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Education and the Disadvantaged American

reviewed by James Cass - 1963

coverTitle: Education and the Disadvantaged American
Author(s): Educational Policies Commision
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: , Pages: , Year:
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Policy statements by national organizations seldom have much impact on the American scene; at best, they reflect and define the changing attitudes of the nation. Education and the Disadvantaged American does just that. It is virtually a distillation of the more advanced thinking and experience of the past decade concerning the relationship of the public schools and the least fortunate members of their public. Its view is informed, sympathetic, and notably hard-nosed in assessing the schools' responsibility. The need for the active cooperation of other community agencies—and for a far higher level of personal and financial support from the public generally—are laid out in unequivocal terms.

An example of the report's forthright assessment of the situation is this:

The modern public school often bases its efforts on assumptions which are not valid for all children. The values of the teacher, the content of the program, and the very purposes of schooling may be appropriate for middle class children but not for disadvantaged children.

The EPC statement is necessarily concerned with general principles. On occasion, it acquires a this-we-must-do-to-be-saved tone, but that is a minor fault. It is an important document that deserves careful reading by anyone concerned with the problems of educating our underprivileged fellow citizens.

The specifics of how the schools can and must adapt to the disadvantaged in order to help them overcome the hurdles they face in becoming good citizens and effective human beings are explored in detail in The Culturally Deprived Child. The author, Frank Riessman, chairman of the department of psychology at Bard College, has surveyed the research and experimental literature to add to his own extensive experience in the field. The result is an informative, sometimes evocative, and occasionally frustrating study of a subject that is generating growing concern in our evolving world.

Dr. Riessman promptly sets about challenging some of the ancient and easy generalizations about the disadvantaged: that they have no interest in education, that their intelligence level is generally low, that they lack the verbal skills so necessary to formal education. Cultural deprivation, he shows, does not mean that the individual lives in a cultural vacuum, but that he has been deprived of the middle-class culture that pervades the schools. The means whereby teachers can achieve an understanding of the disadvantaged child's own culture, and use that knowledge of his standards and values in their teaching, make up the core of this book.

The many ways in which the underprivileged child can be further alienated by the well meaning but unknowing teacher are detailed in an excellent chapter called "Discrimination Without Prejudice." Bare-faced prejudice is no longer fashionable, but discrimination, both overt and subtle, remains and "is unwittingly practiced even by the best intentioned people." Its manifold forms range from the de facto segregation of Northern cities to the patronizing liberal's soft acceptance of inequality through setting lower standards of achievement for the deprived because of the difficulties imposed by their environment. The disadvantaged child is more ruthlessly realistic than many of those who would help him. It is only through an equally realistic approach that the schools can be successful. As Dr. Riessman says,

There is no need for the teacher to renounce her middle-class role and pretend to imitate the speech or style of the deprived child. He does not want the teacher to become deprived. He is not that pleased with his own situation in life. But he does want the teacher to genuinely understand him, to see that in some way he is grappling with the problems in his life, and not to patronize him. The disadvantaged child wants respect, not love. . . .

Two chapters on the teacher, a shrewd critique of the achievements and limitations of New York City's Higher Horizons Project, and a final chapter suggesting specific courses of action, are designed for professionals, but they will prove equally revealing for interested laymen.

Two criticisms: In describing the general characteristics of the disadvantaged, Riessman fails to differentiate among cultural groups and thereby meets more contradictions than should be necessary. Similarly, in describing school practices, he leaves the reader to guess the grade levels involved. But his purpose is to suggest specific approaches on the basis of general principles derived from current knowledge. These omissions, then, are frustrating but hardly serious.

Less excusable are two slips which allowed "image" and "masculine" to be translated into verbs. They are especially unfortunate because the book as a whole is well and clearly written, with a minimum of technical language. It is a good book that should be widely read by laymen as well as teachers and others in the field.


Saturday Review, New York City

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 65 Number 1, 1963, p. 90-90
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 2733, Date Accessed: 12/7/2021 11:02:50 AM

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