Multicultural Education in a Diverse Nutshell

Main goalMC II

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

Additional resources

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9 responses to “Multicultural Education in a Diverse Nutshell

  1. This is great! I’m glad that you bring up tokenization because that’s an important thing! Multiculturalism as not celebrating the occasional non-white, non-male (etc) hero but allowing for multiplicity as a new norm, non-norm, anti-norm, norm. That reminds me of an article I read once. OK, I’m gonna find it. Right! here it is: http://www.racialicious.com/2010/03/22/feminist-intersection-my-thoughts-post-international-womens-day-week/

    Interesting to think about what use the nation has of its citizens in a stated multicultural democracy. Does such a nation really want its inhabitants to ‘participate in the democratic process’ or just be good footsoldiers, contemporarily trained to fight for this idea of multiculturalism in order to obfuscate real inequality? Questions.

    • Perhaps multicultural education is utilized as the new opiate of the masses? With religious diversity becoming more prevalent in this country, maybe the typically narrow representation of the other in education, purposefully allows for minorities to see themselves in the curriculum, but not enough in order to feel as though they can participate fully in the democratic process? Much like I believe I posted in reaction to your blog, Rebecca, I believe that true multicultural education will not exist until changes towards more systematic recognition of cultural diversity exist at all levels of American culture. Great questions!

  2. Sometimes I ask myself if the fact we label education as multicultural is making evident that we are different. We are different, we always have been different (different colors, races, backgrounds, sexual orientations, etc) so why now we want to make these differentiations? If education is meant for different people so education is always multicultural. Therefore, when something is always multicultural the label needs to disappear. Labels are meant to differentiate not to create divisions. Of course I agree that not every professor teaches in a way that is inclusive of this multiculturalism but multiculturalism is a reality everywhere.

    • I think the key distinction in your comment here is that multiculturalism SHOULD be everywhere. And the sad reality, within the American education system, is that it is not. Therefore, a movement towards multicultural education must exist, thereby creating a necessity for such a label. In American schools, we have learned a single history from the perspective of White males and were lead to focus more on the similarity of people rather than their differences. Differences were seen as a bad thing as opposed to something that should be recognized and accepted as a normal part of human existence. There are still schools where the only discussion of African American contributors to politics, science, literature, etc. are merely recognized during Black History Month. Until curricula are truly multicultural, the term must exist so that educators such as ourselves can advocate for the recognition of a multicultural reality to be reflected in the education system.

  3. I love this post. It brings to light some of the serious issues we have going on not only in the classroom, but in society at-large. While I can understand the mission, goal and purpose for multicultural curricula, and I applaud the educators who see the need for it, I can only see it as a Band-Aid at best. I think change really has to begin at the cultural, societal level, because as long as we use words like “dominant culture” or “mainstream ideas,” then there will always be a minority even when statistics show a even distribution of ethnicities. Schools can teach multiculturalism, but if the parents still share a “traditional” form of thinking, then multicultural curricula may fall on deaf ears. Let us remember the woman in Virginia, who sent her son to school in KKK garb for Halloween, and of course, she saw nothing wrong with her actions.

    • Again, I think your point about needing to make changes on a larger societal level here is key to the creation of truly multicultural education. Lately, with all the black face incidences popping up during Halloween this year, it is quite evident that both the American education system and society at large need to make significant changes in order for people, especially American white folks, to think and act differently. Thank you for raising this incredibly important point.

  4. In my opinion the potentially ‘ugly’ part of multicultural education is the reality in classrooms and school systems that have tried to adopt this model. This model is ideal for a suburban school with the means to implement this, however, it is cannot be implemented in a school where teachers are teaching for the test. In a sense, the concept of ________ History Month makes sense. The school system is set up in a way that multicultural learning can only happen that way.

  5. The idea of multicultural education is great, and there is definitely a need for it, but I feel like it’s much deeper than black faces at Halloween and the model being implemented at suburban schools. Stephanie and Lauren are correct that the education systems needs to make a change as well as society.
    In my opinion, People of Color aren’t valued in the American education system or in American Society. This concept of “the other” has always been engrained in America’s blood since it’s birth, and there has been instances where they have turned races against each other. For example, most Black people are pitted against each other and we have this deep seeded complex of colorism.
    If there does come a time where we are able to implement an effective multicultural education, I think it should be taught at all schools, so all cultures are taught the value of their own culture and the value of others.

  6. I’m not even sure I know what multicultural education is as a concept, since my education seems to have always been multicultural, without being called that. I mean, I guess I’m trying to say that I would have never given my educational experience a “name” or “label” until I see what it is here in the USA. For my entire education from primary to tertiary level, I’ve had to learn the history, music, food, religion, dance (and actually do it! lol) of all the culture that make up my home country – it was just always there and always expected and everybody participated and “tried on” various cultural practices.

    I can only understand education as “multicultural” within a context of having been “forced” to include “the others” when historically “the others” have excluded, oppressed or denied.

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