ERIC Identifier: ED425249 Publication Date: 1998-11-00
Author: Schwartz, Wendy Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Urban Education New York NY.
The Schooling of Multiracial Students. ERIC/CUE Digest, Number
The number of multiracial children in the U.S. is increasing: more than
100,000 have been born annually over the last decade, and most interracial
families reside in urban areas (Okun, 1996; U.S. Bureau of the Census, cited in
Root, 1996). Therefore, it is necessary for educators and counselors to
understand and meet the special needs of students of mixed heritage and to
support their families' efforts to nurture them.
Children of mixed racial and ethnic heritage have unique advantages. They
also experience particular challenges. Individuals who are socialized as
multiracial frequently have an enhanced sense of self and identity, and greater
intergroup tolerance, language facility, appreciation of minority group
cultures, and ties to single-heritage groups than do monoracial people
On the other hand, developing a positive identity may be more difficult for
multiracial children than for others, the result of a combination of personal
feelings about their identity choices, the way they are socialized within their
family, and the attitudes and pressures they encounter when they begin to
function in society (Morrissey, 1996). Further, the racism visited upon people
of color generally in the U.S. may be exacerbated by a corollary, and possibly
even stronger, prejudice of some people against mixing races through marriage
and procreation (Miller & Rotheram-Borus, 1994; Pinderhughes, 1995) and
"blurring the physical categories upon which white status and power depend"
(Wilson, 1987, p. 7). While black-white marriages comprise the lowest rate of
intermarriage, the families they create elicit the strongest negative reactions
(Okun, 1996), possibly because they are more noticeable than other interracial
families or because racism against African Americans has historically been
stronger than racism against other groups.
THE MULTIRACIAL POPULATION
Ethnic group differences have a
significant impact on children's social development, although the impact varies
with age and specific ethnicity. How multiracial children are labeled by
themselves, their families, and society in general is an important factor in
their lives, for labels are powerful comments on how an individual's existence
The term "multiracial" is now favored to designate an individual's mixed
heritage. It covers people not only of mixed race, but monoracial people of
mixed ethnicity, language, and culture. Further, monoracial children who were
adopted by parents of a different race often consider themselves multiracial as
their lives incorporate the cultures of both their biological and adoptive
parents. "Multiracial" is used here to indicate individuals of mixed racial,
ethnic, or cultural ancestry whose lives reflect multiple heritages.
STAGES OF IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT
development is a complex process that is only now being defined as researchers
have determined that models of minority identity development are not appropriate
for multiracial individuals and that models based on deficits in development
seriously shortchange multiracial individuals. One recently-created model of
racial identity development meshes existing research on personal identity (which
includes constructs such as self-esteem, self- worth, and interpersonal
competence) and reference group orientation (constructs such as racial identity,
racial esteem, and racial ideology) to define stages of development reflecting
the impact of heritage. The stages range from an individual's initial
acquisition of a personal identity (which does not encompass racial factors) to
satisfaction with his or her ultimate decision about group identification after
working through various conflicts related to the need to make such a choice. The
model's last stage is integration of all the components of an individual's
heritage (Poston, 1990). This model provides a typology of the stages that some
families progress through as they help their children define themselves
personally and develop connections to their heritages. However, the model does
not fit the children of multiracial families choosing to embrace only one
ATTITUDES TOWARDS CLASSIFICATION
Within the multiracial
community there are several alternative views on classification. Some people
want to be classified solely as human, asserting that any designation other than "white" relegates them to a lower status, given existing racism (Pinderhughes,
1995). Other families, perhaps the majority, help their children develop a
multiracial identity that promotes equal pride in all the components of their
heritage (Pinderhughes, 1995). Still others--single parents, especially, who opt
to emphasize their own race--foster a monoracial identity for their children.
Some do so because the children most closely resemble members of a certain race;
others do so because they are knowledgeable about only one of their children's
heritages (Mills, 1994). In particular, some parents of children with African
ancestry raise them as black in order to prepare them for their treatment
(including victimization by racism) as such (Morrison & Rodgers, 1996).
Multiracial children need to be exposed to
models of all the ethnicities they comprise and to multiracial models. They also
need to live and learn in a supportive community that affirms multiracialism, to
understand what it means to be multiracial, and to acquire culturally-linked
The existence of multiracial children challenges prevailing assumptions about
natural divisions between people, and assignment of traits based on race.
Optimally, in school, these children "will serve as creative resources for
developing new forms of polyglot cultural creativity" (Chiong, 1998, p. 109).
