Education and Diversity

By Banks, James A.; Cookson, Peter et al. | Social Education, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview

Education and Diversity


Banks, James A., Cookson, Peter, Gay, Geneva, Hawley, Willis D., Irvine, Jacqueline Jordan, Nieto, Sonia, Schofield, Janet Ward, Stephan, Walter G., Social Education


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, which included the eight scholars named above. The panel's work was sponsored by the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington and the Common Destiny Alliance at the University of Maryland. Our aim was not simply to respond individually to the question but, through deliberation, to arrive at a consensus. This brief article summarizes our consensus findings. (1)

We call our findings essential principles. They are designed to help educational practitioners in all types of schools increase student academic achievement and improve intergroup relations. Another aim is to help schools successfully meet the challenges of--and benefit from--the diversity that characterizes the United States and its schools.

We believe that democratic societies are fragile works-in-progress. Their existence depends upon thoughtful citizens who believe in democratic ideals and are willing and able to participate in civic life. We believe that schools make a difference in the lives of students and are essential to maintaining our democratic way of life.

There are twelve essential principles organized into five categories: (1) Teacher Learning; (2) Student Learning; (3) Intergroup Relations; (4) School Governance, Organization, and Equity; and (5) Assessment. The categories overlap somewhat.

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 go 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 popular culture can perpetuate stereotypes about racial and ethnic groups; and (5) acquire the knowledge and skills needed to develop and implement equity pedagogy, defined by Banks as instruction that provides all students with an equal opportunity to attain academic and social success in school. (2)

Professional development programs should help teachers understand the complex characteristics of ethnic groups and how variables such as social class, religion, region, generation, extent of urbanization, and gender strongly influence ethnic and cultural behavior. These variables influence the behavior of groups both singly and interactively. Social class is one of the most important variables that mediate and influence behavior. In The Declining Significance of Race, Wilson argues that class is becoming increasingly important in the lives of African Americans. (3) The increasing significance of class rather than the declining significance of race is a more accurate description of the phenomenon that Wilson describes. Racism continues to affect African Americans in every social-class group, although it does so in complex ways that to some extent--but by no means always-reflect social--class status.

Although students are not solely products of their cultures and vary in the degree to which they identify with them, there are some distinctive cultural behaviors that are associated with ethnic groups. (4) Teachers should become knowledgeable about the distinctive cultural backgrounds of their students; they should also acquire the skills needed to translate that knowledge into effective instruction and an enriched curriculum.

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