Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World: Multicultural Education for Young Children
reviewed by Natasha S. Reid - October 21, 2015
Title: Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World: Multicultural Education for Young Children
Author(s): Patricia G. Ramsey
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807756253, Pages: 240, Year: 2015
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Although there have been numerous advancements in recent social justice efforts related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, consumer awareness, and the environment, injustices and a lack of critical engagement related to these areas continue to exist. It is impossible to suggest that we are living in a just society when we witness racially targeted violence, the prevalence of heternormativity and associated discrimination, and blatant economic inequities that are destroying individuals and communities, amongst a slew of other vial realities. Multicultural education essentially aims to fight such injustices. As Patricia G. Ramsey proclaims, The purpose of multicultural education is to engage children in understanding and challenging the injustices that divide and diminish their world (2015, p. 6). Unfortunately, many associate multicultural education with a heroes and holidays approach that compartmentally adds ethnic content to curricula, which can simply further emphasize stereotypes and turn away from critical engagement (Cahan & Kocur, 2011). This is particularly evident in early childhood classrooms. Many well-meaning teachers focus on these additive approaches and avoid contentious issues related to discrimination, stereotyping, and activism. Some teachers are resistant to more critical approaches, as they fear that they will receive negative feedback from parents and administrationa highly valid concern. It is not uncommon to hear individuals proclaim that we no longer need multicultural education within a perceived post-racial society, and they thus opt for dangerous colorblind ideologies (Desai, 2010). Furthermore, there are individuals who admonish efforts to explore contentious cultural issues in early childhood classrooms, essentially in order to ensure that we do not burden young children with adult problems (Husband, 2010).
In the fourth edition of Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World: Multicultural Education for Young Children, Ramsey carefully examines a number of the ways in which children are affected by and implicated in constructing divisions and inequities. Throughout the book, Ramsey dispels the myth that children are fragile and innocent beings in need of constant protection. In this effort, she explores the complex ways in which children express, construct, and are affected by multicultural issues and demonstrates how teachers can envision children as and encourage them to become agents of changethat is, highly capable, strong, and intelligent participants in society. She emphasizes that multicultural education is a tool to prepare children to change the inequities in society and that this approach is not safe and predictable. Instead, it requires risk taking, critical engagement, being prepared for surprises, and great dedication from teachers, parents, and community members.
As Ramsey illustrates, this can appear to be a daunting task for early childhood teachers as they face great challenges associated with diminished funds, calls to prepare young children for high stakes testing, and outdated views of childrens capabilities. Furthermore, the field of multicultural education is becoming increasingly complex as diverse, evolving contexts intersect. Additionally, many beginning teachers do not have significant experiences with diverse students and families (Keengwe, 2010). Because of these and other realities, many early childhood educators find it difficult to implement such approaches in the actual classroom setting. But teachers have choices (Nieto & Bode, 2008, p. xv). Ramseys publication presents numerous means to assist teachers in choosing critically engaged multicultural approaches. Throughout the text, Ramsey presents her readers with studies and personal observations that demonstrate the complex ways in which young children construct and enact cultural identities, which can assist educators in understanding how their young students are processing and participating within these discourses. There is also an abundance of powerful vignettes that effectively illustrate these realities in concrete ways. Ramsey provides highly applicable strategies, questions, and supplemental resources for teachers to employ in these efforts. This emphasis on both the presentation of concrete research and practical examples and tools assists readers in envisioning how they can support a critically engaged multicultural classroom within the current realities of their school contexts, thereby assisting in ameliorating fears associated with and barriers to implementing this approach within the current scholastic climate.
The book is organized around two sections, both of which work toward demonstrating the great need for critical multicultural early childhood education and how to successfully implement elements of this approach in real classrooms. In the first section, Ramsey provides an overview of multicultural learning. She highlights the complexity of todays cultural discourses and how these affect young children in classrooms. The great contradictions that children face are examinedthey are taught that everyone is equal, but then witness, learn about, and enact inequalities in classroom settings, which are often propelled by an emphasis on competition and individualism. Throughout the section, Ramsey looks at the ways in which teachers add their own biases within the classroom and how these can affect children. In effect, Ramsey identifies the fact that all curricular, pedagogical, and classroom environment-related choices are political; in no circumstance is a classroom apolitical. Ramsey asks teachers to acknowledge and explore this through self-reflection practices and efforts to create caring and critical communities.
In the second section, Ramsey explores a number of the varied interconnected systems that play important roles within multicultural discourses, including race, class and consumerism, culture and the natural environment, gender and heteronormativity, and abilities and disabilities. At times, the complex ways in which these contexts intersect are not sufficiently emphasized. The somewhat compartmentalized approach appears to be a result of the organization of the second section around chapters that focus on individual cultural contexts rather than more holistic themes that pertain to a variety of these contexts. However, Ramsey very clearly acknowledges this limitation, underlining that the cultural contexts explored are interconnected in more elaborate ways than what is presented in her text. Throughout the chapters in this section, Ramsey emphasizes self-reflection through offering thought-provoking questions for the readers regarding each context. She places these at the beginning of each chapter, thereby setting a tone for personal inquiry and responsibility. She also presents patterns related to how children interact with each context, enabling readers to examine how their own assumptions correspond to those often played out by children in classrooms. Furthermore, the text offers suggestions for speaking with children and parents regarding their assumptions about social justice-related issues, along with methods for assisting them in challenging these within the current cultural climate.
Nearly 20 years after the publication of the first edition of Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World: Multicultural Education for Young Children, Ramsey explores a number of elements affecting the cultural realities in todays early childhood classrooms. These include increasing environmental damage, economic disparities, meritocratic and consumerist cultures, as well as bilingualism and multilingualism as they pertain to culture. Ramsey also looks at the increased blurring of cultural boundaries due to a variety of factors such as globalization. Furthermore, Ramsey mentions how technology, including social media, has influenced teachers interested in and dedicated to multicultural education. She works within this computer-oriented context by providing extensive supplemental resources on the Teachers College website, including further examples, guidelines, questions, bibliographic references, and stories. The resources offer multiple means to support teachers in their quests to incorporate social justice conversations and actions in their classrooms.
In the conclusion of her book, Ramsey leaves readers with a sense of hope. Changes are occurring, but much more needs to be accomplished. She recognizes that change in the realm of multicultural concerns is incremental and takes time, collaboration, and dedication. Ramseys text provides important foundational theoretical and practical information that will help teachers, teacher educators, administrators, parents, community partners, and, most importantly, young children, work together over time to question and aim to eliminate cultural inequities. Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World is an indispensible resource for those interested in collectively working toward creating truly multicultural classrooms (p. xiv) that can lead to change within communities outside of school settings.
Cahan, S. E., & Kocur, Z. (2011). Contemporary art and multicultural education. In E. Joo & J. Keehn II (Eds.), Rethinking Contemporary Art and Multicultural Education (pp. 316). New York, NY: Routledge & New Museum.
Desai, D. (2010). The challenge of new colorblind racism in art education. Art Education, 5(63), 2228.
Husband, T. (2010). Hes too young to learn about that stuff: Antiracist pedagogy and early childhood social studies. Social Studies Research and Practice, 5(2), 6175.
Nieto, S., & Bode, P. (2012). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.