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Education for a Multicultural Society

reviewed by Lorri J. Santamaria - August 09, 2011

coverTitle: Education for a Multicultural Society
Author(s): Kolajo Paul Afolabi, Candice Bocala, Raygine C. DiAquoi, Julia M. Hayden, Irene A. Liefshitz, and Soojin Susan Oh (eds.)
Publisher: Harvard Educational Review, Cambridge
ISBN: 0916690512, Pages: 320, Year: 2011
Search for book at Amazon.com

Whenever an edited collection of educational reprints hits the market, genre oversaturation comes to mind. However, the seminal articles which collectively capture the multifaceted nature of multicultural education edited by a group of culturally and linguistically diverse doctoral students and candidates representing the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Education for a Multicultural Society, proves to be a refreshing exception. What makes this collection, edited by Afolbi, Bocala, DiAquoi, Hayden, Liefshitz and Oh, exceptional is that it is inclusive in its scope, pushing past boundaries of all to common black/white dichotomous racial conceptualizations (May, 1999; May & Sleeter, 2010). Second, the volume includes seminal pieces from world-renowned experts in the field that are empirical, theoretical, practical, and personal. Third, the editors of this book have pulled together a treasure trove of classic multicultural literature which is essential reading for all pre- and in-service teachers working with diverse populations as well as students and aspiring scholars of multicultural education and critical theory/pedagogy. Finally, for more seasoned multiculturalists, this collection serves as a reminder of why we do what we do, inspiring educators to continue to press on in our quest for improved educational practices for underserved populationsas well as for the greater good.

A Treasure Trove of Wisdom

This carefully edited anthology of seminal writings and articles previously featured in Harvard Education Review has been gleaned from the multiple perspectives of culturally, linguistically, ability, and gender diverse leaders, teachers and scholars who inspire readers to pursue multicultural education with renewed vigor, energy, and dedication. Original publication dates span the course of 22 years ranging from 1988 to 2010, and yet the powerful words of each article ring as true today as they did when originally published. Collectively the voices of these revolutionary scholars and authors seem to push readers past the place where injustice is being criticized to a place where justices are being actively challenged. Professional educational organizations like the American Research Educational Association (AERA) across the nation and in our global community join the refrain; non satis scire, to know is surely not enough.

The editors have organized the book into three sections including brief introductions to frame each thematically linked selection. The works are representative of racial, cultural, linguistic, ability, and gender diversity typical of schools ranging from kindergarten to higher education in the United States of America.

Part I Taking Stock: Acknowledging and Honoring Funds of Knowledge

Transforming multicultural education from a place of knowledge and criticism to an applied place of action reminds readers of the first set of articles that multicultural education can be likened to a multifaceted gemstone. Over the years with the backdrop of increasing accountability measures and gaping academic achievement gaps separating culturally and linguistically diverse learners from their mainstream and often white peers, educators have moved from acknowledging and appreciating culture to a consideration of the myriad ways in which language and culture impact education.

Editors of this book begin by paying homage to the classic contributions of Luis Moll and associates introducing the notion of funds of knowledge to first time readers new to multicultural education (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & González, 1992). This inclusion also serves to remind more seasoned multiculturalists of the inherent value culture has for all underserved members of our society regardless of race or language spoken. Without a long discussion or criticism of multicultural education as a discipline, this collection of work clearly serves to validate the need for more global representations of multicultural education as opposed to representations that are exclusive and more dichotomous in nature. This book responds to the challenge of multicultural education in honoring specific and individual diversity while at the same time recognizing that there are groups of individuals in the United States of America and in our greater global society who have been negatively affected by overlapping systems of oppression and existing structures of domination.  

Likewise, Ingrim Willis (1995), Saylor (1992), Paris (2009), Brayboy and Maughan (2009), and Skilton-Sylvester (1994) begin this section with chapters acknowledging and honoring funds of knowledge of youth as co-constructors of knowledge (p. 263) with keen representations of the experiences of African American males negotiating multiple literacies in school settings, the nuances separating deaf culture from hearing culture, the role African American language plays in multiethnic high schools, the role of indigenous knowledge in teacher preparation programs, and the value of the simulation for urban transformation in elementary school.   

What readers will find most valuable about this section in particular is the inclusive representative sample of the multicultural experiences of children. Also of great value is the way in which each author highlights or brings out what Brayboy and Maughan call Indigenous Knowledge wherein teachers must also be able to see that the construction of knowledge is socially mediated and that indigenous students may bring other conceptions of what knowledge is and how it is produced with them to their teaching (p. 88).

