Multicultural Educators: Disciples of Social Justice
Advocates of multicultural education from schools and colleges across the country gathered in Kansas City the week before the 2004 presidential election to rededicate themselves to transforming teaching and school systems into instruments of social justice as they define it.
Many of the more than 200 presentations at the 14th annual conference of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) focused on teacher preparation as the best hope for making multicultural diversity the engine of educational progress.
At one session, presenters from Central Missouri State University and local school districts expressed the view that teachers should be trained to rewrite a curriculum they view as oppressively Eurocentric.
"The silent but deadly oppressor of the ethnic minority child's spirit is a state of injustice that is imbedded in a systemic society of a one-sided truth espoused through the Eurocentric lens of American education," Uzziel Pecina and Catherine Frazier said in their prepared presentation.
Excoriating textbooks that continue to be dominated by "white middle-class values," they said "these oppressive and culturally exclusive curriculums leave the faces of minority children off the pages of history, and leave the minds of the middle-class majority children ignorant of their minority counterpart's societal contributions."
The pair concluded that "the only hope" for change "lies in the embrace of an educational system that can transform and restructure the political imbalance of curriculum practices in the American schools. ... Teachers must get educational training that empowers them with knowledge about their ethnic minority students so that they can feel committed and confident in unleashing the voices for social justice."
They made these comments as they presented research indicating relatively few schools of education are requiring undergraduates to take courses on multiculturalism that align with the objectives of organizations like NAME. The presenters strongly urged that such coursework be mandatory, and that it be geared to helping future teachers transform the curriculum according to multiculturalist objectives.
Their depiction of widely used textbooks as being European-dominated was at odds with a Thomas B. Fordham Institute study, "The Mad, Mad World of Textbook Adoption," reported in last month's edition of School Reform News. "The chief historical shortcoming [of history texts] was their willingness to rewrite history by downplaying the European heritage of America, while exaggerating the significance of pre-Columbian civilizations and African tribal kingdoms," the study stated.
The multiculturalists' most extensive look at teacher training came at a day-long pre-conference institute led by former NAME president Donna Gollnick, senior vice president of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Gollnick said that while five of the six NCATE standards have diversity implications for teacher-training institutions seeking NCATE accreditation, Standard Four is 100 percent about commitment to diversity.
It requires teacher-education units to provide curricula and experiences for teaching candidates "to acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to help all students learn. These experiences include working with diverse higher education and school faculty, diverse candidates, and diverse students in P-12 schools." ("P" stands for preschool.) Gollnick suggested college officials seeking NCATE accreditation heed NCATE's definition:
"Diversity: Differences among groups of people and individuals based on ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, gender, exceptionalities, language, religion, sexual orientation, and geographical area."
During discussion, Gollnick denied NCATE seeks any sort of hiring and admissions quotas.
"There is no magic number," she said. However, she also pointed out the institutions should have an assessment system to ensure that trainers and teachers do not harbor racist, sexist, or homophobic attitudes.
Her copresenter, Professor G. Pritchy Smith of the University of North Florida, expressed his goal for teacher education this way: "People who live multicultural lifestyles, live multicultural ways. We need a deep-rooted transformation of values and dispositions: the multicultural teacher."
In his booklet titled "Common Sense About Uncommon Knowledge," which was distributed to conference participants, Smith spells out 13 "knowledge bases" he deems essential for the multicultural teacher. These knowledge bases range from distinctive "learning styles" members of each minority group supposedly exhibit to the foundations of racism to issues of gender and sexual orientation.
Homosexuality an Honored Culture
In NAME's early years, the idea of homosexuality as an honored and protected culture was controversial. That's no longer the case. Smith argues in his booklet, published by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, that the "minimal essential elements" of a teacher-education knowledge base must include "the unique psychological, emotional, and education needs of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students."
Many workshops at the Kansas City conference built on that theme. One roundtable examined inclusion of what was called "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) issues" in teacher preparation.
The National Education Association (NEA), the 2.7-million-member teacher union, cosponsored the conference with NAME and took the lead in making it resemble, at times, a political convention. In a spirited keynote speech, NEA executive committee member Rebecca Pringle charged that President George W. Bush's signature education reform, No Child Left Behind, is "an unfair, unworkable, and punitive form of accountability that threatens the very existence of public education."
Pringle further charged that Bush's vision of "an ownership society" was just a scheme to privatize education and other services. She urged the NEA/NAME allies to go to the polls and defeat it. Election Day--just two days after adjournment of the NAME conference--brought them great disappointment.
Robert Holland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior fellow at the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Virginia.