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In many academic fields in the United States after 1970, multiculturalism has meant that members of historically disadvantaged nonwhite or minority racial and ethnic groups have distinctive knowledge and ways of knowing that ought to be incorporated into curricula and recognized in research. This idea has led to area studies programs and departments that concentrate on cultures from specific geographical locations, such as Africana or African American studies, Latino/a studies, Asian American studies, Native American studies, and more generally, American studies and ethnic studies. As well, new texts and different cultural perspectives have been incorporated into traditional fields in the humanities and social sciences.

Multiculturalists have advocated greater diversity and representation in the academic community, by increasing members of historically disadvantaged groups among faculty, staff, and students, and recognizing and addressing their distinctive intellectual and socially relevant interests. Multiculturalism has often been associated with identity politics, or advocacy of the interests of minority groups, by their members, in both national and local politics and representations of ideas and persons in specific institutional contexts. Multiculturalism has been opposed in academia, because it is believed to weaken traditional subject matter by minimizing the established canon and neglecting universal knowledge. This opposition has been largely from conservative white intellectuals, but not exclusively so. For example, sociologist Yehudi Webster has argued that multiculturalism deprives students of the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills, and philosopher Jason Hill has argued that in emphasizing the value of racial and ethnic identities, multiculturalism stifles individual creativity and shared cosmopolitanism.

Multiculturalism in the U.S. Profession of Philosophy

The practice of academic philosophy in the United States has tended to be restricted to the work of English, French, German, and ancient Greek philosophers, with varied recognition of American philosophy or pragmatism. Advocates of multicultural inclusion have argued that philosophical inquiry has not been limited to the United States, Europe, and ancient Greece, but exists in intellectual traditions in China, India, Africa, and South America, as well as in the cultures of groups worldwide. Multicultural advocates therefore conclude that the canon of American academic philosophy ought to reflect more geographical diversity. Also, when Western European philosophy has presented itself as universal, the incorporation of multicultural philosophical perspectives would seem to imply that Western European philosophy itself is as local as philosophies from other parts of the world.

Such intellectual multiculturalism has been undertaken by a number of American philosophers since the end of the twentieth century; James Sterba (2002) has argued that there is a Western bias in ethics that can be corrected. In Native Pragmatism (2002), Scott Pratt identifies Native American perspectives in nineteenth and early twentieth century American philosophy, and tracks their transmission. Also, introductory anthologies have become more inclusive of African, Asian, and East Indian traditionsMax Hallman's (2003) collection, Traversing Philosophical Boundaries, is one example.

American philosophers have also addressed demographic multiculturalism, which aims to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of philosophers and resembles the kinds of multiculturalism in other fields that has been associated with identity politics. In 2003 the American Philosophical Association's (APA) Committee on Inclusiveness proposed that the APA Board consider, for possible approval by all APA members, the following statement on inclusiveness:

The American Philosophical Association is committed to expanding and enhancing the inclusiveness of the profession by: (A) Increasing the numbers and respected presence of persons from groups that have historically been subjected to invidious discrimination. These groups include, but are not limited to, disabled persons; persons of African descent; American Indians; Asians and Asian Americans; Hispanics and Latinos/as; Jews; persons of Middle Eastern descent; multiracial persons; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered persons; women. (B) Recognizing and supporting the development of scholarly philosophical research, teaching, service, and professional activity pertaining to the concerns of these groups.

The APA Board and the profession of U.S. academic philosophers are likely to approve the statement on inclusiveness, although as the profession develops over the twenty-first century, both intellectual and demographic multiculturalism, and external political and social changes will probably result in its augmentation and revision. Still, many traditional philosophers have opposed multiculturalism, on the grounds that its distinctive knowledge and epistemologies are not contributions to the field of academic philosophy, but rather applications of philosophical methods to new subjects, or else simply not philosophical at all. There are also concerns about time constraints on courses resulting in superficial instruction of a variety of traditions, in place of more thorough investigation of one or two.

Nonetheless, the APA, which is the primary professional organization of U.S. academic philosophers, publishes biannual newsletters on: American Indians in philosophy; Asian and Asian American philosophers and philosophies; the black experience; and Hispanic/Latino issues in philosophy. Also, the APA Committee on Inclusiveness is a standing committee that includes APA special committees on: American Indians, Asian and Asian American philosophers and philosophies, blacks in philosophy, and Hispanics. All of these committees were formed to address the relatively small numbers of nonwhite philosophers, and the absence of strong professional support of multicultural writing and teaching in the field. In 2002, the number of nonwhite academic philosophers was lower than the 10 percent of nonwhites in the U.S. professoriate overall, a figure that had not changed since 1989, and the percentage of African American philosophers was less than the national 4.4 percent of the U.S. professoriate, half of whom were employed in traditional black colleges (see Wilson [2002] for the national figures).

As of 2005, multicultural scholarly work in philosophy has mainly focused on African American concerns, although in the late 1990s, Asian American, Native American, and Hispanic concerns began to appear in philosophy courses and publications. In addition, since the late 1970s, feminist philosophers have attempted to address issues raised by nonwhite women, partly in response to criticism by bell hooks, Elizabeth Spelman, and others, that academic feminists were overly preoccupied with the problems of white middle class women.

This growing body of multicultural philosophical work is to some extent independent of the intellectual multiculturalism already mentioned, because it tends to be motivated by concerns about demographic inclusiveness and past oppression. It should be noted that the adjective multicultural does not always appear in multicultural scholarly work by philosophers, who are instead likely to use the terms race or racial, black, African American, Asian American, Hispanic or Latino/a, or Native American in their titles and within their work.

Still, the multicultural work of philosophers has often been multidisciplinary, with forays into anthropology, literature, sociology, law, the history of ideas, economics, and social theory. At the same time, multicultural philosophy has made use of traditionally analytic, continental (phenomenological and existentialist), and postmodern philosophical methodologies, sometimes combining different methodologies in the same texts. Much of the multicultural philosophical work is about race in U.S. society, and much of it is centered on social and individual problems or questions: Can affirmative action be morally justified? What is racism and how can it be remedied? What is racial identity? Are reparations for past oppression, such as slavery and the appropriation of indigenist lands, morally imperative? Does biology support ideas of human racial divisions in society?

Writings of historical figures have also been reexamined, for instance: David Hume and Immanuel Kant for their belief in the existence of hierarchies of human races; W. E. B. DuBois and Alain Locke for their ideas about racial identity; Frederick Douglass and Julia Ann Cooper for their contributions to theories of liberation; Frantz Fanon and Jean-Paul Sartre for ideas on individual freedom and authenticity and group emancipation. Overall, the subject of race in U.S. multicultural philosophy unifies into a set of logically connected concepts and subjects that scholars analyze from diverse starting premises, with considerable disagreement, albeit a common goal of increasing social justice for disadvantaged groups. At least three of these subjects merit closer examination in this context of multiculturalism in philosophy: the existence of biological race, racism, and affirmative action.

The Existence of Biological Race

Whether or not human races exist as biological divisions of humankind has philosophical implications: If races are biologically real, then the social problems concerning race are matters of race relations; if races are not biologically real, then many social problems as well as much of the discourse about race must be understood by philosophers in terms of false beliefs that participants hold. That is, if biological races exist, then the philosophical discussion about race is in part a direct discussion about the world, whereas if biological races are fictional, then the philosophical discussion becomes a second-order discourse about what people believe. David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and other Enlightenment thinkers thought that the existence of human races was self-evident. During the time they wrote, the new sciences of biology and anthropology had begun to produce systems of classification that appeared to explain those physical differences among human groups, which were apparent in common sense.

By the mid-nineteenth century, human races were believed to be biological groups with common inherited physical, cultural, and psychic traits. American anthropologists were prominent proponents of natural human hierarchies, based on race and ultimately caused by racial essences, believed to be inherited in the blood. However, during the early twentieth century, anthropologist Franz Boas and his students Claude Lévi-Strauss, Margaret Meade, and Melville J. Herskovits established that history and culture were the causes of nonphysical racial differences. Subsequently, biological anthropologists came to agree that there were no general physical essences or even stable sets of particular traits shared by every member of any race. Blood types do not correspond to social racial groups. Mitochondrial DNA, used to track existing populations to ancestral groups in Asia, Africa, and Europe, has no relation to genes that determine inherited traits considered racial in society. And there is greater variation within races of those inherited racial traits than between any two races. In short, while biology confirms the existence of inherited physical traits that are considered to be racial in society, biology, according to some scholars, offers no support for a taxonomy of human races.

In the early 1990s, Kwame Anthony Appiah was the first U.S. philosopher to examine the lack of a scientific biological foundation for human races and he then argued that racial identities ought to be reconsidered. His work was taken up through controversial justifications for mixed race identity and more extensive philosophy of science analyses of how ideas of race are precluded by the findings and methodologies of biological anthropology, Mendelian heredity, and population genetics as of the late twentieth-century (Zack 1993 and 2002).

Yet, by 2005, most Americans continued to believe that human races are real physical divisions and that the social taxonomy of three (or four or five) races can be verified within the biological sciences. Multicultural scholars in all fields and philosophers who begin their inquiries on the basis of common sense or received opinion, tend to concur with the public, although often for avowedly political motivations. Thus, Lucius Outlaw, writing in the tradition of W. E. B. Dubois and Alain Locke, advocates a conservation of ordinary ideas of race, with their biological connotations, for the sake of continued self-esteem and social justice for African Americans. Amy Gutman claims that retention of ideas of race is essential for identifying those groups who have been oppressed or discriminated against on the basis of their purported race, so that their members may be assisted toward equality of opportunity for success in society.

Furthermore, scholars of Latino philosophy such as Linda Alcoff, Jorge Gracia, Eduardo Mendieta, and Ophelia Schutte have included discussions of racism in their analyses of Hispanic and Latino ethnicity. This suggests that members of dominant white Northern European groups have sometimes viewed Hispanics and Latinos as a distinct race and that addressing discrimination associated with that view could include the construction of positive distinctive racial identities for Hispanics and Latinos. And even in a purely conceptual analysis, Michael O. Hardimon (2003) dismisses disputes about the scientific standing of race and their relation to the ordinary concept of race. Hardimon then asserts, "The ordinary concept of race is our concept. It is part of our discourses, our practices, our conceptual repertoire" (Hardimon 2003, p.438).

Similarly, in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times on March 14, 2005, Armand Mare Leroi, an evolutionary developmental biologist, called upon scientists to resurrect notions of biological race in light of its cultural significance, citing the importance of the preservation of the Negritos, an ancient tribe on the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean. It is a paradox that while philosophical multiculturalism enables analysis of the biological foundations for race, multiculturalist beliefs about how to attain social justice are held to be incompatible with the results of such conceptual analyses, even though everything of social value that used to be called race can be captured by ideas of family heredity and culture.


