From U.S. Centered Multiculturalism To
James Banks research came on the heels of a militant ground swell of discontent from all corners of U.S. society in the late 60s and early 70s. Powerful militant sectors of the civil rights movements such as the Black Militant Movement, which identified more with Malcolm X and the more militant King, the Chicano Movement, parts of the labor movement, the national liberation movements, the Womens Movement the Native American Movements and the Pan Asian movement in particular, demanded their rights. These movements together with the anti-Vietnam war movement signaled a critical mass rejection of many of the ideals and societal goals that were encased in the modernity paradigm. Their call was not only to reform the system but to change the inner nature of a racist and imperialist system. Some of the more militant factions were in fact calling for the overthrow of the system and its replacement by a socialist government (Zinn,2003; Sleeter, in press). This question of autonomy or an independent grassroots movement is nothing new, it is an old strategy and has been proven effective. Because of its effectiveness, the systems discourse is one that distorts that reality and proposes that civil society instead give up it independence to work with the system to improve it (Zinn, 2003).
One of the common aims of these powerful grassroots movements was for basic educational rights and to control the values and perspective of the educational system. Under tremendous pressure, the entire system reacted with prolific amounts of legislative reforms, which included curricular changes at the elementary grade levels, some multicultural pilot teacher training initiatives and ethnic studies programs at the higher education level. One important piece of legislation was the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, which actually supported a general movement for community control that included community control of the educational system (Beck & Murphy, 1995).(33)
I was an 18-year-old student at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) in 1966 and was part of the steering committee that organized to form the first statewide Chicano student organization, United Mexican American Students (UMAS). The historic conference took place at LMUs (Loyola Marymount University) St. Roberts Auditorium in 1967. I was also part of the efforts to establish a teacher-training program and a training program for teacher aids. I was so involved in developing ethnic study programs and classes throughout Ventura County that immediately after graduation I was offered a teaching position at Cal State University at Northridge (then San Fernando Valley State College).
I recall that although many of us Chicanos supported other nationality struggles and worked closely with the Black Panthers both on and off campus, our primary efforts were for bilingual bicultural educational rights for Chicanos. The development of educational reforms came piecemeal from the different nationalities and tended to have a bi-lateral characteristic in dichotomous settings, i.e., Black-White, Chicano-White, Asian-White. Although all the movements were natural allies, they tended to also be competitive, a characteristic highlighted by nationalist tending individuals and groups. I taught a Field Studies in the Barrio class and by the time I was 22, I became Director of Chicano Student Services, a counseling/tutorial center that provided academic support for Chicano Students. At that point, the system was able and willing to absorb and cushion the blow of discontent and marginalization but closely monitored it and limited its effectiveness.
For the state, the purpose for educational reforms was obviously to appease the anger and suffocate the militancy and to attempt to reform capitalism to perpetuate its viability and existence. Proof of this is that while on the one hand reforms were generously handed out in the educational area, COINTELPRO, the Counter Intelligence Program, carefully plotted the dismantling and destruction of the sources of some of the sharpest counter-hegemonic discourse and critical-thinking organizations such as the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, The Young Lords, the Red Guard, and either contaminated the movement with drugs or outright killed and jailed much of its leadership (Zinn 1988).
Regardless, these militant movements created a critical mass of consciousness and conscious people that were prepared to go into the schools but had few specific materials and tools. Waves of immigrants particularly from Latin America and Asia added to the changing demographics that in turn demanded a broader perspective. Bussing poor children into predominately white neighborhoods added to the pressure to develop a multicultural curriculum. By the 1980s, many of the intellectuals that landed university jobs took on the question and the interaction produced a second wave of literature that now addressed the question of education from a multifaceted and multiethnic angle. James Banks is one of the early pioneers of this literature. Carl Grant, Christine Sleeter, Geneva Gay, and Sonia Nieto followed shortly after providing more scholarship developing new, deeper frameworks that were grounded in the ideal of equal educational opportunity (Gorski, 1999).
