Sleeter, Christine E. and Grant, Carl A. (2003). Making Choices for Multicultural Education: Five Approaches to Race, Class, and Gender. N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons.

Pp. x + 245
$54     ISBN 0-471-39352-5

Reviewed by Sidney C. McDougall
University of Texas at El Paso

November 5, 2003

Our schools are becoming more diverse and our teachers continue to be predominately white and female. How both new and established teachers not only accept but consider that diversity as part of their curriculum is imperative to multiculturalism. Multiculturalism does not belong exclusively in social studies or on museum field trips but is a part of every teacher’s epistemology. A teacher imparts not only knowledge of other cultures and classes but also teaches students which “lens” they will use to view the world. Sleeter and Grant critique several “lens” of multicultural education, from viewing “others” as culturally different to cultural pluralism. The majority of the book’s chapters examine current approaches found in our schools towards multicultural education. These current philosophies guiding classroom practice are critiqued and Sleeter and Grant provide an opportunity to reflect why each approach is limited.

The authors build a powerful argument that that multicultural education must be both multicultural and social reconstructionist. “Others” can be different in not only race, class and gender but in abilities (either special education or gifted), culture, language dominance and sexual orientation. Every classroom should reflect and celebrate diversity of every type. Extending the role of schools, classrooms should be a base for local social action projects. Teachers are to facilitate the coalescing of diverse groups as students work toward social justice. Educators need to be encouraged to promote ideas towards a better society and the authors help them understand how their view of “others” will dictate what a truly multicultural education will become in their classroom.

According to the authors, in 1999 the United States population was 12.8 % African American, 12.5% Hispanic, 3.6% Asian or Pacific Islander and 69.1% non-Hispanic White. Anyone working in public education would recognize the upward trend as over three million immigrants moved to the United States between 1995 and 1998. Sleeter and Grant describe an enlarging diversity and urge educators towards reforms in curriculum, ability grouping practices, and the way teachers view different student cultures and lifestyles. We are challenged to consider whether we work towards suppressing those alternative lifestyles and cultures or do we accept the widening gulf between teachers and students and seek to bridge it?

Children’s understanding of society and of other people is based on the world they experience and how society connects to their world. If the society they encounter is predominately of one ethnic or racial group, children’s comprehension of racism or knowledge of other groups is extremely limited…Simply telling children about people or problems beyond their experience may not penetrate their understanding very deeply. Children need to have direct and active involvement with the group or issue of concern. (p. 203).

Both teachers and prospective teachers should examine their attitudes towards diversity and Sleeter and Grant provide overviews of varying perspectives on multicultural education.

Are students viewed in terms of their differences? I would agree with the authors that this is a predominant viewpoint of many teachers and administrators. How a teacher recognizes a student as “at-risk”, “gifted”, or “special education” speaks to their assumptions regarding any academic deficits or behavioral problems. Are they failing because they are from a family of recent immigrants or from a lower socioeconomic class? Mainstreaming all of the “other” students is viewed as just because teachers are preparing students for a “mainstream” society in language, culture and norms. However, with widening diversity, Sleeter and Grant challenge this “deficiency orientation” as an educational practice in need of reform; it belittles our students’ self-concept.

Every chapter contains accurate scenarios of the way we view diversity in our schools. Each scenario will be depict a familiar teacher and challenge the goals of that classroom. Sleeter and Grant never comment on the scenarios they’ve drawn; the scenario allows the reader to explore the viewpoint of the student. One scenario, in a chapter titled “ Teaching the Exceptional and the Culturally Differen,” features an Anglo, female teacher of a predominantly African American and Hispanic Head Start class including several students that are language dominant in Spanish. The teacher has an engaging classroom that incorporates media, books, artwork and learning centers. The teacher is planning a fieldtrip to an art institute and reviews the artists of the lesson: Monet, Manet and Renoir. Sleeter and Grant let the reader conclude that the enrichment activities she is providing belong to an unfamiliar world regardless of the teacher’s best intent towards “mainstreaming.” Teachers need to recognize and value their student’s cultural backgrounds.

