Dec 21 2015
Social emotional learning

The latest edition of Research That Matters, "Passion & Promise," explores how the UW College of Education is approaching the biggest challenges in education with a spirit of possibility. The following story about the College's Center for Multicultural Education also appears in the online version of the magazine.

At the Talaris conference center in north Seattle, top diversity researchers and educators from 14 countries in North and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia have joined together for the conference “Global Migration, Structural Inclusion, and Citizenship Education Across Nations.”

Each participant has been personally invited by UW College of Education Kerry and Linda Killinger Endowed Chair in Diversity Studies Dr. James Banks, known internationally as the “Father of Multicultural Education,” and director of the College’s Center for Multicultural Education.

Together, the researchers share their latest work reimagining how teachers can help students from marginalized groups gain a sense of inclusion and become more connected to their societies—how local schools can help them become productive, empowered citizens of their nation-states.

One by one, each researcher presents a real-world case study about an innovative civics education program designed to tackle a tough challenge or promising opportunity in his or her own country.

Depending on where in the world you look, those challenges and opportunities may appear vastly different. In France, it’s about helping disaffected Muslim youth find a place in society. In the U.S., it’s wrestling with ongoing racial and social inequities, and addressing daunting challenges faced by undocumented and LGBT students. In Japan, it’s about addressing historical animosities toward Koreans and Burakumins. In Israel, the challenge is including Palestinian and Ethiopian citizens fully in civic society.

Despite the local differences, Banks explains, the conference—supported by grants from the Spencer Foundation and the American Educational Research Association—works because the general conversation is similar everywhere in the world: how can educators help every student, every person, feel included and empowered to become a productive citizen of her or his nation-state?

Within the space of a few months, the conversation will continue and expand at conferences with similar themes in Israel, Iceland, and Turkey—all keynoted by Banks.

Lasting international impact

All these rich conversations, all this wealth of global research, would look very different—and perhaps not be taking place at all—if not for the profound international impact of the UW College of Education’s Center for Multicultural Education, and a body of scholarship encompassing more than 40 years of research by its founder.

Since coming to the UW in 1969 as the College of Education’s first African American professor, Banks has written or edited 15 highly influential books (with three more currently in the works) and over 100 articles, book chapters, and reviews—including the groundbreaking Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education, which was named Library Journal’s top reference work of 2012.

This substantial body of work has informed and transformed scholarship and practice, internationally, here in the U.S., and locally.

“The work of James Banks has had significant impact on our work in the U.K.,” said Dr. Gillian Klein, publisher of University of London’s Trentham Books. “He contributed to shaping our early understanding of multicultural education from the 1970s. But his contribution is also ongoing through his seminal publications and regular contributions to academic journals. He’s not only stayed the course; he’s stayed a leading player.”

Here in the U.S., Dr. Banks’ work has had a significant influence on national education policy, according to U.S. Department of Education Director of the Office of English Language Acquisition Libia Gil, who received her Ph.D. from the UW College of Education in 1989.

“There’s no question. Dr. Banks laid the foundation for educators to think deeply about practices on inclusion and equity for all students,” Gil said. “He challenged my assumptions that led to my understanding of culture as an integral dimension of every individual. As a teacher and a school district leader in Seattle, I embraced the necessity of knowing and valuing each student’s and staff member’s personal cultural history. Dr. Banks’ impact continues to guide my current role where I lead the U.S. Department of Education policy, research, and program initiatives committed to inclusion and equity for all students, particularly the underserved with a focus on English language learners.”

Constant goals, changing scope

“I started my work 40 years ago looking at African Americans,” Banks explained. “But it broadened over the years to look at many different groups. You can’t fully understand racism, or anti-Semitism, or homophobia by looking at one nation. I think you need to look at it in broad scope around the world. When you broaden the scope you begin to develop a much deeper understanding of these issues. The goals haven’t changed—but the scope has evolved and changed tremendously.”

According to Banks, the scope of what constitutes diversity today includes:

  • Social Class
  • Ethnicity
  • Race
  • Language
  • Abilities and Disabilities
  • Religion
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender

It’s a framework that may expand even further as the world continues its rapid change.

“The groups that are excluded will change over time, say 50 years from now,” Banks said. “Our challenge, our process, is constructing a new framework that allows people to maintain social and cultural identity and participate in the nation-state. How do we rethink the nation-state and reformulate it to deal with this superdiversity—so we can all get along?”

As Banks points out, global migration—including more than 41 million immigrants in the U.S.—is growing each year. Societies worldwide are dealing with increasing unrest and what Banks calls “failed citizenship.” Structural inequities of wealth and class are as intractable as they’ve ever been. And race, as recent news from Ferguson, Mo. and elsewhere has made clear, remains a serious issue. All these factors and more make “how can we all get along” a question that’s never been more important.

“Teachers have to begin to see that I am the other and the other is me,” Banks said. “That I have to transform. That in the long run our fates are tied. That the future of all children is my future, that our fates are intimately connected. And that my journey is the journey of all people. The future of our democratic society, and the future of all our youth, depends on providing a sound civic education for every student.”

“Helping educators to see America differently, helping them to see the world differently—I think that’s the biggest challenge,” Banks said. “What unifies us is our commitment to democracy, our commitment to equality. That’s the overarching thing that unites us. It’s a system of values that we haven’t quite reached yet—but they remain the goal.”


Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications