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“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” (Declaration of Independence,1776)
This quote is symbolic of the expressed opinions and ideology of the founding fathers of America. History, especially the history of the American educational system, paints a contradictory portrait. Idealistic visions of equity and cultural integration are constantly bantered about; however, they are rarely implemented and materialized. All men are indeed created equal, but not all men are treated equally. For years, educators and society as a whole have performed a great disservice to minorities in the public school sector. If each student is of equal value, worth, and merit, then each student should have equal access and exposure to culturally reflective learning opportunities. In the past, minorities have had a muted voice because of the attitude of the majority. Maxine Greene summarizes a scene from E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, after which she poses questions that many minorities have no doubt asked silently or loud. “Why is he unseen? Why were there no Negroes, no immigrants? More than likely because of the condition of the minds of those in power, minds that bestowed upon many others the same invisibility that Ellison’s narrator encounters” (Greene,1995, p. 159). Multicultural education is needed because it seeks to eradicate “invisibility” and give voice, power, and validation to the contributions and achievements of people with varied hues, backgrounds, and experiences.
Multicultural education is a process of comprehensive school reform and basic education for all students. It challenges and rejects racism and other forms of discrimination in schools and society and accepts and affirms pluralism (ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, economic, and gender, among others) that students, their communities, and teachers reflect (Nieto, 2000).
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Furthermore, multicultural education offers insightful perspectives on the views, customs, and beliefs of others. The knowledge gained from such a curriculum can foster a paradigm shift in social consciousness and global race relations. “An important goal of multicultural education is to improve race relations and to help all students acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to participate in cross-cultural interactions and in personal, social, and civic action that will help make our nation more democratic and just. Multicultural education is consequently as important to middle-class white suburban students as it is for students of color who live in the inner city. Multicultural education fosters the public good and the overarching goals of the commonwealth” ( Darling-Hammond, et al., 2002, p.x). Middle-class white suburban students may be the majority but they are not the whole. Curriculum must echo the increasing presence of minorities and their significant contributions. No student is a carbon copy of the previous one. Inherent differences make life and the exploration of it dynamic and interesting. Due to students’ learning differences, teachers constantly make concessions and modifications. Adjustments are made for students with visual, hearing, and speech deficits. Some students are more visually stimulated, while others function optimally from auditory instruction. Teachers regularly alter their techniques to include elements of both styles to help students comprehend.
If educators can ascertain the concept of versatility in teaching methodology, why can’t they translate this principle to the acknowledgement and instruction of multicultural education? “Enabling learning for all students requires knowledge about how people learn and how different people learn differently, about how to organize curriculum so that it connects to students’ prior knowledge and experiences and so that it adds up to powerful learning, about what motivates people to engage and put forth effort for learning, about language and literacy development across the curriculum, about how to assess learning, and about particular teaching strategies that enable different kinds of learning in different contexts” (Darling-Hammond, et al., 2002, p. 5). Lisa Delpit offers a scenario that highlights the complexity and importance of cultural assessment and teacher revised educational activity. Frequently, Latino girls find it difficult to speak out or exhibit academic prowess in a gender-mixed setting. They will often defer to boys, displaying their knowledge only when in the company of other girls. Most teachers, unaware of this tendency, are likely to insist that all groups be gender-mixed, thus depressing the exhibition of ability by the Latino girls in the class (Delpit,1995). Heighten awareness of diverse cultural mores and their impact on behavior is needed in educational and societal interactions.
“To open up our experience (and, yes, our curricula) to the existential possibilities of multiple kinds is to extend and deepen what each of us thinks of when he or she speaks of a community” (Greene, 1995, p. 161). Positive expansion and development are constant themes that bolster and support the American economy and consciousness. Much of what American culture is predicated upon relates to growth and expansion. Many English settlers came to America to live a life without oppressive religious impositions. Immigrants daily risk their lives to enter this country and experience the possibilities that freedom and expansion offer. Western ideology dictates that a good education and hard work will lead to the manifestation of expansion. Expansion of the mind, spirit, society, and wealth are examples. If expansion is a desirable goal, teaching multicultural perspectives in the educational system should be included in this process. The expansion of a highway, a strip mall, or sub-division is a temporal transaction. However, the expansion of a mind and community has the potential to last and impact future lives long after the present ones have ceased.
Darling-Hammond, L., French, J., and Garcia-Lopez, S. P. (2002). Learning to teach for social justice. New York: Teachers College Press.
Delpit, L. (1995). Other people’s children: Cultural conflicts in the classroom. New York: The New Press.
Duarte, E. M., and Smith, S. (2000). Foundational perspectives in multicultural education. New York: Longman.
Green, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination: Essays on education, the arts, and social change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Morris,R.B. (1981). The declaration of independence. The World Book encyclopedia. (Vol. 5, pp.66). Chicago: The World Book encyclopedia.
Nieto, S. (2000). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education. New York: Longman.