Multicultural education

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Multicultural education is a set of educational strategies developed to assist teachers when responding to the rapidly changing demographics of their students. It provides students with knowledge about the histories, cultures, and contributions of diverse groups; it assumes that the future society is pluralistic. It draws on insights from a number of different fields, including ethnic studies and women studies, and reinterprets content from related academic disciplines.[1] It is a way of teaching that promotes the principles of inclusion, diversity, democracy, skill acquisition, inquiry, critical thought, value of perspectives, and self-reflection.[2] This method of teaching is found to be effective in promoting educational achievements among immigrants students[3] and is thus attributed to the reform movement behind the transformation of schools.

Aims and objectives[edit]

The aims and objectives of multicultural education tend to vary among educational philosophers and liberal political theorists. Educational philosophers argue for preservation of the minority group culture, by fostering children's development of autonomy and introducing them to new and different ideas. This form of exposure assists children in thinking more critically, as well as, encourage them to have a more open mindset.[4] On the other hand, political theorists advocate a model of multicultural education that warrants social action. Hence, students are equipped with knowledge, values, and skills necessary to evoke and participate in societal changes, resulting in justice for otherwise victimized and excluded ethnic groups. Under such a model, teachers serve as agents of such change, promoting relevant democratic values and empowering students to act.[5] Multicultural education has a host of other gains and goals:

  • Promote civic good
  • Rectify historical records
  • Increase self-esteem of non-mainstream students
  • Increase diversified student exposure
  • Preserve minority group culture
  • Foster children's autonomy
  • Promote social justice and equity
  • Enable students to succeed economically in an integrated, multicultural world[4]

The outcomes listed might require great investment or additional effort from the teacher to ensure that the goals being sought are met. Multicultural education, in its ideal form,must be in an active and intentional structure, rather than a passive, accidental approach.

There are infinite ways to assure that such an educational approach is purposeful and successful. Adaptation and modification to established curriculum serve as an example of an approach to preserving minority group culture.[6] Brief sensitivity training, separate units on ethnic celebrations, and closer attention paid to instances of prejudice, are examples of minimal approaches, which are less likely to reap long term benefits for students. Multicultural education should span beyond autonomy, by exposing students to global uniqueness, fostering deepened understanding, and providing access to varied practices, ideas, and ways of life; it is a process of societal transformation and reconstruction.[4] "Creating inclusive campus environments is challenging, but there is also great personal reward to be gained from helping create a campus 'laboratory for learning how to live and interrelate within a complex world' and to prepare students to make significant contributions to that world."[7]


Multicultural education and politics[edit]

Advocates of democracy in schooling, led by John Dewey (1859–1952), argued that public education was needed to educate all children. Dewey believed in pragmatism, meaning, children learn better by experiencing a hands on approach. Dewey was convinced that reality is only what those experience, so children must interact with their environment, such as other children of different races, ethnicity, and socioeconomic backgrounds. 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 published again in 2003. According to Barber, multicultural education in public schools would promote acceptance of diversity. Levinson (2009) argues that "multicultural education is saddled with so many different conceptions that it is inevitably self-contradictory both in theory and in practice, it cannot simultaneously achieve all of the goals it is called upon to serve" (p. 428) Multicultural education should reflect the student body, as well as promote understanding of diversity to the dominant culture and be inclusive, visible, celebrated and tangible. Multicultural education is appropriate for everyone. According to Banks (2013), "a major goal of multicultural education is to change teaching and learning approaches so that students of both genders and from diverse cultural, ethnic, and language groups will have equal opportunities to learn in educational institutions" (p. 10). Citizens need multicultural education in order to enter into the dialogue with fellow citizens and future citizens. Furthermore, multicultural education should include preparation for an active, participatory citizenship. Multicultural education is a way to promote the civic good. Levinson (2009) describes four ways to do so: From learning about other cultures comes tolerance, tolerance promotes respect, respect leads to open mindedness which results in civic reasonableness and equality (p. 431-432)

James Banks[edit]

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.[8]

Meira Levinson[edit]

