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Equity Pedagogy: An Essential Component of Multicultural Education

Author(s): Cherry A. McGee Banks and James A. Banks

Source: Theory Into Practice, Vol. 34, No. 3, Culturally Relevant Teaching (Summer, 1995),
pp. 152-158
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
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Theory Into Practice

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Cherry A. McGee Banks
James A. Banks

Equity Pedagogy: An Essential

Component of Multicultural Education

THE WIDESPREAD MISCONCEPTIONS about multicul- learning. We also describe the characteristics that
tural education have slowed its implementation
are needed by teachers to actualize this dimension of
and contributed to the contentious debate about its multicultural education in the classroom.
nature and purposes (D'Souza, 1991; Schlesinger,
Equity Pedagogy: Meaning and Assumptions
1991). One of the most prevalent of these misconcep-
tions is that the integration of content about diverse We define equity pedagogy as teaching strate-
gies and classroom environments that help students
cultural, ethnic, and racial groups into the mainstream
from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural groups at-
curriculum is both its essence and its totality. Thus
the debate about multicultural education has focused tain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to
primarily on content integration (e.g., the nature function
of effectively within, and help create and per-
the canon) and has largely ignored other important petuate, a just, humane, and democratic society. This
definition suggests that it is not sufficient to help
dimensions of multicultural education (Sleeter, 1995).
To be effectively implemented in schools, col-students learn to read, write, and compute within the
dominant canon without learning also to question its
leges, and universities, multicultural education must
be broadly conceptualized and its various dimensionsassumptions, paradigms, and hegemonic characteris-
must be more carefully delineated. In previous pub- tics. Helping students become reflective and active
lications, J.A. Banks (1993b, 1993c, 1994b) has con-citizens of a democratic society is at the essence of
ceptualized multicultural education as consisting ofour conception of equity pedagogy.
five dimensions: content integration, the knowledge Pedagogies that merely prepare students to fit
into society and to experience social class mobility
construction process, prejudice reduction, an equity
pedagogy, and an empowering school culture and within existing structures-which are characterized
social structure.1 by pernicious class divisions and racial, ethnic, and
In this article, we further explicate the conceptgender stratification-are not helpful in building a
of equity pedagogy, describe how it intersects with democratic and just society. An education for equity
the other four dimensions, and clarify what it means enables students not only to acquire basic skills but
for curriculum reform and classroom teaching andto use those skills to become effective agents for
social change. We believe education within a plural-
istic democratic society should help students to gain
Cherry A. McGee Banks is assistant professor of education
the content, attitudes, and skills needed to know re-
at the University of Washington, Bothell; James A. Banks is
flectively, to care deeply, and to act thoughtfully
professor and director of the Center for Multicultural Edu-
cation at the University of Washington, Seattle. (Banks, 1994a).

THEORY INTO PRACTICE, Volume 34, Number 3, Summer 1995

Copyright 1995 College of Education, The Ohio State University

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Banks and Banks
Equity Pedagogy

