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Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race
Date Reviewed: February 24, 2016
This is a book finding its time, perhaps just in time. A sequel to Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation (2010), Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence offers the fruits of a ten-year period of research and observation of participants engaged in difficult conversations on race, racism, Whiteness, and White privilege. The purpose is fivefold: (1) to uncover the reasons that race talk is difficult, (2) to expose the explicit and hidden rules that govern how race is discussed in U.S. society, (3) to illuminate the detrimental consequences of a failure to honestly dialogue about race, (4) to outline the benefits of successful conversations on race, and (5) to propose solutions in overcoming obstacles to honest racial dialogues (xii). Sue accomplishes this purpose with clarity of style and balanced tone.
The first section defines race talk, its characteristics and dynamics, and then explores in chapter three the conflicting race realities in White Talk and Back Talk. “Race talk is truly a clash of different racial realities in which people of color and Whites perceive race issues in opposition to one another” (xiii). Through vignettes, questions, and psychologically adept analysis, Sue offers a compelling view of the ideological, psychological, and historical factors that do create radically opposed racial realities. He gently uncovers the realities whites are disinclined to see, and demonstrates the lived realities of people of color – all while shaming none. I particularly valued his argument for and demonstration of the importance of emotions in the classroom, with any redress of race talk requiring truly receiving and sitting with the wisdom that arises within emotional connection and disconnection.
The second section highlights the hidden ground rules embedded in society, academic settings, and one’s self that serve as barriers to honest race talk. Here you can find guidance and modeling for academic habits that consistently cloak racial realities. The third and fourth sections address, separately, why it is difficult to honestly talk about race. For people of color, “What are the consequences for saying what I mean?” and “To speak or not to speak, that is the question.” For whites, “I’m not racist!” and “I’m not White, I’m Italian.” Group considerations are also examined, difficult dialogues between groups of color.
The final section invites reflection by parents and teachers talking about race with children; namely, “taking responsibility for change means overcoming the inertia and feeling of powerlessness on a personal level” (214). Racial awakening happens in encounters that challenge preconceived notions, so Sue encourages such encounters with guidelines: (1) learn about people of color from sources within the group; (2) learn from healthy and strong people of the culture; (3) learn from experiential reality; (4) learn from constant vigilance of your biases and fears; and (5) learn from being committed to personal action against racism. To encourage you to get the book, I particularly appreciated Sue’s list of ineffective strategies, “Five Things Not to Do,” followed by eleven potentially positive actions. A lengthy volume, Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence should be required reading for educators of all levels.
Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education: Global Perspectives
Date Reviewed: February 4, 2016
This global study of teaching, learning, and assessment goes beyond the typical single country context to extend to good pedagogical practice on six continents.The argument of each chapter is supported by examples of good practice accounts from around the world, a collection that forms a refreshing change from a generic case study model. Although the examples lean most heavily toward English-speaking institutions and classrooms, there is significant attention paid to various elements of pedagogy from many cultural perspectives. The author takes great care throughout the book to consider all elements of the changing higher education landscape, including the changing student body, changes in technology, and changes in expectations about the goals of higher education and graduate employability.
The twelve chapters of this book take a comprehensive view of diversity in higher education teaching, learning, and assessment. The book opens with a consideration of cultural mores and assumptions that directly affect interactions in higher education. Brown looks both to the past and the future in subsequent chapters, noting pedagogical traditions and innovations in the context of today’s higher education landscape. She argues that we must adjust to a technology-rich world that necessitates more focus on “learning how and learning why than on learning what” (21). Her view of technology in the balance as both a distraction and a valuable addition to certain aspects of both teaching and learning is refreshing, as so many books either glorify or decry technology in classrooms and society. This ability to see things in the balance is one of the greatest strengths of this book: rather than arguing for a “best” way to teaching or learning or assessment, this book offers multiple possibilities from multiple contexts and thus leaves much to the reader to judge based on his or her context and constraints.
Brown identifies a few global trends. The most widespread seems to be a move from transmissive to transformative education. She notes that there is a “movement from perceiving the university teacher as an all-knowing, unchallengeable authority figure” (27) and parallel a movement by institutions and disciplines toward encouraging learning outside of the lecture hall. Another trend is teaching toward the multiple literacies expected of a twenty-first century graduate, looking well beyond academic literacy to digital, assessment, and interpersonal literacies (88). Finally, Brown notes that all education needs to think of itself as taking place in a global environment. This book is itself a fine way to encourage broader thinking about pedagogical contexts in higher education: our students are shortchanged when we privilege our own pedagogical traditions and ignore the broader, global context of higher education.
The strengths of this book are many. For instance, the author provides substantive and exhaustive bulleted lists in each chapter, a diverse set of highlighted good practice accounts, and a full chapter devoted to higher education teacher development. The book is easy to navigate, written in clear prose, and at once expansive but grounded in particulars. I would recommend this book highly to teachers and administrators in higher education across the disciplines.
