Unfinished Business

There is much to be done to make multicultural education a reality
- and project REACH is doing it

One of the articles in The Learning Revolution (IC#27)
Originally published in Winter 1991 on page 38
Copyright (c)1991, 1996 by Context Institute

Within ten years, one in three Americans will be from an ethnic minority group. The nation’s fifty largest cities will have a majority student population coming from these ethnic minority groups. The bulk of America’s sunbelt, including California and Texas, will have "minority majorities" in their public school systems, giving new meaning to the term "minority".

Yet it is clear from all of the focus on "at-risk" populations that we are not doing well in educating this increasing segment of our nation. And when the Christian Science Monitor reports in November 1986 that black students are labeled as mildly mentally handicapped more than three times as often as white students, our underpinning national assumption that all people are created equal takes on a hollow ring.

The truth of the past ten years is that we still have a lot of unfinished business.

It has always been one of the major educational responsibilities of schools in the United States to prepare students for participation in a multicultural democratic society. Schools are encouraged to develop programs and curricula that reflect our nation’s cultural diversity and enhance our students’ ability to relate in a multicultural society.

Sadly, for the past ten years, there has been only one multicultural program validated through the National Diffusion Network and the Department of Education as a program that does just that. This is Project REACH – an acronym that stands for Respecting Ethnic And Cultural Heritage. Taught at the middle school level, the program was judged to have increased students’ level of knowledge of the history and culture of Asian Americans, Hispanics, African Americans, and American Indians, while increasing the degree to which students valued cultural diversity. The latter measurement was obtained using the Bogardus Social Distance Scale, a survey which measures the degree of social involvement preferred by a student for different ethnic groups.

The REACH program is divided into four phases. The Human Relations Skill phase seeks to enhance self-awareness, self-esteem, and interpersonal communications. The second phase, Cultural Self-Awareness, provides the students with the opportunity to explore their own personal cultures. This culminates in a school-wide cultural fair with student projects on display. In the third phase, Multicultural Awareness, the students use a set of booklets, The Ethnic Perspectives Series, which presents American history from diverse ethnic points of view. The recognition of multiple perspectives is a key principle to multicultural education. As one American Indian parent shared with his school board: "In thirteen years of education, this multicultural program is the only chance my children get in school to read their own history." For the fourth phase, Cross-Cultural Experience, learning is applied and made personal through exchanges with students and adults from different ethnic groups.

More recently, an elementary program has emerged from the REACH Center in Arlington, Washington. Called REACH for Kids, the program provides teachers with a model curriculum K-6 that demonstrates what multiculturally infused units might look like. This is accompanied by a strong teacher in-service program to provide the conceptual background and support for implementing multicultural concepts into other parts of the curriculum.

REACH for Kids also revolves around four considerations. The first is an integration-of- disciplines approach so that multicultural education is seen as more than social studies. This also minimizes the "kibbles and bits" approach to curriculum and develops themes more realistically.

Another consideration is for enhancing self-esteem. A number of studies have tied self-esteem to tolerance for diversity. Multicultural education must contend with the hearts as well as the minds of students.

The third consideration is the examination of instructional strategies to deliver the curriculum. Units are often written for cooperative grouping activities which reinforce the human relations skills that students must learn and practice. Teachers are reminded to examine some of their instructional practices that may have become unintentional impediments to equitable learning access for different students.

The final consideration is to distinguish between multicultural and global education and to build the bridges that link these concepts. Global education refers to all the diversity beyond our national borders while the former encompasses the cultural diversity within our country. Studying Japanese folktales may not have anything to do with learning about Japanese Americans. While both activities are important, too often the development of global perspectives de-emphasizes the importance of multicultural understanding. When a second-grade teacher said that she always taught multiculturally because she taught units on Japan and China, she was missing the point. In World War II, others missed the same point, much to the dismay of Japanese Americans.

Unfinished business.

David Koyama is Affirmative Action Officer for the Bellevue, WA Public Schools and the Director of REACH. Contact REACH at 239 N. McLeod, Arlington, WA 98223, 206/435-8682.


Multicultural Resources

by Millie L. Russell and C. Sybil Brown

When we think of multicultural education, we think first of opportunity – equal educational opportunity. This means deliberate intervention to enable students to achieve at their highest ability levels. It also includes accurate lessons in world history, a reverence for the contributions of diverse people, and ensuring enriched multicultural, multiracial and multigenerational daily experiences. But for this to happen, our teachers must be aware of several issues:

First, they need to know of important contributions to this country made by numerous minority people. These include, for example, advances such as blood plasma preservation developed by Dr. Charles Drew, the technique for open heart surgery developed by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, and the innovative work of Dr. George Washington Carver.

Second, teachers need to be knowledgeable about the materials available through the school district. Excellent resources have been assembled and curriculum developed, yet they are often not used. Included among these are the Responsive Multicultural Basic Skills Handbook for Teachers and Parents: Overview by Francione N. Lewis (1984, reprinted in 1985 and in 1986 by the State of Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction); the Social Studies School Service Catalog available from 10200 Jefferson Boulevard, Room 171, Box 802, Culver City, CA 90232; the extensive resources of the Educational Materials and Services Center, 144 Railroad Avenue, Suite 107, Edmonds, WA 98020; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 1990 Action Plan for Minorities .

Third, teachers need to understand that respect for culturally diverse students is important to student achievement. This is simply sound educational theory – the environment plus the information should promote high-level learning.

Fourth, teachers must be proficient in speaking English in order to model and to teach. For example, correct phonetic sounds must be repeatedly heard by students for them to read and to write clear sentences. Non-English speaking students should be taught by teachers with strong English skills.

Fifth, consultants like Dr. Ed Nichols and Dr. Asa Hilliard are invaluable for training staff when the focus is directed toward multicultural education for all teachers and administrators. This training should not simply be an option.

Multicultural education speaks to truth! It answers questions about America that explain why the haves have and the havenots have not. It prepares American students for a world marketplace by recognizing that attitudes affect outcomes in every arena of human interaction. It must revolutionize the current American educational institution, which is unsuitable for a kaleidoscopic world. We, as parents, students, school personnel, legislators and organizations, must unite to make schools work as they should for all of our children.

Millie L. Russell is Assistant to the Vice President, Office of Minority Affairs, U. of Washington. C. Sybil Brown is a retired Public School Principal.

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