An Analysis of Secondary School Principals' Perceptions of Multicultural Education

Article excerpt

Society is becoming more diverse than ever before in its history, and many of our school systems reflect this diversity in their student populations (Patrick & Reinhartz, 1999). For instance, today, one-third of the entire student population in America consists of minority students, and by the year 2020, one-half of all students in America will belong to a minority group (Patrick & Reinhartz, 1999). Due to this increasing amount of diversity that is taking place in our society and schools, school principals must play a central role in initiating and infusing multicultural concepts and ideas into school cultures mainly because these individuals set the cultural climate for the school (Decker, 1997). It should be the goal of the school principal to create a cultural democracy within the school (Stainback & Stainback, 1990). It is this cultural democracy that allows the school to become all encompassing and democratic (Capper, 1993). One of the basic premises of a democratic school consists of educational opportunities that are equal, which gives credence to multicultural education (Johnson, Dupuis, Musial, Hall, & Gollnick, 1999). According to Capper (1993), students who are "empowered" in school as a result of greater self-identification are more likely to be able to function within a diverse society (p. 289).

An issue that many school leaders and educators have advanced regarding implementing multicultural educational concepts and ideas concerns the issues of who benefits from multicultural education. In reference to multicultural education, many educators and administrators operate on the assumptions that the school should possess certain characteristics within its population in order to benefit from multicultural education (Gay, 1995). According to Gay, "If there are no African American students, Latino, Native American, or Asian American students enrolled in their schools, they [educators] find it difficult to see the relevance of doing multicultural education" (p. 55). She further notes that multicultural theorists have indicated that school principals have an obligation to create an environment that promotes cultural diversity regardless of the amount of recognizable diversity in the school.

Because of the increasing amount of cultural and social diversity that is occurring in our society and schools, school leaders must create environments that promote cultural pluralism and provide every student with an opportunity to succeed. Banks and Banks (1989) indicated that multicultural education no longer consists solely of the lessons about Martin Luther King Jr., or by incorporating different lessons about ethnic minorities within the classroom. Rather, the components of multicultural education represent the entire school; all the components of the school must be aligned with managing and valuing diversity.

Review of Literature

To many, multicultural education has historically and is presently seen as a program of study designed to reexamine how groups of color were being portrayed in history and to teach more factual content as it relates to groups of color (Gay, 1995). Today, many multiculturalists (Banks, 1996; Gay, 1995; Nieto, 2000) have reexamined the concept of multicultural education and view it in a totality perspective as it relates to the entire school climate, which would allow students to achieve their fullest potential. However, because multicultural education has had political liabilities associated with it since its birth, the task that many multicultural theorists face is to transform these political liabilities into "scholarly strengths" (Banks, 1996, p. 6). Proponents of multicultural education must be willing to engage in a serious debate with opponents concerning any farce attempts to debate the basic premises and concepts of multicultural education.

Criticism of Multicultural Education

Despite the evidence regarding the increasing amount of diversity in our society and schools, the idea of implementing multicultural education in our schools still generates clashes of opinions throughout our society (Gallagher, 1998), Furthermore, ". …