Academic journal article Childhood Education

Proposal: An Anti-Bias and Ecological Model for Multicultural Education

Academic journal article Childhood Education

Proposal: An Anti-Bias and Ecological Model for Multicultural Education

Article excerpt

The early childhood community has led efforts to develop materials and resources to support children's unique heritages and diverse experiences (Derman-Sparks, 1989; Neugebauer, 1992; York, 1991). While recognizing that education programs should validate all children and their families, educators have relied on a traditional multicultural model that limits their ability to explore the full range of diversity. It is time to propose a new model--one that recognizes the differences among traditional racial and cultural groups, acknowledges the variability within these groups and enables us to explore the uniqueness of people whose heritages and experiences do not fit into any traditional racial or cultural category.

Traditional Model

The traditional model of anti-bias and multicultural education views the child as the product of culture (Figure 1). Or, to put it another way, children's sets of experiences and their world outlook are totally predetermined by their culture. "Culture forms the prism through which members of a group see the world and create shared meaning" (Bowman, 1989, p. 2). Children's values, traditions and expectations are predetermined by their religion, attitudes about family and, sometimes, a long history of persecution and oppression. Children are then viewed as a product of their community's culture: African American, Native American, Asian, Hispanic or European. According to this model, all black children are supposedly the products of a collective black cultural context and Native American children all "see the-world" in the same way. This model stresses culture, group membership and shared attributes. Individual identity and self-esteem are based on a sense of belonging to and pride in one's cultural group.


The traditional multicultural education model in the United States teaches children about the values, celebrations, histories, traditions and art forms of five traditional cultural groups: European, African American, Latino, Asian American and Native American (Ramirez & Ramirez, 1994). Teachers are urged to help each child connect with his/her heritage, and to help each child feel positive about the group to which he/ she belongs. Multicultural curricula include books and other materials that reflect each of these groups (Ramirez & Ramirez, 1994). The child develops a sense of self-esteem and identity through knowledge of and identification with his/her cultural group.

This traditional model has many shortcomings. It perpetuates stereotypes: if every child from the same culture sees the world through the same prism, then all children from one culture must be the same. The traditional model does not allow for the tremendous diversity to be found within traditional cultural groups (Wardle, 1994a; West, 1992). A child who can trace his/her heritage directly to the original Spanish settlers of northern New Mexico has a different cultural context from a Latino child living in inner-city Los Angeles. A black child whose family has just immigrated to the United States from Belize has a very different set of experiences from a child of black college professors at Harvard.

Many Latin Americans have parents who are German, Polish, Austrian or Swiss. They speak Spanish and live in a Hispanic culture, yet are blond and have blue eyes. A member of Argentina's current national soccer team, for example, is a third-generation Irish descendent with red hair and freckles. Others residents of these Hispanic countries belong to specific minority groups.

William Cross (1985) questions the notion that young minority children's self-esteem is based on pride in and a sense of belonging to their cultural and racial group. Cross's research shows that positive self-esteem is more likely to be based on how the child sees himself as an individual, not how he sees himself in reference to racial groups or communities. …

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