The implementation of strategies such as coop- use of effective instructional techniques and methods
erative learning and culturally relevant instructionbut also on the context in which they are used. Co-
operative learning, for example, can be an effective
within the context of existing assumptions and struc-
tures will not result in equity pedagogy. Instead cur-
instructional technique (Cohen, 1994; Slavin, 1983).
rent assumptions about teaching, students, learning,However, when it is used without an awareness of
and the nature of U.S. society must be interrogatedcontextual issues such as status differences among
and reconstructed. Equity pedagogy also requires the
students, it can reinforce stereotypes and inequality
in the classroom (Cohen & Roper, 1972).
dismantling of existing school structures that foster
inequality. It cannot occur within a social and polit- Equity pedagogy challenges teachers to use
ical context embedded with racism, sexism, and ine- teaching strategies that facilitate the learning process.
quality. Instead of focusing on the memorization of knowl-
Equity pedagogy actively involves students in edge constructed by authorities, students in classrooms
a process of knowledge construction and production. where equity pedagogy is used learn to generate
It challenges the idea of instruction as transmission knowledge and create new understandings (Banks,
of facts and the image of the teacher as a citadel of 1993a; Brooks & Brooks, 1993). Students make con-
knowledge and students as passive recipients of nections between the autobiographical experiences
knowledge. Equity pedagogy alters the traditional of knowers and the knowledge they create. In class-
power relationship between teachers and students. rooms where knowledge construction takes place,
Most importantly, it assumes an integral relationship teachers enable students to identify and interrogate
between knowledge and reflective action. Equity ped- the positionality of knowers and to construct their
agogy creates an environment in which students can own interpretations of reality (Brooks & Brooks,
acquire, interrogate, and produce knowledge and en- 1993; Code, 1991; Tetreault, 1993).
vision new possibilities for the use of that knowl- During the knowledge construction process, stu-
edge for societal change (Banks, 1994b). dents relate ideas and perspectives and make judg-
Our perspectives on equity pedagogy are guided ments and evaluations. Instead of looking for the
by these assumptions: (a) There is an identifiable single answer to a problem, students are encouraged
body of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that consti- to generate multiple solutions and perspectives. They
tute critical attributes of equity pedagogy; (b) criti- also explore how problems arise and how they are
cal attributes of equity pedagogy can be identified, related to other problems, issues, and concepts.
taught, and learned; (c) competencies in equity ped- Like the other dimensions of multicultural educa-
agogy can be developed through formal instruction, tion, equity pedagogy provides a basis for addressing
reflection on life experiences, and opportunities to critical aspects of schooling and for transforming
work with students and colleagues from diverse popu- curricula and schools. The discussion that follows
lations; (d) all teachers need to be able to competently relates equity pedagogy to two dimensions of multi-
implement equity pedagogy and related teaching strat- cultural education: content integration and an em-
egies because all students benefit from them; (e) in- powering school culture and social structure.
depth knowledge of an academic discipline, pedagogy,
and their students' cultures are prerequisites for teach- School Culture and Social Structure
ers to successfully implement equity pedagogy; (f) A serious examination of the culture and social
competency in equity pedagogy requires a process structure of the school raises significant questions
of reflection and growth; and (g) equity pedagogy about institutional characteristics such as tracking
cannot be implemented in isolation from the other and the power relationships between students and
four dimensions of multicultural education described teachers, and between teachers and administrators.
above. It is interrelated in a complex way with the The school culture and social structure are powerful
other dimensions (Banks, 1993c). determinants of how students learn to perceive them-
selves. These factors influence the social interactions
Characteristics of Equity Pedagogy that take place between students and teachers and
Equity pedagogy is a dynamic instructional proc- among students, both inside and outside the class-
ess that not only focuses on the identification and room.


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Tracking and power relationships within a are learning? If there are gaps, why? If not, wh
school are important components of its deep struc- not?

ture (Tye, 1987). The deep structure includes the Significant adult-student interactions often oc
bell schedule, the physical uniformity of classrooms, cur within the context of the hidden curriculum. The
test scores, and various factors that allow teachers to number of people available to work with students in
maintain control in the classroom (Tye, 1987). Equi- the classroom is an important part of the hidden cur-
ty pedagogy challenges the deep structure of schools riculum. Some classes-often differentiated by des-
because its requirements for scheduling, arrangement ignations such as gifted and accelerated-have many
of physical space, and control are frequently at odds parent and community volunteers available to pro-
with traditional instructional methods that reinforce vide classroom help and to implement enrichment
the structure of schools. programs. The adults in these classes are able to
If students are to be involved in the production provide students with individualized instruction. This
of knowledge, they need class schedules that allowcommunicates the implicit message that the students
time for these activities. The 50-minute time slot are special and important. Teachers who work in
usually does not allow students the time they need schools in which some classes have multiple adult
helpers and other classes have only one adult should
for reflection, content integration, and synthesis. Fur-
thermore, students who are involved in producing realize that such factors can severely limit the effec-
knowledge may need to work in places other than tiveness of culturally sensitive pedagogy and coop-
the classroom. Teachers may not be able to exercise erative learning.
as much control over students who are working in When used in isolation, instructional strategies
other areas of the school building, such as the li-as cooperative learning and constructivist tech-
brary, or at sites off campus. niques cannot sufficiently deal with the problems
embedded in the hidden curriculum. To transform
These elements of the deep structure of schools
pedagogy, the adults in schools must address the
are important components of the hidden curriculum.
When teachers use equity pedagogy that challenges
social-class, racial, and ethnic inequalities embedded in
the deep structure of schools, important aspectstheof differential levels of support given to different
the hidden curriculum are often revealed. Becomingclasses and schools. The construction of equity in
schools as well as the implementation of culturally-
aware of the relationship between the school culture,
sensitive teaching methods are necessary to actual-
the social structure, and the deep structure of schools
ize equity pedagogy in classrooms and schools.
can heighten the teacher's awareness of the power
of the hidden curriculum, or what Jackson (1992) The physical arrangement of space in a class-
calls the "untaught lessons." room is also a cogent factor in the hidden curricu-
lum. It communicates implicit messages to students.
The Hidden Curriculum When chairs in a classroom are lined up in straight
School teaching and learning take place prima-
rows facing the teacher, the implicit message is that
rily in groups and through social interactions. Inter-
all students are expected to participate in the same
actions between teachers and students and among
activities simultaneously and to learn in identical
students are important parts of the relationship be-as directed by the teacher (Tye, 1987).
tween equity pedagogy and the hidden curriculum. Learning centers, on the other hand, suggest that
Implementing equity pedagogy requires teachers to
students can legitimately engage in different activities,
that the students are the focus in the classroom, and
understand how students perceive social interactions
with their teachers, what they learn from them,
thatandlearning can be interesting and rewarding. Teach-
the extent to which students perceive their teachers
ers who try to implement equity pedagogy without
attending to factors such as the physical arrange-
as caring persons. Equity pedagogy can help reveal
the nature of the hidden curriculum by encouraging ment of space in the classroom and the control in-
herent in certain types of physical conditions will
teachers to raise questions such as: Is this class mean-
ingful for my students? Would my students like rarely
a experience success.
different teacher? Why or why not? What gaps exist Students also learn from their peers, as they are
between what I am teaching and what my students actively engaged in interactions with other students


