What is multicultural education? If you ask various people, you may get similar but different answers. Some may say it is studying cultures of various countries. Some people may say it is bringing in the holidays and traditions of students home life to the classroom. While others may say that it is the inclusion of diverse students and families into schools. While all of these touch on the definition of multicultural education, none of these definitions speaks to the complexity of the term or curriculum. Multicultural education is a term used to describe educational practices that include race, class, and gender, along with disability, sexual orientation, language, and religion (Sleeter & Grant, 1994). Multicultural education is a curricular mindset that incorporates the assets or strengths of students through integration into every aspect of the classroom (Swidler, 1986).
A well-known multicultural researcher, Paul Gorski (2010), developed a working definition of multicultural education, which states that there are three strands to multicultural education. Each of the strands focuses on the commonly shared multicultural goal of social change. First is the educators’ transformation of self, usually through the process of reflection. Second is the goal of student-centered classrooms that support the learning of all students. Third is changing society through social change, which can be met through the incorporation of service learning projects in early childhood classrooms.
But, why? Why is multicultural education something to pay attention to? Why should educators be focused on implementing multicultural curriculum? There are multiple studies and statistics that support the reasoning behind the “why.” Overall, student demographics in schools are becoming more diverse, and therefore so are families (Gollnick, & Chin, 2009). Families in today’s society are very different from families in previous generations (Berger & Riojas-Cortez, 2012).
- By the year 2020 students of color will comprise fifty percent of the school population, while teachers will likely remain predominantly White and female (Gollnick & Chin, 2009).
- The Census Bureau (2008) has also projected an increase in the minority population in the United States stating, “by 2023 minorities will comprise more than half of all children.”
- By the year 2043 there will be a Majority Minority, which means that white individuals will be the minority group in the United States (Maxwell, 2014).
How do we implement multicultural education into early childhood classrooms? There are multiple ways, however below are some suggested steps and resources. (This is not an exhaustive list).
First, professionals in the early childhood field need to go through the process of reflection to understand personal explicit and implicit biases. An educator is unable to effectively teach with a multicultural lens until he or she is able to understand how personal perspectives influence classroom interactions. Continual self-examination needs to occur as situations change and evolve in society and the school environment (Gorski, 2010). Part of this process is also professional development for teachers focused on reflection, as well as strategies/activities to use in order to implement multicultural curriculum. After this is completed, here are some ideas for teachers to incorporate multicultural curriculum into early childhood classrooms.
Bring in the Books!
Books are a great way to bring children into the conversation and for children to”see” themselves in the classroom. Below are some suggestions and resources:
- If you are looking for books on a specific topic, a great website is: http://kidslikeus.org/
- On this website you can search for any topic from interest level, to genre, to content area. They also have put together “recommended book sets” for various ages.
- When choosing books for a lesson or classroom library, make sure to check for the following:
- Are all the children in your classroom represented by the books displayed and read in your classroom?
- Is the author and/or illustrator from the same racial or cultural group discussed in the book?
- Does the book display a strengths based mindset for the topic being addressed? Does it accurately display traditions and values?
- Is it historically correct? Does it use correct language to describe the topic being discussed?
- Does the book display diversity of experiences within a given group of people? Does it provide different representations of people from a specific group?
- These questions help guide teachers through the process of learning and reflection when choosing books for lessons. Furthermore, teachers want to make sure that the chosen books are at the appropriate reading/comprehension level for the students.
Social Change through Service Learning
Service learning is a strategy that combines meaningful community service with learning experiences. Additionally, service learning incorporates 21st century skills including problem-solving, critical-thinking, collaboration, and decision-making, all of which are important for students to learn.
Service learning is also a great way to incorporate multicultural topics through hands on learning experiences. When planning to implement service learning remember the following:
- Teachers need to do a little research to understand the community and know what is available for service learning projects.
- Let children brainstorm and decide on a project to build a sense of ownership and civic engagement.
- Service Learning Ideas:
- Is your school in a food desert? Have children research healthy foods. Plant a garden and/or set up a free “food library” for the community.
- Does your community have a homeless population? Have children research social service agencies that help homeless people and donate hand-made tie blankets.
- Encourage reading through “leave and take” lending libraries around the community.
- Help raise money for a cause the children are interested in. Ex: local charities, St. Jude, Clean the World, Share our Strength, and many more organizations that teachers and children can research together.
Dr. Anni Reinking is an assistant professor in the early childhood program at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. She has written and presented on the topic of multicultural education for several years after teaching in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Kenya. She continues to write and research early childhood classroom environments focused on multicultural education, as well as teacher training and STEM in early childhood classrooms.
Berger, E. H. & Riojas-Cortez, M. (2012). Parents as Partners in Education: Families andSchools Working Together (8th Ed). Pearson: Boston.
Gollnick, D. & Chin. (2009). Multicultural education in a pluralistic society. Boston: PearsonMerrill.
Gorski, P.C. (2010). Multicultural reform: Stages of multicultural curriculumtransformation. Retrieved from http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/curriculum/steps.html
Maxwell, L.A. (2014). US school enrollment hits majority-minority milestone. The Education Digest, 80(4), 27-33.
Sleeter, C., E., & Grant, C. A. (1994). Making choices for multicultural education (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Pretenice-Hall.
Swidler, A. (1986). Culture in action: Symbols and strategies. American Sociological Reviews, 51(2), 273-286.
United States Census Bureau. (2008). An older and more diverse nation by midcentury. Retrieved from http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/population/cb08-123.html