Resisting the culture of dominance;Anti-racist books

25th June 1999 at 01:00

WE CAN'T TEACH WHAT WE DON'T KNOW: white teachers, multiracial schools. Gary R Howard pound;16.95. Teachers College Press. UK distribution - Eurospan: 0171 240 0856.

Books that help to place anti-racism back on the political and educational agenda are most welcome, but to what extent can we apply American solutions to British problems? These two books are aimed predominantly at schools in the United States. But they have some value at a time when schools are looking for fresh guidance on multicultural education and trying not to repeat the mistakes of the 1980s. And many of the points they raise fit the national curriculum directives for teaching citizenship.

Reducing Prejudice and Stereotyping in Schools draws predominantly on psychological perspectives and reviews more than 500 research projects. Precisely because of this wealth of information it is better as a source of reference than as a cover-to-cover read.

The concluding chapters, which cover the organisational culture of educational establishments and the need for the support of senior management in confronting racism, are the most relevant to Britain. The section on "Codes of Conduct and Incentives" could be applied to the home-school agreements that will be in place here in September. Another useful recommendation is that "intergroup relation skills should be a routine part of every teacher's training".

The title of We Can't Teach What We Don't Know is borrowed from a speech by Malcolm X. Author Gary Howard uses a mixture of personal reflection, case studies collected over 20 years, and theory in guidance to white teachers which avoids the "shame-and-blame" approach and the simplistic tone of political correctness.

He asks: "How can I be anti-racist without appearing anti-white?" Part of the answer, he says is in understanding that "the 'enemy' is dominance itself, not white people". He argues that change is possible (at this point I found myself drowning in the "White Educators and the River of Change" imagery) and suggests an action plan for achieving it, but cautions that understanding "whiteness", could surface as "the new intellectual fetish" - a fad that may disappear, leaving unresolved issues of power and privilege.

Marie Parker-Jenkins is professor of research in education at the University of Derby

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