ERIC Identifier: ED372146 Publication Date: 1994-06-00
Author: Burnett, Gary Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban
Education New York NY.
Varieties of Multicultural Education: An Introduction. ERIC
What we now call multicultural education originated in the 1960s in the wake
of the civil rights movement as a corrective to the long-standing de facto
policy of assimilating minority groups into the "melting pot" of dominant
American culture (Sobol, 1990). Multicultural education has captured almost
daily headlines in recent years, as it has become an ever more contentious and
politicized battleground. To cite just two instances, attempts to establish
multicultural curricula in New York City and California were the subject of
considerable public attention. In the debate over New York's Children of the
Rainbow curriculum, opponents such as Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1991) argued that
multicultural education threatened to divide students along racial and cultural
lines, rather than unite them as Americans. California's curriculum was met with
strong attacks from both opponents and proponents of multicultural education;
depending upon one's perspective, the curriculum either carried diversity too
far, or merely bolstered the traditional curriculum's Eurocentric biases (Kirp,
1991; King, 1992).
The public debate continues. As recently as May 1994, a school board in Lake
County, Florida, voted that its schools could teach children about other
cultures, but only as a way of teaching them that American culture was
inherently "superior," a decision much discussed around the country ("School
In the midst of such controversy, there has been little agreement on a
precise conceptualization of multicultural education; indeed, while some limit
its applicability to curriculum, multicultural education has also been broadly
defined to include "any set of processes by which schools work with rather than
against oppressed groups" (Sleeter, 1992, p. 141). Even more sweeping, one
scholar asserted that multicultural education can have an impact upon every
aspect of a school's operation: staffing, curriculum, tracking, testing,
pedagogy, disciplinary policies, student involvement, and parent and community
involvement (Nieto, 1992). Clearly, multicultural education, as practiced in the
United States, takes many varied forms.
TYPOLOGIES OF MULTICULTURAL EDUCATION
education, however, cannot be all things to all people. Several attempts have
been made to detail the various educational strategies that fall under the broad
umbrella of multicultural education--to develop a "typology." A typology can
provide a useful framework for thinking about multicultural education, giving
educators--and others--a clearer understanding of what people mean by the term.
Two of the most useful typologies, albeit different from each other, were
developed by Banks (1994), and by Sleeter and Grant (1993). Drawing upon both
those typologies, this digest presents a third typology in order to offer a
brief summary of how multicultural education is implemented in the United
States. It is intended for educators, policy makers, and others who are just
beginning to consider multicultural education options; future digests will
address more advanced issues.
The multicultural education typology presented here is comprised of programs
that can be broadly divided into three categories, according to their primary
emphasis. Each is discussed below.
As the controversies in New York
City and California suggest, content-oriented efforts are the most common and
immediately recognizable variety of multicultural education. Their primary goal
is to include content about different cultural groups in the curriculum and
educational materials in order to increase students' knowledge about these
groups. In its simplest form, this type of program adds a multicultural patina
to a standard curriculum, perhaps incorporating a few short readings or a few
in-class celebrations of cultural heroes and holidays within the school year.
Other versions of content-area programs take a more thorough approach, adding
numerous multicultural materials and themes to the curriculum.
More sophisticated versions actively transform the curriculum. According to
Banks (1994), these programs have three goals:
to develop multicultural content throughout the disciplines;
to incorporate a variety of different viewpoints and perspectives in the
to transform the canon, ultimately developing a new paradigm for the curriculum.
Such programs often take the form that Sleeter and Grant (1993) call
"single-group studies"; common examples include black, ethnic, and women's
studies programs. In some cases, single-group studies programs can play a major
role in the transformation of entire schools, as, for instance, in the
development of independent Afrocentric schools (Shujaa, 1992). Some schools have
also created single-gender classrooms, designed specifically to meet the
educational needs of girls away from the distractions of a mixed-gender
situation. Afrocentric schools and single-gender classrooms, thus, combine
elements from content-oriented programs with aspects of student-oriented
programs, described below.
Because multicultural education
is an effort to reflect the growing diversity of America's classrooms, many
programs move beyond curricular revisions to specifically address the academic
needs of carefully defined groups of students, often minority students.
