ERIC Identifier: ED322274
Publication Date: 1990-04-00 
Author: Mitchell, Vernay 
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education New York NY. 

Curriculum and Instruction To Reduce Racial Conflict. ERIC/CUE Digest No. 64. 

The potential for racial conflict always exists in our multicultural society, and periodically there are widespread and serious racial incidents. Although various social institutions have attempted to respond to racial prejudice, effective interventions have not been devised to eliminate outbreaks of racial conflict totally or to obliterate the causes of racism. Public support for overt racism such as segregation and claims of racial inferiority have declined, but more subtle forms have emerged. Retrenchment in areas such as affirmative action and government programs to help decrease the economic and social power differentials among the races could be a cause (Kinder, 1986; Survey Research Center, 1986). 

Educational institutions have always attempted to redress racial conflict and its underlying themes of bias, prejudice, and injustice. Measures have included efforts to change the structural aspects of schools and school districts with plans such as busing or redrawing district lines. As these reforms became controversial, other areas of the education system were targeted for change. Many school systems sought to hire more members of minority groups. Another area of effort has been use of curriculum to develop a climate for racial equality. Three such approaches to curriculum, discussed below, are multicultural education, anti-racist education, and conflict resolution. Although some effective programs use only one of these approaches, the most comprehensive programs include components of all three. 


Since the 1930s attempts have been made to develop curricula to change negative racial attitudes and encourage appreciation for people of all races. Later efforts stressed the psychological aspects of prejudice reduction and advocated an assimilation model of incorporating racial minorities into the mainstream (Benedict & Ellis, 1942; Lynch, 1987; Olneck, 1990). Later approaches and policies attempted to raise the self-esteem of minorities and to improve their access to good schooling (Grant, 1988). 

In the 1980s a more global focus evolved in educational thinking. There were attempts to replace tensions in schools with respect and acceptance through multicultural education, and educating for peace and justice. Curriculum manuals from organizations like the Institute for Peace and Justice (McGinnis, 1984) focus on the unique qualities and the mutual interdependence of minority and majority groups within a society, and of various communities within the world system. 

As concern about various types of biases increased, guidelines and checklists (see, for example, Banks, 1984; Ferguson, 1987; and Cotera, n.d.) came into use for selecting and evaluating curricula and materials. All 50 states have devised selection criteria for screening materials already in use and for selecting new curricula. 

An approach stressing the appreciation of differences has been used by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B'nai B'rith in its curriculum materials, a module of 20 activities for elementary school students, The Wonderful World of Difference. In response to an increasing community wide need, ADL's program was expanded to A World of Difference, a comprehensive campaign against prejudice. It includes curriculum materials and public relations strategies organized by schools, the media, and community groups to celebrate the differences among people and to further the cause of human rights. 

Another example is Project REACH, developed in Reston, VA. This intervention consists of materials and dramatic activities aimed at schools with few minority students. It has been successful in creating positive awareness of minorities by teaching human awareness skills, (Lynch, 1987). 

While curriculum related to culture has been stressed in the past decade, some researchers and practitioners (Brandt, 1986; Milner, 1983; Moultry, 1988) have suggested that education labelled "multicultural" evades the explicit issue of racism by diverting attention to milder topics like differences in cultural heritage and social values. Thus the more relevant, although uncomfortable, topics are avoided by instruction which advocates the relativistic viewpoint that all cultural practices in their native environment are acceptable merely because someone, somewhere believes in them (Olneck, 1990). 

Some empirical studies demonstrate the lack of efficacy of multicultural programs and the fact that some school districts without minority group students do not promote the discussion of racial or ethnic differences. Moultry (1988) reports on a multicultural program that failed to produce empathy in student teachers toward issues of institutional racism. The assumption of such programs is usually that teaching students about differences is sufficient to change their beliefs and behavior. Yet after having experienced the program, these college students, soon to become teachers, lacked confidence that education could change the way people think and act relative to pluralism. The program requirements were changed so that in addition to courses on cultural differences the students must participate in field experiences that put them in contact with different cultural groups. 


To truly address racism, instruction must enable teachers and students to analyze the inequities in power and economic status that determine race relations. And the rising tide of racial conflict in spite of multicultural programs suggests this more direct approach is needed. In some arenas the need is being met by a concentration on anti-racist education and conflict resolution. These curricula emphasize social causes of racism over cultural ones, and consider justice the key societal objective (Brandt, 1986). 

Cole (1990) offers a manual for use as a learning tool in courses, or for personal reflection about racism. The manual presents situations of racism and other biases in line drawings with captions that challenge readers to acknowledge, explore, and try to overcome personal prejudices. 

Agencies such as School Mediation Associates of Cambridge, MA, and the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution in New York City, work with schools and community groups to plan, set goals, and mediate in the context of resolving conflicts that arise because of race, ethnicity, class, and gender issues within institutions. Follow-up training and support are provided as the school or organization forms a permanent mediation team (Governor's Task Force, 1988). 

The encouragement of critical thinking about social issues such as racism is the goal of the Creative Arts Team headquartered at New York University. This organization sends teams of actors to schools and other institutions to engage audiences in participatory performances on topics such as racism and conflict resolution. 

Programs such as these are changing education to promote more awareness and understanding of racism and human relations. They create learning environments that provide the opportunity for students and teachers to examine broad social perspectives in light of our multiracial society, and they sensitize students and teachers about the dangers of extremism (Governor's Task Force, 1988; Survey Research Center, 1986). 


The institutionalization of practices and procedures to combat racism requires written policy statements that are well publicized and executed throughout schools and districts. These policies are strengthened when they are aligned with multicultural, anti-racist, and conflict resolution curriculum and instruction. Among the recommendations for evaluating and reforming curricula and school policy to combat racism that appear on most experts' lists are these: 


Issue policy statements concerning race, ethnicity, religion, and gender that cover broad school district philosophy, as well as hiring practices and the handling of bias motivated incidents. 

Maintain racial and cultural diversity among members of the administration, faculty, and staff. 

Provide services for victims of bias motivated violence. 

Report and monitor trends in racial attitudes. 

Establish committees on human relations that include students, faculty, and staff. 


Use the arts to encourage critical thinking about social issues. 

Check textbooks and other resources for bias. 

Reflect the cultural diversity of the school in teaching strategies. 

Affirm racial and cultural differences with regular and special activities, not only during a special time such as Black History Month and the Chinese New Year, but throughout the school year. 

While the elimination of racism and racial conflict in our society will require more than simply a revision of educational policies and practices, providing students with a sound foundation for opposing bias when they are faced with it in other spheres of their lives is an important contribution. 


Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith. (1986). The Wonderful World of Difference: A Human Relations Program. New York: Author. 

Banks, J. (1984). Teaching strategies for ethnic studies. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. (ED 177 275) 

Benedict, R., & Ellis, M. (1942). Race and cultural relations: America's answer to the myth of a master race. Menash, WI: Banta Publishing. 

Brandt, G.L. (1986). The realization of anti-racist teaching. London: Falmer Press. (ED 193 952) 

Cole, J. (1990). Filtering people: Understanding and confronting our prejudices. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers. 

Cotera, M.P. (n.d.). Checklists for counteracting race and sex bias in educational materials. Newton, MA: EDC/WEEA Publishing Center. (ED 221 612) 

Ferguson, H. (1987). Manual for multicultural education. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press. 

Governor's Task Force on Bias-Related Violence. (1988). Final Report. Albany: State of New York. 

Grant, C.A., (1988). The persistent significance of race in schooling. The Elementary School Journal, 88 (5), 561-569. 

Kinder, D.R. (1986). The continuing American dilemma: White resistance to racial change 40 years after Myrdal. Journal of Social Issues, 42 (2), 151-171. 

Lynch, J. (1987). Prejudice reduction and the schools. New York: Nichols. 

McGinnis, J. (1984). Educating for peace and justice: Global dimensions. St. Louis: Institute for Peace and Justice. 

Milner, D. (1983). Children and race. London: Sage Publications. 

Moultry, M. (1988, April). Multicultural education among seniors in the College of Education at Ohio State University. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA. (ED 296 634) 

Olneck, M.R. (1990) The recurring dream: Symbolism and ideology in intercultural and multicultural education. American Journal of Education, 98 (2), 147-174. 

Survey Research Center. (1986). Changes in ethnic, religious and race-related attitudes in Maryland-Survey II: Report to the governor's task force on violence and extremism. College Park: University of Maryland. 


Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith 

823 United Nations Plaza 

New York, New York 10017 


Creative Arts Team 

NYU, 715 Broadway, 5th floor 

New York, New York 10003 


The Institute for Peace and Justice 

4144 Lindell Blvd. #400 

St. Louis, Missouri 63108 


International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution 

Box 53, Teachers College, Columbia University 

New York, New York 10027 


Project REACH 

Langston Hughes Intermediate School 

11301 Ridge Heights Road 

Reston, Virginia 22091 


School Mediation Associates 

702 Green Street #8 

Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139 

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