Culture cannot be defined simply by our ethnic background. It is also family, religion, profession, interests, gender, child-rearing practices, educational background, where we live, the food we eat, our individual uniqueness, sexual lifestyles, and more. Even though we are better understood by someone who considers our ethnic background, our own cultural definition is much broader than just an ethnic label.
Social Foundations of Multicultural Education
By formulating the scientific concept of culture and destroying the myth of race as a determinant of behavior, cultural anthropologists during the 1920s began to lay the intellectual foundations for multicultural/ global education. Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and their colleagues provided a scientific basis for dealing with the crucial dilemma of the world today: How can people of different appearances, mutually unintelligible languages, and dissimilar ways of life get along together peaceably? This understanding of ourselves as a species capable of creating and carrying culture opened the way for thinking and believing more inclusively about the world. But it was not until the 1960s and 1970s that the image of a multicultural/global perspective burst on our consciousness. Visionary thinkers, best-selling books, and unexpected events sharpened and expanded our understanding.
In 1962, Rachel Carson astonished the public by describing the harmful consequences of the use of pesticides. In 1964, Marshall McLuhan described a “global village” with its people linked through communications technology. In 1964, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote of the convergence of human aspirations and history into the noosphere, a progressive unification of humankind and intensification of our collective consciousness. In 1965 and 1969, Barbara Ward and R. Buckminster Fuller, respectively, conceived the metaphor of Spaceship Earth as a closed life support system with its inhabitants accelerating through time and space depending on each other for survival. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich called our attention to the stunning exponential growth rate of world population and impending ecological catastrophe. In 1970, Alvin Toffler warned of impending future shock. In 1972, Barbara Ward and Rene Dubos coined the now familiar notion of “thinking globally, acting locally.” In 1972, the Club of Rome ignited a global controversy regarding the rapid depletion of our nonrenewable resources. And in 1974, the biologist Lewis Thomas portrayed the earth as a single living cell. Critical events on a national/global scale played an important role in raising our consciousness.
The challenge of multicultural/global education is, and will continue to be, the acceptance, respect, and love that can be learned at young ages, as can bigotry, racism, and hatred. Robert Haveman and Barbara Wolfe argued that children’s life success is determined by three primary factors: a social or government investment in their lives, a parental investment, and the choices that the children make over time. These authors highlighted that, in addition to parental influence, social institutions such as schools play a significant role in children’s lives, so that the importance of good schools and teachers is without question extremely important.
James Banks estimated that the ethnic texture of the United States is changing substantially. The U.S. Census projects that ethnic minorities, including African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asians and Pacific Islanders, and persons of Hispanic origin, would make up 29.4% of the U.S. population by the year 2000. At the time, American classrooms were experiencing the largest influx of immigrant students since the turn of the 20th century.
Understanding the demographics of the American nation is very important to multicultural education as it attempts to assimilate individual students into the dominant field and practices of the classroom. The focus is on the fostering of positive affective relationships among students of different backgrounds and personal characteristics in the school so that each student has a strong self-concept and can work in harmony with the group.
This approach to education promotes social equality and cultural pluralism that can be later transferred to the workplace. The third millennium promises to be as challenging as the second one was. Educators must build on students’ learning styles, adapt instruction to the existing skills of students in the classroom, and involve students in thinking through and analyzing the life situations of different people. In managing cultural diversity, the first thing that we must understand is the ways in which people differ from each other. These ways are significant and numerous. Culturally, we vary in gender, age, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, educational background, religion, physical/mental ability, military/veteran status, lifestyle, immigrant status, and language facility. Functionally, we vary in how we think, learn, process information, respond to authority, show respect, and reach agreements. Historically, culturally, and traditionally, we also vary in family makeup, perspective, political outlook, and intergroup relationships. When groups are made up of people with many backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles in a school or workplace setting, promoting teamwork and smooth interactions can be quite a challenge. Finding new ways of working together will require teaching and thinking about people’s differences so as not to divide, separate, or exclude but rather to take advantage of those differences. We need to create environments that welcome and encourage the benefits of diversity.
The gap between our own experiences and personal identities and those of the students or workers may be small or may be tremendous. But there is a gap, and it will continue to grow as the student/workplace population becomes more diverse. Thus, the racial, cultural, ethnic, and gender differences at work today can cause trouble if they are not handled sensitively.
