Publication Type: Web Article
Year of Publication: 2008
Discussing racism has never been easy in America, says reviewer Renee Moore, "but when it is combined with concerns about the education of our children in public schools, the results are as controversial as they are intriguing." Moore, a veteran high school English teacher, Milken winner, and former Mississippi Teacher of the Year, highlights the content of this challenging book, a collection of 64 essays "by a culturally diverse group of educational researchers, including some with classroom teaching experience, who were invited to share practical advice 'to help counteract racial inequality and racism in schools and society'."
Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School
Edited by Mica Pollock
2008 (paperback/416 pp.)
The New Press
Reviewed by Renee Moore, NBCT
Instructor of English
Mississippi Delta Community College
Discussing racism has never been easy in America, but when it is combined with concerns about the education of our children in public schools, the results are as controversial as they are intriguing.
Anthropologist Mica Pollock, who teaches in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, takes on this challenge in her new book, Everyday Antiracism: Getting Real About Race in School. Pollock talked about the book during a stint as guest on the popular Eduwonkette blog at the Education Week website in July. Not surprisingly, her ideas spawned extensive and heated discussion in the blog’s comment section. Pollock has launched her own blog schoolracetalk to extend and explore the ideas raised in the book.
The book itself is a collection of 64 essays by a culturally diverse group of educational researchers*, including some with classroom teaching experience, who were invited to share practical advice “to help counteract racial inequality and racism in schools and society” (xvii). Divided into six major sections, the essays are grouped around a set of key points or assumptions, such as: “Remember That Racial Categories Are Not Biological Realities’ (Part I); “Create Curriculum That Invites Students to Explore Complex Identities and Consider Racial Group Experiences” (Part XI); and “Talk Thoroughly with Colleagues about Race and Achievement” (Part XVII).
Pollock offers these essays as opportunities for discussions not only among educators, but also between teachers and their students. She suggests a three-step approach to the discussions:
- “Pull out the gold nuggets” — specific ideas that can be used every day in real classrooms.
- “Think on three levels as you read and discuss these pieces” — Those three levels being: (a) core principles or “big ideas”; (b) a general action strategy; and (c) what she calls “try tomorrow” -- specific solutions for a specific classroom or school, depending on local personalities and dynamics.
- Consider and share related resources.
As the title suggests, the book is presented as a handbook or tool for teachers at all levels in confronting racism in their classrooms. And make no mistake, the collection begins with the assumption that every classroom is a site for the struggle against racism and inequality---regardless of the composition of the students (a point examined by Mara Tieken in her essay, “Making Race Relevant in All-White Classrooms: Using Local History”). Such a perspective is not universally held among educators; in fact, some would argue that to draw attention to racism or its effects in their classrooms would be a distraction or counterproductive to the work of education. However, that is the type of avoidance behavior Pollock and her colleagues challenge.
If that weren’t controversial enough, the book goes far beyond just dealing with racism in Black and White. Donna Deyhle addresses the often ignored diversity among Native American tribes; Sonjay Sharma explores misrepresentations of South Asian populations; Rosemary Henze explains the effects of race issues in an Alaskan school; while Thea Abu El-Haj dissects the widespread misconceptions about Arabs and Arab Americans.
Each essay ties these thorny issues to modern American classrooms, and puts them squarely on the shoulders of teachers. Moreover, the writers urge classroom teachers, who may already feel society asks too much of us, to fight racism not only inside the classroom, but in the community as well (Bonilla-Silva & Embrick, “Recognizing the Likelihood of Reproducing Racism”).
Those who believe racism, like religion or politics, are subjects to be avoided in public discourse, will find this book, at the very least, unsettling. Which is exactly the point.
[*Contributors to Everyday Anti-Racism include: Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, Prudence Carter, Thea Abu El-Haj, Ron Ferguson, Patricia Gandara, Ian Haney López, Vivian Louie, Sonia Nieto, Pedro Noguera, Maria Ong, Paul Ongtooguk, Christine Sleeter, Beverly Daniel Tatum, Angela Valenzuela and many others.]