Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Culturism Versus Multiculturalism in Education

Resolved, multiculturalism is good for higher education. I just watched a terrific debate on this resolution at the amazing Intercollegiate Studies Institute website - http://www.isi.org/lectures/lectures.aspx

Dr. Patricia Bode of Tufts University argues for the affirmative. First, she summarizes the goals of multicultural education (ME).

1) ME tackles inequality and promotes access to education.
2) ME raises the achievement of all students and provides them with an equitable and high quality education.
3) ME it gives students an apprenticeship and an opportunity to become productive members of a democratic society.

Dr. Bode undergirds the assertions with the five dimensions, identified by James Banks, of institutional change necessary for there to be true ME. She does this so we can understand the "socio-political view" of ME.

1) A knowledge construction process by which faculty engage students to investigate frames of reference in order to uncover bias and determine what counts as knowledge.
2) Curriculum integration deals with the extent to which different cultures are used as examples.
3) Equity pedagogy draw from Paolo Friere to facilitate the achievement of all students.
4) Prejudice reduction focuses on racial attitudes and attitudes about bias against ethnic groups, races, sexual orientation, religion and languages and other identities.
5) An empowering school school structure. This includes admission strategies and recognizing that admissions start with grouping and labeling practices in K - 12 and differences in achievement between racial groups there. This is done to ensure all are achieving highly.

ME includes seven characteristics because we are not yet a democratic society with equal access.

1) It is anti-racist education. It comes from the Civil Rights movement and so expands to anti-bias education.
2) It is basic education. It is about all people being able to read and write well.
3) It is especially important for people in dominant groups to undergo this training. It is not just access, it is a pervasive frame of mind that must be inculcated.
4) It is education for social justice. It looks at power structures and how those influence student achievement. ME doesn't just affirm identity and language, it address and confronts issues of difference, power and privilege in school practices and in society by challenging racism and other biases. Affirming identity can help minorities become successful learners, but unless it engages power structures it is unlikely to have a lasting impact or lead to equity and social justice. Socioeconomic structures and "access to things" must be addressed and that must be seen as part of the educational process.
5) It needs to take into account our history of immigration (both voluntary and forced), as well as inequality and exclusion that have characterized our past and present and our educational record.

(I counted five, though Dr. Bode listed it as seven)

Giving us the full list she quickly says, "Identity is important but it is not everything. Race, ethnicity, social class, language use, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ability and other social and human differences, are a major aspect of the socio-political context. It begins with the assumption that Identity frames how one views the world, but does not necessarily determine it."

This is Dr. Bode's closing argument:

"ME is misnamed when said to only refer to studying other cultures or focusing solely on peoples' fixed identities. When ME grounds its practice in strong analysis in relationships among unequal groups in the US, and contextualizes schools and colleges and universities in the broader socio-cultural environment in the US, recognizes the implications of the social construction of race [ME] does not reify identity, does not essentialize culture as a fixed notion and recognizes also the embedded structure of white supremacy in US history and that different political positions that race, ethnicity and class hold in the current social framework regarding influences on academic achievement, when ME addresses social class through analysis of poverty and its causes, proposes strategies to eliminate it, critiques the growing wealth of the few at the expense and impoverishment of the many, and develops a comprehensive analysis of oppression, then ME is good for higher education. Then it is working toward participation in a democratic society for all students."

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