The new aspect about what is variably called “managing cultural diversity” and “multiculturalism” is the quantity and variety of differences in the schools and in the workforce. Educators, supervisors, and colleagues should be careful to interpret cultural behaviors correctly and not take offense where none is intended.
In the United States today, the traditional hierarchical, white male-dominated, large corporate environment is no longer the norm. In 2002, women constituted nearly two thirds of all new entrants into the workforce. One out of four people is African American, Hispanic, or Asian American. Immigrants make up the largest share of the U.S. population increase. There are more people over 65 years of age than there are teenagers. At least 10% of the population is gay or lesbian.
Diversity, Business, and Teaching
By learning and understanding the new perspectives brought by a wider range of a diverse population, we can provide better services to the business clients and our schoolchildren. For example, Carlos Diaz, professor of multicultural education at Florida Atlantic University, believes that as a general rule the higher the average socioeconomic status of a school’s student population, the more favorably it will compare with the following criteria. The average social class of a school will affect the proportion of highstatus (advanced placement) courses available to students, the proportion of the faculty members holding temporary or emergency teaching credentials, the average level of per-pupil funding the school has available (which affects the books, materials, and field trips available to students), student expectations of success in the college preparatory courses, and teacher expectations of high student achievement.
Common sense and the education literature tell us that students have different learning styles and that learning the new perspectives brought by a wider range of employees, educators, and business people can provide better services to students and clients. New perspectives will enhance our problem-solving skills and allow us to make better and more inclusive decisions. Business people and educators can learn to ask better questions initially, to identify new areas of opportunity and increase customer satisfaction as well as enable students to succeed, and/or to adapt to the requirements of the traditional classroom.
Learning style is a complex idea and involves how people perceive, process, store, and retrieve information. In a learning situation in the workplace or at school, to what cues does an individual attend? How does the individual connect cues? What strategies does the individual use to make sense of new information or ideas? With what “old information” in the individual’s head is the new information connected and stored? Everyone develops ways of approaching these information-processing tasks, but not everyone develops in the same ways. One way in which to view learning is as information processing. Howard Gardner’s idea of multiple intelligences is another way. According to Gardner, there are at least seven different kinds of intelligence, and everyone has a profile of strengths and weaknesses. These include linguistic intelligence and logical-mathematical intelligence (which schools and businesses focus on most heavily), musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, spatial intelligence, and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.
Learning styles overlap somewhat with cultural background and gender. It is important for the workplace and all educational settings to understand that not all members of a cultural or gender group learn in the same way; patterns exist concerning how members of different groups tend to approach tasks. These patterns develop due to factors such as child-rearing practices and the roles that children are expected to occupy as adults. Rather than generalizing about students and workers, it would be more useful to investigate and learn the learning style preferences of the students and people in the workplace.
Core Values in Multiculturalism
Multiculturalism has ideological overtones based exclusively on democratic ideals that are lacking in less controversial educational content areas such as mathematics, reading, and computer science.
Four core values provide the basis for an educational and workplace model that will acknowledge that multiculturalism is not a fad but rather a fact of life in the United States today and tomorrow: acceptance and appreciation of cultural diversity, respect for human dignity and universal human rights, responsibility to the world community, and reverence for the earth.
These core values are rooted in democratic theory and Native American philosophy. Together, they illustrate the strong ethical foundations of multicultural-ism. In the workplace, the trend in management is away from autocracy and toward consensus. More corporations are shifting from a hierarchical structure to individual contributors and teams.
This shift requires new skills of communication, negotiation, collaboration, and team building. Leaders in the field of education and business must orchestrate teams composed of diverse individuals, and gaining full cooperation from everyone on the team is critical to performance. Businesses will receive many benefits by recognizing and encouraging workforce diversity. Among the many benefits, consider the economic impact of tapping into the tremendous purchasing power of older Americans, African Americans, and Hispanic Americans, among others. As another example, consider the impact of reducing costs by reducing employee turnover given that highly trained workers will stay with organizations that are responsive to their needs, that is, if businesses understand and implement multiculturalism; corporations know that retraining is expensive, and high employee turnover reduces morale and productivity.
Businesses can reap the benefits of productivity, creativity, and innovation from all employees by promoting new perspectives and, therefore, enhancing problem solving. An inclusive environment both at school and in the workplace builds respect, ownership, and loyalty. The process of becoming multicultural is one whereby a person develops competencies in multiple ways of perceiving, evaluating, believing, and doing.
