Cover image for Taking it personally : racism in the classroom from kindergarten to college
Taking it personally : racism in the classroom from kindergarten to college
Berlak, Ann.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
xii, 204 pages ; 24 cm.
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Call Number
Material Type
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LC212.2 .B47 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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When Sekani Moyenda, an African American elementary school teacher, accepted an invitation to speak at a graduate education class, neither the students nor Ann Berlak, their professor, could guess that her presentation would spark an outpouring of emotion and a reexamination of race from everyone involved.

The "encounter" -- as it was called -- was an expression of Moyenda's anger at the institutionalized racism of our educational system, a system whose foundations are reinforced and whose assumptions about race are reproduced in the graduate school classroom. Forcing everyone involved to rethink their own race consciousness, Taking it Personally is a chronicle of two teachers and their own educational progress. In processing their own responses to the encounter, along with their students', Berlak and Moyenda meditate not only on their own ideas on teaching and learning, but also redefine the obligation a teacher has to his or her students.

Personal in its approach, yet grounded in significant currents of educational thought, Taking it Personally will be a must-read for any educator or educator-to-be who is committed to teaching in our diverse classrooms.

Author Notes

Ann Berlak is Associate Professor in the Department of Elementary Education at San Francisco State University.

Sekani Moyenda teaches reading and is the administrator for computer and network technology at Rosa Parks Elementary School in San Francisco.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Many readers will have difficulty appreciating a book that comes to the conclusion that "all white people are infected with racism." Relying heavily on opinion and often falling into overgeneralization, the authors (a university professor and an elementary school teacher) present a cautionary tale for teacher educators hoping to introduce their students to the tenets of "critical multiculturalism," i.e., an approach that "is structured to convey that the entire social order is shaped by institutions that tend to preserve and reproduce prevailing racial, gender, and class inequities." Hoping to find a place in the curriculum alongside the works of Jonathan Kozol (e.g., Savage Inequalities, LJ 9/15/91) and Lisa Delpit (Other People's Children, New Pr., 1995), the authors demonstrate that children of color are the victims of an institutionalized racism that affects the teaching they receive at every academic level. Unfortunately, this important message is obscured by the angry, self-righteous, and occasionally self-indulgent tone of this work. Recommended only for the most comprehensive academic collections related to multicultural education or teacher education. [With this title Temple University inaugurates their "Teaching and Learning Social Justice" series, which highlights educational practices that promote equality in multicultural societies. Ed.] Scott Walter, Washington State Univ., Pullman Fisher, Anne. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Berlak, a white college professor, and Moyenda, an African American elementary school teacher and former student of Berlak, built their book around a classroom simulation that Moyenda constructed for prospective teachers enrolled in Berlak's class on cultural and linguistic diversity. The work progresses through a collection of distinct but related sections. For example, in the introduction Berlak explains that this simulation demonstrated how racism harms children, and Moyenda describes the experiences she underwent that caused her to construct the simulation. In the first part, each author offers an autobiography. In the second part, Moyenda tells how she constructed the 20-minute simulation in which a white teacher tried to work with an irate African American mother and six students from different ethnic backgrounds and ability levels. Berlak shows what the students in her class wrote about this simulation in their class journals. In the third part, Berlak and Moyenda provide their reactions to the expressed feelings of the prospective teachers. Readers interested in ways to eliminate racism may wish to consult Practicing What We teach: Confronting Diversity in Teacher Education, ed. by Renee Martin (CH, Mar'96), or The Light in Their Eyes: Creating Multicultural Learning Communities, ed. by Sonia Nieto, (CH, Dec'99). Recommended for research, faculty, and professional collections. J. Watras University of Dayton

Table of Contents

Part I Our Racial Autobiographies
1 Sekani: How I Got My ""Black Attitude"" Problem
2 Ann: How I Developed an ""Obduracy of Tone""
Part II All Right, Who Started It?The Classroom Encounter and Its Aftermath
3 Sekani: The Bootcamp Presentation: Classrooms in Crisis
4 Ann: Picking Up the Pieces: Processing Is Everything
Part III What's Going on Here?Analysis
5 Ann: What Makes You Think She's Not an Expert?
6 Ann: Fantasy and Feeling in the Classroom
7 Sekani: The Love Le