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Beyond Heroes and Holidays Review

Beyond Heroes and Holidays Review from Democracy and Education

By David Stone, Assistant Professor in Counselor Education at Ohio University, Fall 1998.

Beyond Heroes and Holidays is a find. It offers insight into how the traditional American educational system perpetuates racism in all curricular areas, It provides a rich array of resources, models and strategies for promoting multicultural education. And it can be used by all teachers-new as well as experienced, K-12 as well as university-level. This book is for anyone who has either wondered or been asked, “How can I incorporate multicultural education into my classroom?”

The book is divided into two broad sections: “Working with School Staff, Family and Community” and “Working with Students.” In the overview, Sonia Nieto provides a framework for the book which both depicts the mono-cultural structure of most schools and illustrates a truly multicultural learning environment. Nieto acknowledges that tolerance is the most commonly used approach to multicultural education. Yet she argues that tolerance cannot be the foundation for multicultural education because it basically represents support for the status quo. Nieto delineates four levels of multicultural education, each of which is more inclusive, more holistic, and more desirable than the preceding one.

The four levels are: tolerance; acceptance; respect; and affirmation, solidarity, and critique. Nieto suggests — and I agree — that the fourth level (affirmation, solidarity and critique) embodies the richest theory and practice of multicultural education. I say this because the model embraces and celebrates racial, ethnic, and cultural differences, where all persons are affirmed in curricular areas. The fourth level is full of possibility. Students’ experiences are used as springboards into broader horizons, helping students learn that “American” means everyone.

Some of the articles that follow Nieto’s overview offer educational practices that concretely illustrate how educators have been promoting “affirmation, solidarity, and critique” in their classrooms; some of the articles expose practices that support the status quo; and most do both. Due to space limitations, I can only summarize a few of the dozens of articles that are in this anthology. In Sleeter’s “Teaching Whites About Racism,” the goal is for teacher educators to help White students to identify and to transcend the limitations that racism places upon their thinking. Sleeter offers specific classroom strategies for pre-service teachers to understand racism and to see how it shapes their teaching practices.

The misrepresentation of the history of Africans and African-Americans in textbooks of American history is eloquently captured by Loewen in “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Racism and Anti-Racism in U.S. History,” an excerpt from his book Lies My Teacher Told Me. Loewen examines four serious flaws of the average textbook’s treatment of slavery: (1) it does not discuss how the peculiar institution impacted White America; (2) it never acknowledges that there was something wrong with White Americans for them to have enslaved people; (3) it does not discuss slavery’s relevance to the present in terms of the economic and social inferiority placed upon Blacks and the racism it imprinted upon Whites; and (4) it inaccurately depicts anti-racism forces in U.S. history.

“Working With Students” is the title of the second section of the book, and it is full of strategies that take us beyond heroes and holidays. This section focuses on the classroom, and we find classroom and school-wide activities that will assist in achieving the true inclusiveness and multicultural education that Nieto discussed in the overview.

In an article on activism and preschool children, Louise Derman-Sparks presents an anti-bias curriculum and a structure for teachers to create activism activities for children. The anti-bias curriculum has several goals: to assist the child in the development of a “knowledgeable, confident self-concept and group identity”; to promote the child’s “comfortable, empathic interaction with people from diverse backgrounds”; to “foster each child’s critical thinking about bias”; and to “cultivate each child’s ability to stand up for her/himself and others in the face of bias.”

Derman-Sparks’ framework for activities is a wonderful avenue for children to feel that they can take stands for the sake of their world and their concerns. The process builds a sense of empowerment and teaches children to be critical thinkers about their world.

Debbie Wei, a Philadelphia school teacher, offers an ESL social studies curriculum in which community issues become the class text. By studying issues such as a racial incident in which a young person died, the students learned how media reporting may further shape people’s perceptions. Further, the students explored the link between race and justice. Wei broadens this lesson to encompass the experiences of racial minorities in the United States and to highlight their similarities. This in turn allows the students to develop insight into the sociopolitical realities of others, and to make empathic connections. This process blossoms into a study of the Civil Rights Movement in which the students’ essays about discrimination are developed into comic strips that are displayed at a reception for teachers, students and their families.

Bill Bigelow presents a powerful play on the resettlement of two Native American groups from their homelands. In this lesson, students become the principal players in an 1830 drama that significantly changes the lives of thousands of people. The students research and then role play the Cherokees, the Seminoles, the Congressmen, the President, the Plantation Owners, the Farmers, the Missionaries and the Reformers who participated in the processes that led to this displacement. History is given life in this wonderful teaching medium. The ugly underbelly of government is exposed as well, giving students an opportunity to perceive “first-hand” the institution of racism working in concert with the institution of government.

Ernie McCray’s piece on the exclusion from California schools of children who are not in the country legally illuminates a basic value that educators of children must have. We are responsible for assisting children to nourish their hopes, to fulfill their dreams, and to maintain their dignity. We must look out for the children who share their lives with us in the classroom. Beyond Heroes and Holidays goes a long way towards helping us meet this responsibility.

Reprinted here with permission.