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History of Multicultural Education, Volume 4: Policy and Governance

reviewed by Betsy Rorschach - December 01, 2009

coverTitle: History of Multicultural Education, Volume 4: Policy and Governance
Author(s): Carl A. Grant and Thandeka K. Chapman
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0805854452, Pages: 228, Year: 2008
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With No Child Left Behind and the newly strengthened standards movement governing the first decade of 21st century national educational policy, it feels almost nostalgic to examine late 20th century policy issues connected to multicultural education.  It is a bit like discussing the etchings on the wall while ignoring the fire that has leapt from the hearth to the expensive Persian carpet.  However, the articles in this volume, written between 1973 and 2002 and covering a wide variety of policy issues, both directly and indirectly connected to multiculturalism, reveal what has been lost in the shadow of the uber-policy of NCLB.  Even though the series editors focus in this volume on policy issues that "specify multicultural education as the goal and/or a set of principles defined by issues of equity and equality for all students" (p. 1), a definition that excludes a large portion of policy decisions made since 2001, one wishes for some acknowledgement of the role NCLB has played in destroying much that was gained before 2001.

The series editors, Grant and Chapman, have organized the seventeen articles in Volume 4: Policy and Policy Initiatives into three sections.  The first, "Reactions to Policy," includes articles by, among others, Gary Orfield on school desegregation (1987), Nathan Glazer on ethnicity and education (1981), Cherry Banks on national standards (1997), and Linda Darling-Hammond on democratic education (1996).  In Part 2, "Conceptualizations of Multicultural Education Policy," are collected the policy statement on multicultural education from the AACTE (1973) and articles by such writers as Larry Cuban on urban school reform (1989) and Charles Payne on racism in American schools (1984).  Finally, Part 3, "Actions to Policy," contains articles by Derrick A. Bell on school desegregation (1983), Michelle Fine on adolescent females and schooling (1988), Geneva Smitherman on dialect and language rights (1998), and others.  The articles in these three sections provide us with a taste of some of the battles fought in the last quarter of the 20th century between conservatives and liberals over curriculum, standards, assessment, language of instruction, and other issues of concern in a diverse society.

Without a historical framework to contextualize this collection, it would be difficult to track the disparate and evolving attitudes towards multicultural education represented by all the articles.  Luckily, Grant and Chapman introduce this volume with an essay giving an overview of the contents within a discussion that provides historical context.  As Grant and Chapman point out, "multicultural education policy is embedded within social and political contexts and historical events of the United States and the global arena" (p. 1).  It is thus quite interesting to consider when the various articles were published: two during the Nixon administration, one under Carter, nine under Reagan/Bush I, four under Clinton, and just one under Bush II.  An awareness of the educational agendas of these administrations and resulting policy conflicts helps frame the contents.  

These connections must be made, however, by the reader, for Grant and Chapman make no explicit reference to any presidential administrations.  But they do make clear in their introduction that certain decades follow predictable patterns.  The 1970s show a rising interest in multicultural education, following on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement.  Yet it is surprising that so few articles in this collection date from the 1970s.  Grant and Chapman have included Donna Shalala's and James Kelly's article on "Politics, the courts, and educational policy" (1973), which examines some results of and reactions to post-Brown v. Board of Education policy initiatives aimed at redressing unequal education.  Also included in this volume are the AACTE's policy statement on Multicultural Education (1973) and Gwendolyn Baker's overview of multicultural education initiatives at the local, state, and federal levels (1979).  Bakers article provides important historical background information, making it an ideal starting point (in spite of its being Chapter 13 in this volume) for those considering policy issues in multicultural education.  She writes that initial work on developing multicultural education in the 1960s was confined to what was needed i.e., change in teacher attitudes, curriculum, and textbook selection (p. 137).  According to Baker, it wasnt until the 1970s that the term multicultural education became widespread, as a result of a 1969 publication by Jack Forbes, and serious work on large-scale policy began to occur.

In the 1980s we see policy decisions moving away from multicultural education, as voices from the political right become more strident and "liberal educators [have] difficulty accessing public forums to dispute the picture of American education as painted by conservative educators" (p. 3).  The conservatives saw evidence during the Reagan/Bush I years that multicultural education was resulting in a watered down curriculum, and they predicted that the country would consequently lose its position as a world economic power.

