Educational Anthropology Essay

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Like any discipline, educational anthropology is a network of individual scholars, a kinship group, linked by common theoretical frameworks and research interests as well as reflected in the professional organization’s structure through which it disseminates scientific inquiry. The field begins, grows, and changes through the work of these scholars as knowledge and methodologies of research are passed down through formal and informal mentoring of the next generation of scholars. These networks of researchers are reflected in the organizational structure of the field, in this case, in the Council on Anthropology and Education (CAE), a unit within the American Anthropological Association (AAA). This entry examines the history, organization, and key theoretical, methodological, and empirical contributions of the field.

The Formative Years

The anthropology of education is an interdisciplinary field that has its roots in nineteenth-century anthropology and became structured over the course of the twentieth century through the engagement of anthropologists and educators as they examined notions of culture, particularly in non-western groups.

Anthropological interests in educational problems, practices, and institutions can be traced back to Edgar I. Hewett’s articles in the American Anthropologist titled “Anthropology and Education” (1904) and “Ethnic Factors in Education” (1905). In these papers, Hewett recommended the incorporation of ethnological and cultural history within the course of study in public schools, joint meetings of national education and anthropology societies to discuss mutual problems, and the inclusion of anthropological studies in the training of teachers.

As early as 1913 Maria Montessori drew on work in physical anthropology to inform her work with children, which stressed a developmental process, respect for individual differences in growth and function, and the study of local conditions in the development of her notion of “pedagogical anthropology.” In his 1928 Anthropology and Modern Life, Franz Boas, the father of American anthropology, argued for anthropological research to be used by educators to better understand cultural notions of child development.

From the 1890s through the early 1950s anthropologists engaged in intensive fieldwork in small communities using participant observation of everyday life to understand the culture or ways of life of a particular group. Using these ethnographic methods enabled researchers to detail what they believed to be the “total way of life” of a group including the use of language, enculturation of their young, and ways formal and informal education took place within these groups. Anthropologists working during this time period were particularly interested in cultural maintenance (how cultures were continued across generations) as well as cultural acquisition (how people got culture). These researchers often reported on the lifecycle development from birth through childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and elderhood and focused on learning and teaching in all aspects of the culture. Much of this early descriptive work was an effort to capture indigenous cultures before they were transformed through contact with other cultures, particularly western cultures.

Elizabeth Eddy (1985) described 1925 through 1954 as the formative years of anthropology and education, when many anthropologists were engaged in studies documenting formalized systems of education and the enculturation of the child. Major anthropologists contributing to this body of work include Gregory Bateson, Ruth Benedict, Franz Boas, John Dollard, John Embree, E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Felix Keesing, Ralph Linton, Bronislaw Malinowski, Margaret Mead, Hortense Powdermaker, Paul Radin, Robert Tedfield, Edward Sapir, W. Lloyd Warner, and John Whiting.

Social anthropologist Ruth Benedict, a student of Franz Boas at Columbia University, wrote Patterns of Culture (1934), a major work in the personality and culture school, arguing that each culture had a “personality” consisting of certain traits that were encouraged or enculturated into individuals within the culture. When Benedict was on the faculty at Columbia, she worked with Margaret Mead, whose research also focused on personality and culture as well as childrearing in works such as Coming of Age in Samoa (1928) and Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935).

In the 1940s when studies of culture and personality were central to anthropological work, a six-year social-action research program on Indian personality, education, and administration was initiated by the U.S. Department of the Interior and Commissioner of Indian Affairs John Collier. It was first established in cooperation with the Committee on Human Development, University of Chicago, and later with the Society for Applied Anthropology. This interdisciplinary study to collect scientific data from 1,000 Indian children in twelve reservations representing five tribes became the basis for preparing recommendations to improve policies in Indian education and administration.

The work of these anthropologists who examined education within cultures was shared in a series of conferences between 1930 and 1954, thus facilitating the growth of the field of anthropology and education. In 1930, Edward Sapir and John Dollard conducted a seminar on the impact of culture on personality at Yale University. This initiative was followed in 1934 with the Hanover Conference on Human Relations, in which researchers examined enculturation and socialization of the child, and in that same year, the Education and Culture Contacts Conference at Yale where A. R. Radcliffe-Brown and others addressed the theme of adapting education to individual and community needs. Two years later, Felix Keesing organized a five-week study conference at the University of Hawaii in which sixty-six educators and social scientists from twenty-seven nations examined problems of education and adjustment among peoples of the Pacific.