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Banks and Banks
Equity Pedagogy

throughout the school day. Peer relationships are an Transformative curricula provide a rich context
for equity pedagogy because both transformative cur-
important part of the social context of the classroom,
and teachers need to understand these interactions. ricula and equity pedagogy promote knowledge
construction and curriculum reform. Transformative cur-
They can become potent elements in the hidden cur-
riculum. Implementing group work without making ricula and equity pedagogy also assume that the cul-
tures of students are valid, that effective teaching
provisions for dealing with the status differences
among students based on race, gender, and socialmust reflect the lives and interests of students (Ladson-
class may result in marginalizing low-status-group Billings, 1990), and that students must be provided
opportunities to construct meaningful knowledge. In
students rather than providing opportunities for them
to learn from their peers (Cohen, 1994; Cohen this & sense, equity pedagogy is directly related to cur-
Roper, 1972). riculum reform.

Students learn about themselves as they acquire Information is increasing at an astronomical rate.
academic knowledge. The academic self-concept of What was once packaged in a one-volume text now
students is highly related to their general self-con- requires two or more. Teachers are finding it in-
cept, their ability to perform academic work, and creasingly difficult to cover all the information they
their ability to function competently among peers are expected to include in the curriculum. Equity
(Brookover, Beady, Flood, Schweitzer, & Wisenbaker, pedagogy provides a rationale and a process that can
1979). Equity pedagogy requires teachers to deal with help teachers focus on the essence of the curriculum
the dynamics of peer interactions in classroom life. rather than on isolated and rapidly changing facts.
Students are not one-dimensional; therefore, equity Students in the 21st century, unlike those in
pedagogy has to reflect the complexity of student earlier times, will have to address complex issues
interactions and relationships. that cannot be answered with discrete facts. To be