Half of the articles selected by Grant and Chapman for this volume date from the 1980s.  Glazer's is the first; he points to the perceived decline in assimilation among immigrants as a sign of the failure of multicultural education (1981).  Grant and Chapman see this article as an early skirmish in the culture wars that escalated when A Nation at Risk (1983),  the report of President Reagans National Commission on Excellence in Education warning of the "rising tide of mediocrity" (A Nation at Risk, p. 1), and books by Allan Bloom (Closing of the American Mind, 1987) and Edward Hirsch (Cultural Literacy, 1988) became bestsellers each the equivalent of a blockbuster disaster movie in its terrifying description of the demise of American intelligence and the growing failure of the nations schools.

Grant and Chapman, however, have favored the other side of the argument in their selection of articles from the 1980s for this volume, articles pointing to gaps in educational equity that could be addressed through multicultural education policy: Oakes (1986) posits that tracking serves to further inequality in education, Ovando (1983) notes the importance of valuing home languages for all minority students, Cervantes (1984) places his vision of schools and curriculum firmly in the changing demographics across the country, and Cuban (1989) argues that current policies promote high drop-out rates among ethnic minorities and the poor.  It is a shame that more conservative voices were not included here, to provide a truer sense of how difficult it was for people like Cuban and Oakes to be heard.

In the 1990s, Grant and Chapman argue, policy makers worked to "reconcile the two seemingly binary positions" (p. 3) on the conservative and liberal sides, although evidence in this volume (and in the current education system) is scant that any efforts at reconciliation were successful.  Not even the hopeful articles from the 1990s included here, by Darling-Hammond (1996) and Smitherman (1995), are enough to counter the sense one gets of our inability to resolve the complex issues under discussion throughout this volume.  Banks (1997) presents a dim report of one effort to replace national performance standards with opportunity-to-learn (OTL) standards for assessing "access to knowledge" (p. 36).  Valenzuela (2002) makes a related argument when she points out that newspaper reports of state test scores don't include "disclaimers to suggest that scores in given schools were attained despite a lack of access to books, lab equipment, or other resources" (p. 44).  According to Banks, OTL was derailed by conservative arguments that "OTL standards would take attention away from achievement and put the focus on resources or input variables" (p. 36).

Whether at the national level (as in Banks, 1997) or the state (as in Cornbleth, 1995), whether as a general policy statement from national educational organizations (AACTE,  1973; CCCC, 1974), or as a look at a particular demographic (Fine, 1988), the complexity of the issues presented in this volume leaves one unsurprised that we have yet to create any compromise.  Although the various parties all have the same essential goal excellent education for all students we cannot seem to agree on what constitutes "excellent education" (perhaps not even on who comprises "all students"), or on the role that multicultural education should play in our schools, or on how best to make policy decisions.  Baker (1979) makes a point about the need for minority parents to become directly involved in policy discussions, echoed in Derrick Bell's article on school desegregation (1983); but this is a point also made, quite forcefully, by Lisa Delpit (2006), showing that here is one issue (among so many) that has yet to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

Grant and Chapman include a section in their introduction on Whats missing in these policy conversations (p. 7).  What they wish for are more reports on outcomes that resulted from the struggles over policy initiatives, the conceptualizations of multicultural policy, and the actual implementations of multicultural policy (p. 7).  This dearth of reports could, in fact, be a sign that few multicultural education policies have been implemented.  Given the number and length of conservative administrations since 1972 that have resisted funding for such programs, and the reluctance of most states and municipalities to engage in multicultural education policy discussions, it is no surprise that few multicultural programs were created with outcomes on which to report.

At the start of this century, as we crawled through the maze of curricular and assessment regulations that arose during the Bush II administration, multicultural education got lost in a dead-end switch-back; this volume in the History of Multicultural Education may provide us the thread needed to retrace our steps and pick up the work left behind.


Bloom, A. (1987). Closing of the American mind. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Delpit, L. (2006). Other peoples children: Cultural conflict in the classroom, Updated Edition. New York: The New Press.

Forbes, J. (1969). The education of the culturally different: A multicultural approach. Berkeley, Ca.: Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development.

Hirsch, E. (1988). Cultural literacy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

A Nation at Risk (1983). National Commission on Excellence in Education.  Washington, DC:  U.S. Department of Education.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 01, 2009
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15858, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 2:50:08 PM

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