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Multicultural Education/Curriculum

Definition

Multicultural education describes a system of instruction that attempts to foster cultural pluralism and acknowledges the differences between races and cultures. It addresses the educational needs of a society that contains more than one set of traditions, that is a mixture of many cultures.

Description

The goal of multicultural education is to help students understand and appreciate cultural differences and similarities and to recognize the accomplishments of diverse ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups. It is a practice that hopes to transform the ways in which students are instructed by giving equal attention to the contributions of all the groups in a society. Special focus may be placed on minority groups that have been under-represented in the past. A multicultural curriculum strives to present more than one perspective of a cultural phenomenon or an historical event. The old American melting pot metaphor is challenged as no longer being valid. Adherents of multicultural educational theory believe that the idea that students should be Americanized, in reality, assumed they should conform to a white, Eurocentric cultural model. In its place, multiculturalists believe school curricula should embrace a whole host of voices that exist in multicultural U.S. society. Their belief is that this transformation in the methods of learning is a start in addressing inequities in U.S. society. They believe this is increasingly important because of the changing population mix in the United States. For example, demographers estimate that by the year 2020, 46 percent of all public school students will be children of color.

The roots of multicultural education lie in the civil rights movements of various groups, including African Americans and women. In addition, the rise in ethnic consciousness and a more critical analysis of textbooks and other materials played a role. Community leaders, activists, and parents began to demand curricula that were more supportive and consistent with the cultural and racial diversity in the United States. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the concepts of multicultural education begin to emerge, and by the 1980s, an entire body of scholarship addressing multiculturalism existed.

One of the pioneers of multicultural education was James Banks, who believed all aspects of education needed to be transformed in order to create a multicultural school environment. These aspects include teaching methods, instructional materials, teacher attitudes, as well as the way the performance of students is assessed. Banks described five areas of multicultural education in which teachers and researchers are involved:

As of the early 2000s, there is no universally agreed upon multicultural curriculum. Teachers tend, however, to take one of two approaches. Some use what has been called the multicultural festival approach, in which students are invited to celebrate ethnic diversity by being exposed to foods, holidays, and festivals of other cultures. Many critics say that this conveys the notion that diversity is only important during celebratory moments. Other teachers apply a transformative approach, weaving different perspectives on cultures throughout the curriculum. Multicultural education can also be roughly divided into three different categories:

In spite of the fact that there are a variety of approaches to multicultural education, supporters point to several shared ideals among those who practice this kind of education. Shared ideals include:

Common problems

There are many people who are either opposed to multicultural education or believe it has numerous problems. Some feel that the idea of multicultural education tends to divide cultures instead of building tolerance between them. They believe that American students should be taught to think of themselves as part of a whole rather than as people from different places who just happen to live in the same country.

Others believe multicultural education interferes with a child expressing his or her own individuality, by placing too much emphasis on ethnic or racial backgrounds. Even supporters recognize that someone's culture may be influenced as much by their sex or socioeconomic status as their race or ethnicity. Culture is itself complex and varies from community to community, family to family, or from person to person. The dynamic and variable nature of culture makes teaching about multiple cultural influences a daunting if not impossible task.

Critics also point out that educating students about the formation of U.S. democracy inevitably focuses on its European origins. If students are not informed that the dominant participants in the formation of the United States were white males, these critics say, students will not receive an accurate picture of U.S. history. In addition, there is the belief that if citizens are not willing to subordinate some parts of their heritage to the present set of dominant cultural values, then these citizens may find it even harder to integrate the mainstream.

Parental concerns

KEY TERMS

Eurocentric —Centered or focused on Europe or European peoples, especially in relation to historical or cultural influence.

Multicultural education —A social or educational theory that encourages interest in many cultures within a society rather than in only a mainstream culture.

Resources

Grant, Carl A., et al. Education Policy and Politics: Multicultural Education: Research, Theory, and Pedagogy. Florence, KY: Routledge, 2005.

——. The Student in the Classroom: Multicultural Education: Research, Theory, and Pedagogy. Florence, KY: Routledge, 2005.

Peters-Davis, Norah, et al. Challenges of Multicultural Education: Teaching and Taking Diversity Courses. Taos, NM: Paradigm Publications, 2005.

Phillion, Jo Ann, et al. Narrative and Experience in Multicultural Education. Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage Publications, 2005.

Ramsey, Patricia G. Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World: Multicultural Education for Young Children. New York: Teachers College Press, 2004.

Aldridge, Jerry, Charles Calhoun, and Ricky Aman. "15 Misconceptions about Multicultural Education." Focus on Elementary 12 (Spring 2000): 3.

Center for Multicultural Education. 110 Miller Hall, Box 353600, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195–3600. Web site: http://depts.washington.edu/centerme/home.htm .

National Association for Multicultural Education. 733 Fifteenth Street, NW, Suite 430, Washington, DC 20005. Web site: http://www.nameorg.org.

Gorski, Paul. "Defining Multicultural Education." Working Definition , 2000. Available online at http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/initial.html (accessed January 13, 2005).

Hanley, Mary Stone. "The Scope of Multicultural Education." New Horizons for Learning , 2002. Available online at http://www.newhorizons.org/strategies/multicultural/hanley.htm (accessed January 13, 2005).

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