According to Levinson, three distinct groups present different conceptions of "multicultural education." These groups are: political and educational philosophers, educational theorists, and educational practitioners. In the minds of the members of these groups, multicultural education has different, and sometimes conflicting, aims within schools. Philosophers see multicultural education as a method of response to minorities within a society who advocate for their own group's rights or who advocate for special considerations for members of that group, as a means for developing a child's sense of autonomy, and as a function of the civic good. Educational theorists differ from philosophers in that theorists seek to restructure schools and curriculum to enact "social justice and real equality" (Levinson, 2010, p. 433). By restructuring schools in this way, educational theorists hope that society will thus be restructured as students who received a multicultural education become contributing members of the political landscape. The third and final group, educational practitioners, holds the view that multicultural education increases the self-esteem of students from minority cultures and prepares them to become successful in the global marketplace. Though there are overlaps in these aims, Levinson notes that one goal, cited by of all three prominent groups within the field of education, is that of "righting the historical record" (p. 435).

Joe Kincheloe and Shirley Steinberg[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] Within their taxonomy, Kincheloe and Steinberg break down multiculturalism into five categories: conservative multiculturalism, liberal multiculturalism, pluralist multiculturalism, left-essentialist multiculturalism, and critical multiculturalism. These categories are named based on beliefs held by the two largest schools of political thought (liberalism and conservatism) within American society, and they reflect the tenets of each strand of political thought. In terms of Levinson's (2010) ideas, conservative multiculturalism, liberal multiculturalism, and pluralist multiculturalism view multicultural education as an additive to existing curriculum, while left-essentialist multiculturalism and critical multiculturalism see to restructure education, and thus, society.

Aiden Kinkade[edit]

Aiden Kinkade's Democratic Equality ideology, which is defined in Labaree's article, Public Goods, Private Goods: The American Struggle Over Educational Goals is a perfect example of different aspects of Multicultural Education. A teacher using Labaree's Democratic Equality, would have students who are able to feel like they belong in the classroom, which teaches students equal treatment, and gives support to multiculturalism, non-academic curriculum options, and cooperative learning (Labaree (1997), 45). Labaree use of Democratic Equality supports a multicultural education because "in the democratic political arena, we are all considered equal (according to the rule of one person, one vote), but this political equality can be undermined if the social inequality of citizens grows too great" (Labaree (1997), p. 42). By providing opportunities to engaged and enrich children with different cultures, abilities, and ethnicities we allow children to become more familiar with people that are different from them, hoping to allow a greater acceptance in society. By representing a variety of cultures reflected by the students in the classroom, children will feel like they have a voice or a place at school.

History in the United States[edit]

Multicultural affairs offices and centers were established to reconcile the inconsistencies in students' experiences by creating a space on campus where students who were marginalized because of their culture could feel affirmed and connected to the institution.[7] Initial steps towards multicultural education can be traced as far back as 1896 with the United States Supreme Court case, Plessy v. Ferguson. In this controversial case, the decision upheld the constitutionality of racial segregation in all public establishments under the policy of "separate but equal."

Even after the adopting the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865, where slavery was officially abolished, there was still great racial tension within the United States. To help support the ideals contained within the Thirteenth Amendment, Congress adopted the Fourteenth Amendment, which provided all citizens the privileges and immunities clause, as well as the equal protection clause.

The complete assimilation of all segments of a community is necessary for it to be immune to innuendo of threat from the unfamiliar. Multicultural education stands as a shield against divisive rumors, and so The Springfield Plan was implemented during the 1940s in Springfield, Massachusetts, by advocates for the Institute for Propaganda Analysis. The Springfield Plan addressed racism as one of the more debilitating weaknesses of a community.

