Public schools in the United States have become increasingly more diverse in the twenty-first century, and this trend is expected to continue (Banks, 2019; Howard, 2020). While there has been growth in diversity among the student population, the majority of the teacher workforce has remained White and female. The cultural differences that exist between teachers and students have resulted in the overrepresentation of students of color in negatively labeled special education classes along with higher suspension and expulsion rates.
Ladson-Billings (2011) noted that in schools she visited with a majority of Black students their activities and movements were much more regulated than in schools in the same city with a majority of White students. She observed that in schools with a majority of Black students they “were required to wear uniforms; they had to line up in particular ways, they were prohibited from talking in social spaces like hallways and the cafeteria. There is only one analogy to this kind of regulation—prison” (p. 10). And while the focus of these disparities has been on teachers, educational leaders play a major role in contributing to these inequities (Pitre et al., 2015). In this article, we make the contention that all educators—teachers and principals—need training in multicultural education.
Multicultural education grew out of the Black Studies movement of the 1960s, which demanded more courses that reflected the Black experience. This led to single ethnic group studies, then multiethnic studies, and then to multicultural education (Banks, 1992). Banks (2019) defines multicultural education as “an educational reform movement whose major goal is to restructure curricula and educational institutions so that students from diverse social class, racial, and ethnic groups—as well as male and female students and LGBT students—will experience equal educational opportunities” (p. 155). Embedded in multicultural education are critical pedagogy and social justice (Nieto & Bode, 2018).
Critical pedagogy is a philosophy that seeks to empower those who have been oppressed in schools and in society (Kincheloe, 2008; McLaren, 2015). It critiques educational policy and practices, disclosing how schools can be sites of oppression (Freire, 1968/2018). It further highlights the cultural deficit thinking that leads to lower expectations for students of color. McLaren (2015) challenges educators to reflect on how educational policies are reducing them to technical workers while robbing them of their intellectual freedom. Embedded in critical pedagogy is social justice.
Social justice is concerned with ensuring students are treated with dignity, respect, and fairness (Gollnick & Chinn, 2017; Nieto & Bode, 2018). Social justice advocates seek to eradicate educational inequities that result in disparate educational outcomes. Educators who are exposed to social justice concepts are likely to be more conscious of how the schooling process can be harmful to some students.
James Banks (1992; 2019), considered the father of multicultural education, posits that multicultural curriculum should include diverse perspectives. For example, when a class studies Columbus’s voyage to the Americas, the teacher should be cognizant of how knowledge is constructed by those in the dominant group. Opposed to the perspective that Columbus founded a “new world,” the indigenous point of view sees this encounter as an invasion.
The multicultural curriculum approaches that Banks (2019) describes include:
- The Contributions Approach. Focuses on heroes, holidays, and discrete cultural elements.
- The Additive Approach. Content, concepts, themes, and perspectives are added to the curriculum without changing its structure.
- The Transformation Approach. The structure of the curriculum is changed to enable students to view concepts, issues, events, and themes from the perspective of diverse ethnic and cultural groups.
- The Social Action Approach. Students make decisions on important social issues and take actions to help solve them.
These four approaches described by Banks can be a model for teachers to effectively build multicultural classrooms. Regarding educational leaders, Pitre (2014) draws from Banks’s (1992; 2019) seven benchmarks of multicultural education to develop a model for principals. The benchmarks include a multicultural vision, staff attitudes, curriculum, teaching strategies, school staff, parent participation, and teaching materials.
In addition, the multicultural preparation of educators should include culturally relevant pedagogy. Ladson-Billings highlights three major components of culturally relevant pedagogy: academic achievement, cultural competence, and sociopolitical consciousness (Pitre et al., 2020).
Academic achievement includes having high expectations for all students and ensuring students are learning. This is accomplished by teacher analysis of the curriculum and how it relates to the students’ experiences. Teachers practicing culturally relevant pedagogy use the students’ cultural backgrounds as a bridge to learning academic content.