The term racism came into broad usage in the United States during the late 1960s and there has since been both implied and explicit disagreement about what racism is. The concept of racism is broader than its predecessors, bigotry, discrimination, intolerance, and prejudice, because it can refer to social conditions as well as intentions and attitudes of individuals. By the late twentieth century, there was a consensus in business, academia, politics, and public life generally that racism in individuals is morally wrong and that the practice of racism by representatives of institutions and organizations is unjust, as well as in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. (Title VI prohibits public access discrimination, which was relevant to the implementation of school desegregation and Title VIII was the first federal fair housing law).

Moral philosophers have traditionally posited justice as a cardinal social and individual virtue. Given the premise that racism is a kind of injustice against human beings based on their racial identities, the main philosophical argument has focused on whether the causes of racism and remedies for it are confined to individuals or can be understood as institutional. Because racism, as a wrong, requires remedies where it exists, the individual view focuses on psychological and educational remedies, whereas the institutional view supports progressive legal action and public policy. Both views are motivated by concepts of responsibility in the sense that both individuals and societies are believed to be accountable and subject to blame for wrongs they commit.

Some proponents of individual views of racism have worked within a Kantian moral tradition. J. L. A. Garcia (1997) has argued that racism is a kind of ill will or contempt in the hearts and minds of individuals, a lack of benevolence for which they are morally responsible. Racism in this sense may be present when others are not harmed by it and it may not be present when others are harmed in ways associated with their race.

Philosophers who study racism with a multidisciplinary approach are inclined to define racism institutionally, because historians, sociologists, and political scientists have provided many extended examples of behavior, traditions, and laws that explicitly or implicitly disadvantage members of nonwhite groups in comparison to whites. Slavery, segregation, and the status of African Americans according to many measures of demographic well-being are one set of examples; the failure of the U.S. government to honor its treaty obligations to Native Americans is a second; restrictions on nonwhite immigration are a third.

For all minority groups, evidence of institutional racism against them includes disproportionately higher rates of incarceration, poverty, and unemployment, and disproportionately lower rates of income, family assets, advanced educational degrees, and presence in the political leadership class. Whereas most scholars in philosophy and other fields focus on institutional racism as a modern and postmodern phenomenon, several have drawn wider connections. Berel Lang (1997) claims that racism is historically prior to modern ideas of race and that metaphysical racism is a set of ideas and practices that can be attached to varied specific notions of race; Charles Mills (1997) argues that modern Western history has developed on the basis of a racial contract that places Europeans and Americans at the top of a hierarchy in which indigenist Americans, Africans, and Asians are oppressed and exploited.

In the context of American history, critical race theorists such as Derek Bell and Patricia Williams have argued that the American legal system is structurally racist, from the acceptance of slavery in the U.S. Constitution to the neglect of race-based disadvantage in laws presumed to be color blind. Finally, there is disagreement among philosophers about who the most disadvantaged or paradigm victims of racism are: Lewis Gordon (1995) has claimed that antiblack racism is more extreme than other forms, because of the historical association of darkness with sin in the Christian tradition; Native American philosophers refer to European conquest as a holocaust; Asian Americans claim group histories of exclusion in immigration law and exploitation as cheap labor.

There are also issues of whether nonwhites can be racist against whites and whether racism can be practiced by some members of the same race against others. Nonwhites can be individually racist against whites, although not institutionally because they do not have sufficient influence within major social institutions. Preferences for lighter skin color within nonwhite groups, as well as self-hatred on the grounds of nonwhite race would be examples of same-race racism.

Affirmative Action

In 1965, according to U.S. Executive Order 11246, President Lyndon Johnson required that government officials take affirmative action (AA) to address the ongoing disproportionately low numbers of minorities directly and indirectly employed by the federal government. At that time, the concept of institutional racism was not widely accepted, but it was assumed that AA would override individual racism that could not otherwise be proved in hiring decisions. Arguments in favor of AA have been based on the value of minority role models, the justice of compensation and reparations for past wrongs, and the presumption that U.S. society has not ceased to disadvantage minorities on the grounds of race. Arguments against AA often proceed from the premise that minorities have gained formal and legal equality in the United States, to the claim that AA is unnecessary, and unjust because it penalizes otherwise deserving and innocent whites who are not responsible for past injustice.

In 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings in two University of Michigan cases offered a practical resolution of these disputes. In both Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court recognized the value of a diverse student body but used strict scrutiny in its rulings, determining whether two different forms of AA constituted a compelling government interest and were narrowly tailored to advance that interest. In Grutter v. Bollinger, the Court ruled in favor of the University of Michigan Law School's policy of considering the race of applicants holistically, as one factor among many; in Gratz v. Bollinger, the Court ruled against the University of Michigan's undergraduate admissions policy of uniformly giving the same number of points for minority racial identities. In its rulings in these and previous cases, the Court declared as unconstitutional, role model and compensation/reparation justifications for AA. However, in Grutter v. Bollinger the Court upheld the value of a critical mass of minority students, as opposed to tokenism. The Court's main justification for AA was the value of a racially integrated leadership class, which would in time make AA unnecessary.

Philosophers of race and racism are unlikely to accept judicial decisions on AA as the last word, because courts may revise or overturn previous rulings and legal reasoning has distinctive constraints, one of which is to assume that existing laws are effective. In the Michigan cases, the Supreme Court appeared to assume that formal legal equality guarantees equal opportunity. It therefore seemed to view AA as a strategy for achieving diversity, on the assumption of unequal ability, rather than a strategy for social justice. That is, the Court seemed to accept the fairness of admissions criteria that nonwhites disproportionately fail to meet and did not address the possibility of racism in the face of official race neutrality.

Further Aspects of Multicultural Philosophy

Whether multicultural academic philosophy will remain a distinct range of specializations or become part of the core curriculum is an open question. Africana Philosophy, which includes studies of race and racism, did become a recognized philosophical subfield by the 1990s. Native American philosophers Anne Waters (2000) and V.P. Cordova (2000) have argued that Western philosophy has Christian religious foundations that are inimical to indigenist world views, a perspective that undermines beliefs in the universalism of traditional philosophy. Hispanic and Latin American philosophy has never been part of the recognized philosophical canon, although by 2000 it was clearly part of multicultural philosophy. Although Asian or Eastern philosophy has a long history as a distinctive body of knowledge, often addressed within comparative philosophy, the status and concerns of Asian Americans would be a new subject.

By 2005, the existence of philosophical multicultural research, published by academic book presses and journals, constituted a tradition capable of supporting graduate research and further professional scholarship, as well as the curricula of multicultural courses. Where studies of race have been limited to U.S. society, further work is likely to include international and world perspectives. Multidisciplinary approaches are likely to continue, drawing on studies in law, political science, sociology, public policy, and economics. Philosophy of science analyses of ideas of race in biological anthropology and population genetics could expand into ideas of race in the social sciences (for example, psychologist Roy Freedle [2003] has presented statistical data on standardized test scores, which indicate that minority students score higher than traditional white students on difficult questions). Feminist interest in racial differences among women adds a multicultural dimension to existing feminist philosophy. And finally, analyses of racism and its remedies are relevant to established work in the philosophy of education, as well as moral theory, ethics, and applied ethics.

In considering future directions for both intellectual and demographic multiculturalism in philosophy, and assessing progress at any given time, the subject itself suggests cross-national comparisons. In general, the extent of multiculturalism in philosophy seems to be more sensitive to external political, social, and demographic factors, than to purely intellectual interests in inclusion or exclusion. For example, as university subjects in the Soviet Union, philosophy referred to the work of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, whereas Western philosophy, which was what Western Europeans and Americans called philosophy, was taught as a distinct and subsidiary subfield.

There have been two models of political and social pluralism that are relevant to multicultural philosophy, considered as an international subject. The assimilationist model encourages subordinate groups to achieve inclusion through their contributions to the common culture of dominant groups. The autonomous or diversity model advocates that subordinate groups participate in a shared but diverse common culture. American academic philosophy is becoming multicultural according to the diversity model.

In contrast, the trend in Great Britain has been to assimilate white women and minorities within the existing academic field of philosophy. Julian Baggini, editor of The Philosophers' Magazine, who interviewed sixteen leading British philosophers about their profession, observed in 2003 that participants in the main British philosophy conference were often all white, with a very small minority of women. Since the 1970s, Canada has had a strong multicultural political movement that has been reflected in its intellectual life. James Tully (1995) has examined how constitutionalism can coexist with diversity in Strange Multiplicity. And in Multicultural Citizenship (1995), Will Kymlicka argues that immigrant and indigenous groups in a multicultural society have disparate needs.

Developing parts of the world have perhaps been more interested in examining and constructing their own national and cultural intellectual perspectives, in a postcolonial era. Their work may be included in multicultural studies for Northern and Western audiencesfor example, V. Y. Mudimbe's Nations, Identities, Cultures. But, multiculturalism for postcolonial critics is more likely to be a matter of deconstruction than inclusion. For example, in Dislocating Cultures (1997), Uma Narayan examines how British representations are an integral part of what is accepted as Indian culture and its products. Nevertheless, it is increasingly difficult to generalize about scholarly trends in multiculturalism. Chinese academics have launched The Journal of Multicultural Discourses, a forum for multicultural approaches to language, communities of discourse, cultural and literary criticism, and comparative studies, which will aim to be multidisciplinary across the social sciences and humanities, including philosophy.

See also Affirmative Action; Business Ethics; Enlightenment; Feminist Philosophy; Hume, David; Kant, Immanuel; Lenin, Vladimir Il'ich; Marx, Karl; Pluralism; Racism; Sartre, Jean-Paul; Toleration.


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Naomi Zack (2005)

Multicultural Education

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Multicultural education is an idea, an approach to school reform, and a movement for equity, social justice, and democracy. Specialists within multicultural education emphasize different components and cultural groups. However, a significant degree of consensus exists within the field regarding its major principles, concepts, and goals. A major goal of multicultural education is to restructure schools so that all students acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to function in an ethnically and racially diverse nation and world. Multicultural education seeks to ensure educational equity for members of diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic groups, and to facilitate their participation as critical and reflective citizens in an inclusive national civic culture.

Multicultural education tries to provide students with educational experiences that enable them to maintain commitments to their community cultures as well as acquire the knowledge, skills, and cultural capital needed to function in the national civic culture and community. Multicultural theorists view academic knowledge and skills as necessary but not sufficient for functioning in a diverse nation and world. They regard skills in democratic living and the ability to function effectively within and across diverse groups as essential goals of schooling.