While much of the early work was done with nonwestern groups, anthropologists and sociologists began ethnographic examinations of educational settings in the United States with mainstream communities. Two examples of early work within these school and community settings are Robert and Helen Lynd’s classic Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture (1929) and August Hollingshead’s Elmtown’s Youth (1949).

During the first half of the twentieth century, relationships between anthropologists and educators in major universities laid the groundwork for the field of anthropology of education. Hervé Varenne noted that by the 1930s courses in anthropology were offered as part of the foundations of education, with anthropologist Margaret Mead establishing a long association with Columbia University’s Teachers College. After World War I, researchers increasingly turned their attention to communities, schools, and other institutions in industrialized societies with the aim of understanding the structures and socialization of youth in these community and school contexts. Work in culture and personality diminished as psychological anthropology and cognitive anthropology became a focus of study among anthropologists. For example, the work of John and Beatrice Whiting, cultural anthropologists at Harvard University, documented comparative child development and the influence of culture on human development. Perhaps their most well-known work, Children of Six Cultures: A Psycho-Cultural Analysis (1963), which examines childrearing and children’s behavior through ethnographic data collected in Mexico, India, Kenya, New England, Okinawa, and the Philippines, is a classic study in the field.

There was a growing interest in the social sciences on inequalities in education for specific cultural groups of children and the role of educators in perpetuating these unequal consequences of schooling. Anthropologists used ethnographic methods in educational contexts to critically examine how schooling was enacted in communities for different groups of students. In 1949, Mead organized the Educational Problems of Special Cultural Groups Conference at Teachers College. Solon Kimball joined the faculty in 1953, as did other anthropologists, to establish a strong anthropological presence at that institution that continues in its current program in anthropology and education. Stanford, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania developed in parallel, with anthropologists working within schools of education training the next generations of researchers and K–12 teachers equipped with anthropological understandings of schooling for diverse groups of children.

Organizational History Of The Council On Anthropology And Education

From 1950 to 1970, the field of anthropology moved to a more formal organizational structure first through a series of conferences and finally to the founding of the Council on Anthropology and Education in 1970. This section describes events within this period, incorporating discussions of major themes and research contributions within this emerging field.

A figural event for the field of anthropology and education was the June 9–14, 1954, conference sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation at Carmel Valley Ranch, California, which brought together twenty-two anthropologists and educators to examine the relevance and relationships between these two fields and explore ways each could contribute to the other. Formal papers were presented by James Quillen, George Spindler, Bernard Siegel, John Gillin, Solon Kimball, Cora DuBois, C. W. M. Hart, Dorothy Lee, Jules Henry, and Theodore Brameld. Anthropologists who participated in the discussions included Margaret Mead, Alfred Kroeber, Louise Spindler, and Roland and Marianne Force. Participants included educators William Cowley, Lawrence Thomas, Arthur Coladarci, Fannie Shaftel, Lawrence Frank, Hilda Taba, and Robert Bush, and psychologist William Martin.

According to George Spindler, the 1954 conference consolidated and systematically focused attention on educational issues that had been raised in earlier anthropological work, but not pursued. In that sense, the conference was the beginning of the formal period of an anthropology of education. The original papers presented at the conference, as well as the substance of the discussions, were compiled in Spindler’s Education and Anthropology (1955). In his introductory chapter, Spindler summarized ways anthropology could contribute to understanding educational problems, arguing for more analysis of the interrelationships between educational systems, educative processes, and social structures, as well as for inclusion in the foundations of education courses within teacher and administrator training programs. He argued that since anthropologists in the United States had only recently been interested in their own society, anthropological contributions to understanding educational problems in American society had yet to be made.

