Multicultural education is an idea, an educational reform movement, and a process (Banks, 1997). As an idea, multicultural education seeks to create equal educational opportunities for all students, including those from different racial, ethnic, and social-class groups. Multicultural education tries to create equal educational opportunities for all students by changing the total school environment so that it will reflect the diverse cultures and groups within a society and within the nation's classrooms. Multicultural education is a process because its goals are ideals that teachers and administrators should constantly strive to achieve.

The Dimensions of Multicultural Education

I have identified five dimensions of multicultural education. They are: content integration, the knowledge construction process, prejudice reduction, an equity pedagogy, and an empowering school culture and social structure (Banks, 1995a). Content integration deals with the extent to which teachers use examples and content from a variety of cultures and groups to illustrate key concepts, generalizations, and issues within their subject areas or disciplines. The knowledge construction process describes how teachers help students to understand, investigate, and determine how the biases, frames of reference, and perspectives within a discipline influence the ways in which knowledge is constructed within it (Banks, 1996). Students also learn how to build knowledge themselves in this dimension.

Prejudice reduction describes lessons and activities used by teachers to help students to develop positive attitudes toward different racial, ethnic, and cultural groups. Research indicates that children come to school with many negative attitudes toward and misconceptions about different racial and ethnic groups (Phinney & Rotheram, 1987). Research also indicates that lessons, units, and teaching materials that include content about different racial and ethnic groups can help students to develop more positive intergroup attitudes if certain conditions exist in the teaching situation (Banks, 1995b). These conditions include positive images of the ethnic groups in the materials and the use of multiethnic materials in a consistent and sequential way.

An equity pedagogy exists when teachers modify their teaching in ways that will facilitate the academic achievement of students from diverse racial, cultural, and social-class groups (Banks & Banks, 1995). Research indicates that the academic achievement of African American and Mexican American students is increased when cooperative teaching activities and strategies, rather than competitive ones, are used in instruction (Aronson & Gonzalez, 1988). Cooperative learning activities also help all students, including middle-class White students, to develop more positive racial attitudes. However, to attain these positive outcomes, cooperative learning activities must have several important characteristics (Allport, 1954). The students from different racial and ethnic groups must feel that they have equal status in intergroup interactions, teachers and administrators must value and support cross-racial interactions, and students from different racial groups must work together in teams to pursue common goals.

An empowering school culture and social structure is created when the culture and organization of the school are transformed in ways that enable students from diverse racial, ethnic, and gender groups to experience equality and equal status. The implementation of this dimension requires that the total environment of the school be reformed, including the attitudes, beliefs, and action of teachers and administrators, the curriculum and course of study, assessment and testing procedures, and the styles and strategies used by teachers.

To implement multicultural education effectively, teachers and administrators must attend to each of the five dimensions of multicultural education described above. They should use content from diverse groups when teaching concepts and skills, help students to understand how knowledge in the various disciplines is constructed, help students to develop positive intergroup attitudes and behaviors, and modify their teaching strategies so that students from different racial, cultural, and social-class groups will experience equal educational opportunities. The total environment and culture of the school must also be transformed so that students from diverse ethnic and cultural groups will experience equal status in the culture and life of the school.

Although the five dimensions of multicultural education are highly interrelated, each requires deliberate attention and focus. The reminder of this article focuses on two of the five dimensions described above: content integration and the knowledge construction process. Readers can see Banks (1995a) for more information about the other dimensions.

Content Integration

Teachers use several different approaches to integrate content about racial, ethnic, and cultural groups into the curriculum. One of the most popular is the Contributions Approach. When this approach is used, teachers insert isolated facts about ethnic and cultural group heroes and heroines into the curriculum without changing the structure of their lesson plans and units. Often when this approach is used, lessons about ethnic minorities are limited primarily to ethnic holidays and celebrations, such as Martin Luther King's Birthday and Cinco de Mayo. The major problem with this approach is that it reinforces the notion, already held by many students, that ethnic minorities are not integral parts of mainstream U.S. society and that African American history and Mexican American history are separate and apart from U.S. history.

The Additive Approach is also frequently used by teachers to integrate content about ethnic and cultural groups into the school curriculum. In this approach, the organization and structure of the curriculum remains unchanged. Special units on ethnic and cultural groups are added to the curriculum, such as units on African Americans in the West, Indian Removal, and the internment of the Japanese Americans. While an improvement over the Contributions Approach, the Additive Approach is problematic because ethnic and cultural groups remain on the margin of the mainstream curriculum.

Knowledge Construction and Transformation

The Transformation Approach brings content about ethnic and cultural groups from the margin to the center of the curriculum. It helps students to understand how knowledge is constructed and how it reflects the experiences, values, and perspectives of its creators. In this approach, the structure, assumptions, and perspectives of the curriculum are changed so that the concepts, events, and issues taught are viewed from the perspectives and experiences of a range of racial, ethnic, and cultural groups. The center of the curriculum no longer focuses on mainstream and dominant groups, but on an event, issue, or concept that is viewed from many different perspectives and points of view. This is done while at the same time helping students to understand the nation's common heritage and traditions. Teachers should help students to understand that while they live in a diverse nation, all citizens of a nation-state share many cultural traditions, values, and political ideals that cement the nation. Multicultural education seeks to actualize the idea of e pluribus unum, i.e. to create a society that recognizes and respects the cultures of its diverse peoples united within a framework of democratic values that are shared by all.

Personal, Social, and Civic Action

An important goal of multicultural education is to help students acquire the knowledge and commitments needed to make reflective decisions and to take personal, social, and civic action to promote democracy and democratic living. Opportunities for action help students to develop a sense of personal and civic efficacy, faith in their ability to make changes in the institutions in which they live, and situations to apply the knowledge they have learned (Banks, with Clegg, 1990).

Action activities and projects should be tuned to the cognitive and moral developmental levels of students. Practicality and feasibility should also be important considerations. Students in the primary grades can take action by making a commitment to stop laughing at ethnic jokes that sting; students in the early and middle grades can act by reading books about other racial, ethnic, and cultural groups. Upper-elementary grade students can make friends with students who are members of other racial and ethnic groups and participate in cross-racial activities and projects with students who attend a different school in the city. Upper-grade students can also participate in projects that provide help and comfort to people in the community with special needs. They can also participate in local political activities such as school bond elections and elections on local initiatives. Lewis (1991) has written a helpful guide about ways to plan and initiate social action activities and projects for students.

When students learn content about the nation and the world from the perspectives of the diverse groups that shaped historical and contemporary events, they will be better able to participate in personal, social, and civic actions that are essential for citizens in a democratic pluralistic society.


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