Integrating Service Learning and Multicultural Education: An Overview
Carolyn O'Grady Gustavus Adolphus College
I first heard the term multicultural education in 1986 when I signed up for a graduate course in what would become the winding road toward a doctorate in that field. By the time I took this course, my understanding of "culture" had expanded considerably beyond where it had been when I grew up in Idaho in the 1950s. I had lived for several years in New York City, and not long before taking the class, I had returned from more than 15 months of travel outside the United States. By 1986, I had learned through experience that there were a lot of different kinds of people in the world, and that my White, middle-class upbringing was not the "norm" for everyone. I had also begun to realize that some of the attitudes I had toward others whom I perceived as different from myself were based on prejudices I had absorbed growing up or had believed without examination ( O'Grady, 1999). From the beginning, the theory and practice of multicultural education helped me make sense of the life experiences I had had, and reflect more critically on how my schooling had educated and miseducated me about the world.
In my very first multicultural education class, we participated as a group in an antiapartheid rally. This was the first time I had ever been asked to take my learning outside the classroom and apply it in some community-based context. I have forgotten much of the reading we did in that class, but I will never forget the experiential component. I did not realize it at the time, but my participation in the rally bore similarities to more intentional service learning activities.