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Understanding Multicultural Curriculum Transformation:
A Q & A with Paul C. Gorski

The following is a continuously expanding compendium of questions and answers regarding curriculum transformation from a multicultural perspective. If you have a question about the practical or theoretical side of multicultural curriculum transformation, send it to me, Paul Gorski, at gorski@edchange.org.

Quick Index:

What is the first step toward multicultural curriculum transformation?
What are some of the shortcomings of traditional curricular frameworks that make transformation necessary?
What are the fundamental values of a multicultural curriculum?
What are some of the critiques of multicultural curriculum transformation?
These sound like important critiques. How do you respond?
Is a multicultural curriculum the same as an Afrocentric curriculum?
Can you suggest any resources that might offer me professional development and support through this process?

Question: What is the first step toward multicultural curriculum transformation?
Answer: The first step in any multicultural transformative process is to examine the issues, biases, prejudices, and assumptions that I carry into the classroom and how these inform my curriculum. In fact, I must constantly engage in a process of examining and critiquing my own perspective because this also will affect the way I approach transformation.

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Question: What are some of the shortcomings of traditional curricular frameworks that make transformation necessary?
Answer: For many people, it is relatively easy and convenient to forget that the public school system in the United States has an overtly racist, sexist, and classist history. But as we look at current shortcomings in education within this historical context, it is important to remember, for example, that most widespread challenges to overtly discriminatory educational practices have occurred amazingly recently. Legislation-backed desegregation efforts were in full-swing around forty years ago, and racial-, gender-, and socioeconomic-based tracking were common practice even more recently--and still are, although less explicitly so. The curriculum was Eurocentric and male-centric, both in content and perspective, virtually ignoring the history, stories, perspectives, literature, and accomplishments of women and people of color. Few can argue that, historically, the public school system in the United States was largely created and maintained for the professional and economic gain of upper-middle class and wealthy white males and for the tracking into menial work of the poor, people of color, and women. While conditions have improved and practices like tracking have changed to make education more accessible to all students, many remnants of this discriminatory history remain.

In the case of the curriculum, thanks to the struggles and protests of those people who were traditionally excluded from the curriculum, conditions have improved to an extent. Students now learn about the accomplishments of certain famous women and people of color, and even celebrate them during Black History Month, Women's History Month, Hispanic History Month, and other special occasions. Still, what has yet to happen is for these histories to be woven into World History or American History as part of the total mosaic. Many argue that monthly celebrations only serve to further define certain groups as "the other" while the "mainstream" curriculum is taught for the rest of the year. Others argue that these celebrations help justify the failure of educators to teach "Black History" in the U.S. as what it really is -- U.S. History.

Likewise, despite the addition of some diverse content into the curriculum, most information is still presented from a Eurocentric perspective. The most repeated example of this is the case of Christopher Columbus. Ask any group of people the first fact they remember learning in history class, and most of them will say, "Columbus discovered America." This "fact" remains the foundation from which U.S. History is built and conceptualized. But did Columbus discover America? Through whose eyes is such a statement true? "Manifest Destiny" or "genocide"? Similar questions can be asked of teaching practices in Literature. From whose perspective was the "canon" chosen? Who decided that the only "classic" literature was written in England and the United States? Has no equally great literature been written in Asia or Africa?

Current curricular frameworks, though they include more and more diverse content, fail to make any real strides toward full inclusion. Likewise, they fail to break free from Eurocentric perspectives. As a result, they continue to cheat all students out of a deep, multicultural understanding of the world around them. Curriculum transformation efforts are necessary to replace practices that simply further identify some as "the norm" and everyone else as "the other" with practices that provide all students with a more complete and accurate understanding of society, the world, and themselves.

