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Defining Multicultural Education
by Paul Gorski and Bob Covert (1996; 2000)
Since its earliest conceptualizations in the 1960s, multicultural education has been transformed, refocused, reconceptualized, and in a constant state of evolution both in theory and in practice. It is rare that any two classroom teachers or education scholars will have the same definition for multicultural education. As with any dialogue on education, individuals tend to mold concepts to fit their particular focus.
Some discuss multicultural education as a shift in curriculum, perhaps as simple as adding new and diverse materials and perspectives to be more inclusive of traditionally underrepresented groups. Others talk about classroom climate issues or teaching styles that serve certain groups while presenting barriers for others. Still others focus on institutional and systemic issues such as tracking, standardized testing, or funding discrepancies. Some go farther still, insisting on education change as part of a larger societal transformation in which we more closely explore and criticize the oppressive foundations of society and how education serves to maintain the status quo -- foundations such as white supremacy, capitalism, global socioeconomic situations, and exploitation.
Despite a multitude of differing conceptualizations of multicultural education (some of which will be laid out more fully below), several shared ideals provide a basis for its understanding. While some focus on individual students or teachers, and others are much more "macro" in scope, these ideals are all, at their roots, about transformation:
While it is important to develop a deeper understanding of the various models of multicultural education and where these points fit into them, I feel it is equally important that I, as the site author, equip the user with my own working definition.
A Working Definition of Multicultural Education by Paul Gorski (2000)
Multicultural education is a progressive approach for transforming education that holistically critiques and addresses current shortcomings, failings, and discriminatory practices in education. It is grounded in ideals of social justice, education equity, and a dedication to facilitating educational experiences in which all students reach their full potential as learners and as socially aware and active beings, locally, nationally, and globally. Multicultural education acknowledges that schools are essential to laying the foundation for the transformation of society and the elimination of oppression and injustice.
The underlying goal of multicultural education is to affect social change. The pathway toward this goal incorporates three strands of transformation:
For deeper considerations of these strands, visit the Multicultural Supersite.
Following Banks' (Banks, 1988, p.43) notion of multiple identities...
Every child comes to school with an ethnic identity whether these identifications are conscious or unconscious. This identification must be recognized and respected by the teacher. It must be the basis for the learning activities in the classroom. The point here is to acknowledge differences rather than ignore them. It is equally critical that the children recognize and appreciate their own ethnicity and learn to appreciate those of the other children in the class. This recognition of individual ethnic identities is the beginning point, it is a connector of both the teacher to the student and the students to each other. It is the basic building block in the learning process which requires knowing where the child is relative to him/herself and the content to be addressed. This ethnic identification is a continual point of focus throughout the education process and is the basis for developing the next level of identification which is a national identification.
The national identity of the individual requires his/her understanding and commitment to the democratic ideals such as human dignity, justice and equality. Here the focus is on becoming effective members of a democratic society. An individual's strong national identification is essential to his/her development of a global identity.
As our society becomes more and more dependent on other societies, it is critical that the schools address the problems of the world as a whole. The development of the global identification provides the students with the opportunity to see how as a nation we fit into the world society. It allows students to better understand that the actions of a nation must not only be viewed in terms of the implications for that nation but what are the effects on the whole world. Children who have developed both a strong ethnic and national identity should have the perspective to also develop a global identification which should in turn make them better citizens of the world community.
At this point in time it is important to realize that the identifications discussed above are hierarchial. In other words the curriculum and the learning needs to proceed by first recognizing the ethnic identity, then the national and finally the global. The development of the latter are dependent upon the development of the former. It is also important that the individual identities are not static but continually evolving and so it is important for the curriculum to emphasize all three types of identities as learning progresses.
The metaphor of the melting pot is no longer functional. We have to switch to either the toss salad or the stew. It allows us to focus both on the differences in the ingredients while at the same time the beauty of the whole. a good salad does not have a bunch of components that look, taste or have the same texture. The success of the salad depends not only on its looks but also on a lot of other factors including the taste, the freshness of the ingredients, the smells, the textures and the mixture itself.
from Hernandez, Multicultural education: A teacher's guide to content and process, 1989.
from Gordon and Roberts, Report of social studies syllabus review and development committee, 1991
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