Multicultural Education & the 21st Century

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This chapter surveys the intellectual evolution of multicultural education and analyzes it within a naturalistic framework for understanding the cultural differences and the dynamics of culture contact in an increasingly diverse society. It covers the intellectual terrain, historical roots, and societal contexts and gives special attention to applications in teacher education.

SCHOLARLY DIRECTION AND
POLITICAL CONTROVERSY

Multicultural education, with its foundation in pluralism and diversity, Is grounded in the principles of democracy, equity, and justice. It demands a holistic grasp of the interactive politics involved in the creation and understanding of knowledge, learning, and the dynamics of education (Banks, 1991 1993a, 1993b, 1993c; Banks & Banks, 1993; Gollnick, 1992; Grant, 1992; Nieto, 1992, 1994). Nieto (1994) suggests that criticism originates from across the ideological and political landscape. Cummins (1992) addresses the controversy along an ideological Spectrum from right to left. Western traditionalists believe that the multicultural movement undermines the canon (i.e., established truth (Bloom, 1987; D’Souza, 1992; Hirsch, 1987; Ravitch, 1990; Schlesinger, 19921). These Western traditionalists defend the established curriculum that is dominated by Euro-American male writers (Banks, 1993b). Their critique originates from an epistemological framework that negates multiplicity and difference. In their paradigm, truth is sought through the positivist approach. Critical theorists, however, argue that the movement is anemic for restructuring education and society.

The controversy centers on how multicultural education will be defined. Nieto (1994) asserts that teaching and learning must challenge racism, sexism, and other forms of social domination and intolerance. Thus, curriculum making should incorporate the sociocultural contexts of subject matter. This leads to the realization that multiple perspectives on truth exist and to com petition for ideological hegemony. Although multicultural education theoretically encompasses inclusiveness and social critique, few examples have surfaced that challenge racism and sexism within systematic multicultural curricula. Instead, curricula continue to focus on heroes, holidays, and discrete cultural elements (Banks, 1994; Nieto, 1994). Suzuki (1980) called this superficial approach to multicultural education “simply celebrating ethnicity by highlighting ethnic foods, holidays, and costumes” (p. 1).

In keeping with this mandate for inclusiveness and social critique, transformational scholars and critical theorists argue that knowledge is not neutral but is influenced by human interests. Curricula do reflect the power and social relationships within a society, and an important purpose of knowledge construction is to help people improve society (Code, 1991; Harding, 1991; hooks & West, 1991; King & Mitchell, 1990; Minnich, 1990). Thus, racism, sexism, and other practices of domination are brought to the banquet of engagement for transformational curricular design.

Curricula that reflect postmodem assumptions and goals challenge some key assumptions about mainstream academic knowledge (Rosenau, 1992). A benchmark of this perspective Is to enable students to understand “concepts, issues, themes, and problems” (Banks, 1994, p. 26) from different perspectives and viewpoints. Knowledge is considered a social construction that needs to be questioned and challenged. The social action level builds on the transformative curriculum by enabling students to pursue goals and actions that make personal, social, and civic sense. Teachers who are critical and transformative develop a pedagogy of social action and advocacy that “celebrates diversity” (Ayers, 1988), not just selected holidays, isolated cultural artifacts, festivals, and food.

Despite the struggle to develop this new field, there are vigorous indications of...
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