When readers are able to see that the common thread running through each one of the articles featured in the first section of the book is drawn from the strengths of each group, funds of knowledge of that group have been realized. An appreciative inquiry paradigm shift occurs when a collection of works can inspire educators to reconceptualize program development at school literacy to strengthen literacy frameworks (Ingram Willis in Folabi et al., 2011, p. 30) and teach students that academic skills are tools in the ongoing struggle for equality (Freire, 1993; Ladson-Billings, 1990; Skilton-Sylvester in Folabi et al., 2011, p. 110).

Part II Talking Back: The Power of Counter-Narratives to Challenge Dominant Discourses and Education

Recently, peering deeper into this gemstone, multiculturalists have become critical in our perceptions of various educational injustices, engaging in dialogue with allies noting and discussing ideations of cultural capital, power differentials, and historical ramifications. In this section of the book, the editors include five articles that exemplify counter narratives that ebb and flow, weaving stories that breathe life into readers previous understandings of multicultural education. These counter narratives which challenge the dominant narrative that paralyze our imaginations and capacity to advance education (p. 263) run the gamut from a gay themed lesson in an ethnic literature curriculum in a high school setting, to the marginalized education of Puerto Rican students in the United States, to ways in which black students self conceptions conform achievement ideology and adaptive behaviors, to the ways in which race in America plays out in educational settings, and the role of power in K-12 classrooms (Athanases, 1996; Carter Andrews, 2008; Delpit, 1988; Fordham, 2010; Nieto, 1998).

Although each contribution in this section can be considered empirical because of strong research bases, Carter Andrews and Athanases offer traditional empirical research studies complete with literature reviews, methods, findings, and discussions. Both inquiries were qualitative yearlong studies, one a case study with a sample size of nine black students (Carter Andrews) with the other featuring an ethnographic study of two 10th grade English classes in urban public high schools (Athanases). The first study found that schools and educators need to be counter hegemonic in their practices, challenging traditional dominant discourses and paradigms about what it means to be successful and who is successful (p. 199). In the second study, Athanases found that the need for role models of lesbians and gay men are necessary to counter homophobia and that literary depictions of gays and lesbians provide learning for straight students and validation for those who are unsure of their sexual orientation. This author also points out the need for coalition building among gay and straight allies as well as the complexity of the intersections of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

Delpit (1998) analyzes power and pedagogy in educating other peoples children wherein she explores issues of power and classrooms, codes or rules for participating in power, rules of the culture of power, and rules for those with more and less power. She finds that teachers are key players in negotiating the redistribution of power differentials in classrooms. Similarly, Fordhams (2010) essay considers a post-racist America in the United States. In her work, she reminds readers of the American system of racial classification and white males reproductive power, framed by two narratives of two individuals whom she considers to be passing for black. Her work captures the primacy of race that is characteristic of critical race theory and underscores the notion that race does play a huge part in social justice and educational inequity in our country.

Finally, Sonia Nieto (1998) shares unknown stories of Puerto Rican youth in U.S. schools who comprise part of the larger Hispanic population of English language learners in our country. She recounts recurring prevalent themes in research and fiction, which feed stereotypes about this underserved misunderstood population and concludes that educators in the United States largely do not care about educational outcomes for Puerto Rican students. She asserts, changing both personal relationships among teachers and Puerto Rican students and institutional conditions in their school is essential if the students are to become successful learners (p. 228).

Her work like the other contributions in this section is highly personal. It is as if all of the articles chosen for this portion of the anthology tell two stories. One story is the experience or a group of experiences of individuals who have been voiceless in education. The other story is that of the individual author and his or her own navigation of academic voice and empirical contribution for the education of others, a validation itself, and improvement for greater society.

Part III Looking Forward: Advancing a Vision of What Education in a Multicultural Society Could Be

The editors of this volume and the authors featured invite us to look even further into the facets of this gem we have identified as multicultural education beyond passive criticism, to the uncomfortable place of unpacking old ways of being, interruption, readjustment, and realignment to benefit the greater good and even further beyond (Santamaría & Santamaría, 2012). We are being asked to imagine the kind of society we might achieve if we were to be conditioned and redefine how we think about pedagogy and diversity, power and equality (p. 263). Readers are encouraged to join the distinguished editors and multiculturalists in honing this stone, so that multicultural education can shine as brilliantly as it has evolved to be, providing optimal access and appropriate pathways to the largest number of learners in authentic life-giving educational systems in our country and beyond.

