The Multicultural Education Question

The topic of multiculturalism can be defined in a number of ways, depending on the context, participants and focus of the inquiry.  Multicultural education in schools has long been debated among policymakers and educators.  In this context, the topic can be defined as a trend, an issue and a problem.  It reflects the definition of issue in that it is a vital, unsettled matter that is in dispute between two or more parties. Most important in this definition, is that multicultural education is vital to our progress.

The concepts of inclusion, equity and justice are vital to building a society that will extend beyond the walls of our schools, the boundaries of our towns, and the coasts of our country.  To prepare global citizens is an integral and vital part of our responsibility as educators. However, more vital is the quality of the educational experience we provide by making our pedagogies and content multicultural- doing so adds vitality  to our curriculum and instruction.  The process of interweaving multiculturalism will also allow for greater differentiation, which ultimately serves our students better. Further, discussion among peers acts as its own professional development and sharing of ideas is its own curriculum development.  These two processes, regardless of policymaker attitudes, will lead to multicultural education being part of the contemporary student experience.

In some contexts, multicultural education is a trend- because it is already in practice in many places; its presence represents a shift, or bend in philosophy. Further, the discussion of it, especially in these environs wherein the choice has been made to weave it into the school fabric, promotes it, grows it, manifests the organic nature of it, making multicultural education a trend. Moreover, formal and informal approaches to professional development and curriculum revision are making the trend stronger. However, the word trend is troubling as the debate between educators whose primary motive is what it best for our students, and the policymakers whose best interest is not always philosophically compatible with what is best for our youth, makes the trend element fragile.  I would prefer to call it a part of the new tradition in preparing globally sensitive, academically prepared, and universally savvy young people.

Finally, yes, multicultural education is a problem.  It is intricate, unsettled, perplexing, distressing and difficult to understand and/or accept in certain contexts.  However it is this very problematic nature of the topic that has allowed it to grow and become more trend than problem or issue.  In an effort to make it less problematic, advocates have worked to identify methods to ingrain it into our educational practices.  Professional development and curriculum enrichment is happening (shift/bend) all over the country. Further, empirical data in many recent studies are showing that enriched multicultural educational programs are yielding improved performance among the students who are benefiting from exposure to it.

In my process, I have found that however multicultural education is defined is not nearly as important as the fervor, verve, and vitality with which it is being discussed, argued, developed, shaped, and woven.

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Relationships at the Center

After years working in independent schools, and hearing about all of the cutting edge new pedagogy, curricula, brain-based education etc, I keep coming back to one very simple, yet complexly deep idea- relationships are at the center of everything we do as educators.

An integral relationship that often goes  un-nurtured is the one amongst the adults in a school community. While collaboration is a concept that we talk about, the purposeful relationship development necessary for high levels of collaboration represents a step in the process that is often overlooked.  Educational leaders need to be mindful and aware of how relationships develop between colleagues.  A proactive approach, rather than a reactive one will yield greater bonds, and thus greater efficacy amongst the group.  This efficacy and unity allows us to model for students the positive results of respect, trust, collaboration, reconciliation, cooperation, and empathy. Further, building and fostering relationships with the parents, and modeling the same cooperative behaviors in our relationships with them, creates a 360 degree advocacy for each student.  This universal, multi-layered advocacy benefits the student, school, teachers, and families involved.

We also need to build strong relationships with all of our students.  Students who feel that their teachers really care for them and are advocates for them will learn better.  Further, encouraging strong relationships amongst peers represents yet another integral layer of advocacy.  When students support each other academically, socially, creatively, athletically etc, that relationship renders the potential of the whole class nearly limitless. Extending beyond the walls of the building in the increasingly globalized world, we need to build relationships with our community- school, local, state, national and global.

Transcending the human relationships, in the classroom, we need to build relationships between new and existing skills, knowledge, and understandings.  Likewise, we need to build relationships between the academic experience and authentic experiences. Linearly, the continuum of great school experience relies heavily on our ability to both build relationships across grade levels and to build relationships across the different disciplines

The inter-connectedness of people, ideas, skills, content, philosophies, ideologies and processes allows us to create optimal learning environs for our students.  While the utopian ideal is likely not to be realized, the process of pursuing it will once again represent a model for our children to emulate as they become the creators, developers, and leaders of the future.