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Volume 10, Number 1
January/February 1994

Making the Invisible Visible

Anti-Racist Education Goes Beyond 'Let's Appreciate Diversity'


A young black college student in a psychology of racism class observes one day that she has never before been assigned to read any books by black authors, and attributes this to cultural racism. Tom, a white senior, hears this remark and says nothing, but later writes in his journal, "It's not my fault that blacks don't write books."

This incident, described by Beverly Tatum of Mount Holyoke College in the Harvard Educational Review, makes visible the impact of missing information. "Nobody sat Tom down and said, 'There are no black authors,'" explains Tatum, who has taught the psychology of racism for 13 years. "But the fact that he had not been exposed to them led him to that conclusion."

Many educators at all grade levels now see a need for curricula that reflect a wider view of American culture. But the debate over the definition of such "multicultural" education and its goals has never been so muddled. Should teachers simply promote tolerance and uphold the ideal of "diversity," or should they also teach about the oppression of certain groups through history and promote an active fight against racism and injustice? Is multicultural education a way of ensuring equity and respect in school buildings and classrooms, or is it a radical attempt to transform American society?

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

J. Abi-Nader. "'A House for My Mother': Motivating Hispanic High School Students." Anthropology and Education Quarterly 21 (1990): 41-58.

Facing History and Ourselves. 16 Hurd Road, Brookline, MA 02146.

H. Kohl. I Won't Learn from You. Bellevue, WA: Thistle Press, 1992.

T. Perry and J. Fraser. Freedom's Plow: Teaching in the Multicultural Classroom. New York: Routledge, 1993.

B. Tatum. "African-American Identity Develpment, Academic Achievement, and Missing History." Social Education 56, no.6 (1992): 331-334.

B. Tatum. "Talking about Race, Learning about Racism: The Application of Racial Identity Development Theory in the Classroom," Harvard Educational Review 62, no. 1 (Spring 1992): 1-24.

Teaching Tolerance. Southern Poverty Law Center , 400 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, AL 36104.

"We, They and Us," Roseanne Perlmutter, Newton North High School, 360 Lowell Avenue, Newtonville, MA 02160.

World of Difference. Anti-Defamation League, 823 U.N. Plaza, New York, NY 10017.