Working Cross-Culturally: Identity Learning, Border Crossing and Culture Brokering
Date Reviewed: January 18, 2016
Michael Michie’s 2014 publication of his dissertation argues that previous research into cross-cultural teaching has focused on skills, methods, and curriculum, but ignores teachers. To address this lacuna, Michie interviews six professional, western, K-12 science teachers of indigenous students and investigates what qualities characterize successful cross-cultural teachers and how teacher training can prepare instructors for cross-cultural contexts.
Michie’s work makes three contributions to pedagogical discussions of cross-cultural teaching. First, Michie provides a sustained examination of the ways cross-cultural experiences shape teachers into “culture brokers” or “border crossers.” Michie claims the most successful teacher of indigenous students learns to be a border crosser in his or her identity formation even before entering the classroom. Second, Michie analyzes successful border crossers and constructs a profile of a border-crossing teacher. Finally, Michie suggests what kind of training shapes teachers to be successful culture-brokers.
Michie claims an “international” framework for his study (1), but limits his subjects to those teaching in western, English-speaking sites (Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, 141). Michie argues that his focused data allows him to speak more precisely, and leaves expansion of this deep, thorough analysis to successive studies.
Michie’s project unfolds in six chapters. In chapter one he defines the project and identifies himself as a “participant-researcher” with his subjects (2). In chapter two, Michie reviews the literature on western teaching of indigenous children. He sifts the anthropological, biological, and ethno-historical studies on “border crossing” and “cultural brokerage” (5) to refine the terms. He defines culture “as the social environment in which an individual is raised and lives and includes a range of concepts and beliefs that is accepted by individuals as defining their group identity” (14). The role of education is to “help those growing up in a culture find an identity within that culture” (Michie cites Bruner 1996, 15). This move brings identity studies and questions of power into the forefront of pedagogy – the (western, powerful) identity of the teacher and the (indigenous, marginalized) identity of the students. Thus teaching requires dexterity and self-awareness in crossing cultural borders.
Michie’s first contribution is to distinguish between terms in the literature. In his subjects, Michie finds that “border crossing” (“the ability of people to move metaphorically between cultures,” ) is a specific identity formed in “marginal people” (51). In contrast, “culture broker” (“a strategy which an individual can be used to promote cross-cultural understanding,” ) is the “role” that an “intermediary” chooses when mediating between cultures (52). Next, Michie proposes that teachers in cross-cultural situations can choose a mediating role while actively cultivating respect and appreciation for the cultures they move between (as border crossers do; 52, 79).
In chapter three, Michie analyzes the participant interviews looking for evidence of border-crossing experiences and cross-cultural encounters earlier in life. Teachers of indigenous students report positive affective and cognitive experiences when they engaged (pre-professionally) indigenous and first nation people (73). Michie identifies three successive degrees of engagement in the teachers. “Border crossers” choose a transitory role and show “interest in the culture and aspirations of indigenous people”; “border workers” “continue to work at the border as allies of the indigenous people”; “border mergers” exhibit a fully bi-cultural identity and do not distinguish between the cultures they navigate (80-81).
Chapter four examines how participants understand the role of culture broker or border-crosser and for what purpose they use that role. Chapter five evaluates participant ideas of how to enable teachers to cross cultural borders in their classrooms. Michie then defines what kind of training can best shape K-12 instructors to teach from a culture broker role. Finally, chapter six summarizes Michie’s conclusions and applies the best teacher training practice to specifically preparing western instructors to teach science as foreign cultural knowledge to indigenous students.
This study can be applied to the pedagogy of religion in at least two situations. First is for college or seminary instructors to consider teaching the academic study of religion as a “foreign” way of knowing. How might students of deep religious conviction respond differently to a perceived exercise of dissecting their sacred text if instructors cross that cultural divide between confessional faith and academic study first? The same cultural crossing might bring “nones” into a new world of thinking about and reflecting analytically on religion. Second, Michie shows that, as professional teachers, our cultural identities and our ability to meet students have already been shaped – positively or negatively. Reflecting on the degree(s) to which we are able to meet our students, cross metaphorical and cultural borders, and broker academic culture with newcomers is critical to our growth as teachers.
Swimming Upstream: Black Males in Adult Education (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, Number 144)
Date Reviewed: January 16, 2016
What person of sound mind would make a conscious decision to swim upstream against the current of turbulent waters? The correct answer is “probably no one.” Swimming upstream requires not only excellent navigational skill but perhaps, more importantly, demands that one possess the tenacity and spirit of a survivor. That is precisely why the metaphor “swimming upstream” is so appropriate in describing the plight of scores of African-American men who elect to enter and succeed in higher education (1).
Swimming Upstream: Black Males in Adult Education is one volume in the series entitled: New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. This anthology is intended “to make space for the experience and voices of Black men in the canon of adult education literature, to promote a critical assessment of institutional policies and practices, and to foster awareness and involvement among adult educators” (89).
The format of this book is well-suited for academic settings. Each essay is preceded by a short introductory paragraph. At the close of each chapter the authors provide a robust list of reference sources that should prove helpful for students and educators alike.
