George Lucas Educational Foundation
Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)

How SEL Can Help Students Gain a Multicultural Perspective

May 15, 2015

Carlos Cortés, a professor of history at UC Riverside in California, maintains that it is the job of schools in a pluralistic democracy to help all students become what he calls "multicultural persons."

He outlines this as a person who can:

  1. Understand the importance and operation of groups
  2. Acquire an understanding of various cultures and worldviews
  3. Recognize and understand others' perspectives before forming judgments about them
  4. Realize the contributions of individual groups and diverse groups -- pluribus and num -- to our nation's history and future experiences
  5. See how shared goals benefit from the contributions of diverse groups, each with its own history and future
  6. Participate in the mass media as thoughtful, critical consumers and contributors
  7. Develop a deep and lasting civic commitment and a concern for others as well as him- or herself

Accomplishing this is a challenge, one that is not adequately met by occasional programs, cultural assemblies, or guest speakers alone. Authors James Banks and Cherry McGee in their book, Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives, recommend two strategies that, when implemented school-wide over time, have the potency to create lasting multicultural awareness in students.

The Transformation Approach

Here, for any subject area, the emphasis is on how it emerged from a diverse mix of influences. United States history would reflect how our common history emerged out of an interaction of influences from various racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, and national groups. A similar approach can be used in understanding the evolution of science, literature, music, art, and sports.

At the secondary level, students' being able to select genres of literature, art, music, or sport, or branches of science, and trace their evolution makes for an engaging project. Giving them the freedom to make their final report in the form of an interview, video documentary, or other creative format will inspire even more engagement.

The Decision-Making and Social Action Approach

Taking a transformative approach to a project places it in the context of students actively exploring the background, current status, key decisions, and necessary actions related to social issues. Some of these issues include: reducing prejudice and discrimination in their schools, and taking positions on community concerns, elections, advances in science and technology (such as biotechnology, space exploration, consumer electronics, or robotics), or civic issues at the community, state, national, or international levels. Again, this makes for a powerful group project.

At the individual level, but especially as group projects, either approach has strong connection with social and emotional learning and will provide teachers with numerous opportunities in context to help students develop SEL skills.

Additionally, problem-solving skills are at a premium, but also essential are perspective taking, organization and planning, and emotional recognition and management. When students present their projects, key competencies of giving and receiving feedback can be emphasized, as well as the persistence needed to make improvements based on feedback.

A Problem-Solving Worksheet for English Language Arts and Social Studies

Use the following format to help individual and groups of secondary students better understand the perspectives of different groups around historical or current events:

  • Groups: _______
  • Feelings: _______
  • Problems: _______
  • Goals: _______
  • Think of things to do: _______
  • Envision outcomes: _______
  • Select best alternative: _______
  • Plan it, anticipate: _______
  • Roadblocks: _______

On the above list, "groups" can refer to two groups attempting to deal with a situation, such as perspectives on civil rights issues in the past, voting rights at different points in time, or recent police shootings of African American males. It can also represent groups with different perspectives on social issues.

For the "feelings" and "problems" of different groups in a school, examples are: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights; students with disabilities; star performers; different cultural and ethnic groups in schools; and limited-English speakers.

There are many ways that the format can be used, and students will often have to engage in some research to determine the perspectives of different groups, how they have tried to solve their problems, the obstacles they have faced, and the responses.

Having a multicultural perspective requires SEL skills, and neither can be conveyed didactically. Both the perspective and skills become developed through guided, lived experience, even in schools that may appear to be lacking diversity -- at least on the surface.

When it comes to developing students' multicultural perspective, what are your thoughts and ideas? Please share in the comments section below.

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Filed Under

  • Social & Emotional Learning (SEL)
  • Curriculum Planning
  • Diversity
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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