Critical Issues in Democratic Schooling: Curriculum, Teaching, and Socio-Political Realities by Kenneth Teitelbaum

17. Tensions and Dilemmas in Multicultural Teaching

  • When Ken started teaching multicultural college courses in 1985, there was little in the way of research or materials available. That has changed, and he provides many resources for those interested. This chapter draws heavily on his experience teaching these courses since 1985. As a white heterosexual male Ken is concerned that he may not be able to teach this subject well due to his privileged status. He is, however, Jewish, so that gives him some idea about oppression and prejudice.
  • First, it’s important to understand that we are all individuals and that stereotypes that describe our particular demographic don’t really describe anyone. It’s important to understand the injustices that various groups have endured as well as the privileges afforded others, but we need to be hopeful that things can change for the better and that we can all do our part. Engage in real cultural issues and don’t let eating food from other cultures substitute for serious conversations. While tolerance is important, we need not be tolerant of cultural practices that go against human rights. Realize that we are more alike than different and work to break down the walls that we have set between ourselves due to our differences. Also, try to persuade critics who often misrepresent the goals of multicultural schooling.

18. Context and Black Academic Attainment

  • Ken cites the statistics about how black students generally attend schools with lower funding, less experienced teachers, and fewer advanced courses. Since they are also more likely to be poor, they experience more abusive and less nurturing home lives. This results in behavior that leads to more discipline and suspensions and ultimately more incarcerations. He mentions recent specific high-profile killings of blacks at the hands of the police that have received a great deal of publicity. WARNING: He also includes some horrific examples of black deaths at the hands of white mobs. (Doug: While this is gruesome, I believe that all white students should confront it when teachers feel they are mature enough.)
  • He mentions things like better school funding, free health care, and free preschool as things that can help, but such things are beyond the reach of teacher intervention. Teachers, however, can help by being aware of how community life impacts school behavior. They can also work on more engaging teaching strategies and assessment practices that are less pejorative.

19. Poverty, Children, and Schooling

  • Depending on the statistics you use, between 21% and 43% of public school students are considered poor, with blacks and Hispanics more likely to be poor. As such, it is the biggest threat to a child’s well-being. They can suffer from food insecurity and lack secure housing. Their neighborhoods tend to have higher crime rates, and their parents tend to be less stable and even abusive. Unfortunately, they don’t leave their traumatic life experiences at home, which complicates the effort of their school’s staff. Try as they might, schools cannot fully compensate for the effects of poverty. Yet the government expects these students to learn the entire curriculum at the same pace as students who aren’t poor and take the same high-stakes tests at the same time. What they need is everything that nonpoor students generally have. Although Ken doesn’t mention it, the War on Poverty started in 1964, and thus far, it has not been very successful.

20. Class in America: What do Schools Have to do With It?

  • While class is real and impactful, it is also ambiguous and there are no commonly accepted definitions. It is fluid and changes depending on time and space. Many people think they are in one class and are actually in another depending on where you draw the income/wealth lines. Class is also downplayed much more than attributes like race and gender. This includes teacher education programs.
  • Do schools serve to maintain upper and lower class standing? The answer is certainly yes if you just look at school funding. It also appears to be yes when you look at how kids from different classes are tracked into different courses. The way teachers interact with students from different classes also has an impact. Parents from higher classes are also good at gaming the system. (Doug: I know I was.) They are more likely to be involved at all levels. Upper-class kids have more options available, and lower-class schools feature more “drill” and fewer opportunities for critical thinking.
  • Ken offers 14 questions that relate to what schools should consider as they try to level the playing field, at least to some degree. He doesn’t provide answers, which is appropriate as each school needs to find answers that fit its particular demographic. This chapter can help. Kids often self-segregate by class (and race), which makes the job more difficult.

21. The “Gaze” of Teachers and Issues of Academic and Communicative Competence

  • It is difficult for teachers to understand students from different cultures and environments if they don’t make an effort to visit the places where students live and display talents that don’t show up in the classroom. The current emphasis on high-stakes testing leaves little time to get to know students better beyond the required curriculum. Teachers need to observe students in other contexts where the “dumb” students may seem “smart.” Relationship building may be the most important thing teachers do, and we need to devote more resources in that direction. (Doug: This is a common theme in the current literature.) This chapter ends with a poem about Native American children. It’s pretty special.


  • Here, Ken encourages hope and recommends that you do what you can to foster “islands of decency” for all. Although the font is small and my vision is failing, this book has been a wonderful experience. Be sure to get a copy.

Kenneth Teitelbaum

  • Ken is a former education dean at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, University of North Carolina Wilmington, and Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. He was also a department chair at Kent State University and a graduate program coordinator at Binghamton University and Syracuse University. He received the Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
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