ERIC Identifier: ED327613
Publication Date: 1990-07-00
Author: Webb, Michael
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education New York NY.
Multicultural Education in Elementary and Secondary
Schools. ERIC Digest Number 67.
Schools have introduced numerous programs and activities to recognize
achievements of a wide range of various ethnic groups in the beliefs that
a multicultural education helps to prepare students for life in an ethnically
diverse society and can bring about cognitive and affective benefits to
Generally, the introduction of multicultural activities has been motivated
by at least four intentions: (1) to remedy ethnocentrism in the traditional
curriculum; (2) to build understanding among racial and cultural groups
and appreciation of different cultures; (3) to defuse intergroup tensions
and conflicts; and (4) to make the curricula relevant to the experiences,
cultural traditions, and historical contributions of the nation's diverse
ACHIEVEMENT EFFECTS ON STUDENTS
Many educators now assert that a growing body of evidence links multicultural
education and improved academic learning. For example, Hale (1986) described
cognitive gains achieved by children in a pre-school program integrating
material on African American culture throughout the curriculum. Zaslavsky
(1988) demonstrated how elements of African and other cultural traditions
can be used to teach complex mathematics concepts to inner-city students.
A study (Fulton-Scott, 1983) using three elementary programs for Hispanic
children not English-proficient revealed that the math, reading, and language
scores of students in bilingual and multiculturally-integrated English
as a Second Language programs were significantly superior to scores of
students enrolled in bilingual ESL without the multicultural integration.
ORGANIZATION OF MULTICULTURAL PROGRAMS
Most multicultural learning activities consist of discrete lessons organized
around particular events, such as the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.,
Kwanza, Chinese New Year, Columbus Day, and so forth. These activities
can be confined to a particular classroom, or can involve the entire school
(for example, student assembly, school fair).
Hylton and Dumett (1986) present a list of suggestions for elementary
level class activities focusing on multicultural themes:
o collect articles from newspapers and magazines that deal with one
or more groups.
o collect relevant pictures, books, records, and poems.
o perform plays about various groups.
o keep a journal based on one or more themes, such as money around the
world, or holidays around the world.
o develop a multicultural calendar.
o learn songs in different languages.
o make maps showing the origin of various groups.
An example of a more comprehensive multicultural program is Project
REACH (Respecting Ethnic and Cultural Heritage), which has gained prominence
as an academic discipline-based program for middle school social studies,
and which now includes over 60,000 students and hundreds of teachers in
twelve states. REACH infuses information on the history and culture of
various groups into the regular curriculum. It is a multicultural curriculum
and process, and teacher training process, managed on a school- or district-wide
basis, organized around four phases:
Human Relations Skills. Students participate in activities on self-awareness,
self-esteem, interpersonal communication, and understanding group dynamics.
Cultural Self Awareness. Students conduct research on their personal
culture, family history, or community.
Multicultural Awareness. Students study from booklets on American history
from diverse ethnic points of view.
Cross Cultural Experience. Historical and cultural information in the
booklets is made personal through dialogue and exchange with students and
adults from different ethnic groups (Howard, 1989).
According to Jones (1986), multicultural learning activities are most
effective for learners when they:
offer students opportunities to observe/participate in the affairs of
engage students directly and actively in learning.
relate directly to the concerns of the students.
rely on a broad range of instructional materials.
offer a scope and sequence that is developmentally based.
evaluate and document what has been learned using tests, demonstrations,
surveys and other assessment methods.
The Portland Public Schools provides an example of a multicultural education
program that has been implemented as a result of a community-wide mandate
(Porter, 1986). The impetus for change came from the creation of a district
desegregation plan, and a coalition of civic and church organizations stimulated
public dialogue on the goals for multicultural education. Information was
conveyed to the public in various forms such as publications, forums, and
Ultimately, a series of essays on cultural contributions of African
Americans, Native Americans, Asians, and Hispanic Americans became the
basis of the curriculum used throughout the district.
The Albuquerque Public Schools Elementary Social Studies Curriculum
(Jones, 1986) offers activities referenced for each objective, resources
available for students and teachers use, and suggestions for ways to integrate
multicultural activities with other areas of the curriculum.