Multicultural education is highly consistent with the ideals embodied in the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. It seeks to extend the rights and privileges granted to the nation's founding elitesthe ideals of freedom, equality, justice, and democracyto all social, cultural and language groups. Multicultural education addresses deep and persistent social divisions across various groups, and seeks to create an inclusive and transformed mainstream society. Multicultural educators view cultural difference as a national strength and resource rather than as a problem to be overcome through assimilation.


Multicultural education emerged during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It grew out of the demands of ethnic groups for inclusion in the curricula of schools, colleges, and universities. Although multicultural education is an outgrowth of the ethnic studies movement of the 1960s, it has deep historical roots in the African-American ethnic studies movement that emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Initiated by scholars such as George Washington Williams, Carter G. Woodson, W. E. B. DuBois, and Charles H. Wesley, the primary goal of the early ethnic studies movement was to challenge the negative images and stereotypes of African Americans prevalent in mainstream scholarship by creating accurate descriptions of the life, history, and contributions of African Americans. These scholars had a personal, professional, and enduring commitment to the uplift of African Americans. They believed that creating positive self-images of African Americans was essential to their collective identity and liberation. They also believed that stereotypes and negative beliefs about African Americans could be effectively challenged by objective historical research that was also capable of transforming mainstream academic knowledge.

Carter G. Woodsonone of the leading scholars of the early ethnic studies movementhelped found the Association for the Study of Negro (now Afro-American) Life and History in 1915. The association played a key role in the production and dissemination of African-American historical scholarship. In addition to writing numerous scholarly works and editing the association's publications, Woodson initiated Negro History Week (now Black History Month) to focus attention in the nation's schools on the life and history of African Americans.

In 1922 Woodson published a college textbook, The Negro in Our History, which was used in many African-American schools and colleges. In response to public demand for classroom materials, he wrote an elementary textbook, Negro Makers of History, followed by The Story of the Negro Retold for senior high schools. Woodson also wrote, edited, and published African-American children's literature. In 1937 he began publication of The Negro History Bulletin, a monthly magazine for teachers and students featuring stories about exemplary teachers and curriculum projects, historical narratives, and biographical sketches.

When the ethnic studies movement was revived in the 1960s, African Americans and other marginalized ethnic groups refused assimilationist demands to renounce their cultural identity and heritage. They insisted that their lives and histories be included in the curriculum of schools, colleges, and universities. In challenging the dominant paradigms and concepts taught in the schools and colleges, multicultural educators sought to transform the Eurocentric perspective and incorporate multiple perspectives into the curriculum.

By the late 1980s multicultural theorists recognized that ethnic studies was insufficient to bring about school reforms capable of responding to the academic needs of students of color. They consequently shifted their focus from the mere inclusion of ethnic content to deep structural changes in schools. During these years, multicultural educators also expanded from a primary focus on ethnic groups of color to other group categories, such as social class, language and gender. Although conceptually distinct, the key social categories of multicultural educationrace, class, gender, and cultureare interrelated. Multicultural theorists are concerned with how these social variables interact in identity formation, and about the consequences of multiple and contextual identities for teaching and learning.

During the 1970s a number of professional organizationssuch as the National Council for Social Studies, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Educationissued policy statements and publications that encouraged the integration of ethnic content into the school and teacher education curriculum. In 1973 the title of the forty-third yearbook of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) was Teaching Ethnic Studies: Concepts and Strategies. NCSS published Curriculum Guidelines for Multiethnic Education in 1976, which was revised and reissued in 1992 as Curriculum Guidelines for Multicultural Education. A turning point in the development of multicultural education occurred in 1977 when the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) issued standards for the accreditation of teacher education. The standards required all NCATE member institutions (about 80% of the teacher education programs in the United States) to implement components, courses, and programs in multicultural education.

Over the past two decades more ethnic content has appeared in the textbooks used in elementary and secondary schools in the United States. An increasing number of teachers are using anthologies in literature programs that include selections written by women and authors of color. In addition, the market for books dealing with multicultural education has gown substantially, and some of the nation's leading colleges and universities, including the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Minnesota, have either revised their core curriculum to include ethnic content or have established ethnic studies course requirements.

The Dimensions of Multicultural Education

James A. Banks's Dimensions of Multicultural Education is used widely by school districts to conceptualize and develop courses, programs, and projects in multicultural education. The five dimensions are:(1) content integration; (2) the knowledge construction process; (3) prejudice reduction; (4) an equity pedagogy; and (5) an empowering school culture and social structure. Although each dimension is conceptually distinct, in practice they overlap and are interrelated.

Content integration. Content integration deals with the extent to which teachers use examples and content from a variety of cultures and groups to illustrate key concepts, principles, generalizations, and theories in their subject area or discipline. The infusion of ethnic and cultural content into a subject area is logical and not contrived when this dimension is implemented properly.

More opportunities exist for the integration of ethnic and cultural content in some subject areas than in others. There are frequent and ample opportunities for teachers to use ethnic and cultural content to illustrate concepts, themes, and principles in the social studies, the language arts, and in music. Opportunities also exist to integrate multicultural content into math and science. However, they are less ample than they are in social studies and the language arts. Content integration is frequently mistaken by school practitioners as comprising the whole of multicultural education, and is thus viewed as irrelevant to instruction in disciplines such as math and science.

The knowledge construction process. The knowledge construction process describes teaching activities that help students to understand, investigate, and determine how the implicit cultural assumptions, frames of references, perspectives, and biases of researchers and textbook writers influence the ways in which knowledge is constructed.

Multicultural teaching involves not only infusing ethnic content into the school curriculum, but changing the structure and organization of school knowledge. It also includes changing the ways in which teachers and students view and interact with knowledge, helping them to become knowledge producers, not merely the consumers of knowledge produced by others.

The knowledge construction process helps teachers and students to understand why the cultural identities and social positions of researchers need to be taken into account when assessing the validity of knowledge claims. Multicultural theories assert that the values, personal histories, attitudes, and beliefs of researchers cannot be separated from the knowledge they create. They consequently reject positivist claims of disinterested and distancing knowledge production. They also reject the possibility of creating knowledge that is not influenced by the cultural assumptions and social position of the knowledge producer.

In multicultural teaching and learning, paradigms, themes, and concepts that exclude or distort the life experiences, histories, and contributions of marginalized groups are challenged. Multicultural pedagogy seeks to reconceptualize and expand the Western canon, to make it more representative and inclusive of the nation's diversity, and to reshape the frames of references, perspectives, and concepts that make up school knowledge.

Prejudice reduction. The prejudice reduction dimension of multicultural education seeks to help students develop positive and democratic racial attitudes. It also helps students to understand how ethnic identity is influenced by the context of schooling and the attitudes and beliefs of dominant social groups. The theory developed by Gordon Allport (1954) has significantly influenced research and theory in intergroup relations. He hypothesized that prejudice can be reduced by interracial contact if the contact situations have these characteristics: (1) they are cooperative rather than competitive; (2) the individuals experience equal status; and (3) the contact is sanctioned by authorities such as parents, principals and teachers.

An equity pedagogy. An equity pedagogy exists when teachers modify their teaching in ways that will facilitate the academic achievement of students from diverse racial, cultural, socioeconomic, and language groups. This includes using a variety of teaching styles and approaches that are consistent with the range of learning styles within various cultural and ethnic groups, such as being demanding but highly personalized when working with American Indian and Native Alaskan students. It also includes using cooperative learning techniques in math and science instruction to enhance the academic achievement of students of color.

An equity pedagogy rejects the cultural deprivation paradigm that was developed in the early 1960s. This paradigm posited that the socialization experiences in the home and community of low-income students prevented them from attaining the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed for academic success. Because the cultural practices of low-income students were viewed as inadequate and inferior, cultural deprivation theorists focused on changing student behavior so that it aligned more closely with mainstream school culture. An equity pedagogy assumes that students from diverse cultures and groups come to school with many strengths.

Multicultural theorists describe how cultural identity, communicative styles, and the social expectations of students from marginalized ethnic and racial groups often conflict with the values, beliefs, and cultural assumptions of teachers. The middle-class mainstream culture of the schools creates a cultural dissonance and disconnect that privileges students who have internalized the school's cultural codes and communication styles.

Teachers practice culturally responsive teaching when an equity pedagogy is implemented. They use instructional materials and practices that incorporate important aspects of the family and community culture of their students. Culturally responsive teachers also use the "cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them" (Gay, p. 29).

An empowering school culture. This dimension involves restructuring the culture and organization of the school so that students from diverse racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and language groups experience equality. Members of the school staff examine and change the culture and social structure of the school. Grouping and labeling practices, sports participation, gaps in achievement among groups, different rates of enrollment in gifted and special education programs among groups, and the interaction of the staff and students across ethnic and racial lines are important variables that are examined and reformed.

An empowering school structure requires the creation of qualitatively different relationships among various groups within schools. Relationships are based on mutual and reciprocal respect for cultural differences that are reflected in school-wide goals, norms, and cultural practices. An empowering school structure facilitates the practice of multicultural education by providing teachers with opportunities for collective planning and instruction, and by creating democratic structures that give teachers, parents, and school staff shared responsibility for school governance.

Evidence of the Effectiveness of Multicultural Education

The Handbook of Research of Multicultural Education comprehensively reviews the research on multicultural education and the effectiveness of various kinds of multicultural curricular interventions. At least three categories of research that describe the effectiveness of multicultural education can be identified: (1) research that describes the effectiveness of multicultural curriculum interventions such as Banks's 2001 research review; (2) research on the effects of cooperative learning and interracial contact, such as Robert Slavin's 2001 research review; and (3) research on how culturally responsive teaching influences student learning, such as Carol Lee's 1993 study and Gloria Ladson-Billings's 2001 work. An extended discussion of studies in the first genre is presented in this entry. Research reviews of the other two genres are found in the Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education.

Slavin's 2001 research review and Cohen and Lotan's 1995 research on cooperative learning and interracial contact activities indicate that these interventionsif they are consistent with Allport's theory of intergroup contacthelp students to develop more positive racial attitudes, to make more cross-racial friendships, and have positive effects on the academic achievement of Latino and African-American students. Lee's 1993 research on culturally responsive teaching indicates that when teachers use the cultural characteristics of students in their teaching the academic achievement of students from diverse groups can be enhanced.

Research on curriculum materials and interventions. Research indicates that the use of multicultural textbooks, other teaching materials, television, and simulations can help students from different racial and ethnic groups to develop more democratic racial attitudes and perceptions of other groups. Since the 1940s a number of curriculum interventions studies have been conducted to determine the effects of teaching units and lessons, multicultural textbooks and materials, role playing, and simulation on the racial attitudes and perceptions of students.

