Fall 1998 - Volume I, Issue 3
is necessary for education. But distrust is a major problem in urban,
multiethnic schools. The existing literature on multicultural education, while
strong on political, sociological, and economic concerns, devotes little if any
attention to the character of the teacher. Teachers whose preparation has not
connected ethics and ethnicity may consider resistance theory as simply shrill,
and disregard it entirely. The article goes on to suggest that teachers get a
highly personalized, balanced liberal and technical preparation from professors
intimately familiar with urban k-12 instruction.
It's dirty in the Grand Bazaar; hot, oppressive, and crowded. It's all so
unfamiliar, so totally unlike home. It smells bad. Around every corner someone
will be begging for a handout. The people you encounter may love your money, but
they may hate you. And you really can't tell, because you can't read their faces
well. Their expressions seem to cover a very narrow range: the sullen, the
uninterested, and the obsequious. You have learned to regard smiles with
suspicion. Pickpockets and cut-purses roam free. A "vendor" will approach you,
invading your body space to push a map or a tray of chocolates under your nose,
and while your vision is blocked by it, he is unzipping your handbag or
fanny-pack. And you'll never feel a thing. And you know that if there is an
unpleasant event, the authorities will have little sympathy for you. These are
not your people; you are the minority, and in their world. And the history
between your people and them is not pretty. As you approach a stall, you know
better than to show an interest in any item, because once you do, you're hooked
- You will buy, and you will be cheated. Or you will have to be a bastard to
avoid it. In the Grand Bazaar, there is nothing but suspicion between sellers
and buyers. The assumption is that the other guy is trying to rip you off, and
the assumption is usually right. It is almost a certainty that without a guide
who knows the Grand Bazaar, you will be victimized.
Is this Tijuana?
Istanbul? Kinshasa? Or, metaphorically, is it an American public school? Many
kids view their schools and teachers with the same sort of apprehension felt by
the tourist in the Grand Bazaar. Yes, one can learn in such a place. In fact,
one learns a great deal, and learns it very quickly. But can one be educated in
this atmosphere? As long as teachers do not understand the suspicion and
hostility that many students bring to the classroom and experience in it, those
kids and those teachers themselves will be victimized by the schools.
Many of the questions being raised by
professors writing in professional journals are extraordinarily valuable.
Unfortunately, their solutions are often far less so. Perhaps an experience in
the Grand Bazaar could help teacher education students and their professors
understand why minorities don't do well in our public schools and our
universities. Inner-city experience and overseas travel can be wonderfully
helpful. Being a minority dealing with a hostile and inscrutable majority in an
atmosphere of mutual distrust enables one to see at first hand a near-certain
recipe for educational failure. A basic problem facing many of our teachers is a
lack of trust by the kids. Every teacher who deals with lower-SES, minority, and
inner-city youth has seen this, and many see it every day. Whether they have
articulated it or not, many of those kids are silently asking that teacher "What
do you have to teach me that's really worth knowing?" and "Why should I believe
you?" One of the best contributions of leftist professors to education theory is
their explanation of student resistance to what is perceived as an unfair, alien
system. (Giroux, 1988; Kunjufu, 1985, 1988)
First, we have to admit that
people of color and other minorities have reasons to distrust the white
majority. Our history is such that they would be stupid to trust us. According
to one survey discussed in the Chronicle of Higher Education, 44% of whites
agreed with the statement that "most people can be trusted," but only 16% of
blacks thought so (Dovidio, 1997). Given this scenario, multicultural education
becomes at best one more feeble reform to lay on overburdened teachers. At worst
it is a fashionable set of political positions and pedagogical techniques that
will get grants funded and professors published. Either way, it will be
discarded when the next hot idea comes along.
