Silent Partners in Multicultural Education
reviewed by Laura Rychly - November 27, 2017
Silent Partners in Multicultural Education, edited by Tuija Itkonen and Fred Dervin, is a collection of eight chapters that seek to help educators hear what often goes unheard in educational efforts and environments, thwarting best intentions toward multicultural education. Each of the eight chapters in this collection identifies and defines a different silent partner that participates, either toward a helpful or harmful end, in efforts toward multiculturalism. The authors explore a creative array of topics as silent partners, ranging from physical spaces inside and outside school buildings, to the items displayed on school walls, to interactions between individuals, to technological tools used by students.
At times this notion of silent partners is reminiscent of the hidden curriculum, which consists of the messages given to children by teachers, school structures, textbooks, and other school resources; these messages are often conveyed by teachers who themselves are unaware of their presence (Eisner, 1992, p. 302). Scholarship about the hidden curriculum helps educators recognize implicit messages they transmit to students. Silent and hidden seem similar, but the former implies that there is a more intentional act of hiding, in that the educators allow the ideas to linger in the shadows, while silent implies that they are visible, so not concealed, but present and noiseless. In this way hidden and silent are obviously as different as the senses one would use to perceive each. However, there is a similarity between hidden and silent, in that educators can do more to enlighten themselves about the presence of these elements we cannot see or hear but that still teach something other than what we intentionally try to convey.
The first and second chapters build theoretical frameworks out of their explanations of silent partners. The authors of Chapter One explore the potential of reading across multiple texts in order to listen to what might exist in the spaces between them. In Chapter Two,The Ethos of Sport, the spirit which imbues school sports culture (and specifically in this case, physical education classes), is examined as a possible silent partner reinforcing traditional beliefs about gender, multiculturalism, and sustainability.
Chapters Three, Four, Five, and Six comprise a section on revealing silent partners that are common in educational environments. In Chapters Three and Four these partners are school spaces and the objects and wall decor displayed therein. The authors of Chapter Three construct an interesting sort of echo that occurs when educational spaces and objects silently convey negative beliefs about diverse or marginalized students and, as a result, silence those students. The author of Chapter Four focuses almost exclusively on wall hangings and decor and the messages these send to students about their worth and potential. The authors of Chapter Five discuss how different definitions of what it means to be an international school drive the silently habitual practices of those working in such educational institutions. In Chapter Six, the authors explore challenges related to defining the boundaries of international campuses of higher education. They discover that the features people desire for a campus to seem international are not markedly different than the features people seem to desire on all campuses, such as community spaces, safety, aesthetic appeal, and inclusivity.
Chapters Seven and Eight give a future-oriented look at how we can better engage silent partners for students benefit. For example, the authors of Chapter Seven explore the potential of spaces outside the formally defined educational environment, spaces that otherwise function soundlessly for students during an average school day to satisfy the need for interaction and exploration as part of multicultural education. In Chapter Eight the authors investigate the potential of digital applications on personal devices for giving students opportunities to become aware of, challenge, and stretch their conceptualizations of racism.
A secondary theme emerged across the chapters, which is the authors commitment to highlighting the multiple definitions for terms such as international school and global citizen, and exploring the consequences of this. For example, the authors of Chapter Two draw attention to the different purposes, extended beyond objective meanings that stakeholders might have for a phrase such as global citizenship. In some cases these terms are put to use in ways that define nationalism. In other cases the words are used to support efforts toward egalitarianism. In Chapter Five, two views of what it means to be an international school are contrasted. One school considers itself to be international because of the many nationalities and languages represented by the student body. Another school considers itself to be international because of its commitment to prepare its largely homogeneous student body to be globally-minded citizens. In the case of Chapter Five, this is significant because the habits enacted by each institution are a result of the meaning ascribed to this label.
Overall, the tone of the book is reminiscent of Paulo Freires critical optimism...a state of being that is neither mechanistic, that reveals to us our potential for the lyrical and often surprises by its unusual evocation of hope (Balagopalan, 2011, p. 203). The authors draw attention to silent partners, which, were educators to listen more closely, could reveal contextual aspects of educational environments that might unintentionally thwart best intentions toward multicultural education. The book is critical in that it stands against marginalization, both done silently by spaces, objects, and ideas, as well as by educators direct efforts to silence multicultural education. But the book is also optimistic. At no point do the authors present irrevocable circumstances, but instead help educators hear messages they mightve missed, so that they can better intentionally engage with them. Specifically, in arguably the most optimistic chapter, the author of Chapter Four describes authentic will, which he contrasts with aesthetic will. The latter is every educators best intention to help all students meet high expectations, while the former is the drive to proactively create and convey messages that teach marginalized students their worth and potential. This book is a purposeful tool to help educators who wish to listen, in new or different ways, to ideas and forces silently impacting their efforts toward multicultural education.
Balagopalan, S. (2011). On Freires Critical Optimism. Contemporary Education Dialogue, 8(2), 203228.
Eisner, E. (1992). Curriculum ideologies. In P. Jackson (Ed.)., Handbook of research on curriculum: A project of the American Educational Research Association (302326). New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company.