These studies provide guidelines that can help teachers to improve intergroup relations in their classrooms and schools. One of the earliest curriculum studies was conducted by Helen Trager and Marion Yarrow (1952). They found that a democratic, multicultural curriculum had positive effects on the racial attitudes of teachers and on those of first- and second-grade students. John Litcher and David Johnson (1969) found that white, second-grade children developed more positive racial attitudes after using multiethnic readers. Gerry Bogatz and Samuel Ball (1971) found that Sesame Street, PBS's multicultural television program, had a positive effect on the racial attitudes of children who watched it for long periods. In a study by Michael Weiner and Frances Wright (1973), children who themselves experienced discrimination in a simulation developed less prejudiced beliefs and attitudes toward others. Multicultural social studies materials and related experiences had a positive effect on the racial attitudes of African-American four-year-old children in a study conducted by Thomas Yawkey and Jacqueline Blackwell (1974).

Research indicates that curriculum interventions such as plays, folk dances, music, role playing, and simulations can have positive effects on the racial attitudes of students. A curriculum intervention that consisted of folk dances, music, crafts, and role playing positively influenced the racial attitudes of elementary students in a study conducted by M. Ahmed Ijaz and I. Helene Ijaz (1981). Four plays about African Americans, Chinese Americans, Jews, and Puerto Ricans increased racial acceptance and cultural knowledge among fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade students in a study conducted by Beverly Gimmestad and Edith De Chiara (1982).

Jossette McGregor (1993) used meta-analysis to integrate findings and to examine the effects of role playing and antiracist teaching on reducing prejudice in students. Twenty-six studies were located and examined. McGregor concluded that role playing and antiracist teaching "significantly reduce racial prejudice, and do not differ from each other in their effectiveness" (p. 215).

Demographic Trends and Issues

The ethnic, cultural, and language diversity within the United States and its schools is increasing. The U.S. Bureau of the Census projects that 47 percent of the U.S. population will consist of ethnic groups of color by 2050. Between 1991 and 1998, 7.6 million immigrants entered the United States, mostly from nations in Asia and Latin America. The U.S. Census estimates that more than one million immigrants will enter the United States every year for the fore-seeable future. Thirty-five percent of students enrolled in U.S. schools in 1995 were students of color. If current demographic trends continue, students of color will comprise approximately 46 percent of the student population in 2020. The increasing ethnic and cultural diversity of the U.S. student population stands in sharp contrast to a teaching force that was 90.7 percent white, middle-class, and three-fourths female in 1996. Many of the students entering U.S. schools speak a first language other than English. The 1990 census indicated that 14 percent of the nation's school-age youth lived in homes where the primary language was not English.

In addition to increasing ethnic, language, and cultural diversity, a significant and growing percentage of children in the United States, especially children of color, are being raised in poverty. The number of children living in poverty rose from 16.2 percent in 1979 to 18.7 percent in 1998. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, of the 12.7 percent of the United States population living in poverty in 1997,8.6 percent were non-Hispanic whites, 26.0 percent African Americans, and 27.1 percent Hispanics.

Multicultural education theorists believe that the nation's schools should respond to its increasing racial, ethnic, and language diversity. However, they have different views about how to define the field's boundaries and about which social groups should be included under its umbrella. Some theorists are concerned that as the field expands to include an increasing number of cultural groups, its initial focus on institutionalized racism and the achievement of students of color might wane. The discussions and debates within multicultural education reflect the vitality and growth of an emerging discipline.

An increasingly low-income and linguistically and culturally diverse student population requires a transformation of the deep structure of schooling in order to experience educational equity and cultural empowerment in the nation's schools. Multicultural education is a process of comprehensive school reform that challenges racism and prejudice by transforming the curriculum and instructional practices of schools, and by changing the relationships among teachers, students, and parents.

A major goal of multicultural education is to help students from diverse cultures learn how to transcend cultural borders and to engage in dialog and civic action in a diverse, democratic society. Multicultural education tries to actualize cultural democracy, and to include the dreams, hopes, and experiences of diverse groups in school knowledge and in a reconstructed and inclusive national identity. The future of democracy in the United States depends on the willingness and ability of citizens to function within and across cultures. The schools can play a major role in helping students to develop the knowledge and skills needed to cross cultural borders and to perpetuate a democratic and just society.

See also: African-American Studies; Curriculum, School; Elementary Education, subentries on Current Trends, History of; Race, Ethnicity, and Culture; School Reform; Secondary Education, subentries on Current Trends, History of; Social Studies Education; Woodson, Carter Godwin.


Allport, Gordon W. 1954. The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Banks, James A. 1973. Teaching Ethnic Studies: Concepts and Strategies. Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies.

Banks, James A., ed. 1996. Multicultural Education, Transformative Knowledge, and Action: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Teachers College Press.

Banks, James A. 2001a. Cultural Diversity and Education: Foundations, Curriculum and Teaching, 4th edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Banks, James A. 2001b. "Multicultural Education: Its Effects on Students' Racial and Gender Role Attitudes." In Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education, ed. James A. Banks and Cherry A. McGee Banks. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Banks, James A., and Banks, Cherry A. McGee. 1995. "Equity Pedagogy: An Essential Component of Multicultural Education." Theory into Practice 34:152158.

Banks, James A., and Banks, Cherry A. McGee, eds. 2001. Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Banks, James A.; CortÉs, Carlos E.; Gay, Geneva; Garcia, Ricardo L.; and Ochoa, Anna S.1991. Curriculum Guidelines for Multicultural Education. Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies.

Banks, James A., et al. 2001. Diversity within Unity: Essential Principles for Teaching and Learning in a Multicultural Society. Seattle: Center for Multicultural Education, University of Washington.

Bogatz, Gerry A., and Ball, Samuel. 1971. The Second Year of Sesame Street: A Continuing Evaluation. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

Code, Lorraine. 1991. What Can She Know? Feminist Theory and the Construction of Knowledge. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Cohen, Elizabeth G. 1994. Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom, 2nd edition. New York: Teachers College Press.

Cohen, Elizabeth G., and Lotan, Rachel A. 1995. "Producing Equal-Status Interaction in the Heterogeneous Classroom." American Educational Research Journal 32:99120.

Gimmestad, Beverly J., and De Chiara, Edith. 1982. "Dramatic Plays: A Vehicle for Prejudice Reduction in the Elementary School." Journal of Educational Research 76 (1):4549.

Gay, Geneva. 2000. Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research and Practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Harding, Sandra, ed. 1998. Is Science Multicultural? Postcolonialisms, Feminisms, and Epistemologies. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Ijaz, M. Ahmed, and Ijaz, I. Helene. 1981. "A Cultural Program for Changing Racial Attitudes." History and Social Science Teacher 17 (1):1720.

Ladson-Billings, Gloria. 2001. Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lee, Carol D. 1993. Signifying as a Scaffold for Literary Interpretation. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

Litcher, John H., and Johnson, David. W. 1969. "Changes in Attitudes Toward Negroes of White Elementary School Students after Use of Multiethnic Readers." Journal of Educational Psychology 60:148152.

McGregor, Jossette. 1993. "Effectiveness of Role Playing and Antiracist Teaching in Reducing Student Prejudice." Journal of Educational Re-search 86 (4):215226.

National Education Association. 1997. Status of the American Public School Teacher, 19961997. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

Pallas, Aaron M.; Natriello, Gary; and Mc-Dill, Edward L. 1989. "The Changing Nature of the Disadvantaged Population: Current Dimensions and Future Trends." Educational Researcher 18 (5):1622.

Roche, Agnes M. 1996. "Carter G. Woodson and the Development of Transformative Scholarship." In Multicultural Education, Transformative Knowledge and Action: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, ed. James A. Banks. New York: Teachers College Press.

Slavin, Robert E. 2001. "Cooperative Learning and Intergroup Relations." In Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education, ed. James A. Banks and Cherry A. McGee Banks. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Terry, Don. 2000. "U. S. Child Poverty Rate Fell as Economy Grew, But Is Above 1979 Level." The New York Times, August 11.

Trager, Helen G., and Yarrow, Marion R. 1952. They Learn What They Live: Prejudice in Young Children. New York: Harper.

U. S. Census Bureau. 1999. Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1991, 119th edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Weiner, Michael J., and Wright, Frances E. 1973. "Effects of Undergoing Arbitrary Discrimination Upon Subsequent Attitudes toward a Minority Group." Journal of Applied Social Psychology 3:94102.

Yawkey, Thomas D., and Blackwell, Jacqueline. 1974. "Attitudes of 4-Year-Old Urban Black Children toward Themselves and Whites Based Upon Multi-Ethnic Social Studies Materials and Experiences." The Journal of Educational Re-search 67:373377.

James A. Banks

John Ambrosio


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Multiculturalism is a catchall term that refers generally to a set of related cultural movements and trends which emphasize the diversity of U.S. culture and society. Its various projects seek to recognize, encourage, and affirm the participation of ethnic minorities in all aspects of American life. They tend to celebrate the contributions made by diverse groups and to consider those contributions as vital to the economic, social, and cultural fabric of the United States. In higher education, multiculturalism began to assume definitive shape during the 1980s, as universities revised their programs, textbooks, and curricula to reflect a more inclusive view of American culture. This change in focus toward women, minorities, and non-Western texts and perspectives would generate heated debate among academics and spark the so-called "culture wars" of the 1980s and 1990s. On one side of the debate, critics argued that multiculturalism promoted factionalism and undermined the foundations of Western culture; proponents claimed that it advocated tolerance and equality. In any case, multiculturalism's impact would extend well beyond academe. It would shape fashion trends, advertising campaigns, television programming, even corporate slogans, and continue to influence late-twentieth century popular tastes in everything from music to food, home decor to literature.

Multiculturalism can be said to resonate from the cultural eruptions of the 1960s, when civil rights, Native American, "new ethnicity," and women's liberation movements in the United States shattered images of a coherent national identity. The force and urgency of these protests challenged the authority and credibility of "the establishment," and shook the public's confidence in the social and political structures that validated it. Students marched in protest against America's involvement or intervention not only in Vietnam, but also in neighboring Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition to questioning social conformity, economic inequality, and political legitimacy, voices rose in defiance against long-held cultural assumptions and myths. As thousands of demonstrators across the nation expressed their defiance of U.S. policies and systems, Americans struggled to redefine their roles, values, and allegiances. Many strove to foster some sense of communal belonging, forging a place for themselves within a more pliant cultural framework. Others questioned the desirability of aspiring to a unified national identity in an increasingly transnational world. The ensuing crisis of identity—on both the national and personal level—paved the way toward a number of institutional and social changes. In the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate, America's collective self-image would change inexorably, slowly transforming itself to reflect shifting demographic and social realities.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Americans began catching glimpses of this emerging self-image on their television screens—as sitcoms and TV dramas integrated their casts. Popular programs such as Good Times, Chico and the Man, The Jeffersons, Sanford and Son, and CHiPS featured blacks, Latinos, and other minorities as starring cast members. During the 1974-75 season, two of these shows, Sanford and Son and Chico and the Man, earned second and third place ratings, respectively. Alex Haley's bestselling book, Roots, achieved tremendous success when it aired as a made-for-TV movie in 1977. The six-part mini-series, which chronicled several generations of the author's family from their African origins through slavery, fueled a popular trend to discover and adopt formerly repressed "ethnic" identities. Seeking one's "roots" became fashionable, as did changing one's wardrobe, name, or hairstyle to reflect one's ancestry. In some cases, these external transformations reflected a genuine attempt to build ethnic pride; in others it was simply a new fad, a hollow display of ethnic style without political substance. The melting pot ideology that had endorsed an assimilation ethic, gradually gave way to new metaphors (such as the "salad" or "stirfry"), which promoted the retention of discrete cultural traits. This celebration of "difference" (identified with "postmodernist" theory and art) found its niche in the popular imaginary, adding dashes of color to a post-1960s American canvas.

