The Reading Matrix
Vol. 4, No. 3, November 2004

Meeting the Needs of Multiethnic and Multiracial Children in Schools
Francis Wardle and Marta I. Cruz-Janzen
2004, Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Paperback, 248 pages
ISBN: 0-205-37608-8

Cost: $33.00
Reviewed by Myrna Rodríguez
University of North Carolina at Greensboro

The book is an overview of complex issues such as equity and diversity; deficit theories; the social construction of race; the sociopolitical implications of multicultural education; culture as a dynamic evolving construct; the shifting, developing, overlapping nature of social groups; the multiple dimensions of an ethnic identity; teacher training programs that promote introspection and self awareness; and curricular programs that examine hidden agendas to create inclusive practices and materials.

The book is divided into nine chapters. Chapter 1 describes the biological and physical make-up of multiracial and multiethnic children. These are children whose parents are from two or more races or ethnic groups such as Asian and Black, Jamaican and Jewish or non-Latino White and Latino White, among others. In this chapter, the authors contend that census categories obligate these children to deny one of their parents’ racial or ethnic identities to the detriment of their self-worth. They call out to schools to stop labeling in order to appreciate their unique physical characteristics.

Chapter 2 examines traditional approaches to multicultural education in early childhood programs and kindergarten through twelfth grade. The authors criticize the Eurocentric approach of many schools that relegate ethnic heroes and famous cultural holidays to specific times of the year: for example, Cinco de Mayo in May, Black History in February and Women’s Month in March. The authors recommend James Banks’s (2001) model as essential to reforming a school’s multicultural program. His model is a hierarchical representation of four approaches which range from cosmetic changes -- the contributions and additive approaches common in schools -- to increasing levels of critical analysis and problem solving -- the transformative and decision making/social action approaches. According to Banks, the latter is the least implemented yet the most crucial in building the self-concept of multiracial and multiethnic children.

Chapter 3 traces the historical developments of immigration laws and Supreme Court decisions affecting multiracial and multiethnic children. First, the chapter examines significant developments in the construction of race and racism in the United States beginning with the English colonial expansion. Then, it moves into restrictive immigration policies enacted to prevent the flow of “inferior” (p. 53) races into the country, followed by Supreme Court rulings to protect the civil rights of multicultural individuals.

Chapter 4 is a follow-up to Chapter 3. Historical, political and social changes in the United States are explored to identify the underlying causes behind racial classifications. How minority groups have resisted these broad and misleading categorizations is discussed, and a call to the nation to redefine multiracial children is issued.

Chapter 5 concentrates on the specific components of various identity frameworks. It provides a diagram of six identity development models: Poston, Jacob, Phinney, Kerwin-Ponterotto, Root and Wardle. In addition, it recaps Piaget and Erickson’s theories of child development. The authors point out that developmental stages for multiracial children are the same as for single-race children. The difference lies in the development of a healthy ethnic identity. Because of this, the chapter mainly focuses on Root’s (1990, 1997, 1998) and Wardle’s (1992) ecological model. These two models extend developmental theories to include ecological factors such as family, peers, community, poverty, and social status. According to the two researchers, the various social contexts that the multiracial child experiences determine the success or failure of the ethnic identity process.

Chapter 6 expands on child rearing styles, briefly mentioned in the previous chapter. The chapter defines the various family constellations that multiracial children originate from. It explores the issues a family faces when children from previous marriages are multiracial. It lists ways that schools can support multiracial and multiethnic families.

Chapters 7 and 8 summarize curricular and instructional methods. Curricular goals, content and materials for the various grade levels are outlined and discussed. The authors revisit Wardle’s (1996) ecological model of multicultural education. This time the call is to teachers to recognize that curricular approaches must not ignore the race, ethnicity, culture, gender, ability/disability, community, family and socioeconomic status of these children. The authors correlate teachers’ cultural frames of references to academic achievement. Teachers are provided with a guide to analyze bias in materials, and a list of questions in which to engage in “soul-searching” (p. 187).

The final recommends more informed teacher preparation programs that address the identity development needs of multiracial and multiethnic children. Most significantly, they issue a caveat to teachers to be cognizant of their own preconceived notions that can have a debilitating impact in their interactions with multiracial and multiethnic children.