The focus of multiculturalism is on understanding and learning to negotiate cultural diversity among nations, within a single nation, and among individuals. For example, in their book Communicating With Strangers, William Gudykunst and Young Kim described the multicultural person as one who has achieved an advanced level in the process of becoming intercultural and whose cognitive, affective, and behavioral characteristics are not limited but rather are open to growth beyond the psychological parameters of any one culture. The intercultural person possesses an intellectual and emotional commitment to the fundamental unity of all humans and, and at the same time, accepts and appreciates the differences that lie between people of different cultures.
According to Gudykunst and Kim, intercultural people have encountered experiences that challenge their own cultural assumptions and that provide insight into how their view of the world has been shaped by their culture, can serve as facilitators and catalysts for contacts between cultures, come to terms with the roots of their own ethnocentrism and achieve an objectivity in viewing other cultures, develop a Third World perspective that enables them to interpret and evaluate intercultural encounters more accurately and thus to act as a communication link between two cultures, and show cultural empathy and participate imaginatively in others’ worldviews.
Why Is Multicultural Understanding Essential?
Demand for the reform of schooling in the United States was a continuing theme throughout the 20th century. The educational reform movement gained new momentum during the mid-1980s, beginning with the Reagan administration’s report titled A Nation at Risk. Nearly a dozen additional major reports on U.S. schools appeared in 1983 alone. The common thread throughout these reports was the demand for a national commitment to true excellence in education.
What many of these reports did not acknowledge, however, is that educational excellence in our schools cannot be achieved without educational equity. Equity in education means equal opportunities for all students to develop to their fullest potential. Evidence of inequity in education exists in the nation’s school dropout rates, which are disproportionately high among African American, American Indian, and Hispanic youths as well as among the poor. In many schools across the nation, racial and language minority students are overrepresented in special education and experience disproportionately high rates of suspension and exclusion. The majority of African American and Latino students attend schools with large concentrations of economically disadvantaged and/or lower achieving students due to outdated texts, poor facilities, and/or inadequately prepared teachers.
There is a lot of rhetoric in education and the workplace about the human potential and the need for equality of opportunity. Multiculturalism moves beyond the rhetoric and recognizes that the potential for brilliance is sprinkled evenly across all ethnic groups. When social conditions and school practices hinder the development of this brilliance among students outside the predominant culture, as is the case within the society, the waste of human potential affects everyone. The cumulative loss of talented scientists, artists, writers, doctors, teachers, spiritual leaders, and financial and business experts is staggering.
Multiculturalism also contributes to excellence in another important way in that it builds knowledge about various ethnic groups and national perspectives into the curriculum. The traditional curriculum is filled with inaccuracies and omissions concerning the contributions and life conditions of major ethnic groups within our society and for nations across the planet. Obviously, the attainment of any degree of excellence is stunted by curriculum content that is untrue or incomplete. Given that we live in an interdependent world that is shrinking rapidly, and in light of the events of September 11, 2001, ignorance of global issues and national perspectives is foolish and even dangerous.
The Business World
Local, state, and federal laws prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, religion, and/or other factors. The laws regarding discrimination require a company found guilty to pay all damages, including all attorney fees and court costs. Plaintiffs are awarded millions of dollars every year.
Corporations have begun to ask the difficult questions that are required to orchestrate teams composed of diverse individuals, and gaining full cooperation from everyone on the team is critical to performance.
The corporation must be concerned about the welfare of its working force. It must promote diversity by challenging people to spend time together during lunch, to work on different projects equally with people from different races and ethnic backgrounds, to provide supplemental training equally to all employees, to promote employees based solely on their qualifications, and to ensure that no group of employees are hired only for certain jobs. Finally, in an effort to recruit and keep good employees of all races and ethnicities and of both genders, Fortune 500 companies have begun to address diversity issues in the workplace.
What Can the Education and Business Worlds Do to Promote Diversity?
As both educators and business executives, we can read articles, books, and journals. We can keep our ears and eyes open and can attend special events, programs, and seminars. We can learn about some of the diversity issues faced by others. If we do not understand something about a culture different from our own, we can ask. What do our colleagues and associates think about our school/organization and its willingness to address multicultural issues? What have they experienced, both positively and negatively, about diversity? Keep in mind that a broad definition of diversity includes all types of human differences— age, gender, ethnicity, positions in the organization, education level, immigrant status, seniority, language facility, and sexual orientation, to name a few.
