Race and Culture in the Classroom: Teaching and Learning Through Multicultural Education

Race and Culture in the Classroom: Teaching and Learning Through Multicultural Education – Book Review

Francoise Bodone

By Mary Dilg. Teachers College Press, 1999. 120 pp., $18.95 (paper). ISBN 0-80773-822-0

Regardless of how obvious and inevitable the racial and cultural diversity of students in American public schools is, teaching about race, culture, or ethnicity remains a complex and at-risk instructional activity that many teachers feel uncomfortable of ill-equipped to take on. In Race and Culture in the Classroom, Mary Dilg, a high school English teacher, takes us on a self-reflective and critical journey of multicultural education in action, where we explore the possibilities and the limitations of such pedagogy through her experiences and those of her students. In her examination of multicultural teaching, the author brings to the forefront whom teachers teach and learn with, reminding us of the age of the audience, their sociocultural circumstances, and their histories.

Dilg teaches adolescents who attempt to construct their individual identities as part of diverse cultural and social groups and are caught in contrasting milieux, “the largely segregated worlds of their lives outside of school, and the multicultural community of their school” (p. 15). The book presents teaching and learning situations where the author, as a critical and reflective teacher researcher, examines the areas of tension, contention, agreement, pain, and joy created and felt when students’ diverse identities intersect with each other and with the teacher on the topics of race and culture.

Dilg chooses dialogue and a problem-posing type of education (Freire, 1970) as pedagogical tools to teach race and culture in classrooms filled with adolescents’ questioning minds. Dialogue is a capricious instructional tool that can lead to the expected outcome of cultural understanding or simultaneously increase a once silent cultural divisiveness, as shown in many parts of the book. During the conversations in which students and teachers engage, be it the aftermath of an assembly turned racially sour (The Other Day at School), of in discussing the holocaust via contemporary fiction (Reading the Text of the Talking), biases are uncovered, ignorance ceases to be blessed, and painful reactions emerge at the convergence of students’ and teachers’ revealed understandings of race and culture. Dilg discusses “teachable/transformative moments” where, as a teacher, she realizes the need to listen carefully to what students say and how they speak their minds so as to inform her pedagogy and instructional practices and better address future situations. She struggles to maintain a balance between teaching and facilitating, and confirms Freire’s belief in rigorous teacher-facilitators who ensure a firm and informed (academic) guidance of students for whom they are responsible and avoid laissez-faire practices (Freire & Macedo, 1995).

The author knows the challenges implied in her pedagogical choices. We participate in the self-study of her teaching practice, which reveals the ups and downs of her engaged pedagogy, and witness her personal transformation. If she asks students to examine their assumptions about race and culture, Dilg questions her own and feels the anguish of self-realization of one’s inherent racial and cultural biases. The essays remind us of the complex and varied nature of preparation (i.e., academic, instructional, emotional, social, and cultural) needed to teach curricula that move across cultures and races and invite emerging young adults to face their biases, question years of learned assumptions (i.e., feelings of guilt never examined before or the realization of other peoples’ plights), and learn the impacts–intended of unintended–of one’s words and actions.

Dilg skillfully parallels the experiences of students and teachers as race and culture are negotiated in the classroom. She is a close observer of students’ reactions and allows us into the dialogues she and her colleague facilitate. Students’ voices are beard loud and clear as they express their anguish and resentment in the face of unrevealed and painful truths (the introduction of Chapter 3 is a good example), or as they learn: “People can learn to look back and say, ‘That was wrong'” (p. 95). Dilg describes complex and emotionally laden situations with simplicity and the informed language of a practitioner. I often visualized the classroom and felt the intensity of “teachable moments” (see p. 88).

Numerous theoretical references support Dilg’s observations, and she discusses a wide variety of resources that helped her multicultural teaching. Teachers and teacher educators will find this book most useful, especially if used in tandem with, for example, Villegas and Lucas (2002), who discuss culturally responsive teaching and its implications.


Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Freire, P., & Macedo, D.P. (1995). A dialogue: Culture, language, and race. In P. Leystina, A. Woodrum, & S.A. Sherblom (Eds.), Breaking free: The transformative power of critical pedagogy (pp. 199-228). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Villegas, A.M., & Lucas, T. (2002). Educating culturally responsive teachers: A coherent approach. New York: SUNY Press.

FRANCOISE BODONE, University of Oregon

COPYRIGHT 2003 The Ohio State University, on behalf of its College of Education

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group