Multicultural education

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Multicultural education is a set of strategies and materials in U.S. education that were developed to assist teachers to respond to the many issues created by rapidly changing demographics of their students. It provides students knowledge about the histories, cultures, and contributions of diverse groups.

Multicultural education assumes that the future of U.S. society is pluralistic. Today, teachers in most urban areas face students from a variety of social classes and cultural and language groups. Many students do not share the middle-class, European American culture common to most college-educated teachers. Teachers find large numbers of English as a Second Language (ESL) students in their classes in both urban and rural areas such as Iowa and Utah. Multicultural classrooms promote decision-making and critical thinking while moving away toward cultural pluralism.

Multicultural educators seek to substantially reform schools to give diverse students an equal chance in school, in the job market, and in contributing to building healthy communities.[1] One of the leaders in the field of multicultural education, describes five dimensions of multicultural education: (1) content integration, (2) the knowledge construction process, (3) prejudice reduction, (4) an equity pedagogy, and (5) an empowering school culture and social structure.

Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg, Peter McLaren, Henry Giroux, Antonia Darder, Christine Sleeter, Ernest Morrell, Sonia Nieto, Rochelle Brock, Cherry A. McGee Banks, James A. Banks, Nelson Rodriguez, Leila Villaverde and many other scholars of critical pedagogy have offered an emancipatory perspective on multicultural education.

This theory concentrates on the need of including notions of race, class, and diversity while teaching. Multiculturalism supports the idea that students and their backgrounds and experiences should be the center of their education and that learning should occur in a familiar context that attends to multiple ways of thinking. If done correctly, students will develop a positive perception of themselves by demonstrating knowledge about the culture, history, and contributions of diverse groups. This way, multiculturalism is a tool for instilling students with pride and confidence in their unique and special backgrounds.

Kincheloe and Steinberg's taxonomy of multicultural education[edit]

Kincheloe and Steinberg in Changing Multiculturalism (1997) described confusion in the use of the terms "multiculturalism" and "multicultural education". In an effort to clarify the conversation about the topic, they developed a taxonomy of the diverse ways the term was used. The authors warn their readers that they overtly advocate a critical multicultural position and that readers should take this into account as they consider their taxonomy.[2]

Kincheloe and Steinberg's taxonomy of multiculturalism and multicultural education can be summarised as follows:

Conservative multiculturalism[edit]


  1. Unsuccessful minorities from culturally deprived backgrounds—undermined by a lack of family values.
  2. Common culture—WASP norms as invisible barometer for quality form the basis of the curriculum. These norms should be transferred to the next generation.
  3. Content of curriculum is decided by dominant cultural norms. I.Q. and achievement tests used uncritically to measure student acquisition of content and student cognitive ability.
  4. Non-white ethnic groups are studied in conservative multiculturalism as add-ons to the dominant culture, outsiders expected to melt into the Great Pot.
  5. The existing social order is just.
  6. Whiteness is not included as an ethnicity—it becomes an invisible barometer of normality.
  7. Education is a form of ethnicity striping for economic success.

Liberal multiculturalism[edit]


  1. Multicultural education should be based on a notion of “sameness”—we are all the same.
  2. Racial inequality exists because of a lack of opportunity for minority groups.
  3. Abstract individualism is central to Western social organization. In this context it is believed that all humans can succeed if given a chance.
  4. In abstract individualism we are free agents responsible for our own success or failure. Such a position, Kincheloe and Steinberg maintain, often fails to account for hidden forms of racism and norms devised around dominant cultural traits.
  5. Everyone enters the competitive race of life from the same starting-line.
  6. Celebrations of Black or Latino history month are positive ways of honoring ethnic groups. Critics believe that liberal multiculturalism in this context often tokenizes ethnicity with such add-ons.
  7. Whiteness still viewed as “non-ethnic” norm.
  8. Studies of racism, sexism, class-bias, homophobia, and colonial oppression viewed as “divisive.”
  9. Subjugated knowledge might be studied as a quaint manifestation of diversity—not profound alternative insights that provide everyone new and consciousness changing perspectives on the world.

Pluralist multiculturalism[edit]

Assumptions are the following:

  1. This discourse often has served as the mainstream articulation of multicultural education over the last 20 years.
  2. Pluralist multicultural education shares numerous features with liberal multicultural—it focuses more on difference than liberal multiculturalism.
  3. Like liberal multiculturalism, often serves as a form of regulation and decontextualisation that fails to problematise whiteness and the Eurocentric norm.
  4. Diversity is intrinsically valuable to the dominant culture in a globalizing world with its free market economy.
  5. Curriculum involves learning about Others, their knowledge, values, beliefs, and patterns of behavior.
  6. Social unfairness does exist and education should address prejudices and stereotypes.
  7. Education should build pride in minority groups’ heritage. It often studies members of such groups who have attained success (implies that anyone can make it).
  8. Psychological affirmation is the equivalent of socio-political empowerment.
  9. Like liberal multiculturalism often ignores issues of social class.
  10. Non-whites are gaining upward mobility and empowerment in ways not matched in reality.
  11. Race and ethnicity are viewed as private matters that hold little connection to the complex structures of patriarchy, class elitism and economic colonialism, and white supremacy.
  12. The coverage of harsh realities of race, class, gender, and sexual oppression does not have to be “upsetting.” Thus, the horrors of such realities often become a form of cultural tourism instead of a rigorous analysis of human suffering.
  13. As prejudice does exist between different cultures, children from multicultural families could play a role in building bridges within diverse cultures and help to improve this situation.
  14. In order to provide a comfortable education environment to multicultural students, colleges should pay more attention to caring about various cultures.
  15. In this multicultural society, people always get into the social groups with same cultures as them.
  16. In a pluralistic multicultural educational society, laws exist to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, gender, age, and creed. Even though there are laws, the society of the United States still contain behaviors that are derogatory to some ethnic, cultural, and social groups, and are preferential to others.
  17. Pluralist multicultural education segregates people. It also tends to isolate people in small individual groups that share the same cultural background.
  18. More social unfairness is induced by the pluralistic approach to multicultural education.
  19. In pluralistic multicultural education, the differences between cultures are usually being focused upon instead of the places where the cultures share commonalities.
  20. The main flaw in United States is the fact that pluralism usually separates and isolates people racially, socially, and culturally different. People with similar cultures usually come together and form bigger cultures. For example, China Town, Little Italy, and The Hood are all formed from a blend of cultures. These cultures usually are defined by economic differences, not by ethnic differences.

Left-essentialist multiculturalism[edit]


  1. A caveat: racism, class oppression, sexism, and homophobia are all forms of right-wing essentialism and have a far more pervasive impact on society than left-essentialist multiculturalism
  2. Cultural differences are central to multiculturalism.
  3. Races, ethnic groups, genders, and sexual orientations possess a specific set of characteristics that make them what they are.
  4. These essential traits are romanticized, even exoticized in a process that positions difference in a distant past of social/cultural authenticity. This removes various groups from history, culture, and power relations and returns them to a primeval past.
  5. One’s ethnicity or gender, their politics of identity guarantees that their pronouncements will be “politically correct.” Such a position undermines our attempt to analyze the ambiguous ways that historical forces shape our lives and our education.
  6. That the “good guys” are now the “bad guys” and vice-versa. The curricula that come from this assumption simply invert traditional stereotypes and truth claims. Thus, a multicultural education is created that constructs a seamless history that in its moralistic reductionism fails to understand the subtlety of racism and other forms of oppression.
  7. Subjugated knowledge is important in this context, but it is often romanticized as a pure manifestation of natural truth. In this way it can be passed along as a new authoritarian canon.
  8. Second caveat: Kincheloe and Steinberg in their critique of left-essentialist multiculturalism in no way imply a rejection of the dire need for African American/Latino/indigenous studies or African American/Latino/indigenous based curricula. Because of the erasure of such knowledge in mainstream curriculum, such scholarship and such curriculum development is necessary. Such ethnic knowledges as well as gender, class, and sexual knowledges need to be studied as both separate and integrated phenomena—separate from white, male, middle/upper class, and heterosexual experience and inseparable from them at the same time.

