Rethinking Schools: An Agenda for Change 

Lisa Delpit, Henry Jouis Gates Jr., Herbert Kohl, Howard Zinn, and others 
Edited by David Levine, Robert Lowe, Bob Peterson, and Rita Tenorio 

Reviewed by Preeti Nayak 

Rethinking Schools is a remarkable tool for educators and students alike, to change paradigms of education. The book examines power relations, curriculum, and stresses the importance of antiracist education.

Though the work is heavily based on American research, its conclusions are applicable to the Canadian context as well. In the book, interviews with leaders in educational reform are plentiful and insightful. In Canada, we do see multiculturalism as an answer to racism, xenophobia and issues of social equity. However, it is crucial to note that celebrations of cultural days or cuisine, do not address power struggles, systemic discrimination and other deeper issues. The terminology of multiculturalism has glazed its audiences with widespread ignorance of problems ethnic minorities face. This is why the authors accentuate the importance of antiracist education, to push for a deeper understanding of diversity and inclusivity in public schooling.

Curriculum is one very important foundation that is delved into. For instance, the importance placed on a biased national history overshadows histories of other peoples, other cultures, and other perspectives. Curriculum does not encompass a holistic view on world events, world problems or world history. This one sided perspective has profound influence on students’ self-perception, especially those of diverse  backgrounds.  If students cannot identify themselves within the education they are taught, what does this lead them to become? It hinders embracement of diversity because the shallow education we are given sets the standard for what is the norm, and status quo. Thus, social change is difficult to facilitate because it is education, at its roots, that teach young people to not question power relations, issues of inequity, or injustice.

The book looks at elementary schooling specifically and the importance of diverse education right from the beginning of a child’s education. The authors look at the importance of diverse representation in the classroom. This can mean from having an ethnic teacher, to including toys and books which depict non traditional representation. The authors also explain how the transformation to anti racist education happens in stages. The problem however, is when systems stop at one stage. For instance, having posters and literature that celebrate different languages and cuisine is only a start. Understanding difference and dialoguing about different structures pushes students to think about how to implement change. Exposure to pluralistic modes of thinking from an early age is critical to developing equitable and conscientious future leaders.

Rethinking Schools does a marvellous job of looking at different problems that penetrate schooling. It also provides plentiful resources for those who want to commit to implementing change in education. The case studies and interviews give readers an insightful insider perspective of the impact of biased education. Rethinking Schools is an inspirational piece, one that educators and students must read, to understand the importance of social change in education. 

About the Author: Preeti is a second year undergrad student, studying Sociology and Religious Studies. She has a deep interest in pursuing the movement in antiracist education, and advocating for diverse representation in all public sectors. Besides these academic pursuits, she enjoys cooking, writing, reading, photography and travel.