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A critical, reformist perspective of the rationale for a school district race relations policy in British Columbia Brothers, Duane Murray Delano


This research project seeks to provide a critical and reformist perspective of the rationale for a school district race relations policy. By conducting a comprehensive critique of established assumptions behind traditional race relations models, and by bringing to light the motivations and understandings of committee members who established a school district race relations policy, the researcher hopes to make clear that stated purpose for the policy can be interpreted from variety of perspectives. The policy aims to foster a learning environment in which racial, ethnic, cultural and religious differences are recognized and valued. These differences must not be the basis of discrimination (Taylor School District. 1992) It is not clear what ethnic, cultural, and religious differences are to be recognized and valued. A reformist perspective would promote social structural equality and prepare young, developing citizens to work towards what Freire called "conscientization" (Freire, 1985: 103), to have the desire and skills to question society, see through versions of 'truth' that allow unfairness to be masked, and then to be empowered to "envision, define, and work towards a more humane society" (Sleeter, 1994: 212). This project will contribute to the body of knowledge on the underlying assumptions, factors, and motivations that impact race relations work as well as make recommendations for the implementation of effective race relations strategies. Race relations work that is "Multicultural and Social Reconstructionalist" (Sleeter, 1994: 209) is designed to reflect the concerns and aspirations of diverse groups of people. In education, rather than being limited to additional curricula or increased minority hiring, it is a "different orientation and expectation of the whole educational process" (Sleeter, 1994: 209). It also contends that major institutions such as schools are incapable of being vehicles in the elimination of racism until their institutional reason for being, their purpose, or guiding mission undergoes significant change. Proposing idealistic rationale statements is a fabulous start if the statements mirror, or initiate more subsequential changes within the foundations of educational institutions. Unless there are fundamental changes in the motivations and goals of the ministry, school boards, administrators, teachers, parents, students - all shareholders, we cannot expect to obtain different results when traditional beliefs, motivations, and practices are retained. In order to effectively understand and then employ critical and reformist approaches to race and race relations education, I begin with theorists who are making "strategic interventions" (Apple, 1993: viii) into the debates on race, racial differences, and race relations education. To define culture, I begin with the work of Bullivant (1981) to ascertain whether traditional race relations approaches reflect the following components of his definition of culture: culture is holistic, culture is transmitted, culture evolves, and culture is made up of problem solving approaches to life. To understand the progress being made in the theorization of race, I begin with the traditional biological definitions that still exist. I then look to Omi and Winant (1993) to provide an excellent alternative perspective based on a "racial formation process" (Omi and Winant, 1993: 3) in which race is understood as a social construct. I then use their work to understand the foundations upon which a critical, process orientated, socially comprehensive theory of race must stand, specifically; race must be interpreted in the here and now, race must be seen in its global context, and race must be recognized as a legacy of the modern era. McCarthy (1993) provides a critique of contemporary approaches to multicultural education and also outlines an alternative approach that is critical, reformist and takes into consideration factors that go beyond psychology as well as incorporating the evolving conceptualization of race. Finally, West (1993,1993) provides a call for a "new cultural politics of difference" (West, 1993: 11) in which cultural critics are to attempt creative responses to the particular local and global circumstances we are in regarding matters of race. By also employing the ideas of Sleeter (1993), Calliou (1995), and McCarthy (1993) I can understand why a critical and reformist approach to race relations education is necessary, what it entails, and how it might apply to specific work being done in race relations such as a newly created school district policy. To provide insight into how a critical, reformist approach might apply in the real world, the study also offers a snapshot of how nation-wide cultural and demographic changes are represented in one suburban West Coast school district in British Columbia, Canada. The study provides an in depth look into how the committee members perceived race relations; why they were involved in the formulation of the policy, what their individual motivations were and what they viewed as the purpose of the policy. The research was undertaken during the 1996 - 1997 school year, three years after the committee was first formed. I use an ethnographic sensibility to questioning the committee members to obtain rich, in-depth insights. This is seen as the most effective way in which to ascertain the often hidden, subconscious cognitive and social frameworks, which inform and determine the perspectives of individuals within our contemporary society.\ By asking open-ended questions, I encourage the respondents to elaborate upon their own ideas by active listening and co-participating in the dialogue (Spradley, 1979). By reviewing my notes after each interview I created a verbal understanding of the 'reflective thinking" (Hampton, 1995) that took place in each of the interviews. I have been all too to aware that it can be extremely difficult to articulate a clear perspective within an area in which viewpoints are often subconsciously framed by a myriad of socially and personally developed cognitive articulations. Theorists such as Bullivant and Peter believe we must go through a process of critical inquiry into the basic assumptions of established theories and models in order to address the perspectives that we claim to maintain (Bullivant, 1986: 35).

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