Multicultural education is an educational approach that integrates four factors that encourage diversity and equality into a curriculum: 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. Today, teaching multicultural education requires thinking critically and examining why inequalities exist in the classrooms and schools, as some students are exposed to social justice issues regarding multicultural education. Students, families, educators, and governing boards all face challenges as they grapple with multicultural education.
Keywords Accountability; Brown vs. Board of Education; Cognitive Complexity; Culture; Curriculum; Diversity; Equality; Multicultural Education; National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE); No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Preservice teachers; Resisters; Self-Efficacy; Teacher Education; Teacher Preparation Programs; Worldview
Multicultural Education: Multicultural Education: An Overview
Multicultural education refers to an educational approach that integrates four factors that encourage diversity and equality into a curriculum:
• 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).
Educators and scholars (Banks, 2002; Guinier, 2002; Karp, 2002; Obiakor, 2003; Rothenberg, 2002; Sparks, 1999; Utley & Obiakor, 2001; Weiss, 2002; Wise, 2002) have corroborated the views of Dewey (1958), who suggested that knowledge must have the ability to form attitudes. Obiakor (2007) writes that citizens must become more ethnically, linguistically, and more culturally aware, to revamp the thinking of schools and society as a whole. Multicultural education encompasses all Americans, and educational and vocational options should be available for everyone.
A common misconception of many educators is that multicultural education is only for students of color. They believe they are "doing" multicultural education by adding information about minority groups into their lesson plans. Teaching practices in multicultural education however, focus on individual differences, incorporate cultural experiences of students, identify diverse ways of learning and viewing the world, and advocate for democracy and equality in the classroom. Culturally trained teachers place students at the center of their teaching. They believe all students have the ability to learn, and they use the student's cultural experiences to design meaningful learning experiences (Johnson, Musial, Hall, Gollnick & Dupuis, 2004).
Origins in Equal Opportunity Movements
A recent foundation for multicultural education came from the fight for equal opportunity in early 1960. 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 men. Despite opposition from the community, in the nineteenth century, courageous educators from minority groups established schools to support underrepresented groups of people. For example, in Brown v. Board of Education, separate-but-equal education for African American and White students was declared illegal by the Supreme Court in 1954. 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. Following these events, issues regarding equality for women, people with disabilities and limited-English speakers were given attention (Johnson, Musial, Hall, Gollnick & Dupuis, 2004).
Because all students, despite gender, race, ethnicity, social class, or cultural characteristics, deserve an equal opportunity to be educated, teachers are expected to have the knowledge and skills to relate to many cultures and understand student diversity as it continues to grow (Banks, 1998; Banks et. al., 2001). Almost half (40%) of the learners in classrooms will be children of color by the year 2010. However, the teaching population remains almost 85% White and female (Applied Research Center, 2000).
Multicultural Principles across the Curriculum
All academic areas should include principles that reflect multicultural education because diversity and equality issues act as a major facet of the curriculum. They may begin by adding courses on ethnic studies or women's studies to introduce students to the history, culture and diverse experiences of others. But this is only a starting place. As courses begin to reflect the multicultural society that we live in, students will begin to feel as though they have inclusive curriculums (Johnson, Musial, Hall, Gollnick & Dupuis, 2004).
For example, Native American students may benefit from learning science and mathematics teachings that reflect the teachings and traditions of Native American tribes and nations (Johnson, Musial, Hall, Gollnick & Dupuis, 2004). Through observation and direct exposure, many American Indian students gain a substantial knowledge base of mathematics and science within their communities. Parents teach their children various survival techniques including decision-making skills. They also teach them to interpret new experiences based on previous situations, all as part of their Native traditions. Unfortunately, most teachers have no knowledge of these Native American teachings and fail to recognize unique student learning strategies and problem-solving abilities (Nelson-Barber & Estrin, 1995).
In response to unwillingness to incorporate multicultural education into the curriculums, charter schools and private schools were established to fill the gap that exists in public school educational curricula. In a number of urban areas, schools with an Afrocentric focus exist. Across the country, Latino and Native American groups have established schools that focus on their cultures, and Catholic, Lutheran, Jewish, Islamic, Black Muslim, Amish, and other groups have built schools that reinforce their values and beliefs. Leadership skills, confidence, and academic achievement of young ladies and gentlemen is the focus in many single sex schools, and use of learning styles and cultural experiences that are relative to the student's gender facilitate educational opportunities in these schools (Johnson, Musial, Hall, Gollnick & Dupuis, 2004).
Teacher Preparedness for Multicultural Classrooms
No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) defines quality teaching as "effective knowledge and teaching of content area as well as classroom management skills" (Morrier, Irving, Dandy, Dmitriyev, & Ukeje, 2007, p 32). Though mandates like NCLB place emphasis on quality and accountability in education including teacher preparation programs, a focus on cultural understanding has been omitted in the mandate, leaving some students behind as a result.
A person's knowledge of and various experiences with the beliefs, traditions and morals of cultures different from oneself, all encompass a cultural understanding and the competence displayed by an individual (Grant & Sleeter, 2006). Cultural understanding also involves being in touch with one's own culture, practices and beliefs (Morrier, et al., 2007). However, the manner in which educators have responded to the demographic shift (racial, cultural, linguistic) in student learners has not been sufficient, leaving some students less prepared than others because of cultural incompetence. Not only is it important that teachers are culturally competent for academic purposes, it is also necessary for them to have the ability to respond to a child appropriately, despite any differences. For example, the self-esteem of a student from a different racial, linguistic or cultural background can be affected based on a negative or positive response from a teacher (Brown, 2007).
The issue of ill-prepared teachers prompted the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) to establish a new standard. The NCATE (1977) has stipulated the following standard for multicultural education: "The institution gives evidence of planning for multicultural education in its teacher education curricula including both the general and professional studies components" (p. 4). This standard has influenced the growth in teacher education programs in regard to multicultural education (Hill-Jackson, Sewell, Waters, 2007), but an actual understanding of cultures is sometimes lost.
Many preservice teachers preparing to enter the education field receive the knowledge and skills necessary to teach multicultural education courses. However, the effectiveness of these classes has been questioned because they lack culturally sensitive perspectives, attitudes and practices. The offering of only one course that is at best pacifist, and at worst ineffective in meeting the needs of diverse learners, might explain the level of effectiveness experienced by students. Some institutions believe they are meeting the NCATE mandate by offering limited courses. But they only end up adding to the number of ill-prepared educators who don't posses necessary perspectives to teach diverse groups of students (Garmon 2004; Larke 1990; Lesko & Bloom 1998; Wideen, Mayer-Smith, & Moon 1998).
The Wall of Resistance
Some scholars suggest that some White Preservice Teachers (WPTs) put up a "wall of resistance" (Gilette, 1996, p. 178) that subconsciously rejects certain aspects of teaching related to multicultural educational. Their resistant attitudes toward multicultural education tend to reflect deficits in five interconnected personal dispositions:
• Cognitive complexity
• Intercultural sensitivity
• Self-efficacy (Gillette, 1996)
Cognitive complexity refers to the information that informs one's personal thinking and problem-solving skills (Marshall...
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