New Book Takes Provocative Look at "Just Schools"
Gives Special Attention to Case Studies of Schools in Islamic Communities
Americans have no shortage of expectations when it comes to our school system. In addition to the usual tasks of providing lessons and encouraging children's creativity, hopes are high that the nation's schools can also issue early correctives to the many injustices that beset our multicultural, multireligious, and economically stratified society—compounded in recent years by high rates of immigration, the widening gap achievement gap between racial groups, and the economic disparities between rich and poor.
Yet the burden of expectations on American schools can also be an opportunity. According to a new book Just Schools: Pursuing Equality in Societies of Difference (Russell Sage, 2008), many schools have been finding ways to negotiate this difficult, often politically fraught, terrain. Even as communities continue to engage in disagreements over schooling priorities, schools themselves are making strides with welcoming increasingly diverse student bodies while also promoting a sense of shared values and equal opportunity.
The essays in Just Schools—written by legal, educational and human development experts—take a provocative look at America's efforts to define and promote justice through its schools. Highlights include:
- Martha Minow's analysis of the growing separation of students by race, national origin, language, gender, and disability in both public and private schools.
- Hazel Markus's vision, informed by social psychology studies, of an "identity safe" school that makes students of diverse backgrounds feel like they belong.
- Austin Sarat's report of the conflicts that persist even when teachers and parents all identify as "multiculturalists."
- John Bowen's account of France's educational system and why it has proved so resistant to multiculturalism despite substantial Muslim and African immigration.
- James Banks' argument for "transformative citizenship education," which helps students maintain their ethnic, cultural, and language identities while becoming full participants in the nation-state.
- Richard Shweder's historical and cross-cultural analysis of the tensions between assimilation in the name of equal opportunity and the preservation of diversity in the name of liberty.
At the heart of the book are two contrasting case studies of American schools with significant Muslim populations. One, by Barnaby Riedel, tells the story of the Universal School, a private Islamic school in Bridgeview, Illinois(in the southwest suburbs of Chicago) attended mostly by Arab Muslims. The other, by Heather Lindkvist, portrays a public high school in Lewiston, Maine, which has seen a dramatic influx of Somali Muslim students in the past six years.
In a surprising twist, the private Islamic school in Bridgeview has worked hard to transcend ethnic, national and religious differences by emphasizing character development and universal values—what is known as a "character counts" curriculum, widely used in public schools and Christian schools.
Meanwhile, at the public school in Lewiston, Maine, the Somali Muslims have successfully negotiated room to preserve key aspects of their cultural and religious heritage: female head coverings, halal foods at school lunch, prayer during school hours, and forms of modest female dress during gym class.
On the one hand we see a privately funded experiment in ecumenicalism; on the other, a publicly funded experiment in the preservation of cultural practices. While neither of these schools has resolved the tension between liberal equality and group recognition, both have made brave attempts to forge a new path toward achieving justice in education.
Just Schools grew out of a project sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation, with significant support from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), in particular its working group on "Law and Culture."
The book will be the subject of a conference to take place at NYU's Casa Italiana on Monday, June 2. The conference has been co-organized by the SSRC, Harvard University Law School, and Facing History and Ourselves, an international educational and professional development organization known for its innovative programs to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism: go to conference agenda. Two of the book's editors, Martha Minow of Harvard Law School and Richard Shweder of the University of Chicago, will be available for press interviews before the conference, on Sunday, June 1.
For more information, and to order copies of the book, go to: http://www.russellsage.org/publications/books/080118.882900.
About the Editors
Martha Minow is the Jeremiah Smith, Jr, Professor at Harvard Law School.
Richard A. Shweder is a cultural anthropologist and the William Claude Reavis Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Comparative Human Development at the University of Chicago.
Hazel Rose Markus is a sociocultural psychologist and the Davis-Brack Professor in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.
About the Social Science Research Council (SSRC)
The Social Science Research Council is an independent, nonprofit international organization leading intellectual innovation and interdisciplinary research since 1923. It advances research and education and brings knowledge to bear on important public issues. For more information, go to http://www.ssrc.org
About the Russell Sage Foundation
The Russell Sage Foundation is the principal American foundation devoted exclusively to research in the social sciences. Located in New York City, it is a research center, a funding source for studies by scholars at other academic and research institutions, and an active member of the nation's social science community. It also publishes, under its own imprint, the books that derive from the work of its grantees and visiting scholars. For more information, go to http://www.russellsage.org/.
About Facing History and Ourselves
Founded in 1976, Facing History and Ourselves is an international educational and professional development organization whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry. Each year, Facing History reaches more than 1.8 million students through a global network of more than 25,000 educators, staff, adjunct faculty and international fellows. It also sponsors many community events and offers extensive online resources. For more information, go to: http://www.facinghistory.org/.
PURSUING EQUALITY IN SOCIETIES OF DIFFERENCE
Edited by Martha Minow, Richard A. Shweder, and Hazel Markus
Hardcover | 2008 | $39.95 | ISBN: 978-0-87154-583-1 | 288 pages
Published in April 2008 by the Russell Sage Foundation, with the support of the Social Science Research Council.
Please e-mail requests for review copies, and be sure to include the address of the person to whom the book should be sent.