It was the equal protection clause within the Fourteenth Amendment that stirred the debate of racial equality in 1954. The unanimous 9-0 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education ruled that separate schools for black and white students was, in fact unequal, thus overturning the 60-year-old Plessy v. Ferguson decision. It was this victory that widened the path towards multicultural education and laid the course for nationwide integration, as well as a tremendous boost for the civil rights movement. Multicultural education considers an equal opportunity for learning beyond the simple trappings of race and gender. It includes students from varying social classes, ethnic groups, sexual identities, and additional cultural characteristics.[5] On the other hand, there are other views that show the contrary. The fame of Brown v. Board of Education was to undercover all the issues on segregation that were still happening in schools. No matter how much everyone talked or used Brown v. Board of Education as a source to show a positive impact on integration, the reality was that students were still being treated unequally and separated from the rest.[9]

10 years later the Civil Rights Act of 1964, known as "the most sweeping civil rights legislation since Reconstruction" was enacted. It outlawed discrimination in public spaces and establishments, made it illegal for any workplace and employment discrimination, and it made integration possible for schools and other public spaces possible.[10] Students of exception are also a group that civil rights advocates have been fighting for in the implementation of quality multicultural education. With the continued support from civil rights groups coming out of their struggle, many of these students found support on a scale much larger due to the major push in education to provide equity to all students.

In 1968, the implementation of the Bilingual Education Act was prompted by limited English-speaking minorities, especially Spanish-speaking citizens who denounced the idea of assimilation into the Western way of thinking in fear of losing their personal connectedness to one's heritage and cultural ideals. It was in their hopes that "their lives and histories be included in the curriculum of schools, colleges, and universities…multicultural educators sought to transform the Euro-centric perspective and incorporate multiple perspectives into the curriculum". After 36 years, the Bilingual Education Act was dissolved and in 2002 the needs of English Language Learners were picked up by the No Child Left Behind Act.

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was a way to eliminate discrimination in public accommodations, housing, employment, and education.[5] The movement pushed for minority teachers and administrators, community control and revision of textbooks to reflect the diversity of peoples in the United States. Multicultural education became a standard in university studies for new teachers, as Fullinwider states. One of the main focuses of this study was to have students identify their own culture as important, as well as, recognize the unique differences in other cultures. Multicultural education began to represent the significance in understanding and respecting diversity in various groups as much as finding the important meaning within one's own cultural identity. The success of the Civil Rights Movement sparked an interest in the women's rights movement, along with the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. Currently, "practicing educators use the term multicultural education to describe a wide variety of programs and practices related to educational equity, women, ethnic groups, language minorities, low-income groups, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people, and people with disabilities".[5] Additionally, learning styles within these groups can be different and recognizing this has supported changes educators are making to their approaches in the classroom. There is not a single standard for each sub group as it relates to learning styles. A general example is African-American students learn more productively in a group setting because their cultural components showcase a stronger attachment to the whole, as mentioned by Fullinwider. European-Americans, as an example, could be viewed to be more independent based on their cultural ties to learning styles.

During the 1980s, educators developed a new approach to the field of multicultural education, examining schools as social systems and promoting the idea of educational equality.[11] The 1982 Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court shed light on the advances in the field of multicultural education as it upheld the educational rights of illegal immigrant children. In the 1990s, educators expanded the study of multicultural education to consider "larger societal and global dimensions of power, privilege, and economics."[11] The shifting student populations of the 20th century have given multicultural education a new perspective to see the classroom as a community of diversity amongst its learners and not one of assimilation to a dominant culture[12] The continued advancement of ideas to improve multicultural education is allowing students and teachers to strive for improving exposure to all cultural differences while never seeking an end to the progress. The numbers of minority students continue to increase in education that a multicultural approach is no longer looked at simply as educating the minority, as they will soon be the majority. Education has had to take a deeper look as educators recognize an increasingly multicultural nation and a shrinking planet demands people who are critical thinkers able to handle the complex realities of multicultural differences.[12] At the turn of the century in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act, aimed primarily at helping disadvantaged students, required "all public schools receiving federal funding to administer a state-wide standardized test annually to all students."[13] Also, with the Race to the Top initiative, "Many advocates of multicultural education quickly found attention to diversity and equity being replaced by attention to standards and student test scores".[5]

