Multicultural Service Learning as Authentic Assessment: Carter G. Woodson's Mis-Education of the Negro Revisited

Article excerpt

Multicultural education is a reform movement designed to provide a framework for infusion of the various contributions of the diverse ethnic groups comprising American society. American history is a people's history, one of multiple perspectives and varied experiences. Historically, American history was exclusionary; negating the contributions of people of color, women, and immigrant communities that helped shape its historical landscape and narrative. The early 20th Century shift from an agrarian slave labor force to an industrial immigrant labor force provided a basis for reassessment of traditional American exclusionist curricula and proposed the idea of the "melting pot" as a description of an expanding imperial power. Thus, progressive reformers such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Upton Sinclair, Eugene Debs, and Susan B. Anthony began to challenge the social, political and economic injustices brought about by social Darwinism, rugged individualism, laissez-faire capitalism, women's suffrage, Jim Crow segregation, Native American removal and assimilation, Japanese, and Chinese exclusion.

I teach in an urban setting, in one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the United States. Demystifying negative stereotypes and destructive notions is imperative to my instructional practice. An introduction to and discussion of any U.S. history lesson includes primary source documents covering the time periods outlined in the scope and sequence model. Moreover, I provide my students with valuable tools to effectively operate as global citizens by designing project and performance-based lessons, service-based learning, and infusing technology. One method that I have found very effective in conveying multicultural perspectives is the integration of primary sources into the curriculum. Primary sources provide my students with an up close look at historical events while capturing the voices of "ordinary" Americans. This perspective of history makes available a diversified paradigm and challenges their assumptions about ethnic groups different from their own. The Toolbox Library: Primary Resources in U.S. History & Literature of the National Humanities Center is an excellent online resource that features primary resources--historical documents, literary texts, and works of art--thematically organized with notes and discussion questions. (1)

James A. Banks' Dimensions of Multicultural Education is used widely by school districts to conceptualize and develop courses, programs, and projects that promote multiculturalism. Multicultural education is not only content, and Banks illuminates this with the following five dimensions: (1) content integration; (2) the knowledge construction process; (3) prejudice reduction; (4) an equity pedagogy; and (5) an empowering school culture and social structure. Although each dimension is conceptually distinct, in practice they are connected and interrelated. (2) Thus, I use all of the dimensions in order to represent diverse perspectives in social studies.


One of the goals of social studies education is to teach students about citizenship, democratic values, global cooperation, and self-awareness. In the Mis-Education of the Negro, Woodson addresses citizenship and suggested that "service rather than leadership" be explored to contribute to humankind. As the father of the Black studies movement, he vehemently stated, "When you hear a man talking, then, always inquire as to what he is doing or what he has done for humanity." (3) He further asserted, "By service we may prove sufficient unto the task of self-development and contribute our part to modern culture." (4) Woodson's multicultural vision and quest for social learning contributed in large part to the reform movement, multicultural service learning.

"Service learning provides an authentic means for using social studies content and skills to investigate social, political, and economic issues and to take direct action in an effort to create an equitable and more just society". …