Critical and Emerging Discourses in Multicultural Education Literature: A Review

Article excerpt


Multicultural education in Canada was conceived as a response to cultural pluralism in society. It is linked to immigration and represents a shift in Canadian social policy that parallels dramatic shifts in immigration policy (Ghosh and Abdi 2004). As a result of Canada's historical immigration patterns and policies, as well as public responses to immigration, Canadian social and educational institutions differ significantly from those of other immigrant-receiving countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and France, among others. Although these unique patterns influenced the singular development of Canadian educational policies, research, and practices (Lund 2003), a noticeable cross-fertilization of theoretical frameworks has developed in these countries, both in their implications for multicultural education practices and the critique of these practices. Mitchell (2001) states that most contemporary liberal thought in educational theory deems that democratic practice in Western education occurs in and through communal efforts to work through problems in an essentially multicultural student body. She points out that "within this theoretical framework, by virtue of collective, plural education, Americans and Canadians simultaneously endorse both democratic possibility and the ongoing maintenance of national unity and identity" (68).

In Canada, educational institutions are seen as having the obligation to provide continuity and content to the ongoing dialogue about the nature of multiculturalism and the management of diversity (Elliston 1997). Indeed, periodically, educational reforms are identified as one of the initiatives needed for the integration of immigrants into majority-language institutions (Kymlicka 2001).

In the past decade, however, concern has increased among the general public, researchers, and practitioners that schools are poorly equipped to cope with increased diversity and that instead of playing a role in facilitating equity and belonging, they may become locations that foster isolation and replicate racialized forms of injustice (Wideen and Barnard 1999). The fact that racism in schools is persistent and is afflicted with denial and defensiveness (Dei 2005); that stereotyping Tamil youth, for example, with the gang label or Paki name-calling; and the pervasiveness of gendered Islamophobia and the politics of veiling women point not only to how the negative stereotypes constitute violence to bodies in the post-9/11 context (Zine 2004), but also raise the general question of how effective multicultural education is in integrating minority students. Recent attention to the challenges faced by second-generation immigrant youth (e.g., Filipino-Canadian youth) who still experience a sense of dislocation and restrictions on belonging enforced by daily racism in the Canadian system (Pratt 2002) provides evidence that multiculturalism is unable to provide protection from the sense of exclusion.

Furthermore, the expectation that multicultural education policies and practices will result in equal participation of all students in education and thus allow for equal participation in the public and economic spheres has been challenged by the fact that visible-minority students' dropout rates exceed those of the Canadian-born (Derwing et al. 1999; Watt and Roessingh 2001) and that some racial groups are overrepresented in the criminal system (Wortley 2003). Furthermore, a number of studies (Li 1998; Gee and Prus 2000; Kazemipur and Halli 2003) show that "non-White origin creates a penalty for visible minorities in the labour market" (Li 1998, 126). The findings of these studies indicate that the idea of liberal multiculturalism has not been achieved if measured by household income, and, as a result, racialized groups are more highly represented among the poor than are White Canadians (Galabuzi 2005).

The ability of multicultural education to become a vehicle for achieving justice, liberty, and equality that pervade the social, economic, and political life of society (Giroux 2001) has been challenged since its inception. …