The American Anthropological Association (AAA), with support from the U.S. Office of Education, the National Science Foundation, and other foundation sources, held a series of conferences in the 1960s where anthropologists and educators began to systematically focus on educational issues and contexts. At the request of Francis A. J. Ianni, Deputy Commissioner for Research in the U.S. Office of Education, Stanley Diamond (Syracuse University) initiated the Culture of Schools Program, sponsoring a 1966 Culture of Schools Conference at Syracuse University, the first of two conferences sponsored by the AAA. The program included statements from participants who provided early organizational leadership to the emerging field of anthropology and education: Jacquetta H. Burnett (University of Illinois), John H. Chilcott (University of Arizona), Elizabeth Eddy (Hunter College), Estelle S. Fuchs (Hunter College), Fred Gearing (University of California, Riverside), Solon T. Kimball (Teachers College, Columbia University), Eleanor Leacock (Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn), and Murray Wax (University of Kansas).

After a year and a half, the Culture of Schools Program was transferred to AAA, while maintaining the support of the Office of Education, where it became the Program in Anthropology and Education (PAE), which was directed by Fred Gearing and Murray Wax from 1967 to 1969. Under the auspices of PAE, Gearing and Wax used Wenner-Gren funding to initiate a set of major and minor conferences including AAA’s second sponsored conference, the National Conference on Anthropology and Education, which was held in Miami Beach on May 9–12, 1968. The organizing committee was composed of Malcolm Collier (AAA’s National Science Foundations funded Anthropology Curriculum Study Project), Charles Frantz (AAA), Frederick Gearing (University of California, Riverside), and Murray Wax (University of Kansas).

Nine papers were presented at this conference by early leaders in the field: Daniel G. Freedman (University of Chicago), Frederick Gearing, John C. Holt (Boston University), Dell Hymes (University of Pennsylvania), Vera John (Yeshiva University), Martin Orans (University of California, Riverside), Theodore Parsons (University of California, Berkeley), Sherwood Washburn (University of California, Berkeley), and Murray Wax. Anthropologists Solon Kimball (Teachers College, Columbia University), Eleanor Leacock (Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn), Robert Textor (Stanford University), and Harry Wolcott (University of Oregon) served as respondents.

Conference participants proposed two specific tasks that were aimed at continuing to articulate this emerging field of anthropology of education to a broader audience: (1) a bibliography of source materials in the field of anthropology of education, and (2) a summer institute. These sponsored conferences established a system of communication among anthropologists and educators interested in the emerging field of anthropology and education.

A significant event in the formation of the field was the 1968 meetings of AAA in Seattle, Washington, where a session called the Ethnography of Schools was organized by John Singleton and chaired by George Spindler. This session brought together educational anthropologists from the Stanford and Columbia groups around the anthropological study of educational settings. An ad hoc group on Anthropology and Education was established and chaired by Solon Kimball. Over 120 AAA fellows and members formally constituted this group and established procedures for the immediate election of a permanent steering committee. Conrad Arensberg, Dell Hymes, George Spindler, Robert Textor, and Sherwood Washburn served as members of the temporary steering committee. While senior scholars known for their work in educational anthropology such as the Whitings, the Spindlers, Mead, Robert Havighurst, and Hollingshead were not participants in this meeting, some were represented by their students, Harry Wolcott and Charles Harrington. The ad hoc group formally established four working committees of persons whose special interests involved research and development work in (1) the cultural, linguistic, and biological study of school and community; (2) minority curricula improvement; (3) the training of anthropologists and educational anthropologists; and (4) the preparation of teachers and school administrators and curriculum planning incorporating anthropological perspectives.

This organizational meeting at the fall 1968 AAA conference was followed up by a February 8, 1969, steering committee meeting in Chicago where Murray Wax served as the chair and first president of the newly formed Council on Anthropology and Education. He wrote the final draft of CAE constitution that was published in May 1970 in the first volume of the Council on Anthropology and Education Newsletter. This inaugural newsletter summarized the history of the field of anthropology and education by stating that CAE members had carried out John Napoleon Brinton Hewitt’s 1904–1905 recommendation that anthropologists and educational researchers work together in the areas of their common interests. These activities included organizing symposia presentations for the American Anthropological Association, the American Educational Research Association, and other professional associations. The newsletter listed the group’s research interests as the following: minority-group educational programs built on cultural difference rather than cultural pathology models, schools as social and cultural systems, relationships of education and poverty, generational conflict and cultural transmission, teaching of anthropology, linguistic and cognitive aspects of education, and what might be called “applied educational anthropology” in school systems, teaching materials, and teacher-training programs. It was the stated expectation of those involved in the organization of the Council on Anthropology and Education that research from those areas should contribute significantly to the development of anthropological theory and to the practical improvement of education.

