Common Bonds: Anti-bias Teaching in a Diverse Society, 3d ed.
Since the publication of the last edition of this book, in 1996, two profound changes have occurred that significantly affect public education in the United States. The first is passage of the No Child Left Behind legislation and the second is the post-9/11 reactions of society. The challenges for classroom teachers in our diverse schools have never been greater. The unfunded mandates under No Child Left Behind, combined with a resurgence of political values associated with religious conservatism in a culture of fear in a post-9/11 world, place severe strains on teachers who work to create classroom climates of acceptance through anti-bias teaching.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 sought to improve public education for America's children. The legislation mandated accountability among schools for students' academic achievement in math and reading, as measured through testing. The uplifting rhetoric of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) promises focused on equality of expectation: poor children attending poorly funded schools would have the same education expectations placed on them as rich students attending well-funded schools, children with disabilities would have achievement expectations on par with their peers without disabilities, and children whose first language was not English would have achievement expectations comparable to their native-English-speaking schoolmates. Learning standards are the same for all students. By emphasizing testing without taking into account ability differences among students, NCLB's sanctioning of schools that do not make "adequate yearly progress" is most likely to affect schools that serve primarily low-income students, students with special needs, and children whose first language is not English. As former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley wrote, "Indeed, raising standards without closing resource gaps may have the perverse effect of exacerbating achievement gaps and of setting up many children for failure" (cited in Mathis, 2002). Moreover, with the NCLB emphasis on high-stakes testing and the underfunding of mandated provisions of the law, schools often respond by plowing resources into "teaching to the tests" efforts, rather than much-needed educational services to students who most need them. Amrein and Berliner (2002) note:
If the intended goal of high-stakes testing policy is to increase student learning, then that policy is not working. While a state's high-stakes test may show increased scores, there is little support in these data that such increases are anything but the result of test preparation and/or the exclusion of students from the testing process.
The post-9/11 social and political responses have turned the cultural focus in the United States inward. The public calls to patriotism have the potential for inciting intolerance. Some Americans harbor suspicion and fear of people who are perceived as different from cultural notions of true "Americans"; this fear can lead to prejudice, discrimination, and xenophobia. To the extent that terrorism has been linked to Middle Eastern countries and the Islamic faith, such social and political discussions often turn on religious themes. For many faiths, religious beliefs involve ultimate values that are not readily compromised or negotiated. So, tolerance in society or in the microcosm of our schools can be difficult to teach as a value when it bumps up against the certainty of religious faith. This intolerance can gain expression through prejudice and discrimination against children of different faiths, against children who are gay or lesbian, or against families that do not share a particular social and political agenda.
Purpose and Organization of This Book
The purpose of this book is to examine the growing diversity in schools in a constructive, empowering way. The authors contributing to this new edition write about various forms of cultural diversity, and suggest ways that teachers can build inclusive classroom environments. The common theme that emerges is that while diversity poses difficulties, teachers can create an environment in which differences are recognized and accepted while simultaneously reinforcing a common set of norms and values that bind students together. The authors also suggest ways for enabling students to discard existing stereotypes and actively question and reject attitudes and actions not congruent with a pluralistic society. These are the goals of anti-bias teaching in a diverse society.
Each of the seven topical chapters deals with a different form of diversity in schools: racial/ethnic, religious, ability, socioeconomic class, linguistic, gender, and sexual orientation. Chapter 1, by Deborah A. Byrnes, "Addressing Race, Ethnicity, and Culture in the Classroom," examines ways in which teachers can work toward racial and ethnic equity, social justice, and democratic goals in their classrooms. She suggests two broad strategies. First, teachers should create "multicultural, anti-bias learning environments" that would include, for example, curricular materials that explore a range of racial and ethnic cultural content. The other approach is to teach schoolchildren to act assertively against prejudice and discrimination. Teachers have an opportunity to be role models by responding to issues of prejudice or discrimination that arise in student interactions, news reports, or school materials. Although schools alone cannot eliminate racism in society, teachers can do much, Byrnes argues, to help children understand and accept racial and ethnic differences.
Chapter 2, "Living With Our Deepest Differences: Religious Diversity in the Classroom," by Charles C. Haynes, focuses on the limitations and possibilities when dealing with religious issues. Haynes contrasts teaching religion with teaching about religion; the latter is encouraged, while the former is unconstitutional. Because religious beliefs involve ultimate values not easily compromised, it is not surprising that religious issues have engendered bitter debates about the place of religion in public education. While certain religious interest groups have sought to influence textbook selection and curriculum development in schools, it is equally true, Haynes maintains, that teachers and textbooks too often have neglected religion entirely as a topic of study and discussion. Haynes makes a compelling argument that religious differences can be respected and addressed in the classroom if democratic, constitutional principles guide the approach.
