysfunctional ethnic and racial polarization. Following noted scholars such as Carter G. Woodson, John Hope Franklin, and George Washington Williams, Banks works seek to incorporate the rich, yet frequently neglected history of African Americans into the traditional school curriculum.
One of the salient features of this book is that it is sequenced in a manner that reveals Professor Banks development into additional areas of scholarship. Chapter 8 is a chapter from Banks research in the area of the social studies titled Decision-making: The heart of the social studies. In this work, Professor Banks examines the usefulness of inquiry and decision making as a means of recognizing and solving human problems and social challenges that threaten various communities, nations, and the world. Again, Banks situates this research within a complex paradigm that suggests the use of the scientific method as a tool for decision making. This work develops the appropriateness of developing core knowledge based on facts, concepts, generalizations, and theories. He encourages the use of value inquiry to help decision makers assess how they deal with conflict, value differences, and make informed decisions. However, Banks uses these examples in a manner that asks teachers to help students probe important social issues such as poverty, immigration, prejudice, and discrimination.
Chapter 14 is a reprint from an Educational Researcher article titled The Canon Debate, knowledge construction, and multicultural education, and is one of Banks most cited works. In this work, Banks offers an illuminating and critical analysis of the valuation of knowledge and its construction. Citing the works of Lauren Code, Michele Foucault, Sandra Harding, and other noted scholars, Banks provides an in-depth examination of the characteristics of knowledge, and provides a knowledge typology that he hopes teaches students various types of knowledge that can help them to better understand the perspectives of different racial, ethnic, and cultural groups as well as to develop their own versions and interpretations of issues and events (p. 149). By documenting the various forms of knowledge, Banks typology recognizes the subjectivity of knowledge and centers the experiences, perspectives, culture, and histories of marginalized people as a legitimate form of knowledge.
The field of multicultural education has grown tremendously over the past quarter century. Much of the advancement of the field is directly linked to the works of James Banks. His research and scholarship stand as the culmination of a visionary scholar whose work has been dedicated to the improvement of the United States. Race, Culture, and Education will undoubtedly serve as one of the seminal readings for practitioners, scholars, and researchers whose works are concerned with diversity in education, decision making in the social studies, multicultural education, or global citizenship. This book does an exemplary job of capturing the breadth, depth, complexity, and analytic sophistication of Professor Banks work.