Today multicultural educational theory is being reinforced by suggestions to include critical theory and critical race theory and antiracist education and I would add global equality theory as additional lenses through which to evaluate and continue evolving multicultural education (Sleeter, in press draft).(34)
James Banks stands out as one of the most consistent and prolific leaders in the development of multicultural theoretical framework. Banks dedication to the development of multiculturalism has contributed to the struggle for equality and educational democracy. From his writing one gets the message that he is the change that he is proposing. Banks is inclusive and open.
Banks research on the activity and response of educators to an unjust and racist system culminated in the development of five dimensions of Multiculturalism. The following is a brief summary of those dimensions excerpted from Multiethnic Education: Theory and Practice by James A. Banks (1994).
The initial response to the demand for multicultural inclusion was to integrate the histories and cultures of marginalized people into the curriculum. Banks admits that this was initial and insufficient and in the main provided content for some of the social science teachers.
Knowledge Construction consists of a method of deconstruction or analysis of assumptions and values of the people who constructed the curriculum. This is particularly helpful for teachers who have assigned textbooks that have a euro-centric perspective.
Equity Pedagogy enables children from diverse racial groups and both genders to achieve. Equity has to do with the physics teacher not so much adding content about women physicists and African American physicists, but rather the physics teacher changing the way she teaches physics, for example, so that girls and African Americans can learn physics.
All teachers can be involved [in prejudice reduction] [b]ecause all teachers whether you teach math or physics or social studiesshould work to reduce prejudice in the classroom [R]esearch indicates that adolescent prejudice is very real, and something that I think all teachers should be sensitive to.
Empowering schools expands out from the individual to the entire school culture to see how to make it more equitable. For example, grouping and labeling practices, disproportionality in achievement, who participate in sports, in the interaction of the school staff. What does the staff look like racially?
Banks research on multicultural education is both seminal and current. Banks approach reminds one of Friere in its grassroots connection and highly developed philosophical underpinnings. The approach recommended to Multicultural Education is both general but also flexible enough to allow for specific adjustment to the particular context of application. Many of Banks cohorts such as Grant and Sleeter have how-to websites with many curriculum examples, lesson plans and ideas. Banks approach reminds one of Freire in that it has as one of its main pillars a caring or love for humanity. I consider Banks an honest researcher who sets a moral tone as Banks himself makes epistemological disclosures of his own positionality as a researcher and points out the role of subjectivity. Banks further development of the typology of cross-cultural researcher is important in pinpointing social positionality and the subjective lens of the researcher. Banks work on the stages of ethnic development is an important attempt to include a psychology of liberation by the oppressed. Other typologies, such as the typology of knowledge are important in not only understanding the way that the industrialized North, in particular, has compartmentalized society but also is important in defining what is transformative knowledge (Banks, 1994).
Banks has also taken to heart a collective approach to research through the establishment of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Education. Scholars such as Sleeter, Grant, Sonia Nieto, and other are collaborating scholars are at this institute.
Important to me is that Banks has an open mind and doesnt see the evolutionary expansion of the initial culture and race base to different interpretations of what creating a new society means. Banks, Sleeter, Grant and some of the second wave of scholars have not written much on the impact of corporate globalization and the possibilities of reconstruct[ing] the society (Ladson-Billings, 1998, p. 22 cited in Sleeter, 200). However, Sleeters contribution in the soon to be published Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education, 2nd Edition (October 2003) indicates that the Center is not interested in defending initial levels of understanding of what is multiculturalism but instead welcome all criticism to expand and reach new levels of research, understanding and pedagogy. The inclusion of critical pedagogues such as Giroux, McLaren, Mayo, Critical Race Theorists and Anti-Race Theory intellectuals and others into the dialogue firmly roots multicultural theory within the historic struggle for social justice mentioned earlier (Sleeter, in press).