This is not to say that they should be treated as one more race to be
identified, assigned specific personal traits and learning expectations, and
segregated. Rather, multicultural children, with their particular contributions
to discourse in the classroom, should encourage educators to consider the needs
and strengths of individuals rather than groups, and to reject all race-based
stereotypes (Glass & Wallace, 1996).
It is important for schools to foster universal respect for students, to be
clear that intolerance by either staff or students is not acceptable, and to
provide their staffs with accurate information on multiculturalism so they can
correct misconceptions when they hear them from other adults or children
(Morrison & Rodgers, 1996). School people need to be vigilant to ensure that
no children are victimized by others, however subtly, and that the identity
chosen by students is accepted and respected by their peers.
THE ROLE OF EDUCATORS
The message that educators convey
about how they view multicultural families is important to the developing
self-concept of children, but how best to serve multiracial students
educationally is an area of professional development still being defined. As the
trend toward distinguishing between members of different ethnic groups and
between members of the same ethnic group continues, in recognition of the fact
that "lumping" is neither appropriate nor useful, interest in better meeting the
specific needs of multiracial students is increasing. The traditional "deficit
model" for these students, which led educators to assume that they were rife
with problems in need of solving, is slowly giving way to the belief that the
needs of multiracial students are neither different from those of other
students, nor more severe. Further, since multiracial children may identify
themselves in many different ways, it is important for educators to reflect and
respect the preferences of individual children when alluding to their heritage.
CONSIDERING PERSONAL VIEWS ON RACE AND MULTIRACIALISM
In order to develop empathy for multiracial children in
general, educators should understand how people from other cultures view their
world; to do so for a specific multiracial child, they should learn how that
child views the world. Further, educators need to examine their personal values
with regard to interracial marriage and families, and consider whether society's
historical court-supported disapproval of race mixing has influenced them. They
should ask themselves if they automatically categorize a multiracial child as a
member of a generic or specific minority group, and if doing so shortchanges the
student in terms of respect and expectations.
Educators need to identify the unique characteristics of each child, instead
of assuming that all children who share a heritage share the same complement of
characteristics. Learning about different ethnicities will help educators
understand that there are vast differences within groups, including physical,
religious, economic, political, and educational. There are also differences in
the appearance of members of the same ethnic group as well as similarities in
appearance across groups, so it is not useful to assume a child's ethnicity can
be determined by physical characteristics. It is important, too, for educators
to recognize that cultural factors, in both historical and current contexts,
influence children's development and can serve to explain certain attitudes and
behavior (Wardle, 1989).
ELICITING INFORMATION FROM MULTIRACIAL FAMILIES.
important for educators to know about the heritage, in all of its possible
complexity, of their students. Such information can further help teachers
transcend any negative attitudes about multiracialism they may have absorbed
from living in a largely race-based society (Glass & Wallace, 1996).
Parent-teacher conferences, preferably held at the start of a child's schooling,
can be a forum for learning about students' backgrounds. To alleviate any
discomfort with questions about ethnic background, educators can employ a
questionnaire created by the anti-bias task force of the National Association
for the Education of Young Children which facilitates supportive querying (cited
in Morrison & Rodgers, 1996).
This information helps educators more effectively and sensitively communicate
with their students. It will also enable them to encourage multiracial children
to show pride in all their ethnicities. In addition, teachers should know in
advance that some children, when doing a project on their heritage, will quite
correctly present material on several cultures.
MEETING THE DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS OF MULTIRACIAL
How well multiracial children form a cohesive identity within a
society that favors racial purity is largely determined by family and community
support which enables them to reflect and take pride in all their heritages
(Chiong, 1998). Thus, it is important for educators to support and accept them;
to help children develop the skills and confidence to protect themselves from
verbal and physical abuse; and to explore with the children who abuse, the
reasons why they do so, and to make it clear that such behavior cannot be
tolerated in school (Wardle, 1987, 1992). They can also help students feel a
sense of community, especially important if their parents' interracial marriage,
or their own interracial adoption, has caused rifts in their extended family
(Miller & Rotheram-Borus, 1994).
SCHOOL ACTIVITIES AND CURRICULUM
All aspects of school life
can support multiracial children and counter racism that children of all
ethnicities see in society at large. In general, teachers can facilitate
age-appropriate discussions and foster open and supportive questioning about
race. It is natural for young children to ask questions like "Are you black?"
and teachers need to be ready to help children respond in a way that builds
their self-concept and educates the questioner (Morrison & Rodgers, 1996;
One educational and engaging project, which can be schoolwide or involve only
a single class, is developing and sharing family trees. Students can go back as
far as possible to develop their own tree, questioning their families, and
seeking out illustrative artifacts. Teachers can help adopted students research
aspects of their heritage not shared by their current family. Parents or other
relatives can be invited to talk to the class or participate in a group activity
In addition, schools can do the following (Morrison & Rodgers, 1996;
Wardle, 1987, 1992):
*Celebrate many heritages, stressing their interplay in life and the ways
that different cultures have similar commemorations.
