What are the advantages of a multicultural education? What challenges face community colleges to provide it?
by Monica Flores
Multicultural education is one of the most influential factors to effect higher education. Community colleges with egalitarian and democratic principles are philosophically more supportive of meeting diverse students needs and student diversity than any other type of institution in higher education (Stoll, 1995). However, to be effective the change must be systemic, addressing the multiple facets of an institution. These factors include student recruitment and retention, hiring practices, reward systems, policies and practices, student services and activities, and curriculum development. One of the challenges of developing multicultural education is that institutions have different notions about what a multicultural education looks like. This paper addresses the development of multicultural education, including goals, outcomes, and models of multicultural education, a discussion, and implications for community colleges.
Multicultural education is one of the most influential factors to affect higher education. Community colleges with egalitarian and democratic principles are philosophically more supportive of meeting diverse student needs and student diversity than any other type of institution in higher education (Stoll, 1995). The challenges of embracing multiculturalism are many. However, to be effective the change must be systemic, addressing the multiple facets of an institution. These factors include student recruitment and retention, hiring practices, reward systems, policies and practices, student services and activities, and curriculum development.
A challenge facing multicultural education is terminology. There are several terms that are congruous and incongruous to multiculturalism. They include: cross-cultural, cultural awareness, cultural diversity, cultural pluralism, cultural sensitivity, diversity, globalization, intercultural, international, pluralism, multiethnic and the list goes on. To confuse the issue further, multiculturalism is used in a variety of contexts. Multiculturalism can be an idea, concept, educational reform movement or a process for institution change (Banks, 1993). For the purposes of this paper, multiculturalism is defined an educational reform movement designed to infuse nontraditional perspectives for student development.
Another challenge of developing multicultural education is institutions have different notions about what the education looks like. Goodstein (1994) notes, “While many academics support greater emphasis on cultural diversity, there is not always agreement on what cultural diversity is or how it should be infused into the undergraduate curriculum” (p103). This paper addresses the development of multicultural education, including goals, outcomes and models of multicultural education, a discussion, and implications for community colleges.
Review of Literature
There are several reasons why multicultural education is important in academia. Piland and Silva (1996) claim multicultural education is an attempt to bring social change and teach cultural sensitivity. Zeszotarski (1998) asserts the function of multicultural education is to enhance students’ ability to function in an increasingly diverse society and to empower them to make a difference. Olguin and Schmitz (1997) provide the most comprehensive argument for multicultural education. It is as follows:
To understand and appreciate the knowledge and traditions within
the contemporary United States, and to understand the central role
of cultural, racial and ethnic differences in the formation of our U.S. national identity; to evaluate how men and women of diverse origins have shaped their visions of self and community, and interrelationships of self and community; to consider ways various social groups within a given society participate in the culture of their society; to identify, explore and evaluate concrete examples of the students’ own cultural heritage in relationship to other heritages; and to develop the ability to read a culture through its cultural expressions and the ability to see relationships, contrasts, parallels, commonalities and interactions among various cultures. (p. 443)
Goodstein (1994) identified two different goals for multicultural education. They are variety and critical perspective. Variety is providing information about groups that
may have received insufficient attention in traditional curricula. Critical perspective is directly and indirectly affecting the social climate of the institutions and the world beyond. Goodstein argues that the goal of variety meets the initial needs of multicultural education, but critical perspective is necessary for long-term student, institutional, and social transformation.
Outcomes of Multicultural Education
Assessing outcomes of multicultural education is important for students, faculty, and institutions. A variety of outcomes including information learned, retention, and academic success have been studied in relation to development of multicultural education (Piland, Hess & Piland, 2000). Students that take courses with multicultural content are reported to have learned the following: cultural artifacts, such as beliefs, values, lifestyles, symbols and rituals of cultural groups; characteristics and history of cultural groups; contributions of minorities to American society; injustices suffered by people in various cultural groups in American society and communication systems of cultural groups (Piland, Piland & Hess, 1999). Developing multicultural education provides students with relevant examples and role models that have been overlooked in the past. Multicultural education improves retention rates, as well as academic success, student involvement, student satisfaction, and a connection between students and the college (Smith & Associates, 1998).