As multicultural education moves rapidly into the mainstream of the 21st century, the current focus is on moving towards an "intercultural model that advances a climate of inclusion where individual and group differences are valued."[7] However, one must not forget the initial intentions of this model. When the civil rights movement and women's rights movement gained significant traction in support of their freedoms, multicultural education was beginning to receive similar support. Initially, multicultural education had intentions to expose and educate on the institutionalized racism that existed in the education system. Schools were, and had for many years, approached education from a singular historical perspective, aimed to educate a narrow student population. What seems to have been lost with the introduction of multicultural education was the desired outcome. Many people at the time of these various freedom movements sought to expose the lack of diversity in curriculum by introducing more culturally diverse content. The field of multicultural education can be criticized for turning away from its initial critique of racism in education[14] and allowing the superficial exposure of cultures to become the standard in multicultural education. It should be remembered that inequality and oppression of families and communities was the initial objective set forth with this new idea of multicultural education. Colleges and public schools can make improvements to this field by revisiting the foundations of this freedom movement to be racism existing in education. Many minority groups are already recognizing an importance to be based strongly in one's own cultural identity before attempting to enter into a multicultural world continually dominated by systematic levels of oppression.[14]

Implementation in the classroom[edit]

Multicultural education encompasses many important dimensions. Practicing educators can use the dimensions as a way to incorporate culture in their classrooms. The five dimensions listed below are:[15]

  1. Content Integration: Content integration deals with the extent to which teachers use examples and content from a variety of cultures in their teaching.
  2. Knowledge construction: Teachers need to help students understand, investigate, and determine how the implicit cultural assumptions, frames of reference, perspectives, and biases within a discipline influence the ways in which knowledge is constructed.
  3. Prejudice Reduction: This dimension focuses on the characteristics of students' racial attitudes and how they can be modified by teaching methods and materials.
  4. Empowering School Culture: Grouping and labeling practices, sports participation, disproportionality in achievement, and the interaction of the staff and the students across ethnic and racial lines must be examined to create a school culture that empowers students from diverse racial, ethnic, and gender groups.
  5. Equity Pedagogy: An equity pedagogy exists when teachers modify their teaching in ways that will facilitate the academic achievement of students from diverse racial, cultural, gender, and social-class groups.

Multicultural education can be implemented on the macro-level with the implementation of programs and culture at the school-wide or district-wide level and also at the mico-level by specific teachers within their individual classrooms.

School and district-wide practices for the promotion of multicultural education[edit]

While individual teachers may work to teach in ways that support multicultural ideas, in order to truly experience a multicultural education, there must be a commitment at the school or district level. In developing a school or district wide plan for multicultural education, Dr. Steven L. Paine, West Virginia State Superintendent of schools gives these suggestions:

  • Involve stakeholders in the decision-making process.
  • Examine the school climate and culture and the roles played by both students and staff.
  • Gather information on what is currently being done to promote multicultural education already.
  • Establish school-wide activities throughout the year that support multicultural themes.
  • Focus on student and teacher outcomes that involve a knowledge of diversity, respect, cooperation, and communication. Involve the community in this plan.[16]

Multicultural teaching strategies and practices[edit]

Robert K. Fullinwider (2003) describes one rather controversial method for multicultural teaching: teaching to "culturally distinct" learning styles. While studies have shown that "the longer these students of color remain in school, the more their achievement lags behind that of White mainstream students",[17] it is still highly debated whether or not learning styles, are indeed culturally distinctive, and furthermore, whether implementing different teaching strategies with different racial or ethnic groups would help or further alienate minority groups.[18]

All students have different learning styles so incorporating multicultural education techniques into the classroom, may allow all students to be more successful. "Multicultural education needs to enable students to succeed economically in a multicultural world by teaching them to be comfortable in a diverse workforce and skillful at integrating into a global economy".[19] Teacher's should align the curriculum with the groups being taught, rather than about them. Every child can learn so it is the teacher's responsibility to not "track" them, but rather to personalize the curriculum to reach every student. "Teachers need to assume that students are capable of learning complex material and performing at a high level of skill. Each student has a personal, unique learning style that teachers discover and build on when teaching".[20]

Another important consideration in implementing multicultural education into the classroom is how deep to infuse multicultural ideas and perspectives into the curriculum. There are four different approaches or levels to curricular infusion. They are:

