The Need for Multiculturalism in the Classroom as Perceived by Mexican American Schoolchildren

Article excerpt

The need for multicultural education in our schools has been well documented. Much of the rationale is based on current and projected multicultural student populations, and on philosophical positions supporting egalitarian values in a democratic society (e.g., Lisi & Howe, 1999). Yet we know little about how racial minority schoolchildren perceive multiculturalism in their schools. What is multiculturalism to them? Do they value multiculturalism in their classrooms?

This study addresses these questions, as they pertain to Mexican American schoolchildren in a western state with a significant Mexican American population.

Multicultural Education

Miranda and Scott (1994) define multicultural education as "both a comprehensive educational reform and a basic education for all children." In addition, MonteroSieburth (1988) suggests that multicultural education "should lead to recognizing cultural values and differences among and between ethnic groups and individuals, and will develop strategies that enhance communication (and) develop cross-cultural understanding and awareness, which will lead to more positive learning outcomes."

Howe and Lisa (1995) propose a model for developing a multicultural curriculum for pre-service teachers and teachers. The first step is "awareness," to develop consciousness about prejudice and discrimination; the second step is"knowledge," or learning about other cultures and how cultural background affects learning; the third step is "skills," in which teachers learn teaching strategies and communication styles to be cultural responsive educators; the fourth step is "action," in which teachers implement education that is multicultural.

A multiculturally competent teacher will establish norms, structures, and procedures for inclusion, and will ensure that all students feel respected and connected to one another (Phuntsoy, 1999). Also, he/she will stress respect for diversity, create a safe, inclusive, and respectful learning environment, and promote social justice and equity in society (Wlodkouski & Ginsberg, 1995).

The Need for Multiculturally Competent Teachers

Multiculturally competent teachers are needed because of the growing number of multicultural students in our schools. It's been estimated that by year 2010, a third of the nation's children will be members of racial minority groups (Villegas & Clewell, 1998). An analysis of major education reform documents, including those from the National Commission on Excellence in Teacher Education (1985) and the Carnegie Forum (1986), showed that two recommendations received the strongest agreement: Teacher education programs should (1) ensure strong disciplinary preparation and (2) develop multicultural competence in students (Valli & Renenrt-Ariev, 2000).

Underlying these recommendations is the assumption that multiculturally competent teachers will enhance learning in racially diverse classrooms. They will have a deeper understanding of diverse cultures, and will be better able to deal with the complex social and political issues affecting student failure and success. There is indeed evidence that racial minority students (e.g., Mexican Americans) who feel that their teachers value and respect multiculturalism and diversity will perform better in the classroom and will be less likely to drop out of school, compared to racial minority students who don't feel their culture is valued or respected by their teachers (Tan, 1999).

Most definitions of multicultural education have originated from educators and public policymakers. We know little of how racial minority students perceive multiculturalism in their classrooms. This study asks the following research questions:

RQ1: How do Mexican American schoolchildren define multiculturalism in the classroom?

RQ2: Are there differences in how Mexican American and Caucasian schoolchildren perceive multiculturalism in their classrooms? …