Toward Common Ground: The Uses of Educational Anthropology in Multicultural Education

By Demerath, Peter; Mattheis, Allison | International Journal of Multicultural Education, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Toward Common Ground: The Uses of Educational Anthropology in Multicultural Education


Demerath, Peter, Mattheis, Allison, International Journal of Multicultural Education


Multicultural Education in the United States Anthropological Understandings of Culture and Human Difference Anthropology and Multicultural Education in Practice Conclusion Notes References 

During a Presidential Session at the 2012 American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting entitled, "To Know and to Act: The Dimensions of Multicultural Education 20 Years On," Gloria Ladson-Billings' presentation on culturally relevant pedagogy as equity pedagogy included a lamentation that most teacher education programs do not have an educational anthropology course. She observed that this has led many teacher candidates to leave their programs with insufficient understandings of culture--especially their own. We had heard her express similar sentiments in a talk in Minneapolis four years earlier. Though multicultural education and educational anthropology are closely allied fields with many shared ontological assumptions, epistemological frameworks, and ideological commitments, there has been relatively little explicit exchange between them (notable exceptions include Gibson's 1976 guest-edited issue of Anthropology and Education Quarterly, which included Goodenough's important piece "Multiculturalism as the normal human experience"; Brock Johnson, 1977; and Feldman, 1992). This is regrettable given multicultural education's character as a "metadiscipline" dedicated to "increased educational equity for all students" and made up of "content, concepts, principles, theories, and paradigms from history, [and] the social and behavioral sciences" (Banks, 2007, pp. 117-118). This article reviews recent theoretical, empirical, and practical advances in cultural and educational anthropology that can contribute to multicultural education theory and practice. Our hope is to narrow the distance between the two fields so that common aims can be even more effectively realized.

Recent collaborative efforts to synthesize a Foundations of Education course with a multicultural education course at our university provide an example of the ways in which we have sought common ground. This was part of a larger project to redesign the entire teacher education program to ensure that our teacher candidates have more sophisticated understandings of cultural processes, the needs of immigrant learners, and effectively partnership with parents and local communities. Our local state demographics reflect many of the trends that have been noted by multicultural educators for some time, including the increasing diversity of children under age 18 relative to the overall population. At the same time, most teachers in the state and in our teacher preparation program are middle-class White women. The process of synthesizing these courses in this context has highlighted both the distinctiveness and mutual complementarity of these perspectives and the growing need for teachers to develop capacities to work with students from multiple backgrounds.

This article begins by introducing contemporary definitions and missions of multicultural education and educational anthropology in the United States. We then discuss recent advances in anthropology--including educational anthropology--that we believe are of interest to multicultural educators and researchers, including recent evolution of the culture concept and cultural hybridity; differences between biological and sociological conceptions of "race"; postmodern understandings of identity and subjectivity; and ethnographic accounts of how students' school experiences are shaped by globalization, immigration, class culture, neoliberalism, and popular culture. We conclude by considering the work of educational anthropologists in policy and practice by discussing sociocultural approaches to understanding policy impacts and appropriation and classroom strategies to help teachers learn about and support the academic efforts of students from diverse backgrounds, including Funds of Knowledge and Youth Participatory Action Research. …

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