Multicultural education is not a new idea. In fact, it capitalizes on a centuries-old truth: The U.S. has always been a multicultural nation, filled with learners from different countries and of varying ethnicities, religions and cultures. Teachers of any grade level can enrich their students’ educations and lives by actively embracing the mindset and strategies of multicultural education.
What Is Multicultural Education?
Exactly what is multicultural education? Quite simply, multicultural education in the classroom is a recognition and a celebration of the vast diversity of humankind. Multicultural education is both a concept and a process. It embraces the idea that all of God’s children are valued and are worthy of social justice, equality and equity. It celebrates the rich diversity of people by recognizing their many different global perspectives, cultural traditions and heritages.
As a process or a strategy, multicultural education relies upon teachers who are culturally aware and who strive to proactively create a culturally responsive classroom. The culturally responsive teacher will actively strive to do the following:
- Identify, understand and reduce their own ingrained biases.
- Implement instructional methods and use learning materials that eliminate biases while promoting cultural diversity.
- Develop and implement lessons and classroom activities that encourage students to develop positive attitudes toward their multicultural classmates.
- Encourage diverse students to share their perspectives, cultures and traditions with their peers.
- Work with other teachers and school administrators to create a culturally enriched learning environment throughout the entire school. As you can see, a culturally responsive classroom requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses curricula design, instructional practices and environment design. It can also encompass learning assessment methods, as cultural and linguistic differences can affect a diverse learner’s test outcomes.
What Are the Benefits of Implementing Multicultural Education in the Classroom?
Society is a rich patchwork quilt of people from all backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, religions, perspectives, genders and ability levels. Students who learn within a culturally responsive classroom are better prepared to become good citizens within their communities. These children have the opportunity to grow up with the understanding that it’s important to welcome and celebrate the many differences among people, rather than to expect all people to look, think and behave exactly the same.
A multicultural education can offer the following benefits to students:
- Open-mindedness: This is sometimes misunderstood as indicating someone who is easily persuaded from one point of view to another, and who therefore doesn’t have a firm grip on their own worldview. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. An open-minded student or adult is simply receptive to hearing different perspectives from a diverse range of people. They are open to new ideas and welcoming of positive change.
- Empathetic: As students learn about the experiences of their minority classmates, they can begin to imagine themselves in their peers’ shoes. They can empathize with the journeys and hardships of other people. In addition, they may be less likely to develop prejudices as they grow up.
- Self-confidence and a sense of security: Diverse students can sometimes feel like a fish out of water in a classroom that is largely comprised of non-minority students. They may feel as though their experiences and perspectives do not matter to others; their self-confidence can suffer as a result. When diverse students are in a culturally responsive classroom and encouraged to share their experiences with others, however, their self-confidence can flourish and they may feel more secure.
Tips for Promoting Multicultural Educational Opportunities in Your Classroom
As you work toward examining your own biases and becoming a more culturally responsive teacher, there are a few things you can do to promote multicultural education in the classroom.
- Get to know your students. Take the time to get to know each of your students’ cultural backgrounds, traditions, learning styles, likes and hobbies. Show them that you are genuinely interested in them and their cultures. They will feel valued, and they may feel more comfortable communicating and sharing their experiences and perspectives with others.
- Proactively check in with diverse students. Throughout the year, make the effort to check in with students. Ask how they are doing and whether they feel comfortable within the classroom environment. Diverse students who are struggling or suffering from discriminatory or harassing behaviors may not necessarily feel comfortable reporting these issues without being prompted to do so.
- Cultivate and require respectfulness. Every teacher establishes their own classroom rules. One of those rules should be that every person is required to demonstrate respectfulness toward every other person. It’s not enough just to make it a rule, however; you should also proactively cultivate a culture of respect and inclusion, such as by having students give presentations about their own familial and cultural traditions.
- Embrace content integration. Create lesson plans and classroom activities that recognize and celebrate diversity. These activities should also promote cultural awareness, paying particular attention to celebrating the cultures of your own diverse students. For example, when doing a lesson on the U.S. Civil War, take the time to discuss the important role that Black and female soldiers played. When doing a poetry unit, explore the voices of diverse poets.
Earn Your Master’s in TESOL Degree
If you’re a licensed teacher who is interested in enhancing your career qualifications and placing a greater emphasis on teaching within a culturally enriched classroom, consider earning your master’s in TESOL degree. A Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages degree would enable you to shift your professional focus to working within a multicultural setting and with a diverse student population. You could choose to remain in the U.S. while teaching English to students from non-English speaking countries. Alternatively, you might take your skills abroad to experience the joys of cultural immersion for yourself.
A master’s in TESOL degree is often available via online or on-campus evening classes. Depending on the university and program you choose, you can generally expect to study topics such as the following:
- Quantitative, qualitative and action research methodologies, as well as research design strategies and scientific reasoning skills
- Neuroscience, behavioral and cognitive science research exploring teaching, learning and memory, and how these insights can be applied to instructional practice
- Current language models and teaching strategies for instructional programs for English language learners, with a look at the art of advocating for bilingual families
- The fundamentals of linguistics, including psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics and second language acquisition
- The design of culturally responsive curricula, with an eye toward linguistic, cognitive, developmental and sociocultural considerations
- Language and literacy development in bilingual settings
You can also expect to complete a practicum. This will require access to a PK-12 classroom with bilingual or English language learners.
The College of Education at Grand Canyon University strives to graduate teacher candidates who possess a keen sense of the diversity of global perspectives and the importance of welcoming and promoting multicultural education in all classrooms. We offer a number of undergraduate and graduate degree programs to help aspiring teachers succeed on their journeys, including the Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) degree. This advanced TESOL degree emphasizes the benefits of a diverse, culturally aware classroom for learners.
Approved by the Assistant Dean for the College of Education on Dec. 15, 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.