Multicultural Education Models
Understanding and establishing multicultural goals for an institution, department, or course is important for institutional development. There are several models of multicultural education to consider. Four such models by Piland et al. (1999), Kitano (1997), Banks (1993) and Sleeter and Grant (1998) will be reviewed.
Piland et al. (1999) identified three approaches for developing multicultural education. These approaches are curriculum based and include the Single Group Studies, Course Infusion, and Curriculum Transformation approaches. The Single Group Studies approach explores the history or culture of a specific underrepresented cultural group. Emphasis is placed on the oppression, inequality, and discrimination of the cultural group. Although the content is changed, the structure of the course remains traditional. Faculty must have content knowledge and depending on instructional strategies used, student involvement may be included.
Course Infusion integrates multicultural content into existing courses. The instructor draws and builds on the experiences, contributions, knowledge, and perspective of either a specific or various underrepresented cultural groups. This approach is primarily based on altering course content and not necessarily a change in instruction. Connection to multicultural issues is difficult to assess and depends on the instructional strategies used by the faculty.
Curriculum Transformation transpires when a course is modified to infuse multicultural content with different cultural perspectives, using a variety of instructional strategies. This approaches includes transforming the content and the structure of the course. Faculty involvement is high in that they need to possess the knowledge, motivation, and skills to change content and structure.
Kitano (1997) created a model that identified three approaches of multicultural education that are curriculum based. They are Exclusive, Inclusive and Transformative course development. The Exclusive course covers the mainstream traditional perspective of the discipline. Change in the content and structure of the course is nonexistent. Faculty view themselves as providers of knowledge and traditional instructional strategies are used. Students are viewed as containers of knowledge to be filled by the faculty. Student participation is limited to questions and answers.
The Inclusive course covers traditional mainstream views and adds cultural perspectives to the content of the existing curriculum. The instructor is considered the provider of knowledge and may develop instructional strategies to encourage students to participate in the learning process. Faculty need to have content knowledge and know how to effectively use a variety of instructional strategies.
The Transformed course not only includes cultural content and different viewpoints, but the structure of the course is changed to create an environment where traditional views and assumptions are challenged. Students are viewed as equals in the learning process. Faculty must have content knowledge, the ability to effectively use various instructional strategies, and be able to create an open environment for students to challenge ideas.
Banks (1993) created a model that identified four different approaches to the development of multicultural education. The approaches focus on the curriculum as well as student services. They include the Contributions, Additive, Transformative, and Action approaches. The Contributions approach is when individuals or institutions focus on celebrations of cultural groups. There may be some content changes to the curriculum such as the creation of an assignment, but the structure of the course is not changed. Faculty involvement includes organizing and/or encouraging students to attend an event and complete an assignment, if given. Students may participate and enjoy an event, however connectedness to multicultural issues may not be evident.
The Additive approach is where cultural content is added to the existing curriculum. In the Additive approach the structure of the curriculum is not changed. Because the structure is not changed the involvement of faculty is limited. Faculty need to have basic knowledge about a cultural group or multicultural issue and could develop assignments to complement the new content. Depending on the instruction, students may or may not make the connection to multicultural issues.
The Transformative approach is where curriculum structure and content is changed for students to view and understand different cultural perspectives. In this approach the involvement of faculty is more extensive. Content knowledge, time, and commitment on the part of the faculty member are necessary and key to student participation and development.
The Action approach, like the Transformative approach, changes the structure and content of curriculum. However, the Action approach requires students to identify, make decisions, and take action on multicultural issues. Involvement of faculty in this approach is very important. Not only content knowledge, time, and commitment are required, but the ability to assist students in taking appropriate action.
Sleeter & Grant (1998) developed five approaches to multicultural education that can be applied to curriculum. They are the Human Relations, Teaching the Exceptional and Culturally Different, Single Group Studies, Multicultural Education, and Multicultural Education and Social Reconstructionism approaches.
