His answer is relatively simple: "a collective, classroom pursuit of Gandhian truth." In his teaching, Williams shares his own versions of the truth, but is extraordinarily careful to emphasize that all ideas are merely tentative, arguing, with Gandhi, that "Absolute Truth" is accessible only to God, not humans. The Gandhian teacher engages his or her students in a search for generalizations about why events have evolved as they have. Doing so requires the class to compose arguments, examine evidence, wrestle with the nuances of language, and struggle with each others' conceptions of reality.
The Gandhian approach challenges the positivist views of those students who tend to want the official version of the truth, according to the teacher. Framing the issues in this manner allows the teacher to simultaneously serve as a bearer of (tentative) knowledge and as a facilitator to help students study alternative views. In the meantime, students sharpen their study skills.
To a veteran educator, this should sound like a form of Deweyan inquiry. What makes Williams's thesis so compelling is the way he applies it to classroom situations concerning such issues as racism, imperialism, nationalism, and pluralism. Although his examples are set in college classrooms, they could just as easily be in a high school or middle school. He describes student arguments, his own dilemmas, and the outcomes of the discussions. As expected from a Gandhian, he will not tell the reader what to do, but instead offers his best thinking with a healthy dose of self-criticism.
I found myself examining several aspects of my own teaching as I read this book. I've studied Dewey for a long time, but have never seen his philosophy applied to the teaching of controversial subjects in quite this way. It has affected the way I teach, certainly, but has also influenced the way I interact with family, friends, and colleagues. Most of us will readily admit that we don't know it all, but we often give the impression that we do, thus reinforcing the positivist approach that we seek to discourage. Classroom in Conflict can help teachers address that problem in a thoughtful way.
According to Ladson-Billings, culturally relevant teaching has four basic features: (1) seeing color and culture, (2) teachers' conception of themselves and others, (3) the structuring of classroom interactions, and (4) the teacher's conception of knowledge. These components are described in detail and are compared with what Ladson-Billings calls "assimilationist," or traditional teaching practice. Using teacher interviews and classroom vignettes of eight exemplary elementary teachers, the text documents a pedagogy that specifically addresses the needs of African American children, and offers some promise for improving their academic performance.
This text vividly illustrates the integration of two essential components of effective teaching: a moral/philosophical purpose (e.g., commitment, dedication, wanting to make a difference) and a set of sound pedagogical strategies. The teachers in this study not only expect their students to be successful but have the knowledge base to meet kids where they are and to help them construct "bridges and scaffolding" to help them get where they need to be. It is one thing to be committed and want to make a difference, it is another thing to know what you are doing.
Ladson-Billings's work has powerful implications for revamping pre-service and in-service teacher training, as well as the training of school administrators, if attitudes and behaviors that foster the academic success of African American students are to be learned and practiced. She suggests, as does M. Fullan in Change Forces (1993), that teachers must be challenged and trained to become change agents challenging the status quo (i.e., "failure is inevitable for some," "diversity is a disadvantage") and seeking to make a difference in the lives of all students. Pre-service teachers need the opportunity to observe teachers who exemplify the teaching ideology and the behaviors of the eight teachers in the text. Where those models do not exist, this text provides a framework from which in-service teachers can develop an awareness of the pedagogical principles of culturally relevant practice.
Gregory L. Figgs
University of Kentucky
At the Essence of Learning:
By Geneva Gay. West Lafayette, Indiana: Kappa Delta Pi, 1994. 158 pp. $15.00 paper.
Geneva Gay is one of the leading figures in the field of multicultural education. This book, written for teachers, invites a personal examination of educational values and beliefs. She successfully dismantles the myths and misconceptions about multicultural education, clarifies its vision and values, and describes the relationship between the principles of general education and multicultural education. In addition, she explains why it is important for teachers to understand this relationship.
Gay argues that the key principles of both multicultural education and general education are interrelated, not unrelated. The goals, programs, and purposes of both are complementary and reciprocal rather than contradictory and incompatible. The author asserts that because we live in a society that is multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial, ethically and morally the classroom must reflect the perspectives of all the participants. She alleges that multicultural education is a way to conceptualize and translate principles of good pedagogy, commonly accepted theories of learning, and conceptions of education for democratic citizenship into programs and practices that are appropriate for the social, political, cultural, ethnic, and racial realities of the United States (p. 153).
The book is divided into five chapters. Chapter One introduces the common principles of education, such as human growth and development, socialization and citizenship, and teaching and learning. The myths and misconceptions about multicultural education are examined in Chapter Two, through the voices of both its critics and advocates. The principles of human growth and development are the focus for Chapter Three. Socialization and citizenship are examined in Chapter Four, while the final chapter emphasizes the principles of effective teaching and learning.
This book is a powerful introduction to the principles of multicultural education. Its concise, clear, descriptive, empowering format can be an effective tool for teachers designing educational solutions to meet the challenges of diversity. Reflections and applications at the end of each chapter suggest ways in which teachers can apply multicultural concepts previously presented. These activities challenge the reader to evaluate personal values and institutional policies and practices that may limit access to equal educational opportunities for some children. For example, an activity asks readers to assess how their school transmits messages about democratic ideals and values through its student handbook. Teachers are asked, first, to examine and evaluate the handbook for particular values embedded in the goals, statements, rules, and regulations, and then to suggest ways these can be modified to reflect cultural diversity. Readers are also provided with a rich bibliography to encourage further reading. This book, written in a style that encourages involvement and dialogue, is appropriate for all educators committed and dedicated to preparing students to live in a society that is multicultural.
Seattle Public Schools