Vol. 8. No. 4 R-10 March 2005
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Non-Western Educational Traditions: Indigenous Approaches to Education Thought and Practice, 3rd edition

Timothy Reagan (2005)
Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Pp. iiv + 308
ISBN 0-8058-4857-6

The admirable quality of Non-Western Educational Traditions is that it seeks to include Indigenous educational thought and practices from Asia, Africa and the Americas, an objective that is not often found in texts that deal with the philosophy and history of education. Reagan presents a variety of traditions and demonstrates how they are as valuable as Western traditions.

The book works to expand, not replace, current understandings of Western education, by examining approaches less familiar to Western education practitioners. Reagan attempts to avoid ethnocentrism and a reliance on paradigms through his organization of his studies, which include rather than exclude the perspectives of multiple philosophies of education. His account of the evolution of education within each indigenous group resists seeing any cultural instruction as static.

Chapter 1: "A Philosophical Starting Point" provides a worthy analysis of the philosophies of thought surrounding education. Reagan provides working definitions which are important for the discussion of educational practices both outside and inside the parameters of Western educational traditions. His discussion of cultural ethnocentrism and epistemological ethnocentrism are important both intellectually and for his study to avoid the pitfalls, common within the discipline, that would subvert his real objective: to show the value and variety of indigenous educational practices, not in relation to Western practices, but their value in their own right and thereby the value Western traditions can gain from a fair and unprejudiced account of Indigenous practices.

Although, as Reagan notes, the use of the term "non-Western" in fact sets up a dichotomy between the West and the rest, "If the labels 'Western' and 'non-Western' are such a problem, then why use them? The answer to this very reasonable question is actually quite simple: The biases inherent in the terms are in fact a significant and telling component of the phenomenon that we are concerned with studying. The assumptions and stereotypes that need to be challenged are already present, and if our language reflects them then it may be useful to recognize the biases that are inherent in the language that we use. Thus, what begins as a false dichotomy can emerge as an effective way of challenging and reforming racist and ethnocentric assumption and biases, both conceptually and linguistically" (p. 11). Reforming biases is a commendable objective; however, a treatment of educational practices in relation only to their own evolution and the societies surrounding them (often Western due to colonization) would perhaps provide a more thorough conception of their value in and of themselves.

New to this edition is Chapter 2, entitled Conceptualizing Culture: "I, We, and the Other," which confronts historical issues including anthropology's misrepresentations of cultures and which has a worthy section on the culture of the Deaf. Chapter 3, "A Wise Child is Talked to in Proverbs": Indigenous African Educational Thought and Practice, attempts to find common characteristics shared by traditional African societies inhabiting a vast continent with a reliance on oral traditions in which the proverb plays a special role. Reagan includes a short discussion "Afrocentrism" in the Western world, which he states "has had a powerful impact on elements of public schooling in the United States, including contributing to the creation of curricula material and even the establishment of entirely 'Afrocentric' schools" (p. 78). While on the one hand he commends this movement which tries to find educational roots for the African Diaspora, on the other hand he highlights the "historical distortion and misrepresentation" that is manifest in these movements (p. 79). [-1-]

Chapter 4, Training "Face and Heart": The Mesoamerican Educational Experience, focuses mainly on Aztec culture, but begins with what little is known of Classic Mayan educational thought and practice. In Chapter 5, "Finding the True Meaning of Life": Indigenous Education in North America, Reagan attempts to trace the educational ideas and practices that existed before colonization -- noting that most of the extensive scholarship in this field has been on education after colonial contact. This chapter is very interesting because many of the indigenous educational practices survived colonial conquest and displacement and are still used today. One major pitfall in this study is that it necessarily groups hugely diverse and disparate groups of people who have more differences than similarities into one section. Reagan does do a good job of outlining core beliefs, but for an in-depth inquiry into North American Indigenous educational practices, further reading is necessary.

Of particular interest is Chapter 6: Confucius and the Chinese Educational Heritage. The historical treatment of the Chinese educational system in this chapter states that the "schools and other social institutions of a complex culture had developed, as had the foundations for the examination system that would serve throughout the history of imperial China to select government officials" to the 16-11th centuries B.C.E. (p. 135). This idea challenges notions of Western educational superiority through the simple longevity of China's educational tradition and the fact that contrary to other ancient societies the "ties that bind modern Chinese people to their past remain powerful" (pp. 135-6). Just as Rome and Greece left indelible marks upon the civilization of Europe, China influenced the cultures of East Asia for millennia. Reagan notes that this influence can mainly be seen through its educational system, which is rooted in Confucian thought.

Chapter 7 traces the origins, uses, and valuable aspects, especially Vedic mathematics, of Hindu and Buddhist educational traditions. Chapter 8, The Case of the Rom, is interesting because the "world of the Rom is very much a secret one" (p. 196). Reagan works to illustrate that the Rom are not indifferent to education, rather that they have "serious (and well-founded) reservations" about Western education (p. 208). Also new to this edition is Chapter 9, "No Gift is Better than Education": The Islamic Educational Enterprise, a much needed inclusion which illustrates how "[t]raditional Islamic educational thought and practice are, in short, inseparable from the fabric of Islamic religious thought and practice" (p. 236).

For those of you who are teaching and want to incorporate non-western teaching practices and theories into your current curricula, this book has solid foundational background on a range of indigenous educational practices. At 256 pages, plus bibliography, this text is a viable option for educators to assign their students, as it is an easy read, it contains solid information on disparate education practices, and it will stimulate classroom discussion. However, Reagan, due to the short length of the piece, does not go into sufficient detail on the differences between groups from the same continent or religious tradition. An obvious solution to this problem is to use this text as an overview to point the reader in directions which interest her or him. For this purpose, Non-Western Educational Traditions: Indigenous Approaches to Educational Thought and Practice is immensely valuable.

Marie Thormodsgard
Université de Montréal

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