  1. The Contributions Approach – Dubbed the "Heroes and Holidays" approach; it is the easiest to implement and makes the least impact on the current curriculum. It does however have significant limitations in meeting the goals of multicultural education because "it does not give students the opportunity to see the critical role of ethnic groups in US society. Rather, the individuals and celebrations are seen as an addition or appendage that is virtually unimportant to the core subject areas".[21]
  2. The Additive Approach – Called the ethnic additive approach; it is slightly more involved than the contributions approach, but still requires no major restructuring of the curriculum. While this approach is often a first step towards a more multicultural curriculum, it is still very limited in that it still presents the topic from the dominant perspective. "Individuals or groups of people from marginalized groups in society are included in the curriculum, yet racial and cultural inequalities or oppression are not necessarily addressed".[21]
  3. The Transformative Approach – This approach requires pulling in multiple perspectives while discussing a topic. This approach is significantly more challenging to teach than the previous two: "it requires a complete transformation of the curriculum and, in some cases, a conscious effort on the part of the teacher to deconstruct what they have been taught to think, believe, and teach".[21]
  4. The Decision Making and Social Action Approach – This approach includes all of the elements of the transformative approach but also challenges students to work to bring about social change. The goal of this approach is not only to make students aware of past and present injustice, but to equip them and empower them to be the agents of change.[21]

In looking into practical strategies for implementing multicultural education into the classroom, Andrew Miller offers several suggestions that might provide helpful:

  • Get to know your students. Build relationships and learn about their backgrounds and cultures.
  • Use art as a starting point in discussions of cultural and racial issues.
  • Have students create collective classroom slang dictionaries.
  • Find places in your current curriculum to embed multicultural lessons, ideas, and materials. (Please note that for this to be most effective, it must be a continuous process, not merely the celebration of Black History Month or a small aside in a textbook.)
  • Allow controversy. Open your classroom up to respectful discussions about race, culture, and other differences.
  • Find allies in your administration who will support your work.[22]

Another essential part of multicultural teaching is examining your current lesson materials for bias that might alienate the students you are trying to teach. The Safe School Coalition warns against using a curricular material "if it omits the history, contributions and lives of a group, if ti demeans a group by using patronizing or clinically distancing language, or if it portrays a group in stereotyped roles with less than a full range of interests, traits and capabilities."[23]

Critical literacy practices in early childhood education[edit]

The development of multicultural education is introduced at a young age in order to allow children to build a global perspective.[24] Multicultural education can be introduced to children through the use of critical literacy practices; this will enable children to build an honest relationship with the world while recognizing multiple perspectives and ideologies.[24] Teachers can use critical literacy practices to pose questions that will make students analyze, question and reflect upon what they are reading. Critical literacy can be useful by enabling teachers to move beyond mere awareness of, and respect for, and general recognition of the fact that different groups have different values or express similar values in different ways. There are three different approaches to critical literacy:

  1. Examining texts for voice and perspective
  2. Using texts as a vehicle to examine larger social issues
  3. Using student's lives and experiences as the text and incorporating literacy practices[24]

The choice of literature is important. The books must be chosen with careful consideration over how they represent the culture it is displaying, making sure that it is void of any racial or cultural stereotypes and discrimination. Criteria includes books that:

  • Explore differences rather than making them invisible
  • Enrich understandings of history and life and give voice to those traditionally silenced or marginalized
  • Show how people can begin to take action on social issues
  • Explore dominant systems of meanings that operate in our society to position people and groups of people as "others"
  • Don't provide happily ever after endings or complex social problems[24]

"After reading these books, dialog can follow that will enable understanding and facilitate making connections to one's life. It is in this discussion that universal threads of similarities and the appreciation of differences may be explored in a way that will enable the students to make connections that span different cultures and continents. However rudimentary these connections may be, they serve as a starting point for a new way of thinking."[24]

Multicultural education programs implemented in schools[edit]

Focusing on minority groups can affect their future education. Cammarota's (2007)[25] Team Program, intended for high school Latino/a students of low socioeconomic status and considered "at risk" of dropping out, was made to improve test scores and complete credits in order to graduate. Students felt they went from not caring about school at all to having a sense of empowerment from the program, which led to motivation to get better grades, finish school and have more confidence in themselves as who they are. From student evaluations after the program was over, 93% of the students believed the curriculum encouraged them to pursue a higher education, and their rates of going to college was higher than the national average for Latino/a students across the United States. Team Program for other minorities in more schools can influence more student outlooks on their education and can assist them in completing necessary credits for high school graduation. When schools are able to focus on inequity of minority students, school can become the foundation to the students' futures and create a positive, safe experience for them, where they will feel empowered to carry out in their future education and verify their importance within themselves.