Critical multiculturalism[edit]

  1. Representations of race, class, gender, and sexuality are grounded on larger complex social struggles.
  2. A multicultural curriculum is part of a larger effort to transform the social, cultural, and institutional structures that generate these representations and perpetuate oppression.
  3. Race, class, gender, sexual differences exist in the context of power and privilege.
  4. Unlike liberal, pluralist, and conservative positions, justice in Western societies already exists and only needs to be distributed more equitably.
  5. Community is not built simply on consensus but on, as Paulo Freire put it, unity in diversity. In a multiethnic society that respects but does not essentialize differences, great gains can be realized in the cultivation of critical thinking and ethical reasoning.
  6. A homogeneous community grounded on [consensus] may be unable to criticize the injustice and exclusionary practices that undermine it.
  7. Reform of cultural pathology often comes from the recognition of difference, from the interaction with individuals who do not suffer from the same injustices.
  8. Multicultural education is based on solidarity in difference: grants social groups enough respect to listen to their perspectives and use them to consider existing social values; realizes lives of individuals in different groups are interconnected to the point that everyone is accountable to everyone else.
  9. It is essential to make commitment to the legitimation of multiple traditions of knowledge.
  10. Students come to see their own points-of-view as one of many socially and historically constructed ways of seeing.
  11. Difference in solidarity expands their social imagination, their vision of what could be.
  12. Notions of whiteness and the effects of “being white” should be critically examined—multicultural curriculum in this context explores the social construction of whiteness as an ethnicity. In this move the curriculum is dramatically changed, it investigates both self and other.
  13. White male experience must be problematised as the norm, the invisible standard by which other cultures are measured.
  14. Subjugated knowledge becomes a living body of knowledge open to different interpretations. It is not simply passed along as the new canon, but is viewed in relation to the old canon.

Departments of multicultural affairs[edit]

Universities in the United States frequently have a Department of Multicultural Affairs, with the aim of creating an environment that promotes diversity and multiculturalism.[3] According to Talbot,[4] diversity is an environment that consists of the tangible presence of individuals all of which represent unique and different attitudes, characteristics, attributes, and beliefs. Multiculturalism is a developmental journey through which an individual enhances knowledge and skills about different cultures so that he/she can feel comfortable in any situation and can communicate effectively with other individuals from any culture.[5] Talbot states, “Multiculturalism is not an inherent characteristic of any individual, no matter his or her race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender; rather, it is based on an individual’s ability and openness to learn”.[6] Therefore, Multicultural Affairs is a college or university’s efforts to incorporate these two concepts within their campuses. Hence, the purpose of Multicultural Affairs is to create an inclusive environment that can support, empower, and encourage all students to develop socio and cultural awareness of diverse cultural backgrounds and lifestyles, as well as, to provide safe inclusive environment where such development can occur.[citation needed]

In some form or another, diversity and multiculturalism are integrated or embedded in the framework of many, if not all, college campuses. Multicultural Affairs in some campus environments is a division of Student Affairs, but in others it functions under the Admission Department. Also, Multicultural Affairs serves under different names such as, Ethnic Resource Center, Student Support Services, or Diversity Office. Although they are different in name, many share the same goals and purposes.[citation needed]by mia attard

Castellanos and Gloria proposed that in order for campuses to create a meaningful multicultural environment they must follow seven core competencies, including (1) helping and interpersonal skills; (2) assessment and evaluation; (3) teaching and training; (4) ethical and legal experience; (5) theory and translation; (6) administrative and management skills; (7) multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skills.[7]

Multicultural Affairs Centers address and implement cultural awareness and diversity differently. The Multicultural Affairs Centers provide a wide range of support programs for students. Each center encourages student participation in campus life, student organizations, academic excellence, and community service by providing advising, advocacy, mentoring, and leadership training to individual students as they pertain to overall student development issues. While Multicultural Affairs centers their efforts on placing a value of diversity and building a sense of community, campuses implement their efforts in many ways.[citation needed]

Multicultural education in k-12 schools in the U.S.[edit]

Advocates of democracy in schooling, lead by John Dewey (1859–1952), argued that public education was needed to educate all children. Universal voting, along with universal education would make our society more democratic. An educated electorate would understand politics and the economy and make wise decisions . Later, by the 1960s, public education advocates argued that educating working people to a higher level (such as the G.I. Bill) would complete our transition to a deliberative or participatory democracy. This position is well developed by political philosopher Benjamin R. Barber in Strong Democracy: Participatory Politics for a New Age, first published in 1984 and re published in 2003. Multicultural education in public schools would promote acceptance of diversity. Multicultural Education should reflect the student body, as well as promote understanding of diversity to the dominant culture. Multicultural Education should be inclusive, visible, celebrated and tangible. Multicultural education is appropriate for everyone. Citizens need multicultural education in order to enter into the dialogue with your fellow citizens and future citizens . Further, multicultural education should include preparation for an active, participatory citizenship.

