Developing a Multicultural Perspective
for Today’s Classrooms
Sonia Nieto
Project Opportunity
April 2010
the achievement gap
“Culturally deprived children” - 1960s
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We are dealing, it would seem, not so
much with culturally deprived children as
with culturally depriving schools. And the
task to be accomplished is not to revise,
amend, and repair deficient children, but
to alter and transform the atmosphere
and operations of the schools to which
we commit these children.
William Ryan, Blaming the Victim (1972)
Challenging the
“deficit Perspective” and
reframing the discourse
• “at-risk students”
• “sped kids
• “non-English
• “crack babies”
• “achievement gap”
• “risk-producing
• “children with special
• “Vietnamese-speaking”,
or “children becoming
• “babies born addicted to
• “resource gap” or
“caring gap”
Resource Gap
Caring Gap
• school financing
• physical plant
• computers and books
• enriching curricular
• extracurricular activities
• teachers
• teachers’ lack of
knowledge and
preparation for working
with diverse populations
• shortage of teachers of
diverse backgrounds
• teachers who want to
teach in schools like
they attended
• structural inequality, racism, and classism
• school funding and resources available in
• school location
• teacher experience and education
• school preparedness and commitment to
teach students different from themselves
• etc.
Framework for developing a multicultural perspective
for today’s classrooms
context of schools
and society
(institutional/ ideological)
knowledge and understandings
Personal values
and commitments
Sociopolitical context
• Societal level:
– Who counts?
• Who has access to education? health care? employment?
• Who can speak their native language in the community? at work?
– What counts?
• Whose language is “standard”?
• Whose lifestyle is “normal”?
• School level:
– How do school policies and practices benefit some students
over others? (curriculum, pedagogy, disciplinary policies, hiring
practices, parent outreach, etc.)
– Ex, Curriculum: Whose knowledge counts?
• What knowledge does the curriculum reflect?
• Whose perspective is represented?
• Who benefits? Who loses?
and understandings
• Who are the students in our classrooms and schools?
• What experiences, talents, strengths, and resources do
they bring to their education?
What cultural resources do they have?
What languages do they speak?
What resources do their parents/families have?
What resources are available in their communities?
• How can I use students’ personal talents and strengths
and family and community “funds of knowledge” in the
• Understanding that racism, classism,
sexism, and other biases are all around
• Examining our own commitments,
values, and biases
• Doing something about it
Quality EDUCATION for all students =
Asking “profoundly
“profoundly multicultural
multicultural questions”:
• Who’s taking calculus? physics? Are there enough
labs for all students?
• Is the bilingual (ESL, ELL, or special education)
program in the basement? (hall closet?under the
stairway? next to the boiler?)
• What are our children worth?
• Who’s teaching the children?
• Identity, difference, power, and privilege are all
• Multicultural education is inclusive of many
• Education is always political; it cannot be separated
from the sociopolitical context in which it exists
• Teachers are not the villains (neither are principals or
superintendents) because structural issues matter a
great deal, but teachers and other educators take
responsibility for holding high expectations for all
Characteristics of Multicultural
• Anti-racist/anti-bias
• Basic education
• Important for all
• Pervasive
• A process
• Education for social
• Critical pedagogy
Anti-racist, anti-bias education
Confronts racism and other biases directly
through content, approaches, and pedagogy:
Not simply celebratory:
it welcomes “dangerous discourse”
Teaches young people skills in combating bias
Pays attention to how some students benefit over others
in school policies and practices
Basic Education
• As necessary as reading, writing, arithmetic,
and computer literacy
• Part of the core curriculum
• A more representative, more truthful canon
• Preparation for living in an increasingly
diverse, complex, and interconnected world
Important for all students
• Not just for “urban,”
“minority,” “at risk,”
• All students have
been miseducated,
although in different
• Not a specific subject matter, unit, class, or teacher
• Not just ethnic tidbits, holidays, festivals, or fairs
A philosophy;
a way of thinking
about the world
education for social justice
Challenges, confronts,
and disrupts untruths,
misconceptions, and
Provides all students
with the resources
necessary to become
fully human and to learn
to their full potential (both
material and emotional)
education for social justice
Draws on students’
resources, talents, and
strengths, and “funds
of knowledge”
(González & Moll,
Creates a learning
environment that
promotes critical
thinking and agency
for social change
A Process
• Beyond curriculum and materials,
textbooks and units
• Dynamic, ongoing, ever-changing
• Involves intangibles
o Communication
Critical pedagogy
• Recognizes that
knowledge is neither
neutral nor apolitical
and that every
educational decision is
a political decision
• Teaches students to
question, explore and
• Helps teachers and
students understand
different perspectives
• Helps students and
teachers move beyond
their partial (and
therefore) limited
• Not about “political
correctness,” but about
affirmation and respect
for all students of all
Being effective teachers in today’s
• Learn about your students
• Become a sociocultural
• Expect the best from
• Teach students to be
critical learners
• Understand that teaching is
Learn about your students
to connect with families
Mary Cowhey:
“You write about
reading the class. I
guess I jump the
gun. Part of how I
address my fear
about the first day of
school is to face it,
as you suggest…”
Learn About your students to develop
Yahaira Marquez:
“I appreciate the
relationships I’ve
developed with many of
my students. Having
students look up to me
as not only their English
teacher, but as a
mentor when they need
one, has allowed me to
see them as whole
Become a
Sociocultural mediator
• Encourage families to use native
languages at home: reading, writing,
speaking, and listening
• Encourage students to retain ethnic ties
• Develop an authentically cultural/
multicultural curriculum
Become a sociocultural mediator
Mary Ginley:
“I'm a White, middleclass woman who grew
up in a White, middleclass neighborhood
and went to a White
middle-class college. I
knew if I was really
going to teach today’s
kids, I had a lot to
Being nice is not enough
“Every child needs to feel welcome,
to feel comfortable. School is a
foreign land to most kids (where
else in the world would you spend
time circling answers and filling in
the blanks?), but the more distant a
child’s culture and language are
from the culture and language of the
school, the more at risk that child is.
A warm friendly, helpful teacher is
nice but it isn’t enough…
Expect the best from students
• High standards need to
be accompanied by
high expectations
• Low expectations get in
the way of achievement
• Rashaud Kates: “Being
an African American
student, to me, really it’s
kinda tense…”
Expect the best from
I hope to become the kind of
teacher whose trust and faith
in his students translate into
unwavering expectations… I
used to believe it was enough
for my students to discover
and trust their own voice, to
write at a level and style that
pleased them.
Seth Peterson
Teach Students to be Critical Learners
“I say that reading is not just
to walk on the words, and it is
not flying over the words
either. Reading is re-writing
what we are reading”
Paulo Freire
Teach Students to be Critical
• Teach students to
probe, to be curious,
and to question.
• Ron Morris: “I like
history the way
Seymour teaches it…
it’s like the reading is so
real. The message here
is just so powerful.
Instead of just reading,
we discuss…”
Understand that teaching is advocacy for social
and political change
• What’s the content of the curriculum? Who’s
included? Who’s left out? (Freire: “Who benefits?
Who loses?”)
• Who are the teachers, counselors, administrators?
What experience, expertise, and commitment do they
• Are families welcomed into the school? Who’s
included? Who’s left out?
• What kinds of extracurricular choices are available for
students? Are all students included?
• Are students encouraged to be active and critical

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