In general although multiculturalism comes from struggle for greater democracy and liberation I would agree that it needs to reaffirm its roots in that tradition and transcend it (Sleeter in press; McLaren, cited in Sleeter in press). Being from the civil rights and militant national movements tradition of the 60s does not guarantee it a present liberatory stance or role. Similar to the bilingual bicultural movement of Mexico, multiculturalism in the U.S. runs the risk of straying from its roots and taking off in a reactionary divergence. Suffice it to say that the bilingual and bicultural promotores of Chiapas were responsible for the formation of several death squads and linked to the Acteal massacre in of the Zapatista community in Poloh in December of 1997 (Flores unpublished, on-line; Pineda, 1994)
There are three main areas of multicultural theory associated with James Banks that would benefit from critical pedagogy and they are (1) On the lack of critical pedagogy analysis on the ability to reform within globalization, (2) On the relative relationship between creation activity within autonomous spaces and struggle within the mainstream and the over-reliance on the formal classroom work (3) On Banks limited and reformist definition of transformative education as mainly reform through system changing activities.
Most of what Banks addresses (and his specialty) has been on what a teacher can control within the context of a classroom within a formal educational setting. In Educating Citizens in a Multicultural Society (1997) Banks reiterates the mantra expressing his consistent aims:
From the Banks research and writings one gets the distinct sense that 1 and 2 are privileges in that this is where Banks research concentrates. Although Banks does give legitimacy to popular knowledge and culture (1997), what is most developed is what can occur in the classroom. As such, there exists no independent aspect -- no informal or non-formal educational approach. In the U.S. the formal educational aspect is very developed and there is little emphasis on the non-formal (oral histories) informal song and poetry, or movement, or church, workshops, social gatherings -- Fandangos. The formal and the non-formal learning areas are spheres that Banks doesnt emphasize.
Stromquist and Apple (2003, 1999) point out that the neoliberal and neoconservative market agenda exists in competition to the welfare state and that for a long time public entities like the educational system have been under scrutiny and accused of failing. Stromquist and Apple (2003; 1999) bring out that the market mechanism most characteristic of its approach is efficiency and competitiveness. As a reaction to this threat the public sphere is marketizing its approach to education in order to ward off the threat of privatization. Just recently, the House of Representative passed the first Federal Legislation allowing provision for a federally-funded voucher program in Washington DC. This is an indicator of a growing trend that privileges privatization and the ongoing dismantling of the public school system.(35) There is research that indicates that globalization although decentralizing educational systems has increased its ability to centralize the grand discourse (Hanson 2000; Stromquist 2003, Apple1999) so that through globalization teachers have less ability to autonomy within the formal educational system.
Sleeter (2002) points out that there is benefit to be gained from utilizing critical theory as a lens of multicultural education. I would add that the popularization to the approach of education would also open up the possibilities for multicultural education. In Chiapas for instance, the autonomous non-formal formal process is the primary activity. As mentioned in Part II, immediately after the uprising, the Zapatistas closed down their schools to evaluate and assess what they felt was damaging and negative about the governments official school and what they would like to keep. The autonomous setting allowed them that opportunity. In one of the last reports (July 2003) Marcos mentions that now that a group of bilingual teachers working inside the system have taken up the methods and curricular program developed by the autonomous Educational Regional Committee. The main point is that for the Zapatistas the primary area of activity, the strategic focus is the development and protection of the liberated zones where they can feely develop a new educational system. The informal liberated zones are primary and the focus of the Zapatistas attention. The Autonomous Regional Educational Commission is the legitimate and main educational body.(36) The official or formal school system is secondary and not the primary concern of the Zapatista Autonomous Communities yet ironically more is being done in the formal precisely because more is being developed and created in the unofficial and informal spaces. With Banks as with many other folks the formal and the official and the formal is a sacred cow to be shared by all.
