In “Taking Multicultural, Antiracist Education Seriously,” Barbara Miner interviews Enid Lee, a “leader in antiracist education” as noted on her website, Enidlee. com. She pushes for the use of the term ‘antiracist’ because the tem currently in use, ‘multicultural’, is too nice, focusing more on food and fun rather than hard issues of racism. Although her interview is inspiring and very necessary, some facets of her presentation seem to swing to far to the militant side to garner widespread acceptance. First, Lee explains that in many schools, European posters, readings, games and activities dominate the landscape.
While I believe this is true in some cases, I do not believe it to be true in all cases. Many, many classrooms in which I have learned, observed and taught have been filled with pictures of prominent white, black, Hispanic and Asian authors, researchers, and political leaders. Lee’s multistage approach to antiracist education is clear and organized and sequentially stepped so as not to seem overly forceful. However, her insistent on the use of ‘antiracist’ is a bit harsh in that it assumes that anything not adopted or previous to this new ideology is racist. That is a huge overgeneralization.
It also separates people into groups – the antiracists and everyone else, who, by association, must be racist. I do not think that many public school systems, and certainly no private systems, will purchase curricular materials and send teachers and administrators to antiracist workshops because it implies the worst of these people and materials. Lee can simply not make that kind of generalization. She urges the changes to extend beyond the school. Racism is alive and well in the community, but her approach sends the wrong message: “We have an antiracist plan to change this racist community. That is the message that people will hear.
A less forceful message is much preferable to Lee’s approach. Lee is convincing in her devotion to creating antiracist schools. She urges to push for administrative changes and curricular changes, which she admits are financially blockaded by under-funded school districts. She gives an unsubstantiated claim that multicultural, antiracist programs are the most under-funded, when the removal of arts programs in elementary schools has made the national media several times in the last few years.
Finally, after admitting the sad lack of money for programs, she launches on her website, a national push for her own conference called “Putting Equity on the Table” that costs $1450 for two school officials to attend. This is a three day conference and the rate (which is the early bird rate) does not include the hotel fee at the Hampton Inn in downtown Boston. In addition, the recommended reading resource is entitled Education Children of African Ancestry in the United States of America, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
If we are truly talking about an antiracist education, why does our primary conference resource only focus on one race? Nobody will fault Enid Lee and others like her for taking on the cause of equity in education. Clearly the past has shown that steps are necessary. However, Lee’s focus on only African-descended children, on an inflammatory name for her type of education (which, oddly, does not appear on her conference registration information), and on her need to charge exorbitant fees for her conference detract from her credibility and are likely to be off-putting for widespread educators.