History of Multicultural Education: “Yes, But,” Revisited

reviewed by Susan F. Semel - December 01, 2009

coverTitle: History of Multicultural Education: “Yes, But,” Revisited
Author(s): Carl A. Grant and Thandeka K. Chapman
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0805854398, Pages: 378, Year: 2008
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In Fall 1996, I reviewed the Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education, edited by James A. Banks and Cherrie McGee Banks, for the Teachers College Record (Semel, 1996). Twelve years later, I found myself coordinating reviews of a six volume edited work, History of Multicultural Education, edited by Carl A. Grant and Thandeka K. Chapman. Both works represent the labors of pioneers in the field but in very different ways. Banks and Banks’s handbook examined “theoretical, empirical, and philosophical issues related to multicultural education,” reading like a “Who’s Who” in multicultural education in 1995. Unlike the Banks’s handbook, an exhaustive reference guide, Grant and Chapman have had the advantage of building on such existing works to create a six volume history of multicultural education, thus enabling us to see not only its beginnings but also the ways in which it has evolved, a particular boon to historians of education. Additionally, but not unimportantly, when the Banks’s work appeared, the place of multicultural education in university, college, and school curricula—and what shape it should take—was hotly debated and contested  among  educational scholars. In the last decade or so, multicultural studies and the infusion of multiculturalism into the school curriculum have become an integral part of teaching and learning in schools and higher educational institutions. Thus, Grant and Chapman’s multivolume work also illustrates the transformation of what many perceived as a radical reform to its acceptance as “canon.”

In particular, Grant and Chapman have documented issues, debates, concepts, and particular programs that comprise the interdisciplinary study of multicultural education and have organized it in such a way as to make it accessible to a broad audience of scholars, teachers, and students through a historical lens. Each volume is organized around a group of connected topics and themes: Volume 1: Conceptual Frameworks and Curricular Issues; Volume 2: Foundations and Stratifications; Volume 3: Instruction and Assessment; Volume 4: Policy and Policy Initiatives; Volume 5: Students and Student Learning; Volume 6: Teachers and Teacher Education. Within each volume there are subdivisions as well, enabling the researcher quick access to a particular group of articles.

As to the method used to determine the selection, the editors state that they consulted data banks, such as ERIC and Web of Science, and experts in the field. They considered the amount of “hits” articles received and ultimately popularity plus cost determined selection. At first I was dismayed at the seemingly lack of rigor in the process; how many times have I summoned an article only to have been disappointed with its content; how many times have I been frustrated by copyright expense; then I tried to think of alternatives for a project of this scope and failed to come up with any other viable method.

What follows are reviews of each of the six volumes. In selecting the reviewers, I attempted to include individuals with a variety of educational and academic experiences from diverse backgrounds and at different stages of their academic careers, including graduate students, and junior and senior faculty members. All of them have taught in urban schools and/or universities with diverse student populations.

Thirteen years after my review of Banks and Banks appeared in this journal, this project enabled me to examine how the field has developed and changed. It also allowed me to see whether my concluding argument in that review still holds:

Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of schooling during the past decade of conservative ascendancy has been the egalitarian function of schooling. Although many of the reports on the crisis in education have stressed the need to balance equity and excellence, the role of schooling in providing equality of opportunity and possibilities for social mobility has taken a back seat. The fact seems clear that as we approach the twenty-first century, the divisions between rich and poor in our society and in the schooling they receive are becoming more glaring than ever. Although the solutions to these problems will not be easy, and certainly cannot be addressed through school, curriculum, and pedagogical reform alone, it is apparent that the issue of equity has been relegated to the back-burner for too long. Thus, efforts at school improvement must consider equity issues as central to their agenda…

A key question is whether the reforms and policies discussed in the handbook provide solutions to the problems of educational inequality. Based on decades of sociological research on the causes of educational inequality that indicates their complex and multidimensional etiology, with both school- and student-centered variables dialectically intertwined, the answer is a qualified yes. On the one hand, multicultural approaches to curriculum and pedagogy have significant promise in promoting educational equity and increasing equality of opportunity. On the other hand, … without significant extra-school reform with respect to the political economy, institutional racism, and the cultural problems related to these, school-based reforms have limited possibilities for ameliorating educational and social inequalities. Thus, multicultural education must be part of the solution to educational inequality, but not viewed—as many school reforms have been—as a panacea for problems whose underlying causes are outside of the purview of the educational system. (Semel, 1996, pp. 173-174)

Two things stand out: first, the inequalities discussed in 1996 have continued to increase dramatically; second, despite myriad school level reforms including multicultural curriculum and pedagogy, achievement gaps have not been significantly reduced in any systematic way. Thus, I end this introduction in much the same way I ended my previous review. Curriculum and pedagogical reforms are necessary but not sufficient to reduce educational inequalities. Without larger social and economic policies aimed at reducing societal stratification, schools alone cannot change society (Anyon, 2005; Berliner, 2006; Counts, 1932).


Anyon, J. (2005). Radical Possibilities: Public Policy, Urban Education and a New Social Movement. New York: Routledge.

Berliner, D. (2006). Our Impoverished View of Educational Reform. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 949-995.

Counts, G. (1932). Dare the Schools Build a New Social Order? New York: John Day.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: December 01, 2009
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15854, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 5:15:11 AM

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