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Un-standardizing Curriculum: Multicultural Teaching in the Standards-based Classroom

reviewed by Candace Schlein - May 31, 2017

coverTitle: Un-standardizing Curriculum: Multicultural Teaching in the Standards-based Classroom
Author(s): Christine E. Sleeter & Judith Flores Carmona
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807758078, Pages: 210, Year: 2017
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Un-standardizing Curriculum: Multicultural Teaching in the Standards-based Classroom, by Christine E. Sleeter and Judith Flores Carmona, provides a powerful tool for educators, pre-service teacher education students, and teacher educators to combat curricular and societal trends toward standardization. Significantly, the authors note that while enhanced standards do not necessarily translate to standardization, this connection has firmly taken root within top down curriculum policies and guidelines. As such, questions of worthwhile knowledge have seemingly been answered through the provision of curriculum guidelines. This is not a neutral approach to shaping education since Sleeter and Flores Carmona argue that, “[k]nowledge itself is embedded in social power relations. Curriculum, and who gets to define it, is political because knowledge in a multicultural democracy cannot be divorced from larger social struggles” (p. 3). Thus the curriculum is not just about what happens in schools, but also concerns the shaping of current and future society. Moreover, novice teachers are encouraged to understand curriculum standards as the actual curriculum.

This text is organized around key themes related to a multicultural education approach to the curriculum. In Chapter One, “Standards, Multicultural Education, and Central Curriculum Questions,” the authors highlight the importance of educators in adopting a critical lens to understand, interpret, create, and interact within the curriculum. The following central curriculum questions are offered for unpacking curriculum guidelines and policies:

1. What purposes should the curriculum serve? . . .

2. How should knowledge be selected, who decides what is most worth teaching and learning, and what is the relationship between those in the classroom and the knowledge selection process? . . .

3. What is the nature of students and the learning process, and how does it suggest teachers should organize learning experiences and relationships? . . .

4. How should curriculum be evaluated? How should learning be evaluated? To whom is curriculum evaluation accountable? (pp. 17–18, emphasis in original)

While various incarnations of central critical curriculum questions have been extant among curriculum theorists over the last century (Schubert, 2008; Tyler, 1949), this book utilizes a set of questions to focus on specific aspects of multicultural education. Moreover, these inquiries are used throughout the text in response to lived scenarios of teaching and learning. This approach ensures that readers are cognizant of useful questions for becoming empowered to live out a multicultural education curriculum. In addition, they are also engaged with real curricular interactions that lend concrete and pragmatic substance to this theoretically critical stance.

Chapter Two, “Teachers’ Beliefs About Knowledge,” addresses the connection of educators’ ideological stances to their approaches to the curriculum. Document analysis and reflective writing are recommended for teachers to unpack their beliefs. These are cited as significant factors underlying teachers’ capacities to engage in multicultural education. An alternative is offered to shape teaching and learning in response to curriculum guide suggestions. Educators are encouraged to plan learning activities that target conceptual goals in Chapter Three that is titled “Designing Curriculum Around Big Ideas.” The authors note that many of today’s teachers are encouraged to plan learning activities that are supportive of learning outcomes. This approach serves to place content front and center in education.

Chapter Four, “Democratized Assessment," acknowledges issues of inequity and brings to the forefront pertinent questions related to social justice regarding assessment. This chapter should be mandatory reading for all educators in that it forces reflection on the ways assessment might serve to narrow the curriculum. It also limits possible opportunities for students from underrepresented linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Its suggestions include focusing on the assessment of student performance instead of concentrating on teaching to the test and measuring knowledge growth with test achievement. The addition of teachers’ narratives is of great use in envisioning new paths for democratic and multicultural assessment.

Chapter Six, “Students as Curriculum," reminds teachers to attend to their learners as valuable resources for the curriculum. Students are described as possessing funds of knowledge that can serve as a scaffold for meaningful learning. A perspective on students as curriculum further incorporates their needs, interests, experiences, and cultural knowledge as a foundation for a multicultural curriculum.

Chapter Five, “Transformative Intellectual Knowledge and Curriculum,” defines transformative knowledge and the means for drawing out counternarratives. In turn, Chapter Seven, “Intellectual Challenges of Curriculum,” and Chapter Eight, “Curriculum Resources,” offer refined views of curriculum planning and enactment that are transformative. This latter chapter on curriculum resources offers practical information that will prove useful for teachers who are intent on engaging in the work of multicultural education. Namely, it includes an extensive list of multicultural classroom resources with useful websites.

Chapter Nine, “Multicultural Curriculum, Democracy, and Visionary Pragmatism,” reminds readers of the imperative to shape a curriculum that is both multicultural and democratic in orientation. Sleeter and Flores Carmona hint that this redirection of curriculum creation might further create a counternarrative to the current story of teacher agency within this era of increased standardization. They state that, “teachers’ agency as curriculum planners has been sharply circumscribed by the standards movement, leading some prospective educators to avoid public school teaching” (p. 153).

Significantly, teachers make use of a multicultural education approach to curriculum that builds around selected big ideas and surrounds students as prime curriculum resources. This further includes teachers’ own experiences or beliefs. This type of shift in curriculum making helps to position teachers once again as curriculum planners (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988). This is a move that empowers teachers as curriculum professionals who have specialized knowledge and who are tasked to make decisions based on this knowledge. Educators can set high learning standards that include experiential and cultural goals by keeping a careful eye on the central critical curriculum questions that the authors highlight throughout the text. This can lead to learning objectives that become broader, more meaningful, and have additional rigor from the vantage points of teachers and students.

Un-standardizing Curriculum is a must read for all educators and teacher educators. It can open up paths to dialogue concerning ways to ameliorate teaching and learning. The book further supports professional development aimed at empowering teachers, particularly those who are focused on equitable schooling for all students. The narratives of teachers’ experiences with different topics pertaining to multicultural education illuminate some of the challenges and opportunities for moving away from a standardizing curriculum within a setting where “[d]emocracy in the United States is under attack” (p. 167). At the same time, there might be a need for additional attention regarding how teachers can take steps toward this work within the context of standardization. Curriculum guides are making the settings for teaching and learning more narrowly defined. As a result, teachers’ commitment to multicultural education might need to be fostered. Sleeter and Flores Carmona could consider adding a discussion of legal and professional precedents for multicultural education counternarratives. They also may want to add legal and professional bodies of support in light of circumstances where teachers might be led to feel silenced in the curricular arena under a perceived threat of unemployment.



Connelly, F. M., & Clandinin, D. J. (1988). Teachers as curriculum planners: Narratives of experience. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Schubert, W. H. (2007). Curriculum inquiry. In F. M. Connelly, M. F. He, & J. Phillion (Eds.), Sage handbook of curriculum and instruction (pp. 399–419). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Tyler, R. W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 31, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21997, Date Accessed: 5/19/2022 8:02:45 AM

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About the Author
  • Candace Schlein
    University of Missouri-Kansas City
    E-mail Author
    CANDACE SCHLEIN Candace is Associate Professor of Curriculum Studies in the Division of Teacher Education & Curriculum Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is the co-editor of A Reader of Narrative and Critical Lenses on Intercultural Teaching and Learning (Information Age, 2017). Her work focuses on experiential curriculum; intercultural teaching and learning; diversity; and narrative inquiry. Her contribution to these fields has been recognized with membership to Professors of Curriculum of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the Early Career Award of the Narrative Research Special Interest Group of AERA, and the Francis P. Hunkins American Association for Teaching and Curriculum Distinguished Article Award in Teaching.
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