The website edchange.org defines multiculturalism in education as education and instruction designed for the cultures of several different races in an educational system. This approach to teaching and learning is based upon consensus building, respect, and fostering cultural pluralism within racial societies. Multicultural education acknowledges and incorporates positive racial idiosyncrasies into classroom atmospheres. Basically, multiculturalism in the classroom is an awareness of racial and ethnic differences along with purposeful instruction addressing those differences, especially within a multicultural student population. However, the issue of multicultural education should not be limited to classrooms with ethnic diversity; homeschools and racially homogenous classrooms are still responsible for preparing students to live in a diverse world.
The debate surrounding the benefits or drawbacks of multicultural education lies in the efficacy of the instruction. Proponents believe that quality multicultural classrooms that incorporate lessons on various cultures, racial differences, and address common stereotypes encourage children to accept the differences they notice among people of different ethnicities without judgement. Children raised in a multiculturally aware environment are not taught to be color-blind or to pretend that differences do not exist; rather these children notice differences in skin color or style of dress without making assumptions about personality or socio-economic status. A child taught in a multicultural classroom might encounter a black woman with long braids and notice how beautiful her hair is without making assumptions about her lifestyle.
Of course, multicultural education supporters exist in a “perfect world” scenario in which students absorb instruction about cultural differences without pre-existing biases or outside influences factoring into their opinions.
Opponents of strategic multicultural education propose that pointing out stereotypes and teaching about the differences in cultures might encourage students to hold on to those stereotypical beliefs and learn to judge others based on their ethnicity. A student well-versed in the current prison population numbers but lacking a mature understanding of the factors surrounding those percentages, for instance, could easily assume that any black or Hispanic male he sees is a potential criminal. A child might also assume that any Middle Eastern person wearing traditional clothing is, at the very least, a devout Muslim and, at worst, a terrorist.
Teachers or homeschooling parent/teachers cannot dismiss the value of a multicultural education because the world we live in demands the ability to communicate with and understand people with different backgrounds and belief systems. Our global economy and shifting political climate create a need for educated and unbiased adults who can build bridges to connect people. The difficulty lies in crafting an environment to raise children with that ability.
Should we purposefully instruct children about various cultures and racial differences or should we simply allow children to interact with others as we reinforce the idea that we are all the same regardless of skin color or country of birth? Are schools and homeschool classrooms the right place for multicultural education or should families be responsible for teaching children about ethnic differences and racial diversity? The debate will continue and the answer to the question of whether multicultural education is good or bad may remain unanswered until we have raised a generation of children under the mantle of specific multicultural education and can gauge its’ effectiveness.
For 15 years Mimi Rothschild has been privileged to help hundreds of thousands of homeschoolers educate their children at home. The MorningStar Academy is a private online Christian school offering diplomas and teachers. The Jubilee Academy is an online Christian curriculum provider offering over 150 full year online Christian courses for PreK-12.