*Provide toys for younger children which include dolls with multiracial
*Include multiracial persons as role models when selecting assembly speakers
and other resource persons.
*Seek out and use the increasing number of children's books available that
depict multiracialism in the classroom, acquire them for the school library, and
request that the local library purchase them for family use.
Curriculum can include study units on art, music, and literature, which
transcend ethnic boundaries, instead of units on specific groups, such as
"Indians" (Wardle, 1987). Curriculum can diminish differences between cultures
by refraining from breaking groups into specific categories defined by color and
physical attributes. Specifically, at the appropriate grade level, curriculum
can do the following (Morrison & Rodgers, 1996; Wardle, 1996):
*Present information on, and show pictures of, people of many racial and
ethnic groups, including those of mixed heritage.
*Demonstrate how people in the U.S. have successfully mixed languages,
cultures, and religions throughout its history, and how the country has always
been a home to multiethnic people (for example, early settlers whose parents
comprised different European heritages).
*Identify multiracial heroes such as Frederick Douglass and James Audubon,
and cultural figures like Maria Tallchief and Paula Abdul.
*Cover the current status of multiracial people around the world, such as
Mestizos, Creoles, and Brazilians.
*Address directly the history of racism against groups of people, including
the multiracial population, and discuss the reasons for it.
*Study monoracial groups to promote an understanding of the role of race in
society by exploring why some people need to belong to an exclusive group or
need to feel superior to others, and what the societal and personal consequences
of such attitudes are.
School counselors need to provide an accurate
assessment and intervention for students of color, and to understand how
historical and current racism impacts the lives of individuals of all
ethnicities (Okun, 1996). With regard to multiracial children, counselors should
help them develop a positive racial identity, possibly in the face of challenges
imposed by monoracial groups that resist acceptance of blending (Morrissey,
To provide services most usefully, counselors must reconsider race-based
preconceptions resulting from erroneous assumptions. Traditionally, for example,
it has been thought that multiracial children have problems, identity conflicts
in particular, because they "must choose" a race (Wilson, 1987, p. 7). It has
also been believed that the problems they do have, which seem to have no bearing
on their racial composition, are nevertheless race-related. Both these beliefs
can result in overlooking the real causes of a student's problems and, thus, can
sharply limit the benefits of the counseling. Conversely, exploration of
clients' attitudes about their identity and heritage can reveal that a problem
(such as depression or family difficulties), which on the surface is not
race-related, actually is (Adler, 1987).
Multiracial teenage clients may need special supports. While all adolescents
experience conflicts in identity development, those of multiracial youth may be
exacerbated by a desire to find a dating partner who matches, or simply
respects, their heritage; or by their peer groups' newly-manifested ostracism,
resulting from a heightened emphasis on conformity.
To best work with young multiracial clients, counselors should do the
following (Adler, 1987; Poston, 1990; Morrissey, 1996; Okun, 1996):
*Understand the racial identity development process.
*Develop counseling processes and goals that are consistent with the
individual differences and cultural orientations of their clients.
*Create a culturally sensitive counseling climate, and demonstrate respect
and compassion for clients and validation of their multiple heritages.
*Learn about each client's heritage, and when appropriate, participate in
local ethnic events, alone or with clients.
*Learn about the cultural and experiential differences of each client within
a sociopolitical context.
*Help clients explore issues related to differences between the counselor's
and client's heritage, and help clients feel confident that those differences
will not compromise the effectiveness of the counseling process.
*Encourage clients to discuss personal feelings about identity and ethnic
affiliation, since many families do not emphasize issues of heritage, despite
recent increased public attention to multiracial pride. Create a safe atmosphere
where clients can express feelings of alienation and anger.
*Help clients understand that they may have internalized the biased attitudes
of others about their heritage, and help them move from an external to an
internal perspective of self.
*Consider the effects on clients of family and personal stresses related to
race-related conflicts and racism.
*Offer to work with families to help them fully accept their multiracial
children, enable them to foster their children's positive racial identity
development, and promote their children's interest in exploring all their
*Learn about available community resources and support groups for clients and
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