Primarily, as Banks (1994) notes, while curricular programs attempt to increase
the body of knowledge about different ethnic, cultural, and gender groups,
student-oriented programs are intended to increase the academic achievement of
these groups, even when they do not involve extensive changes in the content of
As Sleeter and Grant (1993) describe them, many of these programs are
designed not to transform the curriculum or the social context of education, but
to help culturally or linguistically different students make the transition into
the educational mainstream. To do this, these programs often draw upon the
varied linguistic and cultural backgrounds of their student bodies.
As a result, student-oriented programs can, themselves, take many forms, some
of which are not typically thought of as types of multicultural education. Banks
(1994) outlines four broad program categories:
programs that use research into culturally-based learning styles in an attempt
to determine which teaching styles to use with a particular group of students;
bilingual or bicultural programs; language programs built upon the language and
culture of African-American students; and
special math and science programs for minority or female students.
As a result of this variety--and because they attempt to help students make
the transition into the mainstream--many student-oriented programs can be viewed
as compensatory in nature; in fact, they can often be nearly indistinguishable
from other compensatory programs which may not be multicultural in their
These programs seek to reform
both schooling and the cultural and political contexts of schooling, aiming
neither simply to enhance academic achievement nor to increase the body of
multicultural knowledge, but to have the much broader impact of increasing
cultural and racial tolerance and reducing bias.
According to Banks (1994), this category of program encompasses not only
programs designed to restructure and desegregate schools, but also programs
designed to increase all kinds of contact among the races: programs to encourage
minority teachers, anti-bias programs, and cooperative learning programs. As
Sleeter and Grant (1993) describe it, this type of multicultural education
emphasizes "human relations" in all its forms, and incorporates some
characteristics of the other two program types; that is, it can entail
curricular revisions in order to emphasize positive social contributions of
ethnic and cultural groups, while using research on learning styles to enhance
student achievement and reduce racial tensions within the classroom.
But Sleeter and Grant (1993) also extend this type of multicultural education
to include a much broader spectrum of programs with socially-oriented and social
activist goals. The programs they refer to, which are much less common--and
which can be much more controversial--emphasize pluralism and cultural equity in
the American society as a whole, not simply within the schools. In order to
reach their goals, such programs can employ a number of approaches. Many
emphasize the application of critical thinking skills to a critique of racism,
sexism, and other repressive aspects of American society; some emphasize
multilingualism; others attempt to examine issues from a large number of
viewpoints different from that of the predominant culture; still others can
utilize cooperative learning approaches and decision-making skills in order to
prepare students to become socially-active citizens.
These clearly drawn categories of multicultural
education may facilitate educators' attempts to develop programs that reflect
the diversity of their student body. Public articulation of the programs and
goals of specific approaches can help to temper some of the political rhetoric
surrounding multicultural education, and give educators and policymakers on all
sides of the issue a common basis for their discussions.
Banks, J. A. (1994). An introduction to
multicultural education. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Kirp, D. L. (1991). Textbooks and tribalism in California. Public Interest,
King, J. E. (1992). Diaspora literacy and consciousness in the struggle
against miseducation in the black community. Journal of Negro Education, 61(3),
Nieto, S. (1992). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of
multicultural education. New York: Longman. (ED 361 440)
Schlesinger, A., Jr. (1991). Report of the social studies syllabus review
committee: A dissenting opinion. In New York State Social Studies Review and
Development Committee, One nation, many peoples: A declaration of cultural
interdependence. New York: Author.
School board will recognize other cultures, but as inferior. (1994, May 13).
The New York Times, p. A16.
Shujaa, M. J. (1992). Afrocentric transformation and parental choice in
African American independent schools. Journal of Negro Education, 61(2), 148-59.
Sleeter, C. E. (1992). Restructuring schools for multicultural education.
Journal of Teacher Education 43, 141-48.
Sleeter, C. E., & Grant, C. A. (1993). Making choices for multicultural
education: Five approaches to race, class and gender (2nd ed.). New York:
Sobol, T. (1990). Understanding diversity. Educational Leadership, 48(3),
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