In March 1970, in an effort to share their work with the educational research community, a number of anthropologists presented an overview of the field at the American Educational Research Association meeting through a symposium organized by Harry Wolcott, Anthropological Approaches in Educational Research, which included work representing major themes of the anthropological research at that time: sociolinguistic analyses of classroom interaction, cultural conflict in classrooms, ethnographic approaches to teacher education, and ethnographic methods in curriculum evaluation.

By 1971 the interest groups identified by the fledgling CAE in 1968 became the first four standing committees of the Council on Anthropology and Education: (1) Anthropological Studies of Schools and Culture, (2) Cognitive and Linguistic Studies, (3) Graduate and Undergraduate Education in Anthropology (changed to Teaching Anthropology in 1972 and later to Anthropology of Post-secondary Education), (4) Minority Affairs (with divisions, including Black, Chicano, Native American, Women’s Studies). Two more committees were later added: (5) Anthropology, Education, and the Museum, and (6) Preparation of Educators and Educational Materials.

Over the years, these committees changed names, and new committees were added to reflect the research interests of constituent members. The committee structure of the organization has remained relatively stable since its inception in the early 1970s and has served to provide its membership a means to contribute to the scientific program at the national meetings of CAE within the larger American Anthropological Association. Many of the papers presented were published in the Anthropology and Education Quarterly, the official journal of the CAE that is disseminated to a broader academic community. This journal began as the council on Anthropology and Education Newsletter in 1970, became the Council on Anthropology and Education Quarterly in 1974, and four years later was renamed Anthropology and Education Quarterly, a name it has maintained today.

The group committed to teaching of anthropology in PreK–12 settings as well as the preparation of resources and curricular materials began its work immediately with two annotated bibliographies, Anthropology and Education: A General Bibliography (1970) and Anthropology and Education Annotated Bibliographic Guide (1974), both intended to survey the anthropological research focused on formal and informal education. Those scholars committed to infusing anthropology throughout the K–16 curriculum organized sessions on undergraduate and graduate education in anthropology and teaching anthropology, as well as sessions for teachers on the contributions of anthropological research on education for their work in the classroom. Sessions like these continue to be offered by members of the Council on Anthropology and Education community.

Establishing The Field

While the field was engaged in organizational development, its contributing anthropologists and educators used ethnographic methods to study informal and formal educational settings. Anthropologists examined ways culture was transmitted through teaching and learning in communities and schools. As a reaction to the models of cultural deficit and cultural disadvantage that were at the core of the 1960s “War on Poverty,” anthropologists used their skills to examine cultural transmission in minority communities as well as the culture of mainstream schooling and the ways these cultures clashed.

Anthropologists of education argued that by understanding “culturally different students” research could inform teachers’ work within these communities. This research took the form of more traditional ethnography in schools and other educational settings with a focus on cultural transmission and anthropological studies of cognition and learning. Other anthropologists at the time used close analysis of language and interactions in classrooms to understand cultural mismatches between students and their teachers. In addition, some researchers worked extensively with teachers to use the tools of ethnographic inquiry teachers to understand cultures within their own classrooms as a means to provide more culturally congruent schooling for students from minority communities. A related theme in the field was the inclusion of anthropology in the K–12 and higher education curriculum to more broadly prepare citizens to understand ways culture is created, transmitted, and adapted in their daily lives. A brief discussion of each of these thematic strands in the anthropology and education literature follows.

Traditional structural functionalist ethnographies conducted in schools examined school structures as well as the relationships between communities and schools. Jules Henry, an anthropologist at Columbia, was an early contributor to the field through a number of articles focused on how learning and teaching takes place in cross-cultural settings. In his classic Culture Against Man (1963), Henry used anthropological methods to examine American culture of the 1950s, arguing that the competitive, hierarchical processes and interactions in schools he observed limited the development of students’ critical and creative abilities. This book influenced later ethnographers of schooling in work such as Estelle Fuch’s Teachers Talk (1967), Louis Smith and William Geoffrey’s The Complexities of an Urban Classroom (1968), Philip Jackson’s Life in Classrooms (1968), Elizabeth Burke Leacock’s Teaching and Learning in City Schools (1969), Elizabeth Eddy’s Becoming a Teacher: The Passage to Professional Status (1969), and Gerry Rosenfield’s Shut Those Thick Lips!: A Study of Slum School Failure (1971).

Harry Wolcott’s A Kwakiutl Village and School (1967) and Alan Peshkin’s Growing Up American: Schooling and the Survival of Community (1978), as well as his later book God’s Choice: The Total World of a Christian Fundamentalist School (1986), provided insights into how culture is learned, transmitted, and perhaps resisted through sociocultural interactions among participants within school structures and processes. Theoretical foundations for the field at that time included George Spindler’s 1963 Education and Culture: An Anthropological Approach, his 1974

Education and Cultural Process: Toward an Anthropology of Education, Murray Wax, Stanley Diamond, and Fred Gearing’s 1971 Anthropological Perspectives on Education, Gearing’s 1973 Where We Are and Where We Might Go: Steps Toward a General Theory of Cultural Transmission, Solon Kimball’s 1974 Culture and the Educative Process, and Friedman Hansen’s 1979 Sociocultural Perspectives on Human Learning: Foundations of Educational Anthropology.

The body of studies focused on the anthropology of learning or cognitive anthropological included early essays by Hansen, the Spindlers, and Erik Erickson on the centrality of learning to the concept of culture and in the discipline of anthropology. Erickson argued that deliberately taught cognitive learning should be of interest to anthropologists with a shift to the individual learning within the learning environment. Jean Lave’s anthropological work on situated cognition, or how people use knowledge and problem-solving skills within formal learning contexts such as craft apprenticeships, serves as one example of the way anthropologists use observational data to understand learning and cognition in everyday life.

Another approach to educational anthropological research used sociolinguistic analyses of classroom communications to explain the relationships between classroom interactions, culturally based communications, and school success and failure. Studies looked at cultural differences and cultural congruities or lack thereof between minority students and their mainstream teachers. Courtney Cazden, Vera John, and Dell Hymes’s 1972 Functions of Language in the Classroom served as a key text for the examination of how verbal and nonverbal language is used by teachers to communicate with students in classrooms, particularly with students from different cultural groups. Educational anthropologists used these sociolinguistic, microethnographic approaches to examine teacher-student classroom interactions. For example, Kathryn Hu-pei Au and Cathie Jordan’s work at the Kamehameha Early Education Program (KEEP) in Honolulu was central to the work that used participant observation and microanalysis of videotapes to argue that poor school achievement by many minority children is related to the nature of the teacher-student classroom interactions. Gerald Mohatt and Frederick Erickson reported in 1981 how they used microethnography to examine differences in native and nonnative social interactional differences in two first-grade classrooms in northern Ontario in classrooms of Odawa and Ojibwa children. They argued that the different cultural backgrounds of the teachers established differences in the cultural organization of social relationships in that classroom, resulting in two different participation structures—with the native teacher providing a more culturally congruent setting that allowed more pauses, or “wait time,” for increased student participation.

These studies all argued for a closer examination of schooling for culturally different (from mainstream White middle-class) students, and they called for culturally responsive pedagogies. Spindler’s 1982 Doing the Ethnography of Schooling: Educational Anthropology in Action is a compilation of the first ethnographic studies in the field of anthropology and education. This volume served as a classic for students in schools of education. Frederick Erickson and Jeffrey Shultz’s 1982 The Counselor as Gatekeeper: Social Interaction in Interviews used this microanalytic approach to interactions between educational counselors and their clients, illustrating differential treatment based on the extent to which the client shared similar verbal and nonverbal communication styles.