The first chapter discusses the impact of race and racism in the American adult educational system. Chapter two addresses myths and stereotypes employed to depict Black men and their influence on educational attainment. Chapter three explores the reasons for entering adult basic education programs and the role of gender identity. The topic of high school equivalency is discussed in chapter four. Chapter five addresses young Men of Color and engagement in adult learning. Chapter six is concerned with college reentry for African-American males. Chapter seven addresses the sobering topic of Black male college study following a term of incarceration. Chapter eight discusses military veterans and access to the GI Bill to pay educational expenses. The final essay, chapter nine, culminates with a call to action for educational practitioners.
Understanding context is critical. In recent years a growing constituency has emerged that believes society has entered a post-racial or “colorblind” era. They advance the proposition that one’s race or ethnicity has no bearing on one\'s ability to survive and prosper in modern America. I strongly disagree with the post-racial theorists but recognize that it would be helpful for books like Swimming Upstream to squarely confront the legitimate concerns of post-racial proponents. In so doing one hopes that individuals on both sides of the argument will ultimately reach a consensus that the mission of ensuring equal educational opportunities for every individual remains a struggle that must still be waged today. Swimming Upstream moves that discussion forward with compelling statistical and anecdotal evidence.
In 1903, the late W.E. B. DuBois prophesied in The Souls of Black Folks that the problem of the twentieth century would be the “color line” – the invisible yet palpable line of demarcation between Caucasians and African-Americans that was often characterized by overt discrimination and bigotry. More than one century later the question of whether “Black lives matter” is, in my view, a logical extension of DuBois’ central thesis. It can be argued that Swimming Upstream may unintentionally serve to remind us that certain remnants of the issues raised by DuBois remain unresolved today. For some readers this will speak to the relevance and timeliness of Swimming Upstream.
An average book informs and a good book intrigues the reader. But an excellent book sparks self-reflection and may even compel one to act in new and bold ways. As a college instructor I routinely survey students to ascertain why they decided to embark on a college education. The primary responses from students generally, and African-American males specifically, are: “I want to make my parents proud of me” and “I want to set a positive example for my children/siblings/family.” Those learners confirm what I have long known to be true: that given equality of economic and institutional opportunities, African-American males have no less potential to achieve academic and vocational success than any other segment of the American population. College study may not be right for everyone but it must become accessible for anyone. Arguably that is the controversial and exciting rationale for Swimming Upstream. It is an excellent anthology that serves to affirm our collective belief in the basic humanity and intellectual capacity of every individual.
The Culturally Inclusive Educator: Preparing for a Multicultural World
Date Reviewed: December 1, 2015
The Culturally Inclusive Educator: Preparing for a Multicultural World has the potential to complement and advance efforts of educational institutions and educators who grapple with becoming more inclusive. Dena Samuels’s work will convince those who have not begun this work to begin. Even more, it will equip them to do so.
Agreeing with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s claims that “education is the civil rights of our generation” and that “great teaching is about so much more than education; it is a daily fight for social justice” (116), Samuels’ work demands both self awareness and institutional struggle. Because a “social justice journey is a marathon, not a sprint,” a training plan is required. This book is one such training plan.
For the individual educator, Samuels offers numerous tips, including an extensive not-to-be missed list of inclusive educators characteristics (108-9). Yet, for all the difference individual educators can make, in order to make the deepest impact, this “bottom up” approach (e.g., addressing microagressions in the classroom) must be combined with a “top down” commitment (e.g. recruit and retain diverse faculty and administrative leadership, develop inclusive curricula, demand rigorous assessment of diversity trainings). Samuels stresses institutional diversity practices instead of relying solely on “individual champions who come and go” (76).
Samuels is hopeful even as she admits that becoming culturally inclusive educators and educational institutions is a long-term and, at times, difficult venture. She speaks from the experience of investing in the process.
I have learned that my skin color . . . represents something, whether I want it to or not . . . when I become aware of my easily manifested entitlement, I tangibly feel the sting of inequality, even as the recipient of unearned privilege. It is important that I have deeply felt this pain, not as White guilt, but as a reminder that these systems of inequality affect us all, obviously to different degrees, and that my objective is to dismantle them (90).
Some readers will be introduced to new vocabulary such as microaggression, noun-based identifiers, nondominant (instead of minority), meritocracy, and code switching. Others will be surprised by research results. For example, studies have found that voluntary inclusiveness trainings may produce more inclusive behavior than mandatory trainings (43), and that training faculty when they are in graduate programs is more beneficial than when they are in their teaching positions (44). Yet others might be surprised to hear that faculties and institutions are not as prepared as they think they are (24). Minimally, readers will gain much from the extensive bibliography, helpful appendices, and references to various survey instruments.
Other than a desire to read more about instances of institutional and classroom success, I am satisfied with this book’s ability both to convince me that my own “minor actions can make a major impact,” and to encourage and guide me toward amending my practices and the practices of our educational institutions.