Students Find Their Place in History: Using Theatre to Expand Pre-Service Teachers' Multicultural Awareness

By Stanton, Shannon M.; Gonzalez, Gilberto | Multicultural Education, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview
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Students Find Their Place in History: Using Theatre to Expand Pre-Service Teachers' Multicultural Awareness


Stanton, Shannon M., Gonzalez, Gilberto, Multicultural Education


Scholars for decades now have argued for the importance of multiculturalism in the United States, as we become a more diverse society (Banks, 1988; Gay, 2000; Han & Thomas, 2010; Ladson Billings, 1994; Sleeter, 1985). Multicultural education has the potential to provide a curriculum that is inclusive, offering multiple perspectives, and concerned with equity. Banks (2010) notes that the term multicultural education is used to "describe a wide variety of programs and practices related to educational equity, women, ethnic groups, language minorities, low-income groups, and people with disabilities" (p. 7).

It is without question the responsibility of colleges and universities to make sure teachers are prepared to meet the needs of the students they will teach. This includes the need to provide cultural relevancy within a curriculum that still remains very Eurocentric. As the discussions around multicultural education grow, there is a rising concern about how it will best be implemented in the classroom-if it is to be implemented at all.

In most teacher education programs students are exposed to the literature about multicultural education through readings, discussions, lesson planning with a multicultural focus, and various other activities, but too often there is no true connection with the material. Studies have also shown that White pre-service teachers tend to be resistant to multicultural education (Gay & Howard, 2000; Sleeter, 2001). It is therefore essential that pre-service teachers be not only receptive to teaching a multicultural curriculum, but have both the understanding of why it is important and the relevant skill set to take into their future classrooms.

To address these needs at our college, we created two courses, one in theatre (Gonzalez) and the second in education (Stanton), with the goal of getting pre-service teachers to experience a multicultural curriculum in a more intimate way. This article offers an analysis of the midterm course project that linked these two courses. In the theatre class, Improvisation for Teachers (IT), students were asked to express archetypal characters found in migration stories as a way to get them to connect the themes of multiculturalism they were learning in the education course, Heritage, Identity, and Empowerment (HIE).

What follows in this discussion on multicultural education is our methodology, an analysis of one of our assignments in the paired courses, and implications for teacher education programs.

Multicultural Education

Fundamentally, multicultural education encompasses a movement in education that seeks to make education equitable for all groups of people. To that end, Bennet (2007) writes:

Multicultural education in the United States is an approach to teaching and learning that is based on democratic values and beliefs and affirms cultural pluralism within culturally diverse societies in an interdependent world. (p. 4)

Gay (2000) refers to culturally responsive teaching in which teachers teach students from their own cultural perspective. Ladson-Billings (1994) identifies culturally relevant teaching, advocating that the perspectives of students must be present in the curriculum. Banks (1988) provides a framework of four different types of multicultural curriculum reform: the contributions approach, the ethnic additive approach, the transformative approach, and the decision and social action approach. (Editor's note: For a detailed further discussion of Banks' framework see pages 39 and 40 in this issue).

Common to all of these models is that the goal of multicultural education is to provide all students a lens for studying events from the perspectives of different ethnic groups. Nieto and Bode (2008) advocate making "history of all groups visible by making it part of the curriculum, instruction, and schooling in general" (p. 8). This allows students of color to identify with what they are learning yet at the same time allows all students to receive a balanced understanding of history.

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