The book is very accessible. Term definitions and usage are provided throughout with a minimum of jargon. Research support for the concepts is effectively interspersed throughout the chapters. Other worthwhile features of the book include pre-reading questions at the beginning of each chapter to help focus the reader, and at the conclusion of each chapter: (a) practical exercises for both classrooms and staff development initiatives, (b) ideas for community involvement activities for both teachers and parents, (c) reading comprehension questions, (d) thought provoking questions, and (e) a list of resources and websites.

This volume will appeal to scholars and students from the cultural, literary, gender, linguistics, child psychology, and educational disciplines because of its focus on the developmental needs of multiethnic, multicultural, and multiracial children. Parents would find the book useful for providing valuable information about services, and for offering encouragement and hope for the future of multiracial children. The book is timely and crucial in the face of widely disseminated demographic data which indicates that minority students will soon comprise half of the total enrollment in U.S. schools.

The strength of the book is not only in the content but also in the authors’ candid revelations of their own personal experiences as multiracial and multiethnic members. Some of their children’s painful experiences with discrimination are recounted in small vignettes incorporated in some of the chapters. Throughout the book, case studies of children from multiracial homes illuminate the complexity of growing up in a society riddled with insensitivity and ignorance of their unique multifaceted backgrounds. Moved by the reality depicted in these profiles, the reader ends up empathizing with the plight of multiracial and multiethnic children.

However, no book is without flaws. The first weakness lies in its organization. Race, ethnicity, and culture defined in Chapter 2 could have been placed in Chapter 1 to explain the origin of the terms multiracial and multiethnic. Removing the information on James Banks’s model in Chapter 2 could have been used to set the stage for the topic on instructional approaches to help the reader understand the relationship between Banks’ transformative/decision making social action approach and the social constructivist and critical pedagogy approaches. These changes would eliminate Chapter 2 on traditional approaches to divide the book more logically into two sections: historical and educational developments.

The second weakness is in the authors’ over reliance on their own research: The authors cite 25 of their articles 68 times in the text. While this proves that the authors’ acknowledgment of the dearth of research on multiracial children is right on target, and leaves little doubt as to the authors’ wealth of personal experience, insight, and academic scholarship, it also leaves room for questioning the authors’ subjectivities.

The third weakness is in the lack of depth in the area of instruction. Because the authors revisit the topics of race, ethnicity, culture, and bias in Chapter 8, there is little space left to elaborate on more creative ways to implement instruction. Critical pedagogy discussed in Chapter 9 could have been singled out as an effective social action approach for multiracial and multiethnic children. Cooperative learning, multicultural strategies, the whole language method, and the constructivist approach could have been expanded on to offer preservice teachers a repertoire of practical examples, regardless of the authors’ claim that the text is a crash course. Chapter 8 on instructional approaches deals mostly with teachers’ biased attitudes that could have been located at the beginning of Chapter 9 to strengthen the argument that teachers need to reach self-understanding.

Nevertheless, these omissions and additions do not diminish the book’s worth in bringing to the forefront a group of people whom society has deemed invisible. It is essential for multiracial and multiethnic individuals to receive the attention they rightly deserve to ensure that they gain the respect, validation, affirmation and accessibility to an equitable education. The goal of this book to contribute to an understanding of multiracial and multiethnic children’s needs was met. This book is highly recommended.

References

Banks, J. A. (2001). Cultural diversity and education: Foundations, curriculum, and teaching. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Root, M.P.P. (1990) Resolving “other” status: Identity development of biracial individuals. In L.S. Brown & M.P.P. Root (Eds.), Diversity and complexity in feminist therapy (pp. 185-205). New York: Haworth.

Root, M.P.P. (1997). Multiracial Asians: Models of ethnic identity. Amerasian Journal, 23 (1), 29-41.

Root, M.P.P. (1998). Multiracial Americans: Changing the face of Asian America. In L. C. Lee & N.W. Zane (Eds.), Handbook of Asian American psychology (pp.261-281). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Wardle, F. (1992). Biracial identity: An ecological and developmental model. Denver, CO: Center for the Study of Biracial Children.

Wardle, F. (1996). Proposal: An anti-bias and ecological model for multicultural education. Childhood Education, 72 (3), 152-156.

 

Myrna Rodríguez has been a Bilingual and ESL teacher for 15 years in New York City, Boston, Virginia, and North Carolina. She is currently a doctoral student at the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. Email: m_rodrig@uncg.edu