Multicultural education can ultimately affect the way students perceive themselves. Six students felt their multicultural self-awareness grew and felt supported in their growth after taking a multicultural education course aimed to see if their self-awareness altered (Lobb, 2012).[26] They also felt their cultural competency improved. Multicultural education is beneficial in academic, emotional and personal ways in which they learn about others and even themselves. As student perspectives of multicultural education remain positive, allowing other students to become exposed to this subject may encourage and conclude in consistent, positive attitudes towards other cultures.

Multicultural education curriculum examined in colleges[edit]

Multicultural education plays a huge role in the way students perceive themselves and others, but there is still more work to be done. In some college syllabi, there is cultural sensitivity and multicultural competence. However, a lot of them lack the design to prepare teachers with consistent ways of the defining principles of multicultural education and preparation of teaching multicultural education authentically (Gorski, 2008).[27] Multicultural education is a complex subject with many concepts. It is important for teachers to be fully knowledgeable of its depth and open to learn more about it as time goes on so they can create a safe space for their students. It is also important to see that although multicultural education is becoming more known and taught, there is still so much to learn and discover within this topic, and there always will be more to learn as we evolve. Even teachers need to be taught and become exposed to different dimensions of multicultural education in order to teach and revolutionize student attitudes about this topic.

Multicultural education programs implemented for teachers[edit]

New teachers can be blind to the diversity of their students, which can lead to generalizations and stereotypes about different cultures. New teachers being able to take a multicultural education class leads to increased knowledge of diversity, altering of attitudes towards multiculturalism, and preparedness of them teaching multicultural education to students of a variety of backgrounds (Wasonga, 2005).[28] Preparing those teachers include being able to effectively confront fears and openness of talking about sensitive subjects, such as diversity issues and transforming attitudes that students may also possess towards different cultures. Multicultural education courses conclude eye-opening measures for the teachers, including becoming more open to such issues and positively affected preparedness to teach about multicultural education to their students.

A similar result happened in another study, in which the multicultural education course led to "increased awareness, understanding, and appreciation of other cultures." This includes having a better vision of a multicultural setting in a classroom, become more flexible when it comes to multicultural issues, and becoming more open to different perspectives of different students (Cho & DeCastro-Ambrosetti, 2005).[29] Some pre-service teachers can still feel hesitant because of the lack of knowledge they still hold about multiculturalism, which can encourage further courses intended to educate teachers on the variety of cultures their students may possess.


Lack of a definition of culture[edit]

Many educators may think that when holding cultural parties, listening to music, or sampling foods related to different cultures that they are sufficiently promoting multiculturalism, but Fullinwider suggests these activities fail to address the deeper values and ideas behind cultural customs through which true understanding is reached (Fullinwider, 2005), and Levinson adds that such practices could lead to "trivializing real differences; teachers end up teaching or emphasizing superficial differences in order to get at fundamental similarities"[4] p. 443. Fullinwider also discusses challenges which could arise in multicultural education when teachers from the majority culture begin to delve into these deeper issues. For example, when majority teachers interact with minority students, the distinction between "high culture" and "home culture" needs to be clear or else faculty and staff members could mistakenly withdraw their rightful authority to evaluate and discipline students' conduct and quality of work (Fullinwider, 2005). To clarify, without a clear understanding of true culture, educators could easily misattribute detrimental conduct or sub-par behavior to a minority student's cultural background (Fullinwider, 2005) or misinterpret signs that a student may require out-of-school intervention. Both would result in the student not receiving a fitting and appropriate education.