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Question: What are the fundamental values of a multicultural curriculum?
Answer: The fundamental values of any good curriculum are accuracy, completeness, and inclusion. Accuracy and completeness are closely related and refer to the extent to which information presented represents a full picture of a given topic through various sources and perspectives. A history textbook provides a certain picture from a certain perspetive--that of the author(s). If my history textbook indicates that Columbus discovered America, do I present sources written by Native Americans that likely offer a different perspective on the same set of events? If not, I must reassess both the accuracy and completeness of my curriculum. I, as a teacher, have a certain perspective, knowledge base and understanding of my subject. Do I challenge myself by reading alternative sources and expanding your understanding beyond traditional or Eurocentric sources about my subject?

Inclusion refers to the extent to which different voices and perspectives are heard in my classroom. There are two levels of inclusion. When most teachers talk about inclusion, they are referring to representational inclusion, or the inclusion of sources or information that closely match or represent the diversity within a particular classroom. (For example, if I happen to have a Mexican student in my class, I must be sure to include sources by Mexican authors in my classroom.) The second level of inclusion is student-centered or critical inclusion, the inclusion of the voices and perspectives of the students themselves in the educational experience. Students are the most under-utilized educational resource in most classrooms. A multicultural curriculum encourages them to provide context and perspectives on all subjects covered in school.

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Question: What are some of the critiques of multicultural curriculum transformation?
Answer: Some critiques include:

  1. Multicultural curricula water down the skills and knowledge students really need to succeed.
  2. Multicultural curricula are anti-white and anti-male.
  3. Teachers do not have time to teach prepare students for standardized tests and do the multicultural stuff.
  4. Multicultural education and curriculum transformation focus on differences instead of what we have in common, and thus just add to issues of race, gender, and class.

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Question: Those sound like important critiques. How do you respond?
Answer: My responses:

  1. Multicultural curricula water down the skills and knowledge students really need to succeed. I would argue that traditional curricula, presenting knowledge from a single perspective and failing to engage students more actively in their own learning processes, represents the watered-down version of learning. Multicultural curriculum transformation would result in greater creative and critical thinking skills while equipping all students with a more complete and accurate understanding of society and the world around them rather than a uni-dimensional understanding.
  2. Multicultural curricula are anti-white and anti-male. Contrary to this argument, the goal of multicultural education and multicultural curriculum transformation is to improve education for all students. Multicultural educators recognize that even white male students are being cheated out of completeness, accuracy, and student-centered inclusion in the classroom. Multicultural curricula will challenge all students, including white males, to expand their realms of understanding.
  3. Teachers do not have time to prepare students for standardized tests and do the multicultural stuff. Multicultural curriculum transformation does not result in an over-abundance of new material to teach students. Teachers can still work from their state's standards by reexamining the way in which they teach. The transformation does not call for teachers to cover five other people instead of Columbus. It calls for teachers to cover Columbus in a more complete and accurate way and from a broader, non-Eurocentric perspective.
  4. Multicultural education and curriculum transformation focus on differences instead of what we have in common, and ultimately contribute to, instead of eliminating, racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and other forms of oppression. An examination of current educational and curricular practices indicates that ageism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and other forms of oppression were issues in education long before multicultural education was conceptualized. In fact, multicultural education was developed in response to a lack of curricular inclusiveness in public school curricula. The fact that multicultural education focuses, in part, on addressing these issues does not mean that multicultural education created the issues. Multicultural curriculum transformation simply happens to be one of the few movements that directly addresses how racism, sexism, heterosexims, classism and other forms of oppression have informed educational and curricular practices.

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Question: Is a multicultural curriculum the same as an Afrocentric curriculum?
Answer: No. While multicultural education recognizes the need for some forms of ethnocentric curriculum for students from social identity groups that are under- or misrepresented in public school curriculum, multicultural education ultimately aims at dismantling the need for any -centric curriculum, as it is inconsistent with the ideals of completeness and accuracy.

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Question: My own education did not prepare to me to expand on more traditional curriculum frameworks, and the administrators in my school are not supportive of my efforts to make my curriculum more inclusive. Can you suggest any resources that will offer me professional development and support through this process?
Answer: Please refer to the Multicultural Pavilion's page on Curriculum Transformation Resources.

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