Preparing Citizens for Multicultural Democracy in a U.S. History Class

By DiCamillo, Lorrei; Pace, Judith L. | High School Journal, January-February 2010 | Go to article overview

Preparing Citizens for Multicultural Democracy in a U.S. History Class


DiCamillo, Lorrei, Pace, Judith L., High School Journal


The authors extend the literature on multicultural democratic citizenship education (Marri, 2005) with a case study about how a highly esteemed high school teacher involved a heterogeneous group of students in a rigorous, engaging, critical study of U.S. History. Mr. Scott's * teaching was noteworthy in its community building, thorough disciplinary content and deliberative pedagogies, yet obstacles to student engagement persisted. This study illustrates powerful pedagogical practice that informs research and practice and reveals ongoing challenges in high school teaching, even in a supportive environment. It adds to the research on teaching for multicultural citizenship and provides descriptive examples of how powerful pedagogical practice (Shulman, 1987) can be combined with multicultural democratic citizenship education (Banks, 1993; Parker, 1996).

Introduction

In previous decades, U.S. History classes have been criticized for failing to achieve educational purposes, such as developing students' higher level thinking, engagement with history, and affinity for citizenship (Ross, 2006; Wilson, 2001). Classroom research on history teaching has documented pedantic instruction in which teachers rely on textbooks, lecture, and recitation, and require students to complete low-level academic tasks, such as quizzes, worksheets, and textbook questions (Cuban, 1991; Goodlad, 1984; Levstik, 2008; McNeil, 1986). Research also reveals that many students viewed history as a meaningless lists of facts to be memorized and forgotten (Grant, 2003; McNeil, 1986; Schug, Todd, & Beery, 1984; Shaver, Davis, & Helburn, 1980).

By contrast, since the 1980s, scholars have produced studies on "accomplished" (Wilson, 2001), "ambitious" (Grant 2003, 2005), and "wise" (Wineburg & Wilson, 1988, 1991; Yeager & Davis, 2005) history teachers, which illustrate that some teachers are not simply teaching in routine ways. However, despite the documented crucial connection between history and citizenship education (Barton & Levstik, 2004), calls for multicultural content (Banks, 1993), and theory bridging democratic education and diversity (Parker, 1996), accounts of teaching for multicultural citizenship are rare (Dilworth, 2004).

Marri's Classroom-based Multicultural Democratic Education (CMDE) framework provides a model that blends theory and practice, but to date it has only been applied to his studies of three classroom teachers (Marri, 2005, 2008). Our case study of a highly regarded U.S. History teacher, Mr. Scott (all names are pseudonyms), both exemplifies and informs the framework, while contributing to prior research on "pedagogically powerful practice" (Shulman, 1987). It begins with contextual background that links the teacher's past experience, educational purposes, and school culture to his practice. The narrative details how Mr. Scott developed classroom community, taught both mainstream and transformative historical content, and employed "deliberative pedagogies" (Simon, 2005) that featured culminating projects and scaffolded examination of alternative history texts. Finally, the study reveals obstacles to student engagement that persisted despite his efforts, and raises questions for future research and practice.

Conceptual Frameworks

Classroom-Based Multicultural Democratic Education

Marri's (2005, 2008) Classroom-based Multicultural Democratic Education (CMDE) framework brings together principles from the two fields of multicultural and democratic education as advocated by Parker (1997) and Banks (2003). It consists of three elements: building of community, thorough disciplinary content, and critical pedagogy. Community building involves creating a respectful, collaborative classroom environment. It allows students from diverse backgrounds to develop understandings of each other through discussions, group work, and problem-solving. Drawing on Dewey (1916), Marri explains that in a community, students learn about democratic living by openly discussing issues with people who hold different perspectives. …

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