For the first time in America's young history, being visibly "different" (belonging to a racial or ethnic subculture group) held commercial appeal. Hollywood responded to this appeal with several films (and sequels) with black leads. Movies such as Superfly (1972), Shaft (1971), and The Mack (1973) exploited images of black (mostly male) defiance of white authority and power. The 1970s saw the emergence of these mass images of blacks as pimps, drug dealers, or shady police officers. Elements of black street culture exploited and popularized in these early films would reappear a decade later. A variation of these "Blaxploitation" film images would drive the white music industry's marketing campaign for "gangsta" rap in the late 1980s and 1990s. Throughout much of that decade, hip-hop music outsold rock among white teens, and the clothing that accompanied it—baggy pants and oversized Polo shirts—infiltrated middle America. Other historically oppressed groups would also gain audiences. The commercial appeal of "difference" led to the release of a slew of movies such as Dances with Wolves (1990), Thunderheart (1992), and The Last of the Mohicans (1992) remake in the 90s. These films reformulated the standard "cowboy and Indian" genre, presumably legitimizing Native American cultures and histories. Native American perspectives, virtually invisible in history books and films up until the later twentieth century, gained status and recognition,Hollywood style. Mainstream audiences across America lined up to see Native Americans depicted, not as savages bent on murdering innocent white women and children, but as a people staunchly defending their way of life. Too often, however, even in these films, the protagonist was either a white person or a Native American portrayed by a white actor.

These twists in Hollywood image-making gradually reconstituted the public's collective memory of historical events and personages. In most cases, these films recycled conventional plots, simply adapting the point-of-view or integrating the cast. Even so, they did help refashion the sensibilities of a generation of Americans. In part, they helped to prepare general audiences for a multiculturalist re-examination of U.S. history—including a re-interpretation of such grand historical narratives as Manifest Destiny, the Great Frontier Myth, and egalitarian democracy. During much of this period, documentary filmmakers were taking critical looks at Hollywood's version of multicultural awareness: Images of Indians (1979) and The Media Show: North American Indians (1991) examined Hollywood film stereotypes of Native Americans; From Here, from This Side (1988) envisioned cultural domination from the Mexican point of view; Slaying the Dragon (1987) explored the imaging of the "docile Asian female" type; and Color Adjustment (1991) chronicled the history of black representation on TV. But these critiques did not for the most part impinge on the popular mindset—as the heightened visibility of minorities fueled both complacency ("they are making progress") and discomfort ("they are taking over").

The re-imaging of America did foster new images of blacks, Latinos, Asians, and other ethnic group members as middle-class consumers. Recognizing the potential buying power represented by the largest minority groups in the country—African American, Latino, and Asian—advertisers began targeting these long-ignored segments of the U.S. population. Major retailers such as Sears introduced "ethnic" clothing lines—with "ethnic" broadly defined as the use of bright colors and patterns. Cosmetic companies began catering to darker skin tones, using Latina and African-American models to promote their products. New interest in regional cultures influenced architecture and interior design, so that Hopi Indian art, Mexican pottery, and Southwest crafts might be seen vying for prominence in any suburban home. In the emerging global economy, multiculturalism translated into multinationalism—as American corporations targeted foreign markets. Businesses responded to an increasingly polyglot, multicultural environment by offering employee training programs aimed at teaching foreign languages and customs or heightening awareness of diversity issues. Similarly, European companies climbed on the multicultural bandwagon, some using indigenous people as models or spokespersons. The Italian multinational, Benetton, ran one of the most successful ad campaigns in history by capitalizing on the diversity theme. The slogan, "United Colors of Benetton," featured along with the faces of Latino, African, and Asian "types," established the company's multiculturalist image and helped market their high-end clothes worldwide.

While the "crossover" success of television shows, movies, music, and ads featuring minorities suggested that popular audiences were increasingly receptive to social change, critics continued to point out the contrast that existed between mass-mediated images of successful minorities and their social realities. The heightened visibility of blacks and other minorities on TV and in films signaled progress to some, but to others it fell short of the mark. They argued that education must reflect its constituency and serve as the catalyst for a profound change in national consciousness. This called for a revamping of an educational system that traditionally excluded or undervalued the contributions of blacks and other minorities within a pluralist U.S. society. Classroom teachers, after all, were not dealing with images—but with an increasingly heterogeneous student population. By 1990, minority youngsters accounted for about 32 percent of total enrollment in U.S. public schools. According to census projections, this figure would continue to rise. Multiculturalists argued that course materials and content scarcely registered this demographic reality.

Subsequent curriculum changes sought to provide a broader knowledge base, extending beyond what has been referred to as a "Eurocentric" approach to education. Such an approach tended to assume the centrality of European thought, history, and culture, relegating all others to a peripheral or even subordinate role. Standard core courses in schools and universities traditionally stressed the achievements and merits of "Western" civilization, often reducing the rest of the world to irrelevance. Multiculturalists insisted that exposure to a variety of ethnic perspectives and traditions was both intellectually enriching and socially responsible.

As its influence spread throughout U.S. colleges and universities, multiculturalism generated considerable controversy. In history and English departments, particularly, multiculturalism led to the reevaluation of standard texts that had formed the basis of Western culture. In some cases, this reevaluation revealed gaps, contradictions, and inconsistencies that raised questions about significant events or offered competing versions of history. As more and more voices claimed their right to be heard, "official" accounts were increasingly challenged or revised. Newly minted textbooks and anthologies referenced Native American folktales, testimonials, and cosmologies; diaries and journals by Spanish explorers in the "New World"; slave narratives and spirituals; women's histories and political essays. While examining these varied texts and contexts, students might explore the relative worth of ideas and artifacts, sometimes dismantling their own cultural assumptions in the process. They might consider the links between social grouping and status or power, question existing hierarchies, or explore their conceptual and economic frameworks. Critics would claim that multicultural readings gave rise to identity politics, a politics based on notions of identity defined by race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religion. They accused multiculturalists of "politicizing" education, of turning the classroom into a political soapbox for professors with their own agendas or gripes. Advocates of the new pedagogy countered with claims of their own: they argued that education had always been political, as its institutional goals and methods traditionally served a dominant ideology. They questioned why selectively excluding women and minorities from the canon was not deemed "political" but intentionally including them was. Both cases, advocates reasoned, reflected underlying power struggles and tensions.

These issues stirred vigorous debate among academics, often dividing departments into pro-and anti-multiculturalism camps. During the 1980s and 1990s, advocates of multiculturalism waged war on the literary canon, introducing new works into their courses and discarding others deemed outdated or irrelevant. As some administrators and faculty moved to institute a multicultural curriculum, others voiced opposition, often criticizing not only the revised content but also the methods by which it was implemented. By the late 1980s, many university English departments had begun redefining themselves and their function in relation to the broader cultural landscape. In the process, challenging questions presented themselves. What disciplinary boundaries, if any, should delineate the critical study of literary texts? Should English departments broaden their focus to include major works written by non-English speaking authors in their core curriculum? Should they integrate poetry and fiction by women, U.S. minorities, and minoritarian cultures into existing courses or develop special program areas such as women's or ethnic studies? Most literature by non-Europeans traditionally fell under the rubric of "World Literature," a category which conflated Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and others into one indistinct cultural mass. Multiculturalists maintained that these diverse cultures not only produced art and literature worthy of recognition, but also offered valuable insights and perspectives on philosophical, religious, ethical, and social questions. Some argued that rather than being peripheral, the study of non-Western civilizations and traditions was integral to understanding the complex interconnectedness of human experience. English studies programs progressively changed their parameters, becoming increasingly interdisciplinary in content and methodology. This trend toward interdisciplinary study would spread across programs, breaking down the traditional boundaries between history and literature, psychology and sociology, or philosophy and science.

Literature written by people of color, however, had successfully infiltrated the mainstream by the 1980s, with novels by Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Alice Walker among the bestsellers. Silko's Ceremony, published in 1977, became the first published novel written by a Native American woman (Silko is Laguno-Pueblo Indian). Walker's Pulitzer prize winning novel, The Color Purple, was made into a critically acclaimed film directed by Stephen Spielberg. Morrison, the first black woman to receive the Nobel prize for literature, had already established an international reputation by the time her novel, Beloved, won a Pulitzer prize and was made into a major motion picture in the late 1990s. In 1993, Amy Tan's bestseller, The Joy Luck Club was also made into a popular film, along with Oscar Hijuelos's The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. These and many other successful "crossover" books suggested that multiculturalism—whatever its putative flaws or disputed benefits—had already moved into the popular arena.

Its influence was also felt in personal, professional, and social relationships. Couples grappled with issues of equality, friends and teachers with questions of tolerance and respect, managers with the challenges of communicating with their multicultural clientele. As more women and minorities asserted their rights in the workplace and in the classrooms, individuals faced new legal, professional, and social questions: What constitutes sexual harassment? Discrimination? Which words or behaviors are considered racist? Sexist? A breach of racial etiquette? What hiring practices need to be instituted to ensure equity, and when are those practices discriminating against formerly privileged white males? The ensuing race, gender, and ethnic politics led to a backlash among those who objected to multiculturalism's methods or goals. The epithet "political correctness" was coined to describe what some considered to be a dictatorial, restrictive new code of conduct. In some cases, it merely served as a means to dismiss actual abuses or offences. Multiculturalists, portrayed as the "PC Patrol," became a favorite target of conservative talk show hosts, comedy shows, and radio disc jockeys. Just as nineteenth-century caricatures of the suffragettes had ridiculed and trivialized women's efforts to gain the right to vote, so did these contemporary images of "Feminazis" and PC enforcers often distort multiculturalism's principal aims and effects.

