A Vicarious Learning Activity for University Sophomores in a Multiculturalism Course
Chennault, Ronald E., Multicultural Education
How can one teach a course about multiculturalism to a broad spectrum of university sophomores in a way that is research-based, pedagogically sound, and appealing-all in ten weeks? That is the situation I faced during the first quarter of my new job as an assistant professor. I felt that I had the academic preparation and teaching skills to lead the course, but the special population of students and the specific course requirements presented a new challenge. Fortunately for me (and for the students), I have had a few opportunities since then to improve upon my initial efforts.
I am not the first person to struggle with this kind of challenge, of course. During the past three and a half decades, and especially during the past 10 years, multicultural education or multiculturalism courses in various forms have been established and developed on college and university campuses. These courses, which, generally speaking, explore the existence of cultural diversity in our society, are often labeled "multiculturalism" courses, although the courses may go by several other titles such as "multicultural education," "cultural diversity," and "cross-cultural understanding."
This is not to mention the plethora of other courses that deal with race, ethnicity, nationality, and other categories of cultural difference that may not even be grouped under the category of multicultural-ism (Sleeter & Grant, 1999; Levine & Cureton, 1992). Frequently, multicultural-ism courses are required for all students at a particular institution, or are at least among the electives to be selected to fulfill university requirements (Levine & Cureton, 1992).
DePaul University is one such institution. DePaul, located in Chicago, Illinois, is the seventh largest private, not-for-profit university and the largest Catholic university in the U.S. by enrollment (DePaul University Division of Enrollment Management, 2005). The University strives, as part of its mission, "to foster through higher education a deep respect for the God-given dignity of all persons, especially the materially, culturally and spiritually deprived; and to instill in its students a dedication to the service of others" (DePaul University Course Catalog, 2001, no page). In light of its mission and origins, and because of its location in Chicago, DePaul University proudly describes itself as "Catholic, Vincentian, and urban." But to prevent the expressed statements above from merely being words on a page, the University has attempted to give life to the mission through the structure of its academic programs.
One example of the University's attempt to bring its mission alive in the academic program is the "Seminar on Multiculturalism." As part of the undergraduate general education program (the "common core"), all students are required to take a course on multiculturalism during the sophomore year.1 Each of these courses is designed to address at least three dimensions of multiculturalism in the context of the United States. In the University's definition, these dimensions include race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic background, religion, nationality, language, and sexual orientation. The experiences of individuals and of cultural groups, and the contributions of the groups to the development of American society, are the focal points of the courses.
I currently teach one of the courses, which is titled "Multiculturalism in Education," and have taught the course four times in the past. The course is offered at least once every term, and it is taught by several different faculty members in the School of Education at DePaul. In general, the course-no matter who teaches it-examines cultural differences as they relate to social inequalities in schools and in other educational sites. When I teach the course, I do so with the following goals:
1. to explore different analytical orientations concerning multi-culturalism.