Opening Minds to Democracy and Justice

Article excerpt

Opening Minds to Democracy and Justice A REVIEW BY DARREN LUND Open Minds to Equality: A Sourcebook of Learning Activities to Affirm Diversity and Promote Equity (3rd Ed.), 2006, Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools. 397 pp. By Nancy Schniedewind and Ellen Davidson ISBN: 0-942961-32-3

As more and more teachers take up the responsibility of teaching for social justice, there is a growing need for excellent resources to support them. Building a strong and vibrant democracy takes great educators with great ideas, and people who understand the important transformational work that can take place in classrooms. I was honoured when I received an invitation to review the third edition of this well-regarded book, and having met the authors at multicultural education conferences I knew the previous editions' good reputation ahead of time. Indeed, this text offers plenty of what all educators need: clear guidance, ideas, and materials for leading students to greater understanding and engagement and, inevitably, toward positive social change. As they promise in their opening line, the book "reflects hope for equity and justice for all people", (p. 1)

I have long been skeptical of resources that promise easy lessons to teachers wishing to undertake multicultural and anti-racist education in their classes. Too often, such books and workshops offer approaches to "learning about" marginalized groups in problematic ways that leave power relations and privileges unexamined. Further, the lessons about "others" often have the effect of further colonizing the oppressed in the name of progressive education. The authors of Open Minds to Equality, however, consciously avoid such traps. Their approach is thoughtful, balanced, critical, and attends to the political in a manner that avoids extremism while pushing teachers and students to confront their own biases, as well as addressing the systemic forms of racism and other oppression.

With a good first impression, this thick volume is appealing, highly readable, and presented in an engaging and clear format for a range of readers. The target group is K-12 teachers, but I have explored this book with pre-service teacher candidates and graduate students who have found it a valuable addition to their libraries. I consider it mandatory reading for all teacher educators. This third edition includes a number of updated materials and issues of relevance to the fear and distrust that have emerged in the post-9/11 world in which teachers and students now find themselves.

Far from offering a paint-by-numbers set of "canned" lesson plans, the authors present a series of readings, background information, and suggested activities that move from the basics of cooperation and trust to more ambitious kinds of explorations around contentious equity issues. The lessons include expected elements such as objectives, materials, implementation, and discussion questions, and cover a wide variety of approaches that can be adapted to different student grades and levels. …