In a world grown progressively more interconnected by technological, economic, and political currents, multiculturalism represents neither a panacea for social injustice nor the bane of so-called "Western" culture. As a concept, it suggests a conciliatory gesture, a desire to recognize and redress past wrongs. Theoretically, it steps in the direction of the margins, away from an ethnocentric reference points and towards a kind of panoptic view. As a social phenomenon, multiculturalism registers some of the most significant events in the second half of the twentieth century: political realignments, reconfigured local and international economies, rapid technological and demographic shifts. Undoubtedly, multiculturalism aroused pity and fear in its audience—though there was no moment of catharsis. Instead, late-twentieth-century Americans celebrated or condemned, embraced or resisted, watched or experienced it—all the while reflecting its very nature.

—Myra Mendible

Further Reading:

D'Souza, Dinesh. Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus. New York, Free Press, 1991.

Eddy, Robert. Reflections on Political Correctness: A Collection of Student Papers on Multiculturalism, Speech Codes, and "The Canon." Santa Cruz, University of California Press, 1992.

Gates, Henry Louis Jr. Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars. New York, Blackwell Press, 1993.

Goldberg, David Theo, editor. Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Gutmann, Amy, editor. Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1994.

Shohat, Ella. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. New York, Routledge, 1994.


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The 1997 publication of Nathan Glazer’s We Are All Multiculturalists Now signaled the ubiquity and apparent inescapability of multiculturalism in general, and multicultural education in particular, within the United States. Yet this characterization is also applicable to various other Anglophone nations, such as Canada, Britain, and Australia, each of which is a multicultural society, characterized by both racial and sociocultural diversity and by multicultural discourse. Despite its ubiquity, or perhaps because of it, multiculturalism has developed multiple meanings, depending on who employs the term and the context in which it is employed. Multiculturalism has been adopted internationally and is variously employed as a description of contemporary societies and communities characterized by racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity; as an official national and institutional policy that recognizes diversity; as a unifying national concept; as a principal marker of national identity and guideline for citizenship; as a collective description of various forms of identity politics; and as a political stance on how to address social and cultural diversity in society and in communities. Apart from this multiplicity of usages, a continuum of political positions (e.g., conservative, liberal, left-essentialist, radical left) is reflected in various expressions of the term. Thus, multiculturalism has multiple, and competing, meanings.

The consideration of issues of race and racism is an integral aspect of multiculturalism. In fact, one of the principal ways in which one can distinguish between different forms of multiculturalism is by the degree to which they address race and racism specifically, and more generally how they address the larger context of social and cultural discrimination based on difference and equity. Because racial classification has mutated repeatedly (e.g., from being based on religion, then phenotype, then culture, and, most recently, on population genetics), the attendant problem of racism has proven to be something of a moving target while remaining doggedly enduring. Some forms of multiculturalism have downplayed or euphemized race and racism as “culture” and “cultural difference,” while others have taken them up as a crucial aspect of multiculturalism.


The term multiculturalism was coined by a Royal Commission in Canada in 1965, and Canada was the first country to establish multiculturalism as national policy (through the Multicultural Policy of 1971 and the Multicultural Act of 1988). As other countries have developed multiculturalism as a discourse and educational approach (e.g., the United States), and in some cases as policy as well (e.g., Australia), they have understandably concentrated on their national narratives of origin, and their accounts almost never mention

the Canadian origins of the term. In every country in which multiculturalism has emerged, it has done so in response to the need to address or manage increasing diversity, which is often linked to changes in immigration policy and the coming to voice of minority groups. In the Australian context, immigration led to the doubling of the population between World War II and 2002. At the same time, countries like Lebanon (in the 1970s), Hong Kong (in the early 1990s), and China and South Africa (since the 1990s) have rivaled the United Kingdom as the principal source of immigrants in Australia (see Hill and Allan 2004). Similarly, in Canada, increased migration from continental Europe (and the flexing of these minority groups’ political clout) disrupted the “two solitudes” (French and English settler peoples) conception of Canada. This change led to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau creating the “Policy of Multiculturalism within Bilingual Framework” in 1971.

While the emergence of multiculturalism has served to strengthen democracy by espousing a cultural (and presumably, racial) level playing field and celebrating diversity, multiculturalism has had a very awkward relationship with indigenous peoples in the Australian, American, and Canadian contexts. For indigenous peoples, struggles by relatively late-coming European occupiers or colonizers to move beyond the “two solitudes” in Canada, or to open up immigration beyond predominantly British migrants in Australia, stand outside their own struggles to be recognized as the original peoples of the land—and to have historical treaties honored and atrocities against them addressed.


The form of multiculturalism that is most well known all over the world—and on which multiculturalism policy is usually based, and which most people have encountered and think of when they conceptualize multiculturalism in the singular—is liberal, celebratory multiculturalism. This form of multiculturalism breaks with assimilationist, monocultural conceptions of nation and posits a multicultural conception that identifies and celebrates both broad cultural categories and the cultural diversity that results from their juxtaposition with each other. Canada, for example, often employs the metaphor of the mosaic to describe itself. A mosaic of cultures cemented together by nationalism conjures an image of a multicolored beauty and a vibrancy of difference and variety, as well as the unity of the Canadian nation. Such an image stands in sharp contrast to the blandness of monoculturalism. There is resistance to liberal multiculturalism, however, from both the left and the right. Right-wing critics are suspicious of liberal multiculturalism, considering it a threat to the unity of the nation and established, supposedly unifying, traditions. Critics on the left assert that liberal multiculturalism, especially liberal multicultural education, concentrates altogether too much on celebrating rather than interrogating sociocultural difference. They point to the emphasis on a sharing of music, national dress, and foods, claiming this creates a “steel band, sari, and dim-sum” multiculturalism. Leftists hold that multiculturalism pays little attention to the pivotal issue of power differentials between the racial and ethnic groups within a nation, and that it does not address the resulting problems of sociocultural inequalities and discrimination in general, and white racism more specifically.

Responses to liberal multiculturalism have not been limited to critiques. Rather, in the United States in particular, they have also fostered the development of various types of multiculturalism, which are reflective of a continuum of political positions. A few leftist American cultural critics and educators have undertaken the useful work of identifying what might be conceptualized as discrete forms of multiculturalism, or as points on a political multicultural continuum. For example, Peter McLaren, a professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, identifies these points as conservative, liberal, left-liberal, and critical multiculturalism. The leftist category of “critical multiculturalism” has been expanded by other figures such as Henry Giroux, Shirley Steinberg, and Joe Kincheloe to include resistance, insurgent, and revolutionary multiculturalism. These leftist forms have some variations in emphasis, but they share the general approach of addressing power and working for social justice, equity, and a radical democracy. They consider overtly addressing sociocultural difference and discrimination based on difference, and particularly the central problem of white racism, as integral to their efforts.


While critical figures in the United States have chosen to put forward alternative interpretations and discourses of multiculturalism to compete with the dominant liberal, celebratory multiculturalism, their counterparts in Britain and Canada have chosen to eschew multiculturalism as inherently flawed, opting to develop British and Canadian versions of antiracism instead. Antiracist theory, policy, and discourse cut straight to what is seen as the heart of the matter, namely the need to address two central issues: (1) the power differential between whites and people of color, and (2) racism at various levels (e.g., individual, institutional, and social). Critiqued for not addressing other forms of sociocultural difference, antiracists have developed versions such as “integrative antiracism,” which does address sociocultural difference in general but keeps race and racism as pivotal issues of concern.

Indigenous peoples have been wary of and had an awkward relationship with multiculturalism in countries such as Australia, Canada, and the United States. The struggles of indigenous peoples to be recognized as original people of the land (literally “First Nations” in Canada) means they have positioned themselves outside multiculturalism, so that Native education in the United States, Aboriginal education in Australia, and indigenous education in Canada are separate discourses from multi-cultural education (see Archibald 1995). In contrast with its former colonies, multiculturalism in the United Kingdom does not have to deal with the added wrinkle of the place of indigenous peoples in relation to dominant, settler populations (though the Irish in Northern Ireland might well beg to differ).

The Quebecois in Canada also position themselves outside of multiculturalism. They have struggled to maintain their identity and culture as a people, and they see multiculturalism as a policy that diminishes their status and stake in both Canada and North America. This is seen as reducing them from being one part of two solitudes to being merely one culture among many in the Canadian mosaic, and as threatening the viability of a small French-language culture in a North American continent dominated by the English language. There were several attempts to constitutionally recognize Quebec and the Quebecois as a “distinct society,” (e.g., in failed Meech Lake Accord of the late 1980s and Charlottetown Accord of the early 1990s), and Canada’s Parliament voted in 2006 to recognize Quebec as “a nation within the nation of Canada.” Furthermore, the policy of “interculturalism” (which espouses French language and francophone culture as dominant and integrates newcomers into both) has been implemented in the province of Quebec.


Despite the challenges to it, multiculturalism has remained the dominant discourse and policy of choice in Anglophone countries, and its presence and presumed permanence is not taken for granted. There are new challenges facing multiculturalism, however, particularly from globalization, late capitalism, and the waning of the very notion of the nation-state. The increased movement of people, goods, and information around the world (and the attendant establishment of new discourses such as transnationalism and cosmopolitanism) threatens to render multiculturalism obsolete. Furthermore, the 9/11 bombings in the United States and the 7/7 bombings in Britain have led to a rise in Islamophobia and questions about cultural diversity in both countries (especially about official multiculturalism in Britain). The argument can be made—and indeed ought to be made—that what is needed is a strengthening rather than a questioning of multiculturalism. Meanwhile, even though Glazer’s declaration still holds true in the twenty-first century, multiculturalists are left to wonder not whether we are all multiculturalists, but how much longer we will be multiculturalists.

SEE ALSO Australian Aborigine Peoples; Brazilian Racial Formations; Canadian Racial Formations; Immigration to the United States; Indigenous; LanguageNativism; Social Welfare States; United Kingdom Racial Formations.


Archibald, Jo-Ann. 1995. “To Keep the Fire Going: The Challenge for First Nations Education in the Year 2000.” In Social Change and Education in Canada, 3rd ed., edited by Ratna Ghosh and Douglas Ray. Toronto: Harcourt Brace.

Braham, Peter, Ali Ratansi, and Richard Skellington, eds. 1992. Racism and Antiracism: Inequalities, Opportunities and Policies. London: Sage.

Dei, George. 1996. Anti-Racism Education: Theory and Practice. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Press.

Gagnon, Allaine. 2002. “Problems and Limits of Multiculturalism: A View From Quebec.” In Multiculturalism in Contemporary Societies: Perspectives on Difference and Transdifference, edited by Helmbrecht Breinig, Jürgen Gebhardt, and Klaus Lösch. Erlangen, Germany: University of Erlangen-Nurnberg Press.

Glazer, Nathan. 1997. We Are All Multiculturalists Now. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Government of Canada. 1988. Canadian Multiculturalism Act. Statues of Canada, c.31.

