The Importance of Multicultural Education in American Schools

by Pauline Gill

    The implementation of multicultural education in American schools is ongoing and changing. Today, people come from a wide array of cultures including people from Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa; whereas, earlier generations of immigrants came from mostly western and northern Europe. Schools play an important role preparing students for the responsibilities of an ever-changing diverse and global society.

    Concept

    Researcher James A. Banks identifies five dimensions of multicultural education -- content integration, the knowledge of construction process, prejudice reduction, equity pedagogy (method of teaching) and an empowering school culture and social structure. All dimensions are interrelated, but each needs attention to detail and focus. Introducing different cultures in a social studies class does not satisfy a multicultural education. Including content from different ethnic and cultural groups, developing positive attitudes, providing equal educational opportunities and creating an environment with equal status for all requires implementing multicultural education in the curriculum, policy-making and school climate.

    Critical Thinking Skills

    Integrating multicultural education into the existing curriculum, instead of making it a separate content area, relieves the burden of creating separate lessons, units and courses in an already-overburdened curriculum. Content integration encourages the teacher to provide additional opportunity for higher learning skills, such as inquiry and problem-solving. Using ethnic demographics for mathematical concepts allows students to consider the ethnic and racial distributions in their own classroom. When students can propose solutions about social events, such as civil rights movements, they are learning to think analytically and critically.

    Representation

    Creating equal representation in the curriculum makes learning inviting and exciting. Educators are aware that learning is easier when there is personal meaning for all students. When students study farming in the United States, they learn about the contribution of migrant workers involved in planting and harvesting vegetables and fruits, as well as large-scale businesses. Studying jazz examines the contributions of African Americans, as well as Asians, Europeans and Latino Americans. Understanding that interned Japanese Americans during WWII still led dignified lives under oppressed conditions shows the enduring human spirit, not the helpless victim.

    Climate

    Students who feel safe, welcomed and significant are more likely to be engaged and eager to learn. School policies that do not tolerate bullying or exclusion are essential for all students and thrive when enforced by teachers, administrators and other staff members. Students can be part of school-climate change when they learn to not laugh at ethnic jokes or make racial slurs. When students from different racial groups work together to make policy changes, they are united by common goals. A multicultural educational climate encourages achievement so fewer children are left behind academically.

    About the Author

    Pauline Gill is a retired teacher with more than 25 years of experience teaching English to high school students. She holds a bachelor's degree in language arts and a Master of Education degree. Gill is also an award-winning fiction author.

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