Broaching the Issue of Multicultural Education in the Nation's Classrooms
By 1991, approximately one-quarter of all pre-college students in the United States will be minority students, according to Martha Montero-Seiburth, faculty chair of the Institute on Multicultural Education. And with the growing number of minority students in the classroom comes one of the most explosive issues in education.
What happens when children from very diverse backgrounds--some without English skills--enter a classroom?
How can a teacher, faced with such a diverse classroom, respond to children's needs for attention and learning?
How can the resources of the school be organized to foster a climate of multicultural awareness and respect?
These are just a few of the many questions dealing with multicultural education which have rarely been confronted by educators around the country and which Montero-Seiburth hopes will become a major issue on the national education agenda.
And the Institute on Multicultural Education, which debuted this summer as one of the 10 Programs in Professional Education at the Ed School, is Montero-Seiburth's personal presentation of these problems to 71 secondary-school educators.
"Teachers are not aware of the issues, such as prejudice and bilingualism," Montero-Seiburth says. "Multicultural education is not a study of people's cultures, but instead understanding a child in the context of the classroom. Is every child incorporated into the learning process, despite cultural diversity?"
The Institute was held July 24-28 and included participants from more than 40 states, Canada, West Germany and Egypt. The program's brochure advertises its goal as "[proposing] ways that teachers and administrators can create a culturally responsive school environment."
The program includes four distinct sections: "understanding the South"; the "framework of schooling"; a panel of experts from around the country; and "self-reflection and identity."
According to Montero-Seiburth, the panel of experts, which included Margarita Perez of the Children's Television Network, Professor of Anthropology John Ogbu at the University of California at Berkeley and Professor of Education Geneva Gay of Purdue University, was organized to answer the question, "What facilities augment better education for children?"
The intensive program is designed to create specific proposals which can be implemented at the participants' schools in September. Students meet in groups of eight and are required to produce case studies from their own experiences. They then integrate the strategies they have experimented with at the Institute in order to create an "Action Plan," which is taken back, possibly to be implemented in that participant's school district.
According to evaluations on this summer's program, reaction to the program was about 85 percent positive, and most participants felt that the program should be longer and should include more "hands-on" work.
Montero-Seiburth is hoping that a second program similar to the Institute on Multicultural Education also can be established which will address some of these needs. This program would be on "a higher level with greater intensity" than this year's Institute.
"You can't create multicultural education without a change in attitudes, it's a team effort," Montero-Seiburth concludes. "But there is no universal definition. Each person will have to have their own definition of multicultural education."