Whites and conservative intellectuals believe that minority suspicions
and rhetoric are overwrought, and it is hard to believe that most white people
are out to "get" minorities. I don't know many white people who spend much time
thinking about how they can oppress people of color. I don't believe that black
people are a particularly prominent issue in most white people's daily thinking,
and I suspect that believing so may be a particularly juvenile form of racial
self-flattery. But it really doesn't matter whether or not white individuals are
intentionally hostile to minorities: Minorities perceive hostility, and there
are plenty of statistics to support their perceptions. The school system gives
inequitable treatment to minorities. Institutional racism is easily
documentable. Black/white achievement gaps are appalling (National Center for
Educational Statistics, 1996). But it's not all white folks' fault. Minorities
themselves can behave just as stupidly as whites can: Every day the inner-city
teacher sees peer pressure directed against academically successful minority
kids for "playing white". Teachers see the kids' skepticism in the sullen
listlessness, misconduct, and resistance of a significant percentage of their
students. If they are mediocre teachers, they assume it's just misbehavior and
punish them, which usually only compounds the problem. If they are wise
teachers, they try to distinguish the thoughtless misbehavior from the
deliberate, if pre-theoretical, resistance to an institution those kids see as
oppressive (Freire, 1970). And then the teachers work on the kids personally,
punishing when appropriate, and trying more positive approaches when
appropriate. The wise kids distinguish between the worthwhile teacher and the
ignorant or prejudiced. But the teacher cannot be wise who doesn't even know the
questions the kids are asking. The kids cannot be wise if all they see every day
are uninformed, underprepared teachers. The Left may be making some of the best
analyses in recent education literature, but its often-inaccessible and fanciful
solutions may only worsen the problems for teachers of good will trying to reach
real, live kids. The Right seems to have a great deal of common sense in its
emphasis on personal attributes, and we would be bigoted to misinterpret its
intransigence as indifference or unkindness. But its obstructionism and
invective on social and economic issues seldom help the teachers or the kids,
Many, perhaps most, of our
teachers are decent people working under difficult conditions. Most of their
obstacles are the result of policies to which teachers can only respond as best
they can. But some teachers are of questionable technical competence. Kids are
bringing problems into their classrooms that would strain the imagination of
those who do not work there day in and day out. Our teachers need (1) a liberal
education, (2) thorough technical preparation, and (3) guidance from experienced
professors. But far too many pedagogy courses are mindless, childish, and
useless (Koerner, 1963; Bestor, 1985; Goodlad, 1990). But contrary to some
high-profile critics, the remedy for "Mickey Mouse" Methods classes is not to
eliminate them, but to fix them.
Poor teaching undercuts our efforts at
creating a trustworthy place in the school. The most liberally educated teacher
will need a broad repertoire of tricks of the trade to do the job. Why should
kids trust those teachers who are only marginally competent? Why should teachers
trust the professors who sent them out only marginally competent? But competence
is only a beginning: No matter how kind and skilled the teacher is, one cannot
reason with a child who has reason to hate and fear.
If the Grand Bazaar is all there
is to schools, it may be time to write them off entirely. If the hermeneutic of
suspicion is all there is to the United States, the answer to Aristotle's great
question: "How then can men live together?" is simple: We can't.
the Grand Bazaar all there is? Most people, of whatever shade or creed, love
their children. Most value honesty. The concepts of courage, prudence,
temperance, justice, faith, hope, and charity have nearly universal acceptance,
as they did 2,000 years ago (Character Education Partnership, 1996). Every day
countless acts of cross-ethnic good faith occur which seldom make the nightly
While separationism and ethnocentrism have many admirable
features, they could also limit minorities' markets and discourse to one
another, which may lead to a stagnant economy and stagnant cultures. Like
racism, these isms are fraught with so many contradictions that any version of
monoculturalism is not viable. Even in those localities where monoculturalism is
a demographic reality, multicultural instruction is advisable since people can
no longer assume they will live in their hometowns forever. The question of
whether our education should or should not be multicultural is preposterous; it
has always been. For instance, it is widely accepted among folklorists that
Uncle Remus's "trickster" stories were covert instruction for young blacks in
the necessary skills and guile of slave life (Levine, 1978). But that raises the
interesting question: Why did Uncle Remus tell the white boy? The answer is
easy: To educate whites, of course. They've tried for centuries, and some of us
have always gotten the message - probably about the same proportion of people
anywhere who get any educational message. In short, we have too much to offer
one another either to resegregate or to settle for any one-sided cultural
So, how may educators deal
with the distrust problem? First, bright people of whatever ethnicity or
religion draw lines. They look for commonalities as well as differences; that's
why they are considered bright. They trust the trustworthy, and devote much of
their learning to spotting the untrustworthy. Surprisingly, the common feature
to both multicultural education and character education lies in teaching kids
how to discriminate well. Although the holy trinity of the left (race, class,
and gender) is important, those elements are themselves constructs with little
meaning apart from personal character, and character is the first step toward
the social construction of trust. The Right is right, economic or any other sort
of determinism is mistaken. Teacher educators should pay more attention to
admissions, coursework, and guidance to turn out teachers who are worthy of
But the Left is also right: moral rectitude is not enough, either.
