America has always been referred to as a melting pot, but ideally, it’s a place where we strive to invite everyone to celebrate exactly who they are. As the US population is becoming increasingly diverse and technology makes the world feel increasingly smaller, it is time to make every classroom a multicultural classroom.
What is Multicultural Education?
Multicultural education is more than celebrating Cinco de Mayo with tacos and piñatas or reading the latest biography of Martin Luther King Jr. It is an educational movement built on basic American values such as freedom, justice, opportunity, and equality. It is a set of strategies aimed to address the diverse challenges experienced by rapidly changing U.S. demographics. And it is a beginning step to shifting the balance of power and privilege within the education system.
The goals of multicultural education include:
- Creating a safe, accepting and successful learning environment for all
- Increasing awareness of global issues
- Strengthening cultural consciousness
- Strengthening intercultural awareness
- Teaching students that there are multiple historical perspectives
- Encouraging critical thinking
- Preventing prejudice and discrimination
Advantages of Multicultural Education
According to the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME), multicultural education:
- Helps students develop positive self-image.
- Offers students an equitable educational opportunity.
- Allows multiple perspectives and ways of thinking.
- Combats stereotypes and prejudicial behavior.
- Teaches students to critique society in the interest of social justice.
Road Blocks to Implementing Multicultural Education
Contrary to popular belief, multicultural education is more than cultural awareness, but rather an initiative to encompass all under-represented groups (people of color, women, people with disabilities, etc) and to ensure curriculum and content including such groups is accurate and complete.
Unfortunately, multicultural education is not as easy as a yearly heritage celebration or supplemental unit here and there. Rather, it requires schools to reform traditional curriculum.
Too often, students are misinformed and misguided. Not all textbooks present historical content fully and accurately. For instance, Christopher Columbus is celebrated as the American hero who discovered America. This take on history completely ignores the pre-European history of Native Americans and the devastation that colonization had on them. Some history books are being revised, but often, it’s much easier to teach that “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
Most curriculums also focus more on North America and Europe than any other region. Most students have learned about genocide through stories of the Holocaust, but do they know that hundreds of thousands of people are being killed in places like Darfur and Rwanda? Despite our close proximity to Latin America, American schools typically spend little time reading Latin American literature or learning about the culture and history?
Thus, multicultural education is most successful when implemented as a schoolwide approach with reconstruction of not only curriculum, but also organizational and institutional policy.
Unfortunately most educational institutions are not prepared to implement multicultural education in their classrooms. Multicultural education requires a staff that is not only diverse, but also culturally competent. Educators must be aware, responsive and embracing of the diverse beliefs, perspectives and experiences. They must also be willing and ready to address issues of controversy. These issues include, but are not limited to, racism, sexism, religious intolerance, classism, ageism, etc.
What You Can Do in Your Classroom
Just because we’re facing an uphill battle doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take those first steps. To integrate multicultural education in your classroom and your school, you can:
- Integrate a diverse reading list that demonstrates the universal human experience across cultures
- Encourage community participation and social activism
- Go beyond the textbook
- By supplementing your curriculum with current events and news stories outside the textbook, you can draw parallels between the distant experiences of the past and the world today.
- Creating multicultural projects that require students to choose a background outside of their own
- Suggest that your school host an in-service professional development on multi-cultural education in the classroom
Favorite Lessons in Multicultural Education
Analyze issues of racism through pop culture.
Example: Study the affects of WWII for Japanese Americans through political cartoons, movies, photography, etc.
Analyze issues of socioeconomic class through planning and development.
Example: Design a development project with solutions to the needs of those living in poverty stricken communities.
Analyze issues of sexism through media.
Example: Make a scrapbook of stereotypical portrayals of both men and women. Compare both positive and negative stereotypes and determine the struggles they face as a result of these stereotypes.
Becoming Multicultural Educators by Geneva Gay
Beyond Heros and Holidays by Enid Lee
Lies My Teachers Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen