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Educating a New Majority: Transforming America’s Educational System for Diversity. – book reviews

Edited by Laura I. Rendon and Richard O. Hope, Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, San Francisco, CA 1996. 490 pp. $34.95


Supreme Court Justice Antonio Scalia described the debate on the Colorado gay rights case as part of a “kulturkampf,” a German word meaning culture war.


The term dates to the 1870s when Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck used the concept to eradicate Catholic influence in German society, using “government to enforce ideas of a German identity; a German way of thinking, a German culture, a more German Germany.”


Less than a century later, Adolf Hitler embraced the concept and identified a new target, German Jews. In 1992 the concept was given broad exposure in America in a speech by Pat Buchanan at the Republican National Convention. Buchanan issued a clarion call to the soldiers of the religious and far right to engage in a cultural war … to take back our cities, to take back our culture, to take back our country.


This was a veiled call to America to reject all individuals ethnically different, socioeconomically different and culturally different. It was a call for a social war on diversity. it was a call to return to a time of intolerance and inequality — to return to a past which is impossible if we are to move into the future as an intact, productive and secure nation.


Laura I. Rendon and Richard 0. Hope have compiled a collection of essays in “Educating a New Majority” that not only illustrate how America has changed, but offer potent strategies for addressing that change within the educational system.


The authors make the point that school systems must become adept at educating a diverse America. Developing and making use of all our human resources is critical if we are to survive as a nation. The New Majority must be inclusive of all groups which comprise the fabric of America. To do less is to fall prey to the venomous proponents of “kulturkampf,” which can only lead to social unrest and economic decay. The proper investment and development of all segments of society represents an investment in our human capital and, laying morality aside, is in everyone’s economic best interest.


`Children of the Shadows’


“Educating a New Majority” clearly states that America must find ways to effectively educate and prepare its minority citizens. It is this population that will soon be the majority upon which the country’s social and economic infrastructure will depend upon to maintain social stability.


The authors propose numerous strategies, along with suggested new policies, to improve the educational system from kindergarten through the university system. In chapter one of “Educating a New Majority,” written by editors Rendon and Hope, the crisis within our educational system is incisively chronicled regarding the lack of effort shown in our country’s past to effectively educate minorities and the poor.


“Poor and minority children are the most underserved in America,” write the editors. “They come from the poorest families, have the worst health care, are more likely to be attacked, killed, or shot at as they walk to school, attend the most underfunded schools, and are taught by the least prepared teachers. The New York Times called children who live in bleak worlds `children of the shadows’.”


Problems Identified


A clear relationship between education and the economy is drawn to illustrate the economic imperative to reform education at all levels. The expense of only educating the poor and minority students in bits and pieces will produce a future debt beyond the nation’s ability to pay. Ethnic/racial minorities are America’s future and the country cannot succeed without them. This population cannot be considered unimportant because their future status will not only reflect, but dictate, the societal condition and economic health of every American citizen.


In the second part of the book, “Restructuring Schools to Foster Minority Success,” various authors set forth reform strategies focused on K-12 reform. Critical issues and barriers which have precluded minority group success in the educational system are identified.


One of the weak points of the book is that it doesn’t adequately address a critical issue in improving the educational system — the, involvement of parents and families. Although essays in “Educating A New Majority” acknowledge the importance of that involvement, a weakness of the book is that it does not lay out a clear plan to empower parents and involve families with schools.


The third part of the book, “Reforming Higher Education,” examines the next link in the educational pathway. Problems are clearly identified and a vision for reforming higher education is offered for the effective inclusion and education of the “new majority.” The origins, role and contributions of minority-serving institutions are discussed with a rationale for their continued support.


A Call to Action


The last section, “Leadership Imperatives for Educating A New Majority,” addresses the, need, for the development of new leaders in colleges and universities, and the characteristics they must possess to devise ways of responding to the increasing demands and challenges of diversity.


Leadership is a theme throughout the book. Contributor Shirley Vining Brown, a senior research scientist at the Educational Testing Service, makes the point that leadership is not swept up by change, but anticipates and gives direction to change.


She writes, “In the past, institutions that earned a reputation for excellence not only made changes, they were in the forefront of change. In the early 1990s, this class of leadership was exemplified in the decision made by the president of Georgia Tech University establishing the goal that this institution will become the nation’s top producer of minority science and engineering Ph.D.s. This goal was set during a time of retrenchment, yet Georgia Tech is well on its way to reaching its goal, with [45] Ph.D. [B]lack engineering candidates in 1989 and [56] in 1990).”


Throughout the book, the essayists suggest that educational systems should not seek solutions for reform by creating new programs, but should re-examine existing approaches to major systems: school governance and finance; urriculum, instruction and family support; personnel hiring and placement; professional development; and information use and management. Schools should develop alliances with businesses, think tanks, community groups and government agencies to help school systems acquire the resources and expertise required to bring about significant change.


In its final analysis, “Educating a New Majority” sets forth the characteristics which new leaders must possess to take them beyond discreet projects, programs and strategies to a broader leadership that gives rise to a new organizational culture. It is a new leadership which embraces diversity, increasing self-knowledge and the creation of new and expanding opportunities in a world described by Alvin Toffler as a place of “permanent impermanence.”


“Educating a New Majority” is a call to action for educators to exert leadership in giving proper direction and guidance to the restructuring of schools, for the business sector to become serious partners with the education community, for community organizations to work in close alliances with schools, and for politicians to promote policies to create a climate where difference and diversity is recognized as good and a value added to the society. It is a wake-up call for a measured and responsible reform in the American educational system for dealing with and adapting to change without being swept away by its undercurrents. Recognizing and giving direction to — the dynamics of change is what the book is about.

Black Issues In Higher Education


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By the staff of the Quarterly Black Review of Books through a monthly survey of predominantly Black college and university bookstores including: Howard University, Bethune-Cookman College, North Carolina A&T, Elizabeth City State University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Fisk University, and South Carolina State University. For subscription and information" 625 Broadway, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10012 (212) 475-1010.


DR. LEROY ERVIN is associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Georgia and president of the National Consortium for Educational Access, Inc., in Atlanta, GA.


COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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