Harvard Educational Review
  1. Summer 1997 Issue »

    Symposium: Ethnicity and Education


    Mary Kenyatta, Robert H. Tai
    As members of the Editorial Board, we read a large number of manuscripts each year. Within this broad spectrum of manuscripts, we have found that the terms ethnicity and race are often used interchangeably, although, as Ronald Takaki points out, they do not mean the same thing: "Race has been a social construction that has historically set apart racial minorities from European immigrant groups. . . . Race in America has not been the same as ethnicity." We asked ourselves why these terms are being conflated in the literature, and what it means to refer to racial minorities as ethnic. We wondered about the social dynamics that have led to a broadening of the discourse on diversity and multiculturalism to include more types of culturally based differences, while the practice of labeling those who are not White as "Other" continues apace.

    With these questions in mind, the Board approved the idea of a Symposium that would explore the interactions of ethnicity, race, and education in the United States. Some researchers and educators use ethnicity interchangeably with race because, we believe, they are still uncomfortable with race, racism, and its role in education. Nevertheless, racism plays a significant role in U.S. education today, as evidenced in the recent reports of the unabated segregation in most urban schools around the country. Some reports state that segregation is even more evident in some areas than before the 1970s. When multicultural curricula initially began to be implemented in schools, they took the form of celebrations of diversity, such as food fairs, or staged demonstrations of various cultures that contrasted with White Eurocentric cultural norms. In more current forms, the "celebration" has evolved into cultural pluralism and identity politics that still avoid discussing issues of power, hegemony, and oppression.

    To address our questions and concerns, the Board set about soliciting educators in several disciplines to write articles that might help us and our readers develop a better understanding of the relationships and dynamics that are embedded in discussions about ethnicity and race, which are contained within the overarching constructions of diversity and multiculturalism. Within these discussions, terms such as "at-risk" and "culture of poverty" hide the insidious racism that underlies much of our social relations. As Sonia Nieto has stated, "Students' ethnicity . . . is consciously or unconsciously used by schools and by teachers as an explanation for either their success or lack of success in school."

    Nieto's comments are taken from the first article in this Symposium, which is an edited transcript of a panel discussion that was held at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and sponsored by the Harvard Educational Review and the Harvard Education Forum. Panelists Nieto, Ronald Takaki, Victoria Muñoz, Margaret Andersen, Doris Sommer, and Enrique Trueba addressed issues of ethnicity, race, culture, identity, and education in a lively exchange of ideas.

    The second article, by Stanley Aronowitz, focuses on the widely held American belief that equality of opportunity and opportunity for social mobility are blind to ethnicity and race. Aronowitz argues the fallacy of this ideology, and proves his point through a discussion of the relationships between race, ethnicity, and class against the backdrop of higher education.

    Juan Flores takes on the issue of Latino Studies and discusses its development over the past twenty-five years. From its roots in student movements and political struggles in Chicano and Puerto Rican communities, Latino Studies has grown to include a variety of ethnic groups - Mexican American, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, etc. Largely based in the university, Latino Studies is disconnected from the communities it addresses. Flores argues for the opening of theoretical spaces within Latino Studies to include the influence of feminist, post-colonial, and race theories.

    Lilia Bartolomé and Donaldo Macedo use as a resource something largely ignored by the academic community - the mass media: newspapers, radio, and television - to uncover the complexities of ethnic and racial dynamics within the United States. They reveal that the politics of racism and division are an unacknowledged part of mainstream ideology, thought, and action.

    Michelle Fine, Lois Weis, and Linda Powell bring together research undertaken at three desegregated schools in three different communities, comparing the three communities' approaches to dealing with differences among their students. They entered the project asking themselves what needs to be in place to build a truly integrated community of difference, and concluded that it is "only through deliberate commitment to decenter privilege, and to refuse the fixing of differences and oppositions that educators can sever the parasitic hierarchies of race and enable differences to be at once engaged and exploded."

    Henry Giroux critically analyzes the study of Whiteness and points out that, historically, Whiteness has been ignored in discussions of race and power. Expanding on the existing Whiteness discourse, which focuses specifically on dominance and privilege, Giroux invites educators to open up a pedagogical space that allows for the critical participation of White youth in the democratic struggle against racism.

    Frances Maher and Mary Kay Thompson Tetreault continue the discussion of Whiteness and analyze the role that Whiteness plays in students' construction of knowledge. Drawing on their own research, they use classroom discussions and in-depth interviews to illustrate how students' constructions of gender, class, ethnicity, and race were based on unrecognized assumptions of Whiteness.

    We realize that this Symposium may raise more questions than it answers, but we hope that it will act as a catalyst for discussion among our readers. We also hope that this discussion will lead to a dialogue between and among educators and policymakers that will result in a better understanding of the role of ethnicity and race in education.

    Interested in purchasing this article? Request it here.

    Our special thanks to José A. Segarra and Ricardo Dobles for coordinating the Ethnicity and Education Forum: What Difference Does Difference Make?
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    Summer 1997 Issue


    Ethnicity and Education Forum
    What Difference Does Difference Make?
    HER Board
    Between Nationality and Class
    Stanley Aronowitz
    Latino Studies
    New Contexts, New Concepts
    Juan Flores
    Dancing with Bigotry
    The Poisoning of Racial and Ethnic Identities
    Lilia I. Bartolome, Donaldo P. Macedo
    Communities of Difference
    A Critical Look at Desegregated Spaces Created for and by Youth
    Michelle Fine, Lois Weis, Linda C. Powell
    Rewriting the Discourse of Racial Identity
    Towards a Pedagogy and Politics of Whiteness
    Henry A. Giroux
    Learning in the Dark
    How Assumptions of Whiteness Shap Classroom Knowledge
    Frances A. Maher, Mary Kay Thompson Tetreault

    Book Notes

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