effective, students must know where to get the infor

Content Integration and Assessment mation they need, how to formulate questions that
Equity pedagogy is tightly intertwined with con- will provide access to the appropriate information,
tent integration. How an instructor teaches is in- how to evaluate the information from a cognitive a
formed and shaped by what is taught. Both equity well as a value perspective, how to integrate it with
pedagogy and curriculum influence the form and other information, and how to make reflective deci-
function of learning (Vygotsky, 1978). Equity peda- sions based on the best information they can construct.
gogy is most powerful when it is integrated with Equity pedagogy helps students to acquire these skills
transformative curricula. Most mainstream curricula Equity pedagogy is student focused. It incorpo-
do not actualize the full power of equity pedagogy. rates issues, concepts, principles, and problems that
They limit equity pedagogy to incremental strategiesare real and meaningful to students. Teachers wh
that are characterized by ideological constraints. embrace equity pedagogy assume that all student
Required content, however, can be taught using can learn. They work to develop student potentia
and to create a classroom environment that is en-
a transformative pedagogy, as was done by a high
school physics teacher in a Seattle suburban school. couraging and filled with opportunities for success.
He transformed a unit on torques by asking the students Equity pedagogy has important implications for
to identify a bridge that had collapsed, investigate whyassessment. Educators who embrace it must interro-
it collapsed, and determine how the collapse of the gate traditional tests and letter grades. Assessment
bridge affected people in the community. Workingstrategies based on the assumption that all students
in groups, the students designed bridges that couldcan learn provide opportunities for students to im-
withstand designated wind speeds and weights. Thisprove their performances. The teacher who embraces
unit provided opportunities for students to connectequity pedagogy frequently gives students detailed
their study of torques to a real event, draw on the feedback on poorly prepared assignments and asks
strengths of their peers by working in groups, andstudents to "revisit" their work. Written comments
actively engage in constructing knowledge by trans- instead of letter grades provide opportunities for
lating the information they collected on bridges intoteachers to identify areas of competence as well as
new designs. to suggest strategies for improvement and remediation.


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Portfolio assessment also gives students an op- and a commitment to maintaining multicultur
portunity to demonstrate their growth over time, and awareness and action.
for teachers to give students ongoing support and Equity pedagogy cannot be implemented in a
encouragement (Valencia, Hiebert, & Afflerbach, vacuum. It requires more than good will and good
1994). Students can use portfolios to document the intentions. It requires multicultural, pedagogical, and
complexity and individuality of their work and to subject area knowledge (Banks, 1991, 1994a, 1994b;
reflect on their progress and areas that need improve- Banks & Banks, 1995). Our discussion focuses on
ment. Portfolios contribute to sound assessment de- multicultural knowledge. However, teachers will not
cisions and to student development. They describebe able to use it effectively without a strong back-
and provide materials that collectively suggest the ground in their subject area and a sophisticated un-
scope and quality of a student's performance. Port- derstanding of pedagogy.
folios also provide the structure needed for teachers Multicultural knowledge includes key concepts
and students to better understand and make connec- in multicultural education such as culture, immigra-
tions between teaching and learning. tion, racism, sexism, cultural assimilation, structural
assimilation, ethnic groups, stereotypes, prejudice,
Teacher Characteristics and institutional racism (Banks, 1991, 1994a). Teach-
Teachers who successfully implement equity
ers will use their understandings of these concepts to
pedagogy draw upon a sophisticated knowledge base.
weave them into classroom discourse, help students
They can enlist a broad range of pedagogical skills
describe their feelings and experiences, and draw
and have a keen understanding of their culturallinkages
ex- among different topics.
periences, values, and attitudes toward people whoTeachers must also be able to recognize, com-
are culturally, racially, and ethnically different pare,
from and contrast examples of various theories related
themselves. The skills, knowledge, and attitudesto nec-
diversity, such as cultural difference, cultural def-
essary to successfully implement equity pedagogy
icit, genetics, and cultural ecology (Banks, 1994b).
are the result of study, practical experience, and re- of these theories has been used to explain poor
flective self-analysis. academic achievement among low-income students
and students of color (Baratz & Baratz, 1970). Cul-
Reflective self-analysis requires teachers to iden-
tify, examine, and reflect on their attitudes towardtural deficit theory, for example, has been used to
different ethnic, racial, gender, and social-class
guide the development of many early childhood in-
groups. Many teachers are unaware of the extent to
tervention programs such as Head Start and Distar.
which they embrace racist and sexist attitudes and
An important goal of these programs is to improve
behaviors that are institutionalized within society
theasacademic achievement of low-status groups.
well as how they benefit from these societal practicesIt is not uncommon for teachers to select as-
(King, 1992). Reflecting on their own life journeys-
pects from several theories to guide their work with
by writing their life stories-can be a powerful tool
students. An eclectic theoretical approach may some-
for helping teachers gain a better understanding of be effective, but it can also be counterproduc-
the ways in which institutionalized conceptions ofFor example, after reading the book, Making
race, class, and gender have influenced their person- Connections, by Gilligan, Lyons, and Hanmer (1990)
al lives. a teacher may become aware that girls often equate
Autobiographical accounts and episodes provide fairness with listening. That teacher may then make
an opportunity for teachers to reflect on times in a special effort to call on women and men on an
their lives when they were the "other" who experi- equal basis. Multicultural theory, however, reveals
enced discrimination or a sense of isolation because that equity may not always mean treating different
of their race, class, gender, culture, or personalgroups
char- the same (Gay, 1993). It may sometimes be
acteristics. Reflective self-analysis cannot be a necessary
one- to treat groups differently in order to cre-
time event. Multicultural awareness can result ate onlyequal-status situations for marginalized students.
from in-depth work on self. It requires the unravel- Providing an equal voice for women may sometimes
ing of myths that perpetuate social class, gender, require an unequal focus on women's views and issues
in classroom discourse. Equity pedagogy requires
and racial privilege (King, 1992; McIntosh, 1990)


