Equity & Diversity

Book Accuses Social Studies Group Of Ignoring Racism

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — December 03, 2003 2 min read
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The National Council for the Social Studies, an organization that has been slammed by conservative groups in recent years for promoting multiculturalism and a more diverse and critical view of American history, is being accused in a new book of failing to address issues of race and racism.

The book, Critical Race Theory Perspectives on the Social Studies: The Profession, Policies, and Curriculum, was published last month by Information Age Publishing Inc., of Greenwich, Conn. It features 13 chapters by scholars of racial issues who charge that the NCSS has ignored such sensitive topics in its standards, position statements, and publications.

“The association is going to advertise itself as a champion of these issues,” said Gloria Ladson-Billings, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the book’s editor. “Sure, they have position statements, but you have to fight so hard to get them to take action on anything.”

One of the authors, Patricia Marshall, a professor at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, describes NCSS policies over the past two decades as “the persistent deracialization of democratic citizenship education.”

Critical race theory was developed in the 1980s by scholars disillusioned by the lack of progress in the civil rights movement who began taking a more critical and interdisciplinary look at race and the persistence of racism.

Contradictory Critiques

Officials of the 25,000- member NCSS, which represents teachers, curriculum specialists, and researchers, said they were confused by the new assessment. The book diverges from past criticism.

“I’m perplexed because [a few] months ago, conservative groups said we are teaching too much about race,” said NCSS President-elect Jesus Garcia. “Now, this group comes out and says we’re not teaching anything at all [about race]. I wonder if we’re talking about the same organization.”

In August, the Washington-based Thomas B. Fordham Foundation released a collection of essays that, among other faultfinding, accused the Silver Spring, Md.-based NCSS of promoting multiculturalism and “political correctness” over historical accuracy. (“‘Contrarians’ Launch Salvo at Social Studies Traditions,” Sept. 3, 2003.)

But the authors of the latest critique say that the NCSS merely pays lip service to those issues. While the group has a long-standing position statement on multicultural education, the scholars say, it has been ineffective in changing curriculum and instruction.

Ms. Ladson-Billings also points to what she describes as a failure on the group’s part to take a stand against the 1994 passage of the California measure that sought to deny public services, including education, to undocumented immigrants. At that time, the NCSS refused to move its annual meeting out of California.

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