Although the initial need for an independent grassroots parallel structure was recognized it was not understood that this base needed to be a main and permanent base. The official systems ethos and framework enveloped the School Board and limited what the Salinas community could do. This is a negative example but an extremely important learning experience. My contention is that had the Mesa Directiva resisted the lure of what appears to be the source of power at the top it would have had an autonomous space from which it could have continued to be critical and creative. Ironically, had this type of community base prioritizing occurred, the school board would have become a sharp weapon for introducing counter hegemonic and homogenizing dictates and an effective protection of the main community base component. Banks approach and associated theories and theoriolettes are silent on in-formal and non-formal education. Banks entire approach privileges the formal institution which on the whole is under the control of the state.
One of the roles of critical theory is to deconstruct the myth of the primacy of official and formal education. My initial hunch is that the belief that change initiates in the official system and its subsequent privileging has to do with the fact that teachers do this for pay or salary; for wages. Getting paid directly by someone other than the parents of the children one is teaching would seem to contribute to a disconnect. The accountability of a teacher is to whom is cutting the check. In the public school system it is the public that is paying but there is a conceptual misconnection that allows those given the publics trust to administer its taxes not to be accountable. So that one of the pressures seems to come from the fact that teachers salaries comes from government; the same government one is defying. Privileging seems to be further perpetuated by credentialing and degrees which give the formal system disproportionate legitimacy and privilege. But we all know of cases of teachers that are highly credentialed that dont know how nor want to teach. There are also many people who are not credentialed who deeply respect and care for children and their differences. Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent (1988) makes a direct connection between the degree legitimating process and the amount of corruption involved in manufacturing silence and apology.
Formal school-based transformation, while necessary and positive, needs to expand out to an overall community project and local community projects need to be connected to an overall global movement for the creation of another world. Globalized corporativism has presented to us the opportunity to connect, to globalize cooperation (Walters, 2000). McLaren (1995, cited in Sleeter) recommends that multiculturalism be referred (as an important area of research and pedagogy) as critical multiculturalism to emphasize that justice is not evenly distributed and cannot be so without a radical and profound change in social structures and in terms of a development of historical agency and a praxis of possibilities (p. 13). Banks (1997,1994) recognizes interconnection and dialectics between action critical praxis and multicultural education but the connection is not developed, nor does it point out the primacy of the type of critical multicultural pedagogy that calls for the creation of a new and independent system parallel to the current one.
One of the questions in the balance from Banks multiculturalism is: Equal education to whom? Equal to U.S. middle class? What are we asking for when we ask for inclusion and an open society? and Inclusion to what? Inclusion to a society that has for sometime been using up to 20% of the worlds resources? Globalization has uncovered and made glaringly obvious the interconnections between people throughout the world.
Transformative education has to be not only global in the sense of looking at the ethnic based contribution but to the bottom. The excluded and marginalized bottom of the South may be oil workers in Venezuela or indigenous in Chiapas or it could be immigrant workers in Los Angeles. It is not necessarily ethnic based nor class based but usually a combination of both. Similar to white privilege there is a phenomenon that I call American privilege. Banks is silent on that question but seems to be open to the inclusion of both critical theory as a way of examining multicultural education Theory to address that.
Banks lack of connection to the global setting and the role of the U.S. can lead to a separation of the goal for internal educational equality and the goal for global equality and what Walters calls global cooperation (2000). The question would then be; Can we develop an educational experience that calls for equality at home and global equality simultaneously. Ultimately Banks transformative approach is in reference to local school transformation or system changing activity that fall within the reform framework. Banks does call for different models of power but does not call for an overall global transformation. This is a major deficit in a context where the U.S. is the lone superpower with the most influence in the supra-structures affecting the globe. Banks does not contextualize the U.S. within the current economic globalization project and its impact on social justice curriculum. Banks U.S. multicultural pedagogy is ultimately not (at this point) within the agenda of global social justice and is not within the present political economic realities of the U.S.
Published in In Motion Magazine October 16, 2003.
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