Mara Sapon-Shevin, in "Ability Differences in the Classroom: Teaching and Learning in Inclusive Classrooms" (Chapter 3), explores ability differences. She compares and contrasts the different kinds of abilities that characterize students; physical, perceptual, and cognitive abilities are among the various dimensions schools use to differentiate pupils. Sapon-Shevin summarizes the arguments commonly heard for isolating students on the basis of ability: bright children may be "held back" by "slower learners" and special needs children cannot face the challenges of the regular classroom. She then reports the negative effects of separating children based on narrow notions of ability. Sapon-Shevin stresses the need to rethink our operating definitions of "ability" and to appreciate the research findings on the positive effects of current inclusive classroom environments.
In Chapter 4, "Class Differences: Economic Inequality in the Classroom," Ellen Davidson and Nancy Schniedewind focus on the effects of a student's socio-economic status on his/her experiences at school. A child's class background often correlates with the parents' attitudes about learning, classroom discipline, and academic achievement. Also, a pupil's class background can influence interactions he/she has with peers and teachers (who are, by and large, drawn from the middle class). For example, peers can use class differences to ridicule one another. By not being sensitive to a child's family's lack of economic resources, teachers can unintentionally plan assignments that highlight class differences. Davidson and Schniedewind show how addressing class differences in a constructive fashion involves more than being sensitive to differential wealth among students; it also involves addressing moral judgments based on class differences that are made about children and their parents.
Linguistic diversity is the topic of Chapter 5, "Language Diversity in the Classroom." Deborah A. Byrnes, Lisa Pray, and Diana Cortez, in exploring the relationship between language and culture, maintain that language differences and language learning cannot be understood without appreciating the culture in which a language is embedded. They examine ways teachers can apply what they know (about language and culture) and enlist the assistance of classmates to teach English in a nonstigmatizing way to English language learners. Byrnes, Pray, and Cortez also discuss the importance of exploring with pupils attitudes about language and language differences.
In Chapter 6, "Gender Equity in the Classroom," Janice Koch examines the meaning of gender equity and discusses common patterns of gender bias that lead to inequitable school environments. Societal gender roles often are mirrored in classrooms, thereby creating environments where males are reinforced for some behaviors and females for others. Koch discusses studies identifying differences in teacher expectations, teacher-student interactions, reinforcement patterns, and disciplining strategies based on gender. Being a science educator herself, Koch particularly notes the disenfranchisement of female students in science classes. Readers are asked to examine their own classrooms to see if the potential of any student, male or female, is limited by gendered expectations. Koch concludes her chapter by sharing how patterns of gender inequity in the classroom can be changed.
In the final topical chapter (Chapter 7), Deborah Byrnes addresses "Sexual Diversity Issues in Schools." In this chapter, the only topical chapter that is completely new to the 3rd edition of Common Bonds, Byrnes discusses a diversity issue that often is ignored in schools. Common myths regarding sexual orientation are shared and Byrnes gives suggestions for how educators can appropriately address heterosexism and homophobia in their schools and community. The need to create school environments that are safe and nurturing for all students, regardless of sexual orientation, is the central theme of this chapter.
Chapter 8 is an integrative work that explores the application of anti-bias teaching strategies to subject areas across the curriculum. James J. Barta and Corinne Mount Pleasant-Jette, in "Integrating Anti-bias Education," provide specific activities for classroom teachers in each of several major subject areas. Barta and Mount Pleasant-Jette point out that anti-bias teaching should not be viewed as something "added on" to the existing curriculum. Rather, anti-bias teaching can be inextricably linked to the presentation of subject-area material in math, language arts, science, art, music, or social studies.
The concluding chapter, "Tooling the Toolbox: Checklist of Skills for Teaching in Diverse Classrooms and Communities," by Judith Puncochar, builds on the content of previous chapters in the book. In this chapter, Puncochar encourages teachers to consider how their personal beliefs and expectations influence their ability to effectively teach in increasingly diverse communities. In addition, readers are encouraged to assess how well their classrooms and schools support cultural and human diversity. This useful checklist summarizes issues teachers need to bear in mind as they create inclusive classroom environments where common bonds are discovered and differences respected.
Amrein, A. L., & Berliner, D. C. (2002, March 28). High-stakes testing, uncertainty, and student learning. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(18). Retrieved November 23, 2004, from http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v10n18/.
Mathis, W. J. (2002). No child left behind: Costs and benefits. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(9), 679-686. Retrieved November 23, 2004, from www.pdkintl.org/kappan/k0305mat.htm.
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|Date:||Aug 15, 2005|
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