Use and Support of Multicultural and Antiracist Education: Research-Informed Interdisciinlinarv Social Work Practice

Article excerpt

Multicultural education (MCE) and antiracist education (ARE) are the primary curricula through which school educators are combating the effects of racism and bigotry. To assist in the efforts of the educators, social workers need an understanding of MCE and ARE objectives, assumptions, and current research to guide their practice. This article discusses the differences between MCE and ARE and presents the findings of a study conducted in five northwestern United States school districts. It examines curricula, policies, and practices used to address racism and bigotry among elementary, middle, and high school students; attempts to discover underlying barriers to implementing antiracist and antibigotry curricula; and reveals the perspectives of teachers, administrators, counselors, and social workers. Implications for social work practice, policy development, and research are discussed.

Key words: antiracist education; hate crimes; interdisciplinary practice; multicultural education

The combined efforts of social workers and educators are needed urgently to effectively address racism and bigotry in our schools. Persistent educational failure among students from ethnic minority groups and increased involvement of youths in racially motivated hate crimes are known outcomes of covert and overt racism. Currently, multicultural education (MCE) and antiracist education (ARE) are the primary means by which educators confront racism. Informed by MGE and ARE research, social workers can prepare themselves to advocate for ethnic minority students' needs, to educate families and communities about the long-term benefits of MCE and ARE and to effect systemic change for social justice.

The purpose of this article is to review the objectives and assumptions of MCE and ARE and to present the findings of a study that explored the extent to which teachers, administrators, counselors, and social workers use MCE and ARE in five northwestern school districts in the United States. Through varying perspectives, factors such as school and community attitudinal climate, issues and difficulties involved in using MCE and ARE, and policies that mediate implementation and effectiveness of efforts aimed at eliminating the effects of racism and bigotry were examined.

Effects of Racism

The effects of racism on the development of children are complex and underresearched. Racism in education is often covert, manifested in institutional forms such as culturally incompatible testing (Cummins, 1986), tracking, segregation, and curricula bias in which "the accepted interpretation of 'facts' and events [fails to] empower those least served and recognize and promote the dignity of people of color" (Hidalgo, McDowell, & Siddle, 1992, p. 33). Among youths, the alarming outcomes of racism are evident in two documented areas: the rise in hate crimes committed by youths and poor educational performance and high dropout rates among ethnic minority students.

In the first area, youths' involvement in hate crimes and racial harassment activities has risen significantly during the past seven years. In a study conducted by the Los Angeles County Public Schools, hate crimes increased 53 percent between 1989 and 1992, an average of nearly 18 percent per year (Los Angeles County, Office of Education, 1995). Similarly, in 1992, the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment documented more than 956 malicious harassment incidents in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Wyoming, almost twice as many as were recorded in 1991. Whereas part of the increase may be attributed to better reporting and greater sensitivity, these increases provide evidence that hate crimes continue to be perpetrated by youths.

In the second area, research indicates that, despite more than 20 years of educational reform intended to reduce school failure among ethnic minority students, the dropout rate for Mexican American and mainland Puerto Rican students remained between 40 and 50 percent, compared with 14 percent for white and 25 percent for African American students (Jusenius & Duarte, 1982). …