In summary, successful multicultural programs are the ones that keep in mind these long-term goals, ensuring that education keeps in mind the need for both the academic and social success of all its students.
The fact that multicultural education has proved successful, however, does not erase the need for continued assessment and improvement. After all, as the student population changes, there will be concomitant new demands placed on the educational system as a whole.
One of the markers used to measure the success of multicultural education has been the increase in percentage of minority first-generation college students. Proponents of multicultural education recognize that a successful school program goes beyond traditional academic content. Rather, the most successful programs are the ones that strive towards a "learning community," one that makes students and community members into active participants in their own education. At college and university level, where students are often away from family networks and can be thrown into environments that are far less diverse than their high schools, these multicultural learning communities are a vital link towards academic success (Tinto 2002).
Many colleges thus endorse student and university groups that actively help students in higher education to connect to their "home world." These groups provide a sense of normalcy and belonging for a minority student, a place where students can build their academic skills in a supportive environment. Later, the same students can be called upon to use their skills and individual knowledge in contributing to their communities. For example, they could go back to their high schools and serve as role models for children from their same cultural or socio-economic backgrounds.
Multicultural education can take on a different level in the college setting, wherein the learning communities provide a safe space for interaction between different students. These interactions can give students chances to disagree and voice their diverse opinions, and give students chances to learn from one another in creative and meaningful ways. For example, a writing teacher reported great success in an exercise where students were asked to write and share regarding the origins of their names and the resulting perceptions that such names engendered. In an Art Lab class, students wrote and shared about their personal experiences with various art forms like music and dance. Such interactions helped the students connect with one another on both aesthetic and emotional levels (Yamane 2001).
Even small classroom-based strategies helped to engage students in dialogue. Arranging seats to face one another, for example, has been shown to generate greater student participation in class discussions. Partner and small group discussions lay the foundations for meaningful interaction, both on academic and personal levels. The use of peer reviews to evaluate both the methods and academic content of their programs allow them to participate in structuring their classroom experiences. Collaborative programs, especially those that include presentations and performances, also encourage students to develop relationships throughout the semester (Yamane 2001).
Such learning communities, however, require much preparation and work in order to be successful. The integration of these multicultural techniques thus relies heavily on the preparation of educations and support from college administrations. Educators must be willing to try different pedagogical techniques, including process-based learning. Resources, both in terms of time and money, should also be invested in order to build an academic program that is sufficiently challenging for students, and at the same time provides a scaffolding to those who are in need (Jehangir 2004).
In summary, multicultural education is a concept that evolved out of a recognition that there is no one way of learning that encompasses the needs of a student population as diverse as that of the United States. Such programs were therefore created to ensure an academic experience that was responsive to the needs of all its students, and not just a select few.
Multicultural education represents a break from traditional programs, both in terms of content and structure. Content-wise, these programs seek to expand the curriculum. Steps such as adding more readings to the literary canon, for example, benefit all students by making reading classes more relevant to the traditionally underserved population and by exposing the others to literature different from their experiences.
Multicultural education programs are also successful because they force educators to look at students' lives as a whole, rather than just the time that a student spends in the classroom. Issues that affect a student's education - such as the lack of parental support or poverty - are brought to light, and schools that employ multicultural programs have taken steps to address these.
A final benefit of the adoption of more multicultural programs is seen its long-term social effects. Students from such educational programs are armed with a greater understanding of different cultural backgrounds, laying the foundation for more interaction and mutual respect. In this way, multicultural education truly serves the need to create an American society that is both cohesive, while mindful and respectful of its diversity.
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Tinto, V. 2002. "Taking student learning seriously." Keynote address presented at the Southwest Regional Learning Communities Conference, Tempe, AZ. http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/events/lcc02/presents/tinto.html
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