What do our school’s or company’s formal statements, such as the vision, mission, goals, and objectives, say about how the school or company conducts its business? Are any direct references made to multi-culturalism? If so, it should be easier to build support and find funding in education and also should be easier for a business that is formally committed to diversity. Everyone in school and in the workplace should be a catalyst, a researcher, an advocate, a problem solver, a facilitator, an influencer, a supporter, and a strategic thinker so as to promote and comply with the multicultural vision statement of their institution.
The Social Relations of Class, Race, Gender, and Crime Control: Inequalities of Crime, Culture, and Production
Examining class, race, and gender in relation to law, order, and crime control provides an appreciation not only of multiculturalism but also of the unique histories of the individual social groupings and interrelated axes of privilege and inequality. In multicultural education, it has been shown, in terms of the history of the social realities of justice in America, that the experiences of diverse groups of people in society have contributed to the shaping of conceptions of criminals and victims. These experiences have helped to shape not only the way in which racial and ethnic majorities have come to regard specific legitimate and illegitimate behaviors but also the patterned ways in which they have (or lack) access to institutional power and privileges.
In the understanding of multiculturalism, the study of class, race, gender, and crime reveals several broad themes about how bias undergirds the construction of what will and will not be seen as criminal. This bias also shapes the construction of individual experience and identity, which varies according to one’s socioeconomic position in society. More specifically, there are at least four related assumptions regarding the understanding of the social relations of class, race, gender, and crime control. These categories of social difference all share similarities of justice, especially as they relate to power resources and to the allocation and distribution of rewards and punishments in society. The systems of privilege and inequality derived from the social statuses of class, race, and gender are overlapping and have accumulating effects on the type of crime control that various groups of people encounter. There are connections among these systems of difference, inequality, and privilege in that each helps to reproduce the social divisions of hierarchy and stratification that dynamically affect people’s life experiences inside and outside the criminal justice system. And according to relationships of power, status, and authority, systems of crime control socially construct selectively enforced and differentially applied norms to social groups.
The process of changing organizational cultures, as well as social relations of class, race, and gender, is a long-term and difficult process. There is inevitable resistance to alterations of fundamental ways of doing business that have changed little in half a century in many schools and workplace environments.
It is clear that excellence in managing diverse groups will require changes in culture in schools and workplaces. To create this change, we must understand culture with the objective of creating a climate in which members of all identity groups excel. We must understand pluralism with the objectives of creating a two-way socialization process and ensuring influence of minority culture perspectives on core educational and business organization norms and values.
We must understand structural integration with the objective that no correlation should exist between culture and group identity in the school or workplace in the form of job status. We must understand integration in informal networks with the objective of eliminating barriers to entry and participation. We must understand institutional bias with the objective of eliminating bias ingrained in management systems in both school and workplace environments. Finally, we must understand intergroup conflict with the objectives of minimizing interpersonal conflict based on group identity, minimizing backlash by dominant group members, and promoting intergroup understanding.
Multiculturalism is not an easy concept to understand. However, it provides an opportunity for all children to see themselves in the literature. It fosters development and positive self-esteem at school and in the workplace. It strengthens the significance of personal heritage. It helps to raise personal aspirations. It provides for everyone to learn about people all over the world. It recognizes and values the contributions of all people. It helps to build a global community. It blends easily into themes of study found in schools. Most important, it prepares us for the future.
If we work together, learn from each other, and share something of ourselves, we can develop deeper understandings and a tremendous appreciation for our differences, as well as our similarities, at both the local and global levels. We can cultivate our differences, or we can celebrate them.
- American Association of University Women. (1997). Affirmative action [position paper]. Washington, DC: Author.
- Banks, J. (1994). Teaching strategies for ethnic studies (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Diaz, C. F. (2001). Multicultural education in the 21st New York: Longman.
- Diaz, C. F., Massialas, B. G., & Xanthopoulos, J. A. (1999). Global perspectives for educators. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
- Nussbaum, M. C. (1997). Cultivating humanity: A classical defense of reform in liberal education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Waters, M. C. (1990). Ethnic options: Choosing identities in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.