CONSIDERATIONS IN DEVELOPING INTERDISCIPLINARY PROGRAMS
Needs Assessment. Decisions must be made regarding the grade(s) to be
involved, the availability of materials and the development of others,
hiring of new teachers, and training of current teachers.
Goals. Besides the district- or state-mandated student performance goals,
goals for skills development and attitude change should be specified for
each subject area and grade.
Curriculum Development. Most multicultural materials currently available
are concentrated in the field of social studies. Two key issues to be addressed
in the development of materials for other courses are the extent to which
they reinforce student competency goals and the degree of their integration
into the school's formal instructional program.
Multicultural materials have been developed by organizations and commercial
publishers to support individual class lessons, as part of a course unit,
to develop school-wide activities, or as the basis for an entire curriculum
in one or more subject areas. Some of these materials can be identified
by writing to the addresses below or with assistance from a librarian or
other information specialist.
Staff Development. Barron (1989) and others (Jones, 1986; Washington
Office of the Superintendent, 1976) identify a set of considerations to
overcome potential problems and obstacles:
View multicultural education as a process, and as an integral part of
Specify outcomes; link goals for multicultural education to district
or school goals for student learning.
Center efforts around students, not teachers. Advisory committees should
include parents and educators but should consist mostly of students. At
the same time, respect the right of teachers to make professional choices
for effectively meeting learning objectives.
The role of program coordinator should be a paid position. If the program
coordinator is responsible for other duties (teaching, guidance/counseling),
he or she should be provided with release time.
In addition, successful programs require a commitment from leadership,
which might consist of the department chair, school principal, or district
superintendent. Plans for school- or district-wide multicultural education
programs should be comprehensive, focused and well-publicized. Plans should
also be long-term with measurable goals, staged timelines, resources and
accountabilities. Burton (1985) examines the issue of student resistance
to learning about other cultures and cautions consideration of two groups
of students: those in the group the class is celebrating and who will be
sensitive about the observance, and those not in the group who may not
be interested and may be prejudiced against the celebrated group.
Increasingly, decisions regarding curriculum and instruction are being
influenced by goals for including information about various social groups.
State-wide commissions have been established in California, New York, Washington,
and other states, as well as the District of Columbia, to examine state
education guidelines and to recommend new guidelines for the inclusion
of multicultural education objectives. Most states have adopted general
goals affirming multicultural education and recognizing the value of ethnic
and cultural diversity.
Barron, B. (1989). Strategies for inter-ethnic conflict resolution.
Available from: 1 Smoketree Lane, Irvine, CA 92714.
Burton, W.H., & Strickland, L. (1985). Special observances honoring
our nation's peoples: A generic approach. Office for Equity Education's
Multicultural Education Resource Series. Olympia: Washington Office of
the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. (ED 259 072)
Fulton-Scott, M. (1983). Bilingual multicultural education vs. integrated
and non-integrated ESL instruction. NABE Journal, 11 (3), 1-12.
Hale-Benson, J. (1989). Visions for children: African American early
childhood education program. (ED 270 235)
Hylton, V.W., & Dumett, L. (1986). Multiethnic/multicultural materials.
Richmond: Virginia State Department of Education, Division of Technical
Assistance for Equity in Education. (ED 272 440)
Jones, C. (Ed.). (1986). Elementary social studies curriculum guide
(K-5). Albuquerque: Albuquerque Public Schools. (ED 274 614)
Sexton, P. (1986). A statistical portrait of the multicultural/multiethnic
student population in Portland Public Schools. A Summary Report. Portland,
OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. (ED 276 797)
Washington Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
(1976). A model for multicultural education in the basic skills: A curriculum
infusion model for multicultural education student learning outcomes. Olympia:
Office for Equity Education. (ED 278 756)
Zaslavsky, C. (1988, July). Integrating mathematics with the study of
cultural traditions. Paper presented to the 6th Annual International Conference
on Mathematical Education, Budapest, Hungary. (ED 303 540)
Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, 1407 14th
Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005
Office for Equity Education, Washington Office of the State Superintendent
of Public Instruction, Old Capitol Building, FG11, Olympia, WA 98504
Portland Public Schools, Department of Multicultural Education, Portland,
REACH Center, 239 North McCleod, Arlington, WA 98223