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Equity Pedagogy

teachers to be able to recognize and respond to mul-

gender, race, and ethnicity. Teachers who are skilled
tiple student characteristics, including race, social
in equity pedagogy are able to use diversity to en-
class, and gender. rich instruction instead of fearing or ignoring it. They
The effective implementation of equity peda- are able to use diversity successfully because they
gogy requires teachers to understand the histories,
understand its meaning in both their own and their
modal characteristics, and intragroup differences students'
of lives. They are able to analyze, clarify, and
the major racial and ethnic groups (Banks, 1991). state their personal values related to cultural diversi-
This content and conceptual knowledge can provide ty and to act in ways consistent with their beliefs.
a foundation to help teachers design and select ap- Self-understanding, and knowledge of the his-
propriate instructional materials for their students
tories, modal characteristics, and intragroup differ-
(Ladson-Billings, 1990, 1994, 1995), make informedences of ethnic groups are important competencies
decisions about when to use culturally sensitive ped-
required for teachers to implement equity pedagogy.
agogy, and decide when to focus on the individual They provide a foundation for teachers to identify,
characteristics of students (Nieto, 1994). create, and implement teaching strategies that en-
hance the academic achievement of students from
For example, research summarized by Shade
(1982) indicates that Latino and African-Americanboth gender groups and from diverse racial, ethnic,
students often prefer a learning environment thatand is cultural groups. Equity pedagogy is not embod-
more personalized and contextual than that preferred
ied in specific strategies. It is a process that locates
by many middle-class, White students. While the the student at the center of schooling. When effec-
learning style literature suggests that certain learn-
tively implemented, equity pedagogy enriches the
ing environments are more appropriate for various lives of both teachers and students and enables them
groups of students, it also suggests that students from
to envision and to help create a more humane and
all ethnic and racial groups can be found in each of caring society.
the categories identified by learning style theorists
(Shade & New, 1993). When reading and using learn- Notes
1. Content integration consists of using examples and
ing style theories, teachers should question and analyze
them carefully. The learning style paradigm is a com-content from a variety of cultures and groups to teach
key concepts, principles, generalizations, and theories in
plex one that defies simplistic classroom applications
a subject area or discipline. In the knowledge construc-
(Irvine & York, 1995). The paradigm has been criti- tion process, students are helped to understand, investi-
cized by researchers such as Kleinfeld and Nelson gate, and determine how implicit cultural assumptions,
(1991), who believe it may result in the constructionframes
of of reference, perspectives, and biases within a
new stereotypes about low-achieving students. discipline influence the ways that knowledge is constructed
Teachers should look beyond the physical char- within it. The prejudice reduction dimension focuses on
helping students to develop more positive racial, gender,
acteristics of students and consider the complexity
and ethnic attitudes (Banks, 1993c). Equity pedagogy
of their individual and group experiences. A Latino consists of "techniques and methods that facilitate the
student's biographical journey, social class, and academic achievement of students from diverse racial,
geographical location may indicate that a teacher ethnic, and social-class groups" (p. 6). An empowering
school culture and social structure describes the process
should not focus on modal characteristics of Latinos in
of "restructuring the culture and organization of the
determining appropriate pedagogy for the student. In-
school so that students from diverse racial, ethnic, and
stead, the teacher may need to focus on the individual
social-class groups will experience equality and cultural
characteristics of the student. Teachers must make in-
empowerment" (p. 7). For a comprehensive discussion
formed decisions about when and how to use knowl- of the dimensions and their interrelationships, see Banks
edge about the cultural and ethnic backgrounds of (1993c).
students when making pedagogical decisions.

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