Robert E. Lee was an extraordinarily admirable man, but a Lee victory would
nonetheless have meant continued slavery for two races. Praxis - reflective,
intellectually defensible social and political action - is needed as well as
character and culture. The hungry cannot eat Plato's Republic, and the abuse of
high culture and manners to hold people down is easy to document. But the
rhetoric of the educationist Left is also misguided: Radical-progressive theory
coated over with inaccessible language hidden in refereed journals doesn't
accomplish much, either. The poor find high-flown deconstructionist theory and
feel-good pop psychology poor substitutes for solid knowledge and intellectual
skill that enable them to compete with the well-connected. The inner-city
teacher quickly discovers that most minority kids are far less interested in
intellectualized "discourses of hegemony" than they are in getting a fairer
piece of the action. Content-lite instruction limited to immediately "relevant"
themes is unsatisfying. As an inner-city mother said to a teacher with the sort
of open-ended job she coveted for her child, she wanted to know Why the school
keeps sending my daughter home with all this crap.... She knows 'bout landlords.
She knows about gangs and whatnot. She needs to know what she don't know. If my
girl is going to get your job, you need to give her everything. Not half. Not
some. Everything. Get her to where you are, so she can pass you by" (Glasser,
Intellectual and bureaucratic egalitarianism have been academia
and government's way of avoiding equality and equity (Dovidio, 1997; Carpenter,
1989). Concepts like multicultural education and critical theory can be very
useful in establishing a base for successful action, but they generally miss the
mark when divorced from messy personal experience. Only five percent of the
nation's Education professoriate have experience teaching in multicultural or
inner-city situations (Gollnick, Smith, & Huber, 1994), and it shows.
Creative exchange arrangements with urban k-12 schools is only the first of many
possibilities to address this problem.
Personal character, community
praxis, and worthwhile instruction are only necessary preconditions for trust;
they are not sufficient. The liberal elements of teacher education are also
vitally important. But curriculum theory and instructional practice -the
technical side of teacher education - also play a role in the promotion or
diminution of trust. Does our curriculum emphasize change and difference to the
neglect of stability and commonality? Arthur Schlesinger and Diane Ravitch
(1992, 1990) have raised concerns about an excessively divisive agenda being
promoted by some of the multiculturalists. Multicultural education advocates
like Banks (1993), Sleeter (1995), and Giroux (1997) certainly do emphasize
change and reform in the curriculum, and heaven knows there is much in their
constituents' lives that needs change and reform. But when one reads the
hyperbole and the tortured deconstructionism of some writers, one wonders how
much a trust-destroying worldview is being accepted into the curriculum. Because
of the lack of correspondence between fashionable theory and classroom practice,
(Cuban, 1993) any conclusions would be risky. So now we have to consider the
quality of the classroom practice.
