Student Self-Empowerment: A Dimension of Multicultural Education

By Sheets, Rosa Hernandez | Multicultural Education, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Student Self-Empowerment: A Dimension of Multicultural Education


Sheets, Rosa Hernandez, Multicultural Education


Introduction

An education that is multicultural empowers and prepares students for a democratic society (Banks, 1994; Gay, 1992; Sleeter & Grant, 1987). James A. Banks (1994), the founder and leading proponent of multicultural education, theorizes that multicultural education includes five dimensions: content integration, knowledge construction, equity pedagogy, prejudice reduction, and empowering school culture. These dimensions, conceptualized in teacher behavior, focus on the selection of multicultural curricular content, the implementation of culturally mediated instruction, and the creation of an empowering classroom context. When Banks' model is translated into practice, the presumption is made that teachers help students develop the skills, knowledge, and values needed to make decisions, actualize goals, and effect social and political change.

Students also play an active and decisive role in the learning process (Schunk, 1987; Sheets,1996,1997,1999). There are at least three student-oriented dimensions of multicultural education-ethnic identity development, interpersonal relationships, and self-empowerment-that must operate in tandem with Banks' five dimensions for multicultural education to affect students' social and cognitive development.

This article examines the effect of facilitation and affirmation of ethnic identity development (Branch, 1994; Gay, 1987, 1994a, 1994b, 1999), access to the significant contribution of friendship to coping behaviors (Azmitia & Montgomery, 1993; Hartup,1996; Newcomb & Bagwell,1995; Seiffge-Krenke, 1995; Schunk, 1987), and culturally mediated instruction (Hollins, 1996) on the development of positive selfempowering skills.

Student competence-defined as (1) positive ethnic identity development, (2) accelerated achievement and social adjustment, and(3) self-empowerment-increases when instruction and context are modified as described in this article. This article focuses on one of the three competencies, student self-empowerment. (See Sheets, 1999 for a discussion about the other two student dimensions-ethnic identity development and interpersonal relationships.)

Student self-empowerment is defined as students' ability to navigate the school culture inways that promote their personal and group entitlement to define, construct, and negotiate the meanings and purposes of their education. Students at the highest levels of self-empowerment consistently make decisions that maintain personal and group dignity and ethnic integrity. Empowered students set goals, develop problem-solving strategies, and use initiative to effect positive change in self and in their group.

Recognition and understanding of the students' role in the teaching-learning process helps teachers develop the pedagogical skills needed to (a) evaluate the cultural relevance of their curricular content and the effectiveness of their teaching strategies and (b) identify and affirm the ways in which students construct their role, status, and identity in diverse classrooms. As a result, students succeed academically, maintain their cultural heritage, develop ethnic identity, and experience healthy relationships.

Classroom Context

I examined the ways that students display self-empowering behaviors and attitudes in a qualitative research study conducted in a ninth-grade urban classroom. The study took place at Lincoln High School (pseudonym), one of ten high schools in an urban school district in the Pacific Northwest. Located in a predominately White, middle-class community, students of color were bussed from the central, southern, and international sections of the city. The 1995-1996 school records categorized the student enrollment(1,114 students) as 18.1 percent African American, 2.4 percent American Indian, 33.5 percent Asian, 8.7 percent Hispanic non-White, and 37.3 percent White.

Student displays of self-empowerment were examined under spontaneous classroom conditions during an academic semester (Agar, 1980; Fine & Sandstrom, 1988; Miles & Huberman, 1984). …

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