Harvard Educational Review
  1. Affirming Diversity

    The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education (4th ed.)

    By Sonia Nieto

    New York: Allyn & Bacon, 2004. 496 pp. $67.60

    Our schools reflect the sociocultural and sociopolitical context in which we live. This context is unfair to many young people and their families and the situations in which they live and go to school, but teachers and other educators do not simply have to go along with this reality. I believe one of our primary roles as educators is to interrupt the cycle of inequality and oppression. We can do this best by teaching well and with heart and soul. (p. xxii, italics added)

    In the fourth edition of an excellent educational resource for teachers and teacher educators, Sonia Nieto reiterates the urgency to create not only affirming classrooms for students but also an affirming society in which “racism, sexism, social class discrimination, and other biases are no longer acceptable” (p. xxii). In this text, she creatively engages readers in a critical exploration of how multicultural education can have a substantive and positive impact on the education of all students. Like prior editions of the book, Nieto uses student case studies to illustrate the importance of implementing multicultural education that confronts issues of difference, power, and privilege in schools. Through student voices, she addresses how educators can challenge racism and other biases, as well as inequitable structures, policies, and practices of schools.

    As a former classroom teacher and current professor, Nieto states up front her assumptions that drive the creation of and analysis in this text. First, she believes that multicultural education is for everyone regardless of race, language, social class, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and other differences. Second, Nieto believes that while teachers may not be solely responsible for the failure of many students, they must take responsibility for their own actions, challenge the actions of schools and society that affect their students’ education, and help create positive change. Third, Nieto believes that public education is the last and best hope for many students today to have a better life, and that we should do all that we can to fight for it and defend it.

    Readers will find several new creations in the fourth edition of this book. Nieto addresses some concerns of gay and lesbian students in this edition by including a case study of a lesbian high school student. Another new case study addresses the experience of a young Muslim girl of Syrian heritage as a way to examine discrimination that Muslim students have experienced since 9/11. Nieto has also included a new feature called “snapshots,” which provide brief portraits written primarily in students’ words. These portraits address critical aspects of social and cultural diversity that are missing in the other case studies presented.

    The book is divided into three parts spanning eleven chapters. In Part One, Nieto discusses her rationale for using the case study approach (ch. 1) and explains her choice of case studies of students who achieve and underperform. In chapter two, she defines racial terms (e.g., American Indian, Indian, Native people, Chicano, Hispanic, European American), and gives a detailed account of why she prefers certain terms to others. Nieto also discusses the challenges with “lumping groups together” (p. 29) when describing different racial and ethnic groups. This opening section of the book highlights Nieto’s overarching position that her language choices throughout the text are meant first and foremost to affirm diversity.

    Part Two of the book draws from thirteen case studies (in chs. 3–7) to emphasize institutional and cultural factors that may affect the academic success and failure of diverse students. Each case study is linked to themes in each chapter. These themes include teacher expectations; how school organization, policies, and practices (e.g., tracking, testing, pedagogy, and curriculum) may affect student learning; the relationship of cultural issues to education; and linguistic diversity and schools’ responses to it. The final chapter in Part Two (ch. 7) reviews and critiques theories that are commonly used to explain student achievement. A “To Think About” section is presented at the end of each theoretical discussion and case study in each chapter, posing questions and challenges for readers to consider for their own pedagogy and practice. Additionally, a commentary concludes each case study, representing Nieto’s analytical connections between theory, her experiences, and students’ voices.

    In some instances “Activities for Personal, School, and Community Change” are presented at the conclusion of a theoretical section. Here Nieto presents action-oriented plans for preservice and inservice teachers and other educators interested in changing classroom procedures and educational policies. Another added benefit to this book is the “Video Workshop Extra!” section that is presented in several areas throughout the text. The VideoWorkshop package that is included with the Instructor’s Manual assists in engaging educators in continued critical discussion about the issues presented in the book by watching video clips of teachers and students.

    Nieto does not leave the reader hopeless by merely presenting all of the challenges that a diverse population of students faces in schools. Part Three (chs. 8–11) addresses two major ideas: that “complete assimilation as a prerequisite for success in school or society is a dubious notion at best, and a counterproductive one at worst” (p. 306); and that “schools need to accommodate their policies and practices to students’ needs and realities if they are to be safe and nurturing learning environments” (p. 306). In this section, Nieto reviews some changes that can be made in schools and classrooms based on the lessons young people can teach us through their experiences and insights. As an added treat, Nieto provides an Epilogue where she revisits a few of the student case studies presented in the first edition of the book (published in 1992).

    The case studies in this book urge readers to question their assumptions and biases about students and the “untapped potential” (p. 427) in many young people. I agree with Nieto’s words in chapter one: “I hope that you will read each of these stories critically and with the goal of understanding how the experiences and thoughts of young people can influence classroom discourse and strategies, as well as school policies and practices in general” (p. 19). This book is a must-have for any teacher-education program and for all classroom teachers who are committed to teaching America’s increasingly diverse student population.

    d.j.c.
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    Abstracts

    Citizenship for All in the Literate Community
    An Ethnography of Young Children with Significant Disabilities in Inclusive Early Childhood Settings
    Christopher Kliewer, Linda Fitzgerald, Jodi Meyer-Mork, Patresa Hartman, Pat English-Sand, and Donna Raschke
    Pathways to Aggression in Children and Adolescents
    Malcolm Watson, Kurt Fischer, Jasmina Burdzovic Andreas, and Kevin Smith
    Book Review of Annette Lareau's Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life
    Susan Auerbach
    Editor's Review of John U. Ogbu's Black American Students in an Affluent Suburb: A Study of Academic Disengagement
    Dorinda J. Carter

    Book Notes

    Why Is It So Hard to Get Good Schools?
    By Larry Cuban

    Losing My Faculties
    By Brendan Halpin

    Teaching with Fire
    Edited by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner

    Troubling Education
    By Kevin Kumashiro

    The Promotion of Social Awareness
    By Robert Selman

    Affirming Diversity
    By Sonia Nieto

    City Schools and the American Dream
    By Pedro Noguera

    Adolescent Lives in Transition
    By Donna Marie San Antonio