Facing Racism in Education (2nd Edition)

Facing Racism in Education (2nd Edition)

Taborn, John M

Facing Racism in Education (2nd Edition), edited by Tamara Beauboeuf-Lafontant and D. Smith Augustine. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Review, 1996. 407 pp. $21.95, paper. Reviewed by John M. Taborn, University of Minnesota.

In their introduction to the second edition of Facing Racism in Education, the editors’ simple but poignant statement, “Talking about racism is never easy,” is a segue to understanding the purposes of the publication. First, the editors’ goal was to continue the dialogue about racism that was generated by the first edition; thus, 8 of the second edition’s 16 articles are repeated from that earlier work. The inclusion of 8 new articles and the organization of this most recent edition were influenced by Beauboeuf-Lafontant and Augustine’s assessment of the nation’s current orientation to the subject of racism. Whereas the first edition, published in 1990, sought to kindle a dialogue to counter a pervasive national silence about this subject, the second edition seeks to counter the recent change in this orientation from silence to outright denial of racism’s existence.

Part one, “The Experience of Racism,” contains articles authored by African American, American Indian, and Chicano contributors, all of whom discuss the stresses associated with being subjected to an educational agenda that has as its goal the assimilation of minority students into a European American cultural definition of academic success. The American Indian experience is presented in two complementary articles. The first, by Carol Locust, introduces readers to 10 basic American Indian religious beliefs and demonstrates how these beliefs conflict with common U.S. educational practices. Locust’s conclusion that the continual experiencing of such conflicts “wounds the spirit” and adversely impacts the educational success of American Indian students is supported by an informative article by Donna Deyhles. In that article, Deyhles shares her findings from participant-observer research conducted during a decade of living on a Navajo reservation.

While the above-mentioned works emphasize the negative effects of American schooling on American Indian students, the four other articles in this section (by Jacquelyn Mitchell, Maria de la Luz Reyes and John Halcon, Beverly McElroy-Johnson, and Lisa Delpit) focus on the experiences and problems of African American and Chicano professional educators. Each relates these educators’ struggles to cope with the conflict between the external pressures to conform to European American standards and their own internal commitment to presenting their groups’ cultural perspectives as they conduct research, publish, teach, and establish collegial respect. Notably, Mitchell describes her experiences as an African American social science researcher as functioning in a state of “double marginality.” This is followed by Reyes and Halcon’s article, in which the Chicano faculty experience of racism is depicted as functioning in a climate of “academic colonialism.” However, this section’s coverage of its topic is somewhat limited, partly due to space limitations and partly to the acknowledged lack of relevant published information concerning Asian Americans and racism. The section would have benefitted as well from an prefacing discussion of the meaning of racism to assist those readers who are “in denial” about it to label that which they are denying. In the absence of such a discourse, readers are left with the task of developing their own personal conceptualizations of racism, the results of which might, in some instances, limit the intended impact of these excellent articles and lead to their being misconstrued as related more to culture than to race.

Part two, “The Dimensions of Racism,” focuses on the often-hidden and disclaimed political nature of education, which has as its goal the maintenance and continuity of dominant group privilege. Thus, by implication, if minorities want to become successful students, they must reject their own cultures and assimilate the normative behavior and values of the dominant culture. Illustrative of this is David Adams’s provocative discussion of the history of American Indian education, in which he explains how the interactions between Protestantism, capitalism, and Republicanism were synthesized into the policies that have shaped the U.S. government’s questionable approach to this subject. According to Adams, the resulting program, while striving to appear noble in its mission to assimilate the “savages,” was simultaneously exploitative, paving a way to take away Indian land. In his article, David Spener analyzes the operation of today’s transitional bilingual education programs and notes that these efforts also seem to appear helpful while simultaneously contributing to the castelike relegation of Central and South American immigrants to lower-status employment. Both articles present compelling arguments that should foster interesting dialogue among readers.

Also included in this section is Signithia Fordham’s profoundly insightful and engaging article, which addresses the psychological paradox experienced by African American students who, while gaining recognition and status as academic achievers, concurrently develop a sense of “racelessness.” Her must-read discourse boldly asserts that too often the price Black students pay to become exemplary academic achievers is rejection of their cultural identity and the adoption of an individualistic orientation. Companion articles by Emilie Siddle-Walker and Janie Ward address the problems associated with the current decline in African American parental and community involvement with education. On the one hand, Siddle-Walker challenges the idea that the decline in African American parental involvement reflects a lack of interest. She poignantly reminds readers that prior to school desegregation, Black parents had a long and proud history of reciprocal involvement with their children’s schools. She further notes that this historical, two-way community-school involvement was expressed at the school site as well as in the Black community, and that it was a reflection of the African American value of shared responsibility. Alternately, Ward attributes causality for the violence among African American youth to economic and political policies that have disrupted such traditional African American community relationships. Her article advocates for strong initiatives in education to facilitate African American youths’ recovery of their history and cultural traditions. It also urges adults to work with African American youth to “counter negative values like excessive individualism by instilling cultural values that link individual advancement to group advancement and, in turn, recognize group advancement as a source of individual hope” (p. 280).

Part three, “The Practice of Anti-Racism,” encourages educators to implement multiculturalism as an integral component of their teaching strategies. In this section, Arlette Willis urges teachers to expand their understanding of the diverse cultures represented in their classrooms. An interesting example of how one teacher has done this is contained in Cynthia Ballenger’s intriguing discussion of her personal experiences analyzing the conversations between Haitian teachers and their students. Expressing advocacy for a more open discussion of race and racism in higher education are articles by Beverly Tatum and Marilyn Cochran-Smith, who both lament the omission of discourse about race in preservice teacher education programs. Further, Tatum discusses her experiences teaching college students by utilizing the Helms and Cross models of racial identity development as frameworks for increasing students’ awareness of their personal level of racial identity. One shortcoming of this section is that while it boldly and appropriately challenges educators to implement antiracism strategies in their classrooms, it does not include similar material challenging educational administrators and policymakers to do the same.

This second edition of Facing Racism in Education should be seen as successful in furthering its stated goal of continuing the dialogue on racism. However, it probably could have strengthened the likelihood of achieving success in countering the nation’s present outright denial of the existence of racism if the editors had provided either a clearly articulated perspective of the various forms of racism, or at least articulated the definition of racism as a backdrop for selecting and presenting the articles they included this time around. These concerns notwithstanding, the publication makes readers vividly aware of a conspicuous void in the educational literature. It contains enough excellent, thought-provoking articles, with models and information presented from unique cultural perspectives, to serve as a catalyst for spawning new and more constructive discussion about racism-until talking and doing something about it become much easier for us all.

Copyright Howard University Fall 1995

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