James Banks, a lifetime leader in multicultural education and a former president of both the National Council for the Social Studies and the American Educational Research Association, describes the balancing forces in [8]( 4th. Edition, 2008) “Citizenship education must be transformed in the 21st.century because of the deepening racial, ethnic, cultural, language and religious diversity in nation-states around the world. Citizens in a diverse democratic society should be able to maintain attachments to their cultural communities as well as participate effectively in the shared national culture. Unity without diversity results in cultural repression and hegemony. Diversity without unity leads to Balkanization and the fracturing of the nation-state. Diversity and unity should coexist in a delicate balance in democratic multicultural nation-states.” [9] Planning curriculum for schools in a multicultural democracy involves making some value choices. Schools are not neutral. The schools were established and funded to promote democracy and citizenship. A pro democracy position is not neutral; teachers should help schools promote diversity. The myth of school neutrality comes from a poor understanding of the philosophy of positivism. Rather than neutrality, schools should plan and teach cooperation, mutual respect, the dignity of individuals and related democratic values. Schools, particularly integrated schools, provide a rich site where students can meet one another, learn to work together, and be deliberative about decision making. In addition to democratic values, deliberative strategies and teaching decision making provide core procedures for multicultural education.

From: Choosing Democracy; a p[10] ractical guide to multicultural education. 4th. ed. 2010. Used with permission. pp. 340–341.


  1. ^ Banks (2008)[page needed]
  2. ^ Kincheloe and Steinberg, Changing Multiculturalism (1997)[page needed]
  3. ^ "Office of Multicultural Affairs". 
  4. ^ Talbot, 2003[page needed]
  5. ^ Komives & Woodard, 2003.[page needed]
  6. ^ p. 426.
  7. ^ Castellanos and Gloria (2007)[page needed]
  8. ^ An Introduction to Multicultural Education.
  9. ^ (Banks, 2008)
  10. ^ Campbell, Duane (2010). Choosing Democracy: a Practical Guide to Multicultural Education. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. pp. 340–341. ISBN 978-0-13-503481-1. 
  • Banks, James. An Introduction to Multicultural Education. 4th. edition. 2008,Pearson, Allyn/Bacon.
  • Campbell, Duane. Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to Multicultural Education. 4th. edition. 2010. Pearson, Allyn /Bacon
  • Kincheloe, Joe and Shirley Steinberg. Changing Multiculturalism. 1997, London: Open University Press.
  • Steinberg, Shirley. Multi/Intercultural Conversations. 2001, NY: Peter Lang.
  • Kincheloe, Joe, Steinberg, Shirley, Rodriguez, Nelson, and Chennault, Ronald. White Reign: Deploying Whiteness in America. 1998. NY: St. Martin's.
  • Rodriguez, Nelson and Leila Villaverde. Dismantling White Privilege, 2000. NY: Peter Lang.
  • Gresson, Aaron. America’s Atonement: Racial Pain, Recovery Rhetoric, and the Pedagogy of Healing, 2004. NY: Peter Lang.
  • Dei, George J. Sefa. Racists Beware: Uncovering Racial Politics in the Post Modern Society, 2008. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
  • Talbot. (2003). In S. R. Komives & D. Woodward, Jr. (Eds.). Student services: A handbook for the profession. (4th Edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Castellanos, J., Gloria, A. M., Mayorga, M. M., Salas, C. (2007). Student Affairs Professionals’ Self-report of Multicultural Competence: Understanding Awareness, Knowledge, and Skills. NASPA Journal, 44(4), Art. 2. Retrieved September 9, 2008, from
  • Pratt, Mary Louise. New York: (1991) 33-40. Arts of the Contact Zone. Retrieved 8 November 2010, from

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