The Human Relations approach focuses on developing sensitivity, tolerance, and harmonious interpersonal relations. This approach assumes by providing multicultural content, students will become culturally aware. Faculty need to have an understanding of multicultural issues. However, changes to course structure and student involvement are minimal.
The Teaching the Exceptional and Culturally Different approach takes the Human Relations approach to another level. The goal is to train students through education to be culturally sensitive and to can assimilate into society. Faculty need to have not only an understanding of multicultural issues, put have specific instructional skills and strategies to “train” students to be culturally sensitive. Depending on the motivation, knowledge, and skill of the faculty, changes to structure of the course and student involvement can occur.
The Single Group Studies approach, like Piland et al. (1999), explores one specific cultural group, particularly the causes and roots of oppression the group has been subjected to. In this approach the content is changed but the structure of the curriculum may or not be changed to achieve the goal. Depending on the knowledge, motivation and skill of the faculty, structural change and student involvement can be included.
The Multicultural Education approach increases awareness of social change and develops student appreciation of diversity. In this approach, the content and structure of the curriculum is changed not only to present information, but also to create awareness by providing additional perspectives on multicultural issues. Faculty need to be very knowledgeable about multicultural issues and skilled in using various instructional strategies to involve students.
The Multicultural Education and Social Reconstructionism approach focuses on bringing about social change by teaching the causes and roots of oppression as well as cultural sensitivity. The approach takes the Multicultural Education approach one step further in that it requires faculty to create an environment where students can honor and develop social change. Faculty and student involvement is high in this approach. Faculty must provide instructional strategies and activities to make students not only think about issues, but act or react to them.
The Exclusive Approach (Kitano, 1997) is by far the least effective approach in developing multicultural education. The goal of this approach is to maintain established educational canons, leave traditional course content and instructional strategies intact. The benefit of this approach is: faculty do not have to take the time and make the commitment to developing new curriculum. The challenge of this approach can include a power struggle between an institution or faculty that desire multicultural change and institutions and/or faculty which do not have the same desire. The exclusive approach does not address the goals of variety nor critical perspective.
The Contributions (Banks, 1993) and Human Relations (Sleeter & Grant, 1998) approaches are simple institutional and instructional methods of infusing multicultural education. The goal of this approach is to provide variety to students. Examples of this approach are international food festivals, celebrating ethnic/cultural holidays, having speakers on campus to lecture about issues such as race, tolerance, and sensitivity. This approach is frequently connected to student activities. Celebrating a cultural group does provide a sense of pride for the group being honored and does make an institution and faculty feel like they are making an effort to create a multicultural climate. This approach requires little content change and no structural, instructional, or institutional strategy changes other than identifying a day to honor the contributions of a particular cultural group/s. This approach lacks critical perspective because students do not necessarily internalize the concept of multiculturalism.
Sleeter & Grant (1998) developed the Teaching the Exceptional and Culturally Different approach. The goal of this approach is to provide variety and possibly critical perspective. The approach provides variety in that students will be exposed to a range of cultures through training. The goal could be critical perspective depending on the motivation, knowledge, and skill of the faculty providing the instruction. An example of this approach is a sensitivity workshop for students hosted by student activities and facilitated by a faculty member. This approach is beneficial to students because it provides them skills to interact with persons different than themselves, rather than just exposure to a cultural group. The challenge of this approach is that without proper instruction the goal of variety rather than the goal of critical perspective is achieved.
Piland et al. (1999) and Sleeter & Grant (1998) both developed the Single Group Studies approach to multicultural education. An example of a Single Group Studies course is an African American History course that surveys information about the cultural group. The goal of this approach is to provide variety, as well as possibilities for critical perspective. This approach does make a change in content, but does not necessarily make a change in the structure of the course or instructional strategies. Single Group Studies courses do provide students a broader view of a specific cultural group and may create critical thinking, but does not provide comparison to other cultures. One of the concerns of Single Group Studies courses are the student enrollment in these courses come primarily from the cultural group it is addressing. Although this has value in that students many not have prior knowledge of their personal cultural background, students of different cultural backgrounds are not likely to enroll in the course and do not benefit from an alternative point of view which lacks critical perspective.