Another approach towards multicultural education is Human Relations which targets the development of each student’s self-concept. Classrooms should reflect individual differences but are in danger of what is known as “tourist curriculum” in which there are certain days set aside to recognize cultures in terms of food, clothing or folk tales. What results is an occasional respite for students from the majority culture, not relevant, daily experiences with cultures and languages. Cooperative learning groups and strategies can, according to Human Relations, improve inter-group relationships among students. According to Sleeter and Grant, the Human Relations approach is the most popular approach among White elementary teachers. Human Relations also teeters very close towards assimilation; cultural differences are taught only to the extent necessary to improve our students’ self-concepts. The authors are correct in their viewpoint that teaching about food, clothing and folk stories of other cultures does not truly create a good foundation for multicultural education.

Single-group studies are a term devised by Sleeter and Grant to describe women’s studies, African American studies, Hispanic studies or any particular program that targets a particular group. Some public schools have instituted Black studies programs. Democracy and the study of democracy should not only reflect the politically dominant group. In order to counterbalance textbooks that narrowly describe social problems, ethnic groups and their unique histories should be taught separately from Anglo studies. Students who grasp their own culture and recognize their contributions to society will be willing to work toward social change. Sleeter and Grant advocate that a teacher working with a majority Asian or Hispanic population is an excellent opportunity to help students learn about their own literature and history. Single-group studies can also limit the emphasis on White, male studies.

The fourth of the five “approaches to race, class and gender” supports Multicultural Education’s goals but disagrees with its implementation in the schools. An important component of Multicultural Education is that it involves the entire school and touches all areas including staffing. Teachers should mirror cultural diversity as well as administrators. No one group, such as paraprofessionals, should dominate a school’s staffing strata. Tracking is dispelled as well as the concept of the “at-risk” student. In order to avoid preconceptions of academic deficits, teachers must expect all students to excel and not have expectations based on class, gender, language, socioeconomic status and race. There also can be no departmental divisions between teachers such as regular education versus special education. The authors recognize that teaching from a multicultural perspective requires commitment and time. Teachers have to pursue staff development sessions that will strengthen their knowledge and provide them with multicultural materials.

Sleeter and Grant agree with the philosophy of Multicultural Education but they criticize current efforts. Schools emphasize cultural diversity. Following school, students will need skills that will help them challenge social inequality. The authors advocate not only Multicultural Education but Social Reconstructionist. The example they give is how we teach, not practice democracy, in our schools. Practicing democracy is where a student can “articulate one’s interests, to openly debate issues and to organize and work collectively with others.” Students should be aware of the injustices of society and learn how to acquire constructive responses.

Sleeter and Grant ask a lot of schools and teachers. Curriculum, materials, films, and speakers are to present every diverse group. Schools should have staffs that replicate the cultural diversity of their community. Students are not to be tracked and assessments should only be used to improve instruction. Minority parents should be actively involved with the school and all extracurricular activities should dismiss race and sex stereotypes. Multicultural materials and curricula are present in most of our schools. A challenge would be to restructure curricula to not only present social problems such as the availability of low-cost housing, but to allow students to learn how to seek solutions. This would require teachers to have a background in activism. This book is highly recommended to teachers and administrators who would like to understand all perspectives of multicultural education as well as consider the possibility of teaching social reconstructionism. Readers will find that Sleeter and Grant’s goal, that our students would leave school with the skills to remedy social structural inequalities, as very lofty yet not currently attainable without major educational reforms. The authors emphasize that the diversity gap is widening and teachers and administrators have to seek solutions through Multicultural Education.

We would argue that a mainstream curriculum in any subject area already does reflect the perspective and experiences of a group—the dominant group. As such, it is not neutral or universal. Your choice is not whether cultural groups will inform the education program but rather which groups. (p. 151).

Any teacher reading Making Choices for Multicultural Education will think about what groups will dominate in their classroom.

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