Most K-12 teachers are gentle souls
who are better conflict resolvers than conflict generators, so only in their
wildest enthusiasms can scholars imagine teachers as willing sources of
oppression. Unfortunately, the same traits may make it difficult to turn
teachers into the agents of liberation that Giroux, Sleeter, and company rightly
envision. The Education professoriate that prepares those teachers is generally
learned and honorable, but its effectiveness is questionable, by its own
admission (see, for example, Clifford & Guthrie, 1988; Herbst, 1989;
Goodlad, 1990). Scholars as broadly liberal as Martin Haberman (1995) especially
deplore the preparation of inner-city teachers. The outcome is that kids have
little respect for ignorant teachers, and find more sinister subcultures more
attractive. Then the school itself is at jeopardy, since without personal
safety, the kids would be foolish to trust their schools and their teachers.
Schools have enough trouble as it is from the alienated and the criminals; if
K-12 teachers lose the trust of the kids who want to learn, all they will have
left going for them will be those wretched doggie tricks they learned in their
The boring, low-level teaching typical of insecure,
poorly prepared teachers (Siskin & Little, 1995; Bushweller, 1995;
Darling-Hammond, 1997) is unlikely to bring about trust, much less achievement.
The most conservative instruction is worth little if it only enables students to
recite names, dates, amendments and state capitals. On the other hand, the most
critical education is worth little if it just empowers students to recite
litanies of oppression. We need liberally educated and technically adept
teachers who can dive deeply and broadly (Borrowman, 1956).
We have the
right to demand that teachers pay close attention to the kids. Arthur Powell's
recent (1996) description of the personal attention given to prep school
students is loaded with fine ideas that might be adaptable to public schools.
Future teachers who will teach the masses need professors who know the k-12
classroom - especially the urban or multicultural classroom - intimately, and
who devote the same attention to them that prep-school teachers give the elite.
The recent initiatives toward reducing class size in elementary schools are
praiseworthy. Now let's talk about reducing teacher load in the secondary
As many kids do not trust the teachers, the teachers' poor
opinion of their professors is no secret (Bushwell, 1995; Carpenter, in press).
"Irrelevant", "out of touch", and "la-la land" are terms too-often used to
describe their professors and their courses by veteran teachers. Teacher
education professors need to be out there in the k-12 schools, often and
intensively. Their students need a highly personalized preparation devoted to
developing their character as well as their knowledge and skill.
earnest scholarly calls for character and justice, choice and equity, prosperity
and transformation, and achievement and opportunity are nonsense to the kids.
They aren't so dumb as to believe any of it. They will never trust us - and
should never trust us - until we at least reach the minimum. As the creed and
the tithe are for Christians, adequate preparation is the minimum for teachers.
Character education is an intrinsic part of the liberal education tradition
(Maritain, 1943; Kimball, 1986), and it is a needed element of multicultural
education. Tailoring instruction to individual and group audience is an
intrinsic part of the technical tradition (Monroe 1952; Hale-Benson, 1986).
Hence, careful preparation of teachers of character by professors who know the
urban k-12 classroom is not a fond wish, to be jettisoned in the interest of
cash-cow courses for the university. Without at least this good faith effort,
the Grand Bazaar really is all there is in many schools. And it is a dirty
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Guilford, CT: Dushkin. Return to the Journal of Pedagogy,
Pluralism and Practice Main Page
Journal of Pedagogy, Pluralism and Practice Main Page
Fall 1998 Issue Main Page
Editorial - Luke Baldwin in Memoriam
Luke Baldwin and Linda Brion-Meisels - Fostering Gumption
Jim Cummins - Rossell and Baker: The Effectiveness of Bilingual Education
Brenda Matthis - Stories From The Other Side of the Screen
Wade A. Carpenter - The Grand Bazaar
Sarah Nieves-Squires - Cultural Identity and Bilingualism in the Puerto Rican Reality
Mary Ann Johnson - The Ebonics Debate
Angela María Pérez-Mejía - His-panics and Mine
Donna Cole - English as a Second Language
The Editorial Board
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Wade A. Carpenter is an Associate Professor in the Teacher Education department of Berry College in West Berry, Georgia. A former department chair at Berry College, Dr. Carpenter received his PhD from Georgia State University.
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