Book Reviews

Book by Bonnie Davis
Review by John G. Igwebuike, Ph.D., J.D.
School of Business
Alcorn State University

“Do I know about the cultures of my students?” P.42. Lest you think this question is too sophomoric to be worth answering, ponder this additional point:  “If I were going to [advise students] in France, I would learn about French customs/language, and so on, yet I may be [advising students] from Bosnia and know nothing about their culture.” (p. 42).  How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You:  Culturally Relevant Teaching Strategies (2005) is a provocative book packed with critical questions, arresting ideas, and stimulating discussions aimed to provide the reader practical strategies for culturally-relevant teaching.   

The book’s title (and the author’s acknowledgement in the preface (xi) that “ [. . .] this book is for teachers from a teacher.”) should not dissuade advisors from reading the book.  Teaching and advising are not mutually exclusive processes; indeed they are complementary.  In a real sense, effective advisors must be effective teachers (i.e., instructing the advisee on university resources, catalogs, programs, requirements, resources, and assessing the efficacy of such instructions).  Students taught in the classrooms are the same advisees who seek knowledge and skills taught by advisors.  Indeed, done well, they both mutually enhance the college experience and developmental outcomes for the learner. Furthermore, advising, like teaching, is relationship driven. To that end, advisors must embrace the diversity reflected in the classrooms.  The culturally-relevant strategies illuminated in the book are equally relevant to advisors, and the positive outcomes that can accrue are doubly beneficial to the advisee.

The author, Bonnie Davis, is an educational consultant, diversity trainer, and professor of English.  Her consulting and training expertise was ostensible in her related stories, timely examples, thought-provoking anecdotes, and memorable experiences.  Her English background lent the book conciseness and ease of reading.  The four parts (called “stages”) and the chapters therein are so arranged that a busy advisor can turn to a specific chapter which meets the advisor’s immediate need.  Advisors will also find the “Suggested Readings” at the end of each chapter useful.

This workbook (emphasis on the word “work”) is not to be read passively.  In fact, it was written, as the author asserts:  “. . . to be read and responded to [.]” (p. 163).  Almost every page includes not only timely discussions, research, and culturally-relevant teaching strategies, but also opportunity (through lined spaces) for the reader to read, respond, and work through.  The business of embracing cultural difference takes work (hard work).  Teaching those who don’t look like you, requires you to first take a close look at you.  It requires an honest look at one’s assumptions, prejudices, and biases brought to the culturally diverse, interpersonal exchanges.  Indeed, it requires a paradigm shift, or an altogether different paradigm.  

Of the book’s four parts (or “stages”), Part 2, Examining Our Inner Word, is most applicable to advisors.  Here, Davis artfully places a mirror before the reader by having the reader answer critical—and sometimes disquieting—questions (Have you ever been stereotyped? P. 19); comment on compelling notions (“Consider the challenges others face [being Black, female, immigrant, etc.]” P. 52); probe a potential issue (“Write your racial past.” P. 51); reflect on issues (In what ways might [your students’ of color] days differ from yours? P. 57); or suggest strategies for action (What responsibility do you have to learn about the experiences that other cultures confront daily? P. 59).  These self-examining ideas suffuse every chapter in the book.

In reading the book I was drawn to the conviction that the most authentic advisor-advisee relationships are just that—“authentic.”  It need not be rehearsed, created, or forced, and certainly not coerced.  It must be part and parcel of the advisor’s core being, an overflow of the advisor’s essential self.  To reach diverse students requires a fundamental change in the way one approaches advising, learners, and culture.  By being true to ourselves as advisors can we true to our culturally diverse advisees.  Davis’ book provides a practical tool for bolstering advisor authenticity through self-analysis, self-reflection, and self-examination through responsive engagement with the book.  

Ultimately, every advisor must engage in conscientious awareness, continuous self-examination, and change.  Such effort takes hard work, but it’s also worth it to if allows every advisee to gain the most from the advising encounter regardless of cultural differences.  The importance of treating all students equitably and fairly, showing genuine concern, and exhibiting authenticity to all learners is the ultimate “how” in How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You.

As a business school faculty advisor who seeks to prepare advisees to function in an increasingly diverse, global economy, I found this book practical.  Advisors likely to advise culturally diverse learners—all of us—would find the culturally-relevant strategies in the book eminently useful.

How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You: Culturally Relevant Teaching Strategies. (2005). Book by Bonnie Davis. Review by John G. Igwebuike. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 184 pp. ISBN # 1-4129-2447-2
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