Cultural pluralism refers to societies that allow two or more discrete groups to function equally and separately, with no assimilation expectation or requirement of one into the other. These groups are often established as a result of refusing or not being allowed to assimilate into the dominate culture, and maintain their own unique communities. Understanding cultural differences is still a societal and educational issue. More understanding, commitment and research is needed before individuals truly embrace cultural pluralism.
Keywords American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE); Assimilation; Brown v. Board of Education; Cultural Incompetence; Cultural Pluralism; Culture; Curriculum; Diversity; Equal Opportunity; Ethnicity; Multicultural Education; National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE); No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Teacher Education; Teacher Preparation Programs
Today, the United States is significantly more diverse than ever, representing not only obvious differences like gender and race, but also diverse classes, native languages, sexual orientations, religions, ages, and physical and mental abilities. The population will increasingly become more and more diverse as we move further into the new millennium. Children of color will make up half the school-age population by the year 2040 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As the United States ethnic population changes, variations in languages, values, and ideas will be seen nationwide, including in American schools, where multicultural education is, and will continue to be a vital part of educating children (Gollnick & Chinn, 2006).
Multicultural education is an educational approach that integrates four factors into a curriculum to encourage diversity and equality:
• The instruction of students from different backgrounds,
• The study of ethnic and other cultural groups,
• The development of critical thinking skills, and
• A focus on human relations (Johnson, Musial, Hall, Gollnick & Dupuis, 2004).
Cognitive, behavioral, and humanistic strategies are all incorporated into multicultural education, which lends itself to current educational, counseling, sociological and psychological programs (Obiakor, 2007; Smith, Richards, MacGranley, & Obiakor, 2004).
Roots in the Civil Rights Movement
The foundation for multicultural education came from the fight for equal opportunity in the early 1960s. As women, low-income citizens and others from oppressed ethnic and religious group fought for various equalities, they also fought to have the same educational opportunities as white men. Despite opposition from the community, courageous educators from minority groups established schools to support underrepresented groups of people. For example, in 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, separate-but-equal education for African American and White students was declared illegal by the Supreme Court. This case, along with other civil rights fights, opened the door for multicultural education, making room for education about African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans in the classroom. Along with these events, issues regarding equality for women, people with disabilities and limited-English speakers were given attention (Johnson, Musial, Hall, Gollnick & Dupuis, 2004).
Culturally Pluralistic Groups
Cultural pluralism in education also evolved from the struggle for equal opportunity and has a long history in the United States. Culturally Pluralistic groups are societies that allow two or more discrete groups to function equally and separately, with no assimilation expectation or requirement of one into the other. These groups are often established as a result of refusing to, or not being allowed to, assimilate into the dominate culture, and maintain their own unique communities. Members of culturally pluralistic groups believe that being different does not mean they are inferior. They establish agencies, institutions and governing structures that run services within their ethnic communities. Examples of culturally pluralistic communities include ethnic neighborhoods such as those known as Little Italy, Korea Town, Chinatown, Harlem and Amish communities. In some areas, deaf and/or blind individuals have developed communities made up of people with similar disabilities that they feel comfortable with (Gollnick & Chinn, 2006; Pai, Adler & Shadiow, 2006).
The foundation for cultural pluralism is based on a belief in equal opportunity for all individuals, respect for human dignity, and the understanding and acceptance that no one pattern of living must be the standard for everyone. In addition, cultural differences are seen as differences but not deficits (Pai, Adler & Shadiow, 2006). Though the Brown decision ruled that schools must consider race as a significant cultural force, it did little for culturally pluralistic differences in schools like disabilities, religion, or social class. Campbell (1976) explains that cultural pluralism in the schools deals with the need to recognize the diverse groups of students from different cultures and sub-cultures, and acknowledge that school attitudes and programs are affected by these differences.
Roots in the Constitution
Appleton (1983) writes that some believe cultural pluralism in the United States gained its roots from the pluralistic vision of the writers of the Constitution. Though their concern was with establishing and maintaining a standard of one dominant culture among the various political and economic factors represented among the thirteen states at that time, liberty and equality were a primary focus. During the later part of the eighteenth century, some diversity existed, but the cultural stock of America was predominately British, and acknowledging historic identities of non-English citizens was not top priority. Although at this time, laws had been established that mandated the adoption of the first ten amendments of the Constitution, cultural pluralism as a standard used to protect ethnic and cultural diversity had not been realized and did not evolve until years later.
The Era of Immigration
The history of cultural pluralism can be traced back to a period between 1880 and 1920 when immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia came to the U.S. Approximately thirty to forty million people came, increasing the population from fifty million to almost one hundred million. Industrialization, urbanization and an increase in large-scale corporations all came about with help from the increase in the population. This influx however, was not free of serious social problems, over-crowed ghettos, an increase in crime and political corruption, labor conflicts, and dissatisfaction among the working-class poor (Appleton, 1983).
The dominant native-born White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestants were the first to react to the new groups who had immigrated to the U.S. Their first order of business was to immediately and forcibly assimilate the millions of immigrants into the mainstream of American society. American public schools played a significant role in this assimilation through their efforts to "Americanize" children of immigrants. Children were taught using a strict Anglocentric curriculum. They were scolded if they used their native languages and teachers often belittled their cultural traditions and values they had been taught by their parents (Appleton, 1983).
The First Calls for Multicultural Education
In the early 1970s, the issue with U. S. schooling and its sole consideration of the majority population caused many educators and minority groups to become vocal. Citizens believed that the country was interested in genuine democracy but educators and minority groups argued that this was not the case for American schools. Failing to provide equal educational opportunities to disadvantaged students, minority groups and concerned educators called for multicultural education in the schools, and demanded that unique cognitive and learning styles, cultural norms, language patterns and communication styles of socioeconomic and ethnic minority groups be acknowledged. They also advocated for more sensitivity toward differences among children in the schools (Pai, Adler & Shadiow, 2006).
The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) is one of the largest and most prominent organizations interested in teacher preparation. It has established a history of involvement in matters regarding preparing and supporting teachers, counselors and other educational leaders. In 1972, the board of directors of the AACTE officially endorsed efforts to use schools to achieve cultural pluralism in society. At that time, AACTE's involvement suggested a severe urgency and therefore brought on increased interest and concern regarding cultural pluralism in education (Pai, Adler & Shadiow, 2006).
Ill-prepared teachers were identified as key to the issues concerning cultural pluralism in the classrooms. This move prompted the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) to establish a new standard....
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