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Stages of Multicultural Curriculum Transformation

Just as there are several conceptualizations for multicultural education (see Defining Multicultural Education), there are several perceptions as to what constitutes multicultural curriculum transformation. Approaches for multicultural curriculum transformation range from slight curricular changes to a fully-revised social awareness and action conceptualizations. James Banks (1993), Peggy McIntosh (2000) and others have formulated continuums for curricular reform that help move transformation efforts from the former toward the latter.

The following stages of curriculum transformation have been adapted from several existing models including those by Banks (1993) and McIntosh (2000).

Stage 1: Curriculum of the Mainstream
The curriculum of the mainstream is Eurocentric and male-centric. It ignores fully the experiences, voices, contributions, and perspectives of non-dominant individuals and groups in all subject areas. At this stage, all educational materials, including textbooks, films, and other teaching and learning tools, present information in a Eurocentric, male-centric way. This stage is harmful both for students who identify with dominant culture and those from non-dominant groups. It has negative consequences for the former because, according to Banks (1993), it:

reinforces their false sense of superiority, gives them a misleading conception of their relationship with other racial and ethnic groups, and denies them the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge, perspectives, and frames of reference that can be gained from studying and experiencing other cultures and groups (p. 195).

The curriculum of the mainstream has negative consequences for students from non-dominant groups, as well, failing to validate their identities, experiences, and perspectives. According to Banks (1993), it further alienates students who already struggle to survive in a school culture that differs so greatly from their home cultures.

Stage 2: Heroes and Holidays
Teachers at this stage "celebrate" difference by integrating information or resources about famous people and the cultural artifacts of various groups into the mainstream curriculum. Bulletin boards might contain pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr., or Rosa Parks, and teachers might plan special celebrations for Black History Month or Women's History Month. Student learning about "other cultures" focuses on costumes, foods, music, and other tangible cultural items.

The strengths of this stage are that the teacher is attempting to diversify the curriculum by providing materials and knowledge outside the dominant culture and that the Heroes and Holidays approach is fairly easy to implement. Still, the weaknesses heavily outweigh the strengths:

  • By focusing celebratory attention on non-dominant groups outside the context of the rest of the curriculum, the teacher is further defining these groups as "the other."
  • Curricula at this stage fail to address the real experiences of non-dominant groups, instead focusing on the accomplishments of a few heroic characters. Students may learn to consider the struggles of non-dominant groups as "extra" information instead of important knowledge in their overall understandings of the world.
  • The special celebrations at this stage often are used to justify the lack of effort at more authentic transformative measures.
  • The Heroes and Holidays approach trivializes the overall experiences, contributions, struggles, and voices of non-dominant groups, consistent with a Eurocentric, male-centric curriculum.

Stage 3: Integration
At the Integration stage, teachers transcend heroes and holidays, adding substantial materials and knowledge about non-dominant groups to the curriculum. The teacher might add to her or his collection of books those by authors of color or by women. She or he might add a unit which covers, for example, the role of women in World War I. A music teacher might add slave hymns or songs from Africa to her or his repetoire. At the school level, a course on African American History might be added to course offerings.

The strengths of the Intergration stage are that it transcends special celebrations to deal with real issues and concepts and that it more closely ties diverse material into the rest of the curriculum. But many weaknesses remain:

  • New materials and units become secondary resources and knowledge as textbooks and the meat of the curriculum remain based on a Eurocentric, male-centric orientation (Banks, 1993).
  • New information is still delivered from a Eurocentric, male-centric perspective. For example, the story of Manifest Destiny is still told only from a European point of view.

Stage 4: Structural Reform
New materials, perspectives, and voices are woven seamlessly with current frameworks of knowledge to provide new levels of understanding from a more complete and accurate curriculum. The teacher dedicates her- or himself to continuously expanding her or his knowledge base through the exploration of various sources from various perspectives, and sharing that knowledge with her or his students. Students learn to view events, concepts, and facts through various lenses. "American History" includes African American History, Women's History, Asian American History, Latino American History, and all other previously differentiated fields of knowledge.

Stage 5: Multicultural, Social Action, and Awareness
In addition to the changes made in the Structural Reform stage, important social issues, including racism, sexism, and economic injustice, are addressed explicitly as part of the curriculum. The voices, ideas, and perspectives of the students regarding these and all other topics are brought to the fore in the learning experience -- the students themselves becoming yet another multicultural classroom resource. The textbook is viewed as a single perspective among many, and the relevance of its limitations, along with those of other educational media, are explored and discussed.

References

Banks, J. (1993). Approaches to multicultural curriculum reform. In J. Banks and C. Banks (Eds.), Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

McIntosh, P. (2000). Interactive phases of personal and curricular re-vision with regard to race. In G. Shin and P. Gorski (Eds.), Multicultural resource series: Professional development for educators. Washington, D.C.: National Education Association.

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