Teaching Multicultural Diversity: Process, Courage, and Transformative Learning

By Valdez, Jesse N. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Teaching Multicultural Diversity: Process, Courage, and Transformative Learning


Valdez, Jesse N., Academic Exchange Quarterly


Abstract

Teaching multicultural diversity as the mere acquisition of factual awareness based on intellectual and mastery learning may be leading to a false sense of competency. The purpose of this article is to present methods used by the author in teaching multicultural diversity (MCD). The pedagogy presented is based in part on multicultural education, adult education, and transformative learning theory.

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This article is based on my teaching multicultural diversity (MCD) to adult students. The class examines social, emotional, and psychological impacts of oppression, discrimination, and racism related to ethnic and racial minority status. Marilyn Cochran-Smith's (2000) challenge to educators is descriptive of what I present here. She states that educators should unlearn racism by "interrogating racist assumptions that are deeply imbedded in the courses and curricula that we teach, owing our often unknowing complicity in maintaining existing systems of privilege and oppression, and grappling with our own failures to produce the kinds of changes we advocate" (p. 157). Teachers of MCD integrate self-awareness, critical reflection, and reconstruction of previous assumptions that will contribute to transformative learning via an experiential and process-focused approach.

Teaching Approach and Philosophy

According to transformative learning theory (Mezirow, 1991), our assumptions must be examined from alternative perspectives, critiqued, critically reflected upon, and changed. The changes are deeper than learning to master the material and the addition of new knowledge. Teaching MCD with a transformative approach is to go beyond achieving cognitive and intellectual changes. Brookfield (1990) refers to transformative learning occurring when what was once was thought permanent and stable was suddenly observed to be relative and situation specific. Emotionality, challenge, reflection, and unexpectedness as used by Brookfield are also critical elements in teaching MCD.

Banks (1997) views teaching ethnic studies at a transformational level where students view issues from the perspectives of the ethnic groups being studied. I take this one step further and encourage students to participate in what they are studying. Oppression and racism is not something that affects others only, but is a reciprocal process whereby they are encouraged to focus on the consequences of oppression and racism for themselves. If students do not actively participate in such activities, then they are encouraged to explore how they benefit from past and current oppression and racism.

In order for MCD to be effective at a transformative level the teacher needs to have the courage to teach sensitive material and issues about oppression, discrimination, and racism, as they really exist not only in society but also within the very institutions where the courses are taught. A decision needs to be made whether the course will be taught in an intellectualized and safe manner or whether one will bear with and push through discomfort and resistance in order to achieve learning at a significant and meaningful level.

View From the Inside Out

When considering effective teaching one needs to not only consider how one teaches the class, but also consider who the teacher is (Palmer, 1997). I am a Mexican American male--older than the students and originally from a lower American social and economic class. Although I have a doctorate degree and have managed to move into the middle class, I gradually reveal who I am by imbedding my own experiences within the topics of the MCD course. Presenting myself as a bicultural individual living in two cultures and having a perspective from inside the experiences of oppression and racism results in meaningful learning. I have found that the view from the inside out contributes significantly to learning about MCD.

Process Preparation

It is helpful and important for students to clearly understand the objectives of the class and what the class will be like. …

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