Hill, Bob, and Rod Allan. 2004. “Multicultural Education in Australia: Historical Development and Current Status.” In Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education, 2nd ed., edited by James Banks and Cherry A. McGee Banks. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

McLaren, Peter. 1994. “White Terror and Oppositional Agency: Towards a Critical Multiculturalism.” In Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader, edited by David Theo Goldberg. Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell.

Quebec Ministry of Community, Culture, and Immigration. 1990. “Let’s Build Quebec Together: A Policy Statement on Immigration and Integration.” Montreal, Quebec: Minitere des Communautes Culturelles et de l’Immigration du Quebec.

Handel Kashope Wright


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Multiculturalism is the notion that people in a given society should coexist with one another, without having to fear or resent that their cultural identity will be not be accepted if it does not fit in with the normative cultural climate of that society. Scholars have also defined multiculturalism as an attempt to preserve a cultural mosaic of separate ethnic groups. While the term multiculturalism originated in Sweden in 1957, Canada was the first country to recognize that multiculturalism was integral to its national identity and adopted it as its national policy in 1960. Originally the term made explicit reference to racial and ethnic groups living within a particular nation. Soon the term spread to most of the Western world, as democracies grappled with increasing competition along racial, ethnic, linguistic, and religious lines. With time, and increasing awareness of difference, gender and sexual orientation, age, and disability, issues of geographic origin and immigration were also folded into the general construct of multiculturalism. As such, multiculturalism came to be seen as an official policy to manage and ensure diversity.

Multiculturalism emphasizes diversity and social cohesiveness by recognizing that previous programs of assimilation or absorption not only distorted but also in many ways served to destroy individuality. Therefore diversity, rather then being perceived as problematical, is presented as the model. The notion of strength through diversity is in direct contrast to previous assimilation or absorption models that held sway in countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia, and England. Multiculturalism encourages all to fully participate in the social processes of a nation while being free to maintain and perpetuate individual group identities. Therefore multiculturalism fostered concerns for race relations, social justice, and civic participation. Multiculturalism as a social movement aims at minimizing conflict, encouraging inclusion, and celebrating the differences, which are represented by various identity groups that comprise a pluralist society. Multiculturalism, so defined, can be discussed in terms of historical (factual), ideology, policy, and critical discourse.


Ideologically, multiculturalism refers to a set of ideas, which attempt to explain, justify, or promote diversity, cultural awareness, and inclusiveness. As a consequence associated with multicultural ideology are values, attitudes, and perspectives that are intended to define interaction among diverse populations.

Within the United States, the growth and spread of multicultural ideology is associated with the increased agitation for civil rights of African Americans and the increased immigration of Asian and Hispanic Americans during the mid- to late 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s feminists provided the necessary critical mass to which the intellectual and educational elite responded. As magazine articles and books began exposing the multicultural ideology the media and political elite began discussing the issue as well. By the mid-1980s, the ideology of multiculturalism became the dominant expression of liberal values, and the target for conservative attacks.


Multicultural policy refers to the political apparatus established to institutionalize and normalize cultural diversity within a multicultural society. Such policy attempts to create environments that value cultural diversity, encourage tolerance for difference, promote cultural awareness, and create systems of inclusion. Within such a framework, cultural groups are encouraged to preserve their distinctiveness by asserting their right to be different. While multicultural policies vary across nations, several distinctive features seem universal to include: official acceptance of linguistic differences in the media, schools, and public conveyances; support of cultural festivals and holidays; support of religious and cultural differences in the military, schools, and other major institutions; support of alternative artistic expressions; and support of cultural diversity in political offices, business practices, and educational offerings.


Challenging a historical past dominated by dead white men in almost every avenue of education represents the critical discourse of multiculturalism. Prior to this discourse, few educators challenged the dominance of white males in classics, theory, music, art, literature, and politics. Beginning in the late twentieth century, the critical discourse of multiculturalism argued for a more inclusive academic canon that looks at history from a female and multicultural perspective. Educational institutions have witnessed the creation of academic departments in womens, gender, and queer studies, African American and black studies, Latin and Hispanic studies, and Jewish and Muslim studies, to name a few. Even with this proliferation and othering of the academic discourse many argue that rather than encouraging inclusion these academic programs have fostered divisiveness and balkanization.


Many on the Right, both in politics and education, perceived the advance of multiculturalism as a direct threat to Western values, history, and culture. Even before author Nathan Glazer declared we are all multiculturalists now in 1997, a full-scale assault was levied. Ignoring that this book represented Glazers personal misgivings regarding multiculturalism, there has been a constant assault upon multiculturalism. This assault, taking both scholarly presentations and political movements, has been vociferous and constant since the mid-twentieth century. Under the rubric of political correctness, attacks made in the early twenty-first century utilize the arguments of freedom and inclusiveness to attack multiculturalism. Accordingly, multiculturalism is described as a misguided policy and ideology, which victimizes cultural, gendered, racial, and ethnic groups while demonizing primarily white males. Thus, it is argued that rather than leading to greater individuality and freedom, multiculturalism has become another vicious form of bias. Critics of multiculturalism, citing such movements as black English, bilingualism, affirmative action, feminism, and gay marriages, point to what they perceive as the ethnic and racial balkanization of American society into identity groups, riots, and increased conflict, and the advancement of extreme liberal/homosexual/feminist agendas at odds with the core values of America.

The debate over multicultural education engenders such passion because it is about more than adding other voices to a reading list or determining whether waving a confederate flag is deemed hate speech. At the center of the issue of inclusiveness are questions of what constitutes knowledge and whose knowledge should be valued. Allan Blooms Closing of the American Mind (1987) eloquently speaks to these issues. Bloom blamed technology, the sexual revolution, and the introduction of cultural diversity into the curriculum at the expense of classics for producing students without wisdom, values, or morality. In an academic universe where multicultural perspectives are explored the question of whose voice is heard becomes more difficult to decide.

SEE ALSO Diversity; Ethnicity


Bloom, Allan. 1987. The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Todays Students. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Duster, Troy. 1991. Myths about Multiculturalism. Mother Jones.

Fleras, Augie, and Jean Leonard Elliott. 2002. Engaging Diversity: Multiculturalism in Canada. Toronto: Nelson Thomson.

Glazer, Nathan. 1997. We Are All Multiculturalists Now. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Rodney D. Coates

Multicultural Education/Curriculum

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Multicultural education/curriculum


Multicultural education describes a system of instruction that attempts to foster cultural pluralism and acknowledges the differences between races and cultures. It addresses the educational needs of a society that contains more than one set of traditions, that is a mixture of many cultures.


The goal of multicultural education is to help students understand and appreciate cultural differences and similarities and to recognize the accomplishments of diverse ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups. It is a practice that hopes to transform the ways in which students are instructed by giving equal attention to the contributions of all the groups in a society. Special focus may be placed on minority groups that have been under-represented in the past. A multicultural curriculum strives to present more than one perspective of a cultural phenomenon or an historical event. The old American melting pot metaphor is challenged as no longer being valid. Adherents of multicultural educational theory believe that the idea that students should be Americanized, in reality, assumed they should conform to a white, Eurocentric cultural model. In its place, multiculturalists believe school curricula should embrace a whole host of voices that exist in multicultural U.S. society. Their belief is that this transformation in the methods of learning is a start in addressing inequities in U.S. society. They believe this is increasingly important because of the changing population mix in the United States. For example, demographers estimate that by the year 2020, 46 percent of all public school students will be children of color.

The roots of multicultural education lie in the civil rights movements of various groups, including African Americans and women. In addition, the rise in ethnic consciousness and a more critical analysis of textbooks and other materials played a role. Community leaders, activists, and parents began to demand curricula that were more supportive and consistent with the cultural and racial diversity in the United States. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the concepts of multicultural education begin to emerge, and by the 1980s, an entire body of scholarship addressing multiculturalism existed.

One of the pioneers of multicultural education was James Banks, who believed all aspects of education needed to be transformed in order to create a multicultural school environment. These aspects include teaching methods, instructional materials, teacher attitudes, as well as the way the performance of students is assessed. Banks described five areas of multicultural education in which teachers and researchers are involved:

  • Content integration: Concepts, values, and materials from a variety of cultures are included in teaching.
  • Knowledge construction: This belief asserts that all knowledge is created in the minds of human beings and can, therefore, be challenged. A critical part of multicultural education, the idea that knowledge is a human construct challenges teachers to alter their own perceptions of the world before they can teach multiculturally.
  • Equity pedagogy: Teachers must modify their methods of instruction by allowing for students' cultural differences before they can encourage academic achievement.
  • Prejudice reduction: Teachers must work to shift students' prejudices regarding race and ethnicity. Prejudice reduction may also encompass teaching the tolerance of various religions, sexual preferences, and disabilities.
  • Empowering school culture: Schools must identify those aspects of education that hinder learning and then empower families and students from all backgrounds, so that the full development of students is achieved.

Types of multicultural education programs

As of the early 2000s, there is no universally agreed upon multicultural curriculum. Teachers tend, however, to take one of two approaches. Some use what has been called the multicultural festival approach, in which students are invited to celebrate ethnic diversity by being exposed to foods, holidays, and festivals of other cultures. Many critics say that this conveys the notion that diversity is only important during celebratory moments. Other teachers apply a transformative approach, weaving different perspectives on cultures throughout the curriculum. Multicultural education can also be roughly divided into three different categories:

  • Content-focused: These are the most common types of multicultural educational programs. Their overall objective is to include subject matter in the curriculum about various cultural groups in order to cultivate students' knowledge about these groups. Content may include holiday celebrations, recognizing heroes from different racial and ethnic groups, and focusing on the achievements of women and minorities. It may also include single-group studies, for example, black, ethnic, or women's studies programs.
  • Student-focused: Many programs go beyond changes in the curriculum and specifically address the academic needs of defined groups of students, usually minorities. In this type of approach, the curriculum may not be changed significantly. Instead, the focus may be on aiding students in making the transition into the mainstream of education. Student-focused programs can take many forms, including efforts to draw on culturally-based learning styles and bilingual programs.
  • Socially focused: These programs seek to reduce bias and increase cultural and racial tolerance. Included here might be desegregation programs, programs designed to increase contact among different races and cultures. Also, having teachers who are themselves members of minorities would be encouraged.

In spite of the fact that there are a variety of approaches to multicultural education, supporters point to several shared ideals among those who practice this kind of education. Shared ideals include:

  • Each student must have equal opportunities to achieve his or her full potential.
  • Every student must be able to participate in an increasingly multicultural society.
  • Teachers must be able to facilitate learning for every student, no matter how similar or different each student is from the teacher.
  • Schools must actively work towards ending oppression of all types, by ending it within their own walls.
  • Education must include the voices and experiences of all students.

