Harvard Educational Review
  1. Becoming Multicultural Educators

    Personal Journey toward Professional Agency

    Edited by Geneva Gay

    San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003. 346 pp. $29.00

    In her introduction to Becoming Multicultural Educators: Personal Journey toward Professional Agency, African American curriculum theorist Geneva Gay identifies one of the current challenges within teacher education: finding multiple approaches for bridging “the developmental divides between the recommendations of multicultural education scholars and the needs of novice practitioners” (p. 2). Asserting that “nothing exists about multicultural teacher education from the insider perspective of people going through the process — that is, individuals telling their own stories as they are lived” (p. 6) — Gay asked thirteen “early-career” multicultural educators to do just that.

    Bringing together the voices of African American, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino American, Latino, and White educators, this collection spans differences of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and nation. Nine of the authors are former K-12 teachers and ten are or have been doctoral students at the University of Washington, Seattle, where Gay now teaches. For Gay, and this next generation of multicultural educators now working in higher education settings, many as teacher educators, Becoming Multicultural describes a “belief that the essence of being good multicultural educators is more than powerful content or skillful pedagogy; it is how we live our lives as people and as teachers. Our personal narratives serve the dual function of helpings us to look inward and outward in becoming multicultural educators” (p. 7).

    Each essay is framed by a metaphor that expresses some central aspect of each author’s journey to becoming a multicultural person and educator. The range of metaphors reflects the multiple paths these authors have traveled. For Carolyn Jackson, it is the “intense pressures and complicated nature of sociopolitical lives” and learning to ask critical questions as an African American woman that have “crystallized her multicultural core.” For Chia-lin Huang it is the ways the personal and the professional “echo each other,” and the ways coming to understand her own cultural roots and her experiences as a second-language learner help her learn to build relationships with students, both indigenous Taiwanese students and ELL students in U.S. public schools, that support their learning. For Carol Neuwirth it is moving from being “color-blind” toward developing a “cultural vision” that enables her to embrace a questioning spirit that, while “sometimes disconcerting,” forces her to think and stay alert to issues of ethnic and cultural diversity as a White teacher. For Kipchoge Kirkland it is by “steppin’ up and representin’” that he honors the spiritual and ethical teachings of his many mentors. His African American tradition inspires him to take his place as a mentor and teacher among a “network of multicultural educators” and as part of a long history of struggle for “equity, justice, freedom, and democracy” in U.S. schools and society.

    These images bring to life the different ways these educators embody a multicultural praxis that moves back and forth between reflection and action. All these essays build on the work of earlier generations, especially the 1970s ethnic studies movement and its affirmation of difference as a resource rather than a deficit. To differing degrees, the essays bring forward an analysis of individual agency and collective efforts for change, both of which are needed to challenge the status quo of educational inequities. The essays that do take up questions of social power remind readers that this work also has roots in the 1960s civil rights movement’s commitment to social justice and education as a practice of liberation.

    Each chapter concludes with two shorter sections — Principles of Practice and Joining the Journey. These educators’ reflections on principles underscore the importance of being compassionate toward oneself and others as ongoing learners who are “never finished.” These educators embody the power of knowing one’s cultural roots that in turn enables one to risk moving into places and spaces of discomfort; the importance of building support networks of family, friends, and experienced mentors; the value of reading to widen one’s knowledge of different cultural contexts and learn from the insights found in the literature of multicultural teaching theory; the benefit of building relationships of trust with students; and the necessity of moving from knowledge to action.

    The essays do not offer quick-fix techniques for pre- and inservice teachers anxious about teaching students from different ethnic, racial, and cultural backgrounds. However, these authors suggest specific practices that support teachers in beginning a lifelong process of learning and teaching. Bulleted lists invite teachers to engage in critical reflection on their own lives and histories, to explore ways to know more about the lives and communities of their students, and to learn ways to question the assumptions embedded in textbooks and curricula. Anyone who works in schools can benefit from these narratives. They offer many insights that call on teachers to develop the personal foundation necessary to support a life-long professional practice that meets the learning needs of all students.

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    Book Notes

    Black in School
    By Shawn A. Ginwright

    Becoming Multicultural Educators
    Edited by Geneva Gay

    A New Look at Black Families
    By Charles Vert Willie and Richard J. Reddick

    Learning to Trust
    By Marilyn Watson, in collaboration with Laura Ecken

    I Am a Pencil
    By Sam Swope