Shirley Brice Heath’s ethnographic study Ways With Words (1983) analyzed styles of questioning and speech interaction between parents and their children in two communities, Trackton, a working-class Black community, and Roadville, a middle-class White community. Her study documented differential use of language in these communities and involved teachers in analyzing and using community-based interactional styles with Trackton students. Her work with teachers as inquirers of their own contexts and practices demonstrated a model for training teachers to look ethnographically at their own classrooms and communities to better understand how to interact in ways that were culturally congruent with their students.

In contrast to micro-ethnographies of social interactions, anthropologists such as John Ogbu used macro community and historical analyses to explain variations in minority student performance. Ogbu’s work, spanning almost three decades, began with The Next Generation: An Ethnography of Education in an Urban Neighborhood (1974), which theorized variation in minority student school performance through an analysis of the historical and cultural context of the particular group. He argued that minority students vary in their status as historically subordinated or migrant groups, and categorized them into (1) autonomous minorities who were born in the United States and no longer experience systematic discrimination despite cultural differences from mainstream; (2) voluntary immigrants or immigrant minorities who moved to the United States for economic, political, or religious opportunities and buy into mainstream work ethic and success in school as a means for economic advancement; and (3) involuntary or caste-like immigrant minority groups incorporated into society forcibly either through conquest or colonization, and having experienced a long history of subordination and oppression based on the historical conditions and experience of the particular cultural group in the United States, and face a job ceiling constructed by a racist society that puts limits on their economic opportunities even if they are academically successful. Signithia Fordham built on Ogbu’s theories in her 1991 ethnographic study of Black students’ academic success at “Capital High School,” a school located in a predominantly African American section of Washington, D.C. Fordham found that many students were coping with the burden of “acting White” and did poorly because they had difficulty reconciling school achievement and maintenance of African American cultural identity. What she called “fictive kinship” or “sense of peoplehood” was a compelling reason for these Black students to assign more importance to success with their peers and community than to success in the school community.

Also utilizing Ogbu’s framework in an ethnographic study, Margaret Gibson conducted an ethnography, published as Accommodation Without Assimilation: Sikh Immigrants in an American High School (1988), in which she found that Sikhs in America were more serious about school and attained higher academic achievement than their European American classmates. She attributed their success to parental expectations, as well as to cultural values that placed respect for family and authority at a premium and enabled them to maintain their own community culture while accommodating successfully to Western school structures and practices. These studies that examined cultural transmission, learning and cognition, cultural differences between students and school contexts, and various theories to explain differential success of minority students were shared not only with the scientific community within the anthropological and educational spheres, but also with practicing teachers and administrators.

Critical And Postmodern Anthropology Of Education

Since the late 1970s, educational anthropologists have been influenced by critical and postmodern theorists who reject claims to an objective truth, call into question functionalist notions of culture, and critique anthropologists’ traditional roles in the communities they have studied as well as their representations of these communities. Critiques from within mainstream anthropology have raised issues around positionality, reflexivity, objectivity, and representation in ethnographic work in works such as George Marcus and Michael Fischer’s Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences (1986) and James Clifford and George Marcus’s Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (1986).

During this same time period, macro-level theories of economic stratification, social class, power, and cultural structure—and the role of schooling in transmitting these class and cultural structures as well as resistance to them—shifted the focus of anthropologists of education toward more critical analyses of school contexts. Critical educational theories in the works of Michael Apple and Henry Giroux were particularly influential in the United States. In addition, theorists and researchers in the new sociology of education in Europe began using observational methods to understand how the explicit and implicit curriculum in schools transmitted cultural understandings to students. Jerome Karabel and Albert Halsey’s Power and Ideology in Education (1977), Paul Willis’s Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs (1977), and Nell Keddie’s Classroom Knowledge (1977) provided theoretical and empirical foundations for later critical ethnographies such as Dorothy Holland and Maragaret Eisenhart’s Educated in Romance (1990), Michelle Fine’s Framing Dropouts: Notes on the Politics of an Urban High School (1991), and Douglas Foley’s Learning Capitalist Culture: Deep in the Heart of Tejas (1990). Critical, postmodern, post-structural, and feminist theories and analyses problematized traditional understandings of culture, how researchers study “the other,” and the politics of representation.

