Diversity within Unity: Essential Principles for Teaching and Learning in a Multicultural Society

Article excerpt

The authors offer these design principles in the hope that they will help education policy makers and practitioners realize the elusive but essential goal of a democratic and pluralistic society.

WHAT DO WE know about education and diversity, and how do we know it? This two-part question guided the work of the Multicultural Education Consensus Panel, sponsored by the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington and the Common Destiny Alliance at the University of Maryland. This article is the product of a four-year project during which the panel, with support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, reviewed and synthesized the research related to diversity.

The panel members are an interdisciplinary group consisting of two psychologists, a political scientist, a sociologist, and four specialists in multicultural education. The panel was modeled after the consensus panels that develop and write reports for the National Academy of Sciences. In such panels, an expert group studies research and practice and arrives at a conclusion about what is known about a particular problem and the most effective actions that can be taken to solve it.

The findings of the Multicultural Education Consensus Panel, which we call essential principles in this article, describe ways in which education policy and practice related to diversity can be improved. These principles are derived from both research and practice. They are designed to help practitioners in all types of schools increase student academic achievement and improve intergroup skills. Another aim is to help schools successfully meet the challenges of and benefit from the diversity that characterizes the United States.

Schools can make a significant difference in the lives of students, and they are a key to maintaining a free and democratic society. Democratic societies are fragile and are works in progress. Their existence depends on a thoughtful citizenry that believes in democratic ideals and is willing and able to participate in the civic life of the nation. We realize that the public schools are experiencing a great deal of criticism. However, we believe that they are essential to ensuring the survival of our democracy.

We have organized the 12 essential principles into five categories: 1) teacher learning; 2) student learning; 3) intergroup relations; 4) school governance, organization, and equity; and 5) assessment. Although these categories overlap to some extent, we think readers will find this organization helpful.

Teacher Learning

Principle 1. Professional development programs should help teachers understand the complex characteristics of ethnic groups within U.S. society and the ways in which race, ethnicity, language, and social class interact to influence student behavior. Continuing education about diversity is especially important for teachers because of the increasing cultural and ethnic gap that exists between the nation's teachers and students. Effective professional development programs should help educators to 1) uncover and identify their personal attitudes toward racial, ethnic, language, and cultural groups; 2) acquire knowledge about the histories and cultures of the diverse racial, ethnic, cultural, and language groups within the nation and within their schools; 3) become acquainted with the diverse perspectives that exist within different ethnic and cultural communities; 4) understand the ways in which institutionalized knowledge within schools, universities, and the popular culture can perpetuate stereotypes about racial and ethnic groups; and 5) acquire the knowledge and skills needed to develop and implement an equity pedagogy, defined by James Banks as instruction that provides all students with an equal opportunity to attain academic and social success in school.1

Professional development programs should help teachers understand the complex characteristics of ethnic groups and how such variables as social class, religion, region, generation, extent of urbanization, and gender strongly influence ethnic and cultural behavior. …