Common problems

There are many people who are either opposed to multicultural education or believe it has numerous problems. Some feel that the idea of multicultural education tends to divide cultures instead of building tolerance between them. They believe that American students should be taught to think of themselves as part of a whole rather than as people from different places who just happen to live in the same country.

Others believe multicultural education interferes with a child expressing his or her own individuality, by placing too much emphasis on ethnic or racial backgrounds. Even supporters recognize that someone's culture may be influenced as much by their sex or socioeconomic status as their race or ethnicity. Culture is itself complex and varies from community to community, family to family, or from person to person. The dynamic and variable nature of culture makes teaching about multiple cultural influences a daunting if not impossible task.

Critics also point out that educating students about the formation of U.S. democracy inevitably focuses on its European origins. If students are not informed that the dominant participants in the formation of the United States were white males, these critics say, students will not receive an accurate picture of U.S. history. In addition, there is the belief that if citizens are not willing to subordinate some parts of their heritage to the present set of dominant cultural values, then these citizens may find it even harder to integrate the mainstream.

Parental concerns

Parents should feel free to speak up about any concerns they have with the curriculum in their child's classroom. Multicultural education came about in part because parents expressed a need for the unique cultures of their children to be acknowledged and honored in school.


Eurocentric Centered or focused on Europe or European peoples, especially in relation to historical or cultural influence.

Multicultural education A social or educational theory that encourages interest in many cultures within a society rather than in only a mainstream culture.



Grant, Carl A., et al. Education Policy and Politics: Multicultural Education: Research, Theory, and Pedagogy. Florence, KY: Routledge, 2005.

. The Student in the Classroom: Multicultural Education: Research, Theory, and Pedagogy. Florence, KY: Routledge, 2005.

Peters-Davis, Norah, et al. Challenges of Multicultural Education: Teaching and Taking Diversity Courses. Taos, NM: Paradigm Publications, 2005.

Phillion, Jo Ann, et al. Narrative and Experience in Multicultural Education. Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage Publications, 2005.

Ramsey, Patricia G. Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World: Multicultural Education for Young Children. New York: Teachers College Press, 2004.


Aldridge, Jerry, Charles Calhoun, and Ricky Aman. "15 Misconceptions about Multicultural Education." Focus on Elementary 12 (Spring 2000): 3.


Center for Multicultural Education. 110 Miller Hall, Box 353600, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 981953600. Web site: <>.

National Association for Multicultural Education. 733 Fifteenth Street, NW, Suite 430, Washington, DC 20005. Web site: <>.


Gorski, Paul. "Defining Multicultural Education." Working Definition, 2000. Available online at <> (accessed January 13, 2005).

Hanley, Mary Stone. "The Scope of Multicultural Education." New Horizons for Learning, 2002. Available online at <> (accessed January 13, 2005).

Deanna M. Swartout-Corbeil, RN


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8 Multiculturalism

Introduction to Multiculturalism...383
1933 World's Fair in Chicago...384
The Immigrant Strain...385
New February Activities Focus on Black History Importance...388
Reagan Signs into Law National Holiday...391
Canadian Multiculturalism Act...394
Bilingual Education: A Critique...398
History of Bilingual Education...401
Attacks on Foreigners and Immigrants in Post-Reunification Germany...404
Resolution of the Board of Education Adopting the Report and Recommendations of the African-American Task Force...407
Jewish Alumnus Sues University of Pennsylvania over 'Water Buffalo' Incident...410
Proposition 227...412
Checking the Immigrant Friendliness of Your Schools...416
President George W. Bush and Secretary Elaine L. Chao Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month...419
Australian Multiculturalism—The Policy...422
McClatchy Adds "Diversity Day" as an Annual Holiday...424
Gratz et al v. Bollinger...426
Civic Leaders call for Calm as Rumours Fly...430
Music: The Shakira Dialectic...433
Confederate Will Remain in Name of Vanderbilt Dorm...436
A Southern Star Rises in the Low Country...438
Dancehall with a Different Accent...441
Berlusconi Warns Against Multiculturalism...444
Why Aren't Black Business Tycoons Celebrated During Black History Month?...445

Introduction to Multiculturalism...383


1933 World's Fair in Chicago
    Glen C. Sheffer, 1932...384

The Immigrant Strain
    Alastair Cooke, 1946...385

New February Activities Focus on Black History Importance
    Rollie Atkinson, 1976...388

Reagan Signs into Law National Holiday
    Anonymous, 1983...391

Canadian Multiculturalism Act
    Government of Canada, 1988...394

Bilingual Education: A Critique
    Peter Duignan, 1992...398

History of Bilingual Education
    Jeffry W. Myers, 1994...401

Attacks on Foreigners and Immigrants in Post-Reunification Germany
    Maryellen Fullerton, 1995...404

Resolution of the Board of Education Adopting the Report and Recommendations of the African-American Task Force
    Oakland Unified School District Board, 1996...407

Jewish Alumnus Sues University of Pennsylvania over 'Water Buffalo' Incident
    Robert Leiter, 1996...410

Proposition 227
    Ron Unz, 1998...412

Checking the Immigrant Friendliness of Your Schools
    Northwest Regional Education Laboratory, 2001...416

President George W. Bush and Secretary Elaine L. Chao Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
    Elaine L. Chao and George W. Bush, 2002...419

Australian Multiculturalism—The Policy
    Australian Government, 2003...422

McClatchy Adds "Diversity Day" as an Annual Holiday
    Anonymous, 2003...424

Gratz et al v. Bollinger
    William H. Rehnquist, 2003

Civic Leaders call for Calm as Rumours Fly
    Hugh Muir and Riazat Butt, 2005...430

Music: The Shakira Dialectic
    Jon Pareles, 2005...433

Confederate Will Remain in Name of Vanderbilt Dorm
    Michael Cass, 2005...436

A Southern Star Rises in the Low Country
    R.W. Apple, Jr., 2006...438

Dancehall with a Different Accent
    Kelefa Sanneh, 2006...441

Berlusconi Warns Against Multiculturalism
    Alessandra Rizzo, 2006...444

Why Aren't Black Business Tycoons Celebrated During Black History Month?
    Jeffrey J. Matthews, 2006...445


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MULTICULTURALISM. American multiculturalism long predated the widespread use of the term. A 1965 report by the Canadian Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism used "multiculturalism" to represent that nation's diverse peoples, and after 1971 Canada used the term as a policy to preserve its myriad cultures. The word appeared in the American press in the early 1970s, and multiculturalism became commonplace by the 1980s. It was a flashpoint for controversy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially in relation to educational curricula and government policies, and remained troublesome in 2001. Multiculturalism has been provocative because it represented intensely held, conflicting perceptions of American society, principles, and standards. Many viewed it as the fulfillment of America's quest for equality of racial and ethnic groups and women. Many others have seen it as the subversion of the nation's unifying values.

The movement for multiculturalism was the culmination of a number of defining events. Challenges to inequality following World War II sparked the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, initiating the institutionalization of the principle of equality of all Americans, men and women. The 1968 Bilingual Education Act, the related 1974 Lau v. Nichols decision, and the 1972 Ethnic Heritage Studies Program Act bolstered the multicultural movement, awakening many groups to seek their cultural roots, proclaim the value of their cultures, and call for the inclusion of group histories and cultures in educational programs. The goals have been to overcome historic invisibility and to nurture group pride, and some have believed schools have the obligation to help preserve such cultures.

But as some spokespersons became more strident in their insistence on such curricula reforms, repudiating the long-held American belief in assimilation, their demands generated equally intense opposition among those who already perceived threats to American core culture and values, especially in the emerging affirmative action policies. Multiculturalism became the focal point of the battles over group rights versus individual rights, ethnic cultures versus the common culture, pluralism versus assimilation, and particularly the diversity content in school curricula.

Placing diversity at the center of the American polity and educating all children about the richly varied components of the nation's heritage were viewed by advocates of multiculturalism as the fulfillment of America's promise of respect, opportunity, and equality. Others perceived a lack of a consistent definition of multiculturalism and felt that culture was being made synonymous with race. In addition, they argued, ethnic cultures were fading in the United States. They also maintained that proponents used curriculum changes for separatist political ends, retarding the education of non-English-speaking children and posing a threat to the common center that bound the nation together.

Some people have explored a middle ground. They accepted the multiplicity of heritages and cultures and have seen pluralism as a part of the core culture and values, but they deemphasized contemporary ethnicity and have viewed Americans as possessing flexible and fluid identities because they lived in multiple "worlds." That approach prompted an emphasis on cosmopolitanism and universalism over the particularism of ethnicity. The conflicting visions of the nation's mission ensured that the controversy did not end with the beginning of the twenty-first century.


Gordon, Avery F., and Christopher Newfield, eds. Mapping Multiculturalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

Higham, John. Hanging Together: Unity and Diversity in American Culture. Edited by Carl J. Guarneri. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001.

King, Desmond. Making Americans: Immigration, Race, and the Origins of the Diverse Democracy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Nash, Gary. "Multiculturalism and History: Historical Perspectives and Present Prospects." In Public Education in a Multicultural Society: Policy, Theory, Critique. Edited by Robert K. Fullinwinder. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 183–202.

Elliott R.Barkan

See alsoCivil Rights and Liberties ; Education, Bilingual ; Race Relations .


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1. Also cultural pluralism. Sociological terms for the co-occurrence of many cultures (including hybrid forms) in one area, as in the cities of Auckland, Bombay, London, New York, Singapore, Sydney, and Toronto.

2. A sociopolitical policy of encouraging the coexistence and growth of several cultures in one place. The term multicultural is sometimes used as a synonym of multiracial: ‘Although Britain has a multi-cultural society, where are the black faces among the television announcers, newscasters and sports commentators?’ (Daily Telegraph, 20 July 1973). In recent years, the terms multicultural, multiculturalism, multiculturalist, etc., have been used, both positively and negatively, to identify and discuss a movement that confronts certain perceived biases in Western and especially US society, particularly in education and on college campuses: ‘It is in its most intense and extreme form … that multiculturalism is on its way to being a major educational, social and eventually political problem. This version is propagated on our college campuses by a coalition of nationalist-racist blacks, radical feminists, “gays” and lesbians, and a handful of aspiring demagogues who claim to represent various ethnic minorities’ ( Irving Kristol, ‘The Tragedy of Multiculturalism’, Wall Street Journal, 31 July 1991). See, AUSTRALIAN ENGLISH, POLITICALLY CORRECT, SEXISM.


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mul·ti·cul·tur·al / ˌməltēˈkəlch(ə)rəl; ˌməlˌtī-/ • adj. of, relating to, or constituting several cultural or ethnic groups within a society: multicultural education.DERIVATIVES: mul·ti·cul·tur·al·ism n.mul·ti·cul·tur·al·ist n. & adj.mul·ti·cul·tur·al·ly adv.