Seven Ideas for Revitalizing Multicultural EducationNovember 10, 2011 | Andrew Miller
"Not multicultural education, just excellent education." -- William Ayers
I had the privilege of attending (and presenting) at the National Association for Multicultural Education International Conference last week in Chicago. Moreover, I got to sit down many of the influential and founders of the organization including activist and multicultural education advocate William Ayers and "founder supreme" of NAME, Dr. Cherry Ross Goodin. My goal was not only to learn the overall trends and themes for Multicultural Education, but also practical tools that teachers can use in their classroom. In my opinion, you need to have a crucial understanding of the underlying pedagogical and historical frameworks of multicultural education to be able to institute culturally responsive strategies and lessons in your classroom.
Attendance approached 1000 people, a continued increase, signaling a revitalization in the conversation and interest. Leadership programs have been formalized with a mentor/ mentee format with specific objectives to help new members get involved. Personally, I was able to meet with almost every single person involved in the leadership of NAME, from the founders and president to keynote speakers and committee chairs. It was a rare conference where you can meet the leadership up close and personal and engage in authentic and courageous conversations. Institutes and workshop topics targeted all audiences and needs from a session on the challenges of implementing GLBTQ children's literature in the elementary classroom to a session on an innovative teacher evaluation matrix that included quality indicators for culturally responsive teaching.
Below are some tips and ideas from the two aforementioned leaders on real strategies you can use to become a culturally responsive education and utilize practices of multicultural education.
1. Know your students.
Of course this is a given, but Dr. Goodin expressed that knowing about the background and culture of your students is crucial to building the relationship you want so that students can achieve. Ask them questions about their culture. Find moments to have students share. In order to build achievement, you have to build respect for who your students are.
2. Analyze Jacob Lawrence's paintings.
Ayers notes that Lawrence's famous paintings can provide fruitful discussion about African American culture, depiction and historical representations. Art is a great tool to engage in critical conversations about race.
3. Have students create a slang dictionary.
Ayers also suggested that slang is a great window culture. I have actually done this with my students. It can provide an opportunity for students not only to share their culture with each, but create their own. It honors their knowledge about their own cultures and empowers them by letting them know, your ideas matter. Example: Scrapper (n): a low riding Buick or Cadillac, that has an amazing sound system.
4. Use the standards as your framework and then find opportunities to embed multicultural ideas, literature, and materials.
Embedded multicultural education should be the focus, noted Dr. Goodin. Start with you learning targets and see what possibilities there are to engaging in multicultural themes, literature and more. That's the best part of standards in my opinion, they are just the start. Let's go beyond standards to create great multicultural classroom discourse.
5. Get them going with teen poetry competitions.
Ayers mentioned the documentary Louder than a Bomb, which chronicles the journey of a high school team through competitions. At the conference, we were even privilege by students from a local high school demonstrating their own. Inspiring. It is a great opportunity to build literacy skills and honor student voice. Students have amazing stories to tell, let them tell them.
6. Controversy is coming to you. Teachers often spend time closing it off.
I think that Ayers, like Dr. Goodin, was trying to express that becoming a multicultural educator is not as hard as it seems. Subjects, issues and controversy are all around us. Allow it into the classroom. Students are already talking or thinking about them. Use it to engage students in conversations on culture.
7. Don't ask permission.
I appreciate Dr. Goodin's authenticity with her statement. When you do what is right, you don't ask permission. At the same time, if you are going to engage in controversy or potential courageous conversations, find and recruit allies in administration. In fact, there may be policies in place at the district level that protect you.
All in all, I left inspired to continue my work as a multicultural educator and scholar. Just remember, it is not as hard as you think. Culture encompasses so much of who we are, and can easily be leveraged in the classroom learning. If we seek to know our students and truly value them, our classrooms in turn will reflect it in practice.