The main goal of multicultural education is to reform education to enable students from diverse groups (racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, sexual orientation, ability, gender, etc.) to have equal access to quality education that will allow them to successfully participate in the democratic processes of society. The emphasis is upon the greater good because this type of education is geared towards making all students more effective citizens within an increasingly diverse culture.
The good, the bad, and the potentially ugly
By the end of this decade, the US Census Bureau predicts that no single racial or ethnic group will constitute a majority of children under age 18. Many argue that as the United States becomes increasingly pluralistic, it is even more imperative for multicultural education “to overthrow the economic, social, and political systems and rebuild them in a more racially just manner.” In order to accomplish this, educators must be aware of their prejudices and biases regarding various groups of students and pay closer attention to the barriers that many must overcome in order to become successful students and, eventually, effective citizens. Integrating multicultural curriculum into the classroom, many argue, will increase comfort with diversity and help to eliminate fear, ignorance, and harmful words and behaviors towards the racial or cultural other.
On the other hand, some believe that instead of increasing equality and cohesiveness, multicultural education actually increases fragmentation among various diverse peoples by focusing on their differences as opposed to similarities across groups. Others argue the lack of cohesive definitions of multicultural education and the potential harm in subjectivity of implementing such programs despite the supposed good intentions of the educator. For example, one could inappropriately use the guise of multicultural education to simply teach about the occasional hero of color and then call it a day. This is especially possible if teacher education programs fail to provide instruction on how to effectively work with culturally and linguistically diverse students.
Tips for successful multicultural education
- Greene (1995) stated, “People trying to be more fully human must not only engage in critical thinking but must be able to imagine something coming of their hopes; their silence must be overcome by their search”
- Multicultural curriculum must be woven into every day of learning, not celebrated on the occasional holiday or People of Color History month
- Curriculum must also be student-driven and real-world-based
- Parents must also be empowered to be involved in the learning of their children, even though this is often exceptionally challenging in culturally diverse contexts and areas of lower socioeconomic status
- Educators must form effective partnerships with local community agencies and potentially utilize community members as mentors for students
- M. S. Hanley instructed, “At the center of culturally relevant instruction is the culture of the learner. To develop an instructional program that is relevant to students educators need to understand the core beliefs and experiences of their culture.”
- Educators must teach students, both those of the majority and minority populations, how to critically view the messages of the dominant society
- Multicultural curriculum should regularly incorporate the influential philosophies, discoveries, and writings of individuals who belong to minority groups instead of waiting to discuss these on special occasions; This should occur across disciplines
- Educators must helps students to understand themselves and others as cultural beings and to recognize the effects of discrimination
- Utilize technology to help make students more aware of themselves as members of a global society with access to diverse cultures at the touch of their fingertips