Ethnography And Qualitative Research In Education

Educational research during the 1960s and 1970s was largely dominated by quantitative designs from psychology. Dissatisfied with analyses of educational problems that largely ignored local classroom and school contexts, the field of anthropology and education during this time captured the attention of educational researchers moving toward a closer examination of the culture of schooling and other educational settings. Using ethnographic and qualitative methods for this work, created a need for more attention to these methods in schools of education. Anthropologists of education were ready to fill this need through their commitment to explicitly teach these methods to researchers and doctoral students.

Anthropologists of education have been at the forefront of the field of ethnography and qualitative research in education. The centrality of ethnographic methods in the formative years of the Council on Anthropology and Education continues to influence the work of scholars today. Anthropologists learning their craft in the early and mid-twentieth century typically received little formal training in research methods, so there were few texts to guide education researchers in ethnographic methods. Pertti Pelto and Gretel Pelto’s Anthropological Research: The Structure of Inquiry (1978), Hortense Powdermaker’s Stranger and Friend: The Way of an Anthropologist (1966), James Spradley’s The Ethnographic Interview (1979) and Participant Observation (1980), and Rosalie Wax’s Doing Fieldwork: Warnings and Advice (1971) provided some guidance for new ethnographers.

Frederic Erickson’s 1973 essay “What Makes School Ethnography ‘Ethnographic’” and his 1986 article “Qualitative Methods in Research on Teaching” articulated the ethnographic method in educational settings. Harry Wolcott’s 1975 “Criteria for an Ethnographic Approach to Research in Schools” began his long involvement with training researchers in ethnographic methods. Judith Goetz and Margaret LeCompte’s Ethnography and Qualitative Design in Education Research (1984) is now a classic text in research design grounded in anthropological traditions. Margaret LeCompte, Wendy Millroy, and Judith Pressle’s 1992 Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education is another contribution to the field of qualitative research methods. Corrine Glesne and Alan Peshkin’s Becoming Qualitative Researchers: An Introduction (1992) used an anthropological fieldmethod framework aimed at beginning researchers in the field, and it continues to be used in both undergraduate and graduate introductory courses in qualitative research methods.

Since the early 1990s, there has been an explosion of resources in the field of ethnography and qualitative research more generally, with hundreds of texts available to address general qualitative research methods as well as specific approaches to research such as narrative, interview research of varying types, ethnomethodology, and arts-based research. This continually expanding literature certainly informs the way anthropologists of education now do their work, as is evidenced by the last decade of articles in the Council on Anthropology and Education’s journal, Anthropology and Education Quarterly.

While the original research interests of educational anthropologists of the 1960s and 1970s remain— cultural transmission and acquisition, ethnographic approaches to schools and their communities, cultural contexts of language, literacy and cognition, multicultural and multilingual education as well as work focused on specific groups (e.g., Blacks, Latinos) and gender in education—the theories and methods informing this work have become more complex and nuanced, thus leading to work that is reflective, reflexive, and in collaboration with community members.


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  2. Eddy, E. M. (1985). Theory, research, and application in educational anthropology. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 16(2), 83–104.
  3. Erickson, F. (1984). What makes school ethnography “ethnographic”? Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 15, 51–66.
  4. Fine, M. (1991). Framing dropouts: Notes on the politics of an urban public high school. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  5. Gibson, M. (1988). Accommodation without assimilation: Sikh immigrants in an American high school. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
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  9. Ogbu, J. U. (1974). The next generation: An ethnography of education in an urban neighborhood. New York: Academic Press.
  10. Peshkin, A. (1978). Growing up American: Schooling and the survival of community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  11. Peshkin, A. (1986). God’s choice: The total world of a fundamentalist Christian school. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  12. Singleton, J. (1984). Origins of the AEQ: Rituals, myths, and cultural transmission. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 18(4), 312–334.
  13. Smith, L. M., & Geoffrey, W. (1968). The complexities of an urban classroom: An analysis toward a general theory of teaching. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
  14. Spindler, G. (1955). Education and anthropology. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
  15. Wax, M. L., Diamond, S., & Gearing, F. O. (1971). Anthropological perspectives on education. New York: Basic Books.
  16. Wolcott, H. (1967). A Kwakiutl village and school. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
  17. Wolcott, H. (1975). Criteria for an ethnographic approach to research in schools. Human Organization, 34(2), 111–127.

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