Cultural competence requires teachers to help students gain access to diverse cultures without negating their own culture. Teachers who are culturally competent take time to understand their students’ cultural backgrounds and they are constantly reflecting on the cultural context of students in relationship to the academic content.
With regards to sociopolitical consciousness, teachers help students become aware of the inequities that exist in schools and the larger society. The sociopolitical consciousness described by Ladson-Billings (2011) aligns with Banks’s (2019) social action approach, where students make decisions and take action to solve problems. Freire (1968/2018), a founder of critical pedagogy, calls this “problem posing,” a practice that allows students to address problems in their everyday lives.
Although the burden of culturally relevant pedagogy may appear to be teacher-centered, principals play a major role in implementing these practices. Principals can organize professional development work-shops, incorporate these practices in professional learning communities, and include the practice of culturally relevant pedagogy in the teacher evaluation process.
The diverse student population in public schools will require educator-preparation programs to center their work on multicultural and social justice concepts. These programs will need to contain courses such as Critical Race Theory to help educators understand how race and racism are structurally embedded into areas such as curriculum, assessment, and school funding (Ladson-Billings, cited in Pitre et al., 2020). In addition, educators will need exposure to critical Whiteness studies to help them deconstruct their personal biases resulting from White dominance in society.
Readings such as Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (2003) and Gary Howard’s We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know: White Teachers in Multiracial Schools (2006) can help educators understand the role that education has played in the deculturalization (Spring, 2016) of non-White students. Moreover, educator-preparation programs need to include critical Black pedagogy in their curricula. Critical Black pedagogy is grounded in four constructs: Afrocentricity, multicultural education, critical pedagogy, and African American spirituality (Pitre, 2011). It considers what schools and school systems would look like if Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X held leadership roles (Pitre, 2011; 2019). Infusing multicultural education into the preparation of educators will prepare them to create classrooms that will allow all students to experience the joy of learning.
- Banks, J. A. (1992). African American scholarship and the evolution of multicultural education. The Journal of Negro Education, 61(3), 273. https://doi.org/10.2307/2295248
- Banks, J. A. (2019). An introduction to multicultural education. Pearson.
- Freire, P. (2018). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury Academic. (Original work published 1968)
- Gollnick, D. M., & Chinn, P. C. (2017). Multicultural education in a pluralistic society (10th edition). Pearson.
- Howard, G. (2006). We can’t teach what we don’t know: White teachers in multiracial schools. Teachers College Press.
- Howard, T. (2020). Why race and culture matter in schools: Closing the achievement gap in America’s classrooms. Teachers College Press.
- Kincheloe, J. (2008). Critical pedagogy: A primer (2nd edition). Peter Lang.
- Ladson-Billings, G. (2011). Boyz to men? Teaching to restore Black boys’ childhood. Race Ethnicity and Education, 14(1), 7–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2011.531977
- McIntosh, P. (2003). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In S. Plous (Ed.), Understanding prejudice and discrimination (pp. 191–196). McGraw-Hill.
- McLaren, P. (2015). Life in schools: An introduction to critical pedagogy in the foundations of education (6th edition). Routledge.
- Nieto, S., & Bode, P. (2018). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education (7th edition). Pearson.
- Pitre, A. (2011). Freedom fighters: The struggle for Black history in K–12 education. Cognella.
- Pitre, A. (2014). Educational leaders in a multicultural society: A critical perspective. Cognella.
- Pitre, A., Allen, T., & Pitre, E. (Eds.). (2015). Multicultural education for educational leaders: Critical race theory and antiracist perspectives. Rowman and Littlefield.
- Pitre, A. (Ed.). (2019). A critical Black pedagogy reader: The brothers speak. Rowman & Littlefield.
- Pitre, A., Hudson, T., Smith-Gray, J., & James, K. (Eds.). (2020). The Gloria Ladson-Billings reader. Cognella.
- Spring, J. H. (2016). Deculturalization and the struggle for equality: A brief history of the education of dominated cultures in the United States. Routledge.