Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Review: Getting Culture



Reviewed by:  Yael Harlap, Strategist: Equity, Diversity and Intercultural Understanding, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, University of British Columbia

Getting Culture, an edited volume with 31 short, easy-to-read chapters, frames itself as providing ‘best practices’ in teaching about culture and infusing diversity into the higher education curriculum. The book is organized into six sections, including: 


  • General issues in teaching about diversity, which includes several chapters on defining culture and diversity
  • A short section on Feminism and diversity education
  • The inclusive classroom
  • Diversity and online environments
  • Methods and techniques for faculty and diversity trainers, including a useful chapter on Coping methods for diversity scholars (Kelley D. Haynes)
  • Diversity across educational settings

This book gathers together a wide range of topics – exciting to an educational developer who might want to hand a chapter out here and there to faculty colleagues – but as in almost any edited volume, some chapters were stronger than others. For example, Sandra L. Neumann’s The “why’s” and “how’s” of being a social justice ally is a thorough exploration of social identity and the dynamics of being an ally in the classroom, including reflection tools for the educator. Soya, Dawson, Kanner, Wagoner & Soltano’s Assignments and course content in teaching diversity describes a variety of assignments grounded in theory and scholarship and describes their outcomes from a scholarly perspective.

However, some chapters are not sufficiently reflective about the nuances and even risks in teaching diversity and culture. Although they are written to be accessible and encouraging of any educators interested in teaching culture, they are best suited for educators who already have a fair amount of experience teaching about culture and diversity. Getting Culture does not adequately negotiate the dilemma of encouraging faculty to jump in and teach culture and diversity, on the one hand, and of warning – and helping – them to develop an analysis of the issues and a set of skills to facilitate sensitive discussions before experimenting in their classes.

This dilemma is a challenge for all of us who work in the area of culture and diversity in the curriculum, as one cannot continue developing capacities for handling difficult conversations without doing it, without an ongoing practice. Yet I would hesitate before giving Getting Culture to a faculty member unless I knew they already had some experience, a certain depth of analysis of issues of identity, and a deeply reflective approach to their teaching. On the other hand, for an educator – or educational developer – who has some grounding and experience teaching culture and diversity, this book can offer a wide variety of activity and assignment ideas in different contexts. Some chapters also offer useful theoretical grounding, particularly in social psychological findings about learning and prejudice.

The introductory chapters of the classic text, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Ann Bell and Pat Griffin), would make a stronger foundation for educators just starting out in teaching culture and diversity, as well as providing a coherent theoretical framework for more experienced educators. Worth noting is that both Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice and Getting Culture are strongly rooted in the U.S. context, but are still applicable for the Canadian higher education setting.

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