The Course Infusion (Piland et al., 1999), Additive (Banks, 1993) and Inclusive (Kitano, 1997) approaches are similar in nature in which they all propose enhancing content about a particular cultural group or multicultural issues to an existing course. An example would be the addition of a reading authored by a person of color to an American Literature course. The goal of this model is to provide variety for students. Although the course content is changed, like Single Group Studies approach, the structure and instructional strategies do not necessarily change. These approaches lack critical perspective because they are supplemental rather than comprehensive, maintain the dominant cultural point of view, and assumes that students will make the connection to multicultural issues.
The Transformative (Banks, 1993; Kitano, 1997), Curriculum Transformation (Piland et al., 1999) and Multicultural Education (Sleeter & Grant, 1998) approaches all require a transformation of content and structure of the course. For example, an Intercultural Communication course focuses on communication skills and perspectives of many cultural groups, as well as developing strategies for communicating with others. The goal of this model is to create critical perspective by expanding the understanding of how different cultural groups were influential in the shaping of culture and focuses on beliefs, experience, attitudes, values, and history of cultural groups and how to relate and accept different norms and value systems. A variety of instructional strategies are used which encourages student participation. Learning outcomes include problem solving and decision-making skills, as well as the ability to identify, understand and develop outcomes related to the course. Teaching transformed courses requires a great deal of time, commitment, and content knowledge on the part of the faculty. Faculty need to be able to create an open classroom environment to invite social criticism. One of the challenges in a semester long course is not all issues of importance can be addressed.
The Action (Banks, 1993) and Multicultural Education and Social Reconstruction (Sleeter & Grant, 1998) approaches take the Transformed course one step further. The goal is one of critical perspective with an action step. For example, students in a sociology course might study the issue of poverty in their community from a multicultural perspective. They would develop and implement a plan to alleviate the problem, such as working in a family shelter or food kitchen. These approaches require students to understand content material, synthesize, problem solve, and take appropriate action. Faculty must be able to create an open environment, encourage critical and sometimes opposing views, assist students in taking appropriate action, as well as handle students who do not want to participate and students who participate above and beyond what is asked of them in class.
All of the models discussed have similarities and differences, goals, as well as benefits and challenges. Two issues stand out from the review of literature that need to be addressed. First, most of the multicultural education models are curriculum based. Although this is a good beginning to develop multicultural education programs, institutional development such as recruitment and retention, hiring practices, reward systems, policies and practices, student services and activities need to be addressed. Second, most of the multicultural education literature focuses on the domestic aspects of multiculturalism. There is a noticeable lack of attention to international/global issues. For multicultural education to be truly inclusive, the further notice needs to be given to international/global issues.
Several factors are important to community colleges in multicultural education including faculty participation and development, support from the institution, and student development. Zeszotarski (1998) asserts that faculty participation is essential to changes and faculty commitment and preparation are necessary for the success of any change. However, faculty who are trained in the traditional disciplines are not necessarily qualified to teach courses with multicultural perspectives (Reid, 1995).
Faculty participation in multicultural education is necessary, but without institutional support diminishes. Goodstein (1994) notes “Failure to provide faculty member with opportunities… will lead to diversity courses taught by faculty who are unprepared to deal with the material…” (p. 112). When institutions do not provide adequate resources to support curriculum development, initiatives will appear superficial and faculty commitment will wane.
One of the most important implications for multicultural education at the community college level is evaluating student development. Anderson, MacPhee and Govan (2000) argued that evaluating multicultural education from a students perspective is important for several reasons including, confirming what is taught is valid and useful, and for assessment of change in students, and empowerment of students. They also suggest faculty should implement an ongoing feedback process to determine student perceptions of course content and learning outcomes.
Multicultural education is an essential piece in developing a comprehensive community college. However, in order for multicultural education to be effective changes in policy and hiring practices, development of appropriate curriculum, student services and activities to support students in their development is critical. Community colleges have the responsibility of educating a reflective cross section of America. Multicultural education is one of many opportunities for community colleges to fulfill that responsibility.
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