In the final future-focused section of this anthology, Tatum (1992), Delgado Bernal (1998), Weiler (1991), and De Lissovoy (2010) weave a tale of a future education that is liberatory. Here Tatum lays the groundwork in her higher education-based study of the ways in which college students think about their own identity in terms of race in our society. The major finding in this work is that educating white students about race and racism changes attitudes in ways that go beyond the classroom boundaries (p. 290). She finds that there are sociological benefits to helping students understand racial identity development and that seeking opportunities for dialogue is critical if we are to move forward in advancing education and a multicultural society.

Delgado Bernal and Weiler introduce readers to new ways of framing educational research that push the boundaries of ways in which multiculturalists think about education versus schooling. Delgado Bernal introduces a Chicana feminist epistemology that includes cultural intuition suggesting a collective experience and community memory (p. 312). This researcher challenges all scholars to reclaim their own lost ways of knowing that have been abandoned due to mainstream schooling. Weiler, on the other hand, discusses theory to practice in her consideration of a feminist pedagogy of difference. In her work she includes the perspectives of teachers who were not sure how to situate themselves in relation to the struggles of others (p. 326). While she offers few solutions in her contribution, Weiler provides a framework for teachers to think about ways in which they can serve underserved students.

De Lissovoy closes the volume with an essay that defines the tension between domination and emancipation. With regard to domination he describes education as taking shape within a society in which the relation of violation constitutes the organizing principle (p. 353). He suggests, in order to create a human encounter between teacher and students, and among the students themselves, the weight of a dominative society must be confronted (p. 353). The author boldly asserts that education in its current state is inhumane. There is a discussion of audacity and having audacity to name domination as a liberatory act. The author ends his essay with the hopeful suggestion that teaching creates conversation. This conversation he asserts can, demonstrate this departure proving the possibility an audacity against power and indicating the real openings that can lead us out from its miserable assumptions and economies and into a different and human world (p. 363).

This last section challenges and inspires readers of this book to transform their thinking about what education is (p. 265) in order to serve the greater good, thereby inspiring individuals to renew a broadly shared commitment to promoting education for a multicultural society (p. 13).

This volume signals revitalization in the field of multicultural education and serves to remind readers that multicultural education is very much alive and well in the hearts and minds of a growing segment of educators. As our nation and the world continue to change with regard to seismic demographic shifts, education that considers the funds of knowledge present in every learner will become increasingly valued and needed (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992). Readers of this seminal book will feel the pull and want to be a part of the next iteration of applied and critical multiculturalism in education as it unfolds in classrooms across our country and the world (May & Sleeter, 2010; Santamaría & Santamaría, 2012).    


Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the city. New York: Continuum.

May, S. (Ed.). (1999). Cultural multiculturalism: Rethinking multicultural and antiracist education. Philadelphia: Falmer Press.

May, S., & Sleeter, C. E. (Eds.). (2010). Critical multiculturalism: Theory and praxis. New York, NY: Routledge.

Moll, L., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & González, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice, 31(2), 131141.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1990). Like lightning in a bottle: Attempting to capture the pedagogical excellence of successful teachers of black students. Qualitative Studies in Education, 3, 335334.

Santamaría, L. J., & Santamaría, A. P. (2012). Applied critical leadership in education: Choosing change. New York, NY: Routledge.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 09, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16505, Date Accessed: 10/24/2021 12:39:52 PM

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About the Author
  • Lorri J. Santamaria
    California State University, San Marcos
    E-mail Author
    LORRI J. SANTAMARIA is Professor of Multicultural Multilingual Education and Director of the joint Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership with the University of California San Diego, at California State University, San Marcos. There she teaches research methodology courses in the Ed.D. program, conducts qualitative research, and writes with a focus on diversity and schooling K-higher education, leadership theory, and social justice and educational equity. Recent publications include: Santamarķa, L. J. & Santamarķa, A. P. (2011). Applied critical leadership in Education: Choosing change. New York: NY. Routledge. Santamarķa, L. J. (2009). Culturally responsive differentiated instruction: Narrowing gaps between best pedagogical practices benefiting all learners. Teachers College Record, Columbia University, 111(1), 214-247. Santamarķa, L. J., Santamarķa, C. C., & Fletcher, T. V. (2009). Journeys in cultural competency: Pre-service U.S. teachers in Mexico study-abroad programs. Diaspora, Indigenous, and Minority Education: An International Journal, 3(1), 32-51.
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