Different ways it ignores minority students[edit]

Multicultural education in classroom settings has been a hidden factor that affects students with a diverse culture. Although multicultural education has positive approaches on helping students, there are ways in which it does not fully benefit all of those who need it.are several factors on how it does positively influence all students. For example, "It generally it ignores the minority students' own responsibility for their academic performance."[30] Students are seen as being self caretakers for their own education meaning they are the ones to hold responsible for their consequences, even if it results on affecting the student even more. A second factor is "multicultural education theories and programs are rarely based on the actual study of minority cultures and languages." The idea of multicultural education has increasingly been noted that it lacks the exploration of minority communities yet in the actual school environment exploration of minority children/students has occurred. Lastly, "The inadequacy of the multicultural education solution fails to separate minority groups that are able to cross cultural and language boundaries and learn successfully even though there were initial cultural barriers." In other words, students who belong to minority groups and are able to excel are left in the same classroom setting with those who are struggling. These factors shows how multicultural education has positive intentions but in the societal spectrum it lacks aspects that are crucial for the development of minority students.[31]

In-school application[edit]

Levinson notes that tenets of multicultural education have the potential to conflict directly with the purposes of educating in the dominant culture and some tenants conflict with each other.[4] One can observe this tug of war in the instance of whether multicultural education should be inclusive versus exclusive. Levinson argues that a facet of multicultural education (i.e.-preserving the minority culture) would require teaching only the beliefs of this culture while excluding others.[4] In this way, one can see how an exclusive curriculum would leave other cultures left out. Levinson also brings up, similar to Fullinwider, the conflict between minority group preservation and social justice and equity.[4] Many cultures, for example, favor power in the hands of men instead of women and even mistreat women in what is a culturally appropriate manner for them. When educators help to preserve this type of culture, they can also be seen encouraging the preservation of gender and other inequalities.[4]

Similar to the inclusive versus exclusive education debate, Levinson goes as far to suggest segregated schools to teach minority students in order to achieve a "culturally congruent"1 education. She argues that in a homogeneous class it is easier to change curriculum and practices to suit the culture of the students so that they can have equal educational opportunities and status in the culture and life of the school. Thus, when considering multicultural education to include teaching in a culturally congruent manner, Levinson supports segregated classrooms to aid in the success of this. Segregation, as she admits, blatantly goes against multiculturalism thus highlighting the inner conflicts that this ideology presents.

Another challenge to multicultural education is that the extent of multicultural content integration in a given school tends to be related to the ethnic composition of the student body. That is, as Agirdag and colleagues have shown,[32] teachers tend to incorporate more multicultural educational in schools with a higher share of ethnic minority students. However, there is no fundamental reason why only schools with ethnic minority pupils should focus on multicultural education. On the contrary, in particular there is a need for White students, who are largely separated from their ethnic minority peers in White-segregated schools, to become more familiar with ethnic diversity. While ethnic minority students learn in many contexts about the mainstream society in which they live, for White students the school context might be the only places where they can have meaningful encounters with ethnic and religious others.

School culture[edit]

Banks (2005) poses challenges that can occur at the systemic level of schools. First, it is noted that schools must rely on teachers' personal beliefs or a willingness to allow for their personal beliefs to be altered in order for multicultural education to truly be effective within classrooms. Second it requires for schools and teachers to knowledge that there is a blatant curriculum as well as a latent curriculum that operates within each school; with latent curriculum being the norms of the school that are not necessarily articulated but are understood and expected by all. Third schools must rely on teachers to teach towards students becoming global citizen which again, relies on teachers' willing to embrace other cultures in order to be able to convey to and open-mindedness to their students.

Fullinwider also brings to light the challenge of whether or not teachers believe and the effectiveness of a multicultural education. More specifically, he points out that teachers may fear bringing up matter within multicultural education that could truly be effective because said matters could be equally effective and potentially harmful (Fullinwider 2005). For example, discussing history between races and ethnic groups could help students to view different perspectives and foster understanding amongst groups or such a lesson could cause further division within the classroom and create a hostile environment for students.


  1. ^ Banks, J.A., & Banks, C.A.M. (Eds). (1995). Handbook of research on multicultural education. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 9780028957975
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