Connecting multicultural education with political issues of power and struggle, this book explores what multicultural education means to white people, given the unequal racial power relations in the U.S. and worldwide. It examines connections between race, gender, and social class, particularly as these connections play out for white women. While taking a feminist perspective, the author is also wary of the power white middle class women exercise in defining what counts as gender issues. Throughout the book, Sleeter argues that multicultural education was born in political struggle and can never meaningfully be disconnected from politics. Ultimately the quest for schooling for social justice is a political quest rather than a technical issue.
Subtractive Schooling provides a framework for understanding the patterns of immigrant achievement and U.S.-born underachievement frequently noted in the literature and observed by the author in her ethnographic account of regular-track youth attending a comprehensive, virtually all-Mexican, inner-city high school in Houston. Valenzuela argues that schools subtract resources from youth in two major ways: firstly by dismissing their definition of education and secondly through assimilationist policies and practices that minimize their culture and language. A key consequence is the erosion of students' social capital evident in the absence of academically oriented networks among acculturated, U.S.-born youth.