Social and Institutional Change in Multicultural Education

Polish language

Reflections on Academia and Multicultural Education

In reflecting on this article, my first thought was that I had not really heard of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) before, although in general I agree with its overall goals. I think the organization is correct in its policy of "endorsing pluralism and diversity while demanding that educational institutions 'challenge all forms of discrimination ...through the promotion of democratic principles of social justice'." This article was published just prior to Obama's election in 2008, which indicated that the political cycle was moving in a leftward or reformist direction for the first time in thirty years, rather than in a more conservative direction as the authors argued. Every generation, the U.S. experiences a period of reform like the 1930s and 1960s, although of course the opposition to change under Barack Obama has been intense and extreme on the Right. Given their assumption that the U.S. was moving in a purely conservative direction, Amosa and Gorski were properly concerned that efforts at multicultural education were becoming too moderate in simply celebrating 'diversity' in a mild, harmless and meaningless way instead of demanding social and institutional change. They did not believe that NAME should accommodate to the conservative political pressures of the George W. Bush years, and I think they were right about this.

Amosa and Gorski studied the presentations and the NAME Conferences in 2004 and 2005 to determine how seriously the organization took its stated commitment to social change and discovered that the picture was mixed. They examined the presentations according to various criteria, such as whether multiculturalism was focusing only on superficial concerns like heroes, holidays and festivals rather than a deep commitment to equality and social justice. In addition, they examined the degree to which the presentations emphasized transformative or systematic reforms in educational programs, policies and institutions. They found that that very few of them followed the supposed conservatizing trend in society by emphasizing the surface-level multiculturalism of Heroes and Holidays, and "that despite its challenges, NAME remains ahead of the overall curve toward authentic multicultural education."

Nor was I surprised that African Americans and People of Color were the most frequently mentioned groups (in 44% of the presentations), since they have faced extreme discrimination in the American education system in the past and de facto segregation and inequalities are still rampant today. Only about 4% dealt with the disabled and 5% with women, while virtually none considered the issues of religious discrimination and intolerance, all of which indicate a certain level of imbalance in an organization that claims to be multicultural. Issues of poverty, social class and economic inequality also received short shrift at the NAME conferences (just over 5% of presentations), and to me this is the most significant fault since the country is now in its worst economic depression since the 1930s. Of course, this had not yet begun in 2004-05, by the condition of the poor and working class in the U.S, has been deteriorating for decades while wealth and incomes have become more concentrated at the top. In my opinion, the quality of education available to the upper class in the country is light-years removed from the experience of poor and lower class students, and the educational opportunities for minority students in the inner cities are the most limited of all. I do not believe that issues of poverty, class and economic inequality should be so often neglected in the discussions of multiculturalism and diversity in America. If I had been designing the conference, these social and economic problems would have been given considerably more attention.

I had not realized that about 76% of the presenters in the 2004-05 conferences were from colleges and universities, which does seem excessive. In addition, about 60% of the presentations focused only on the generic K-12 rather than the significant differences between grade levels. I realize very well that there really cannot be a one-size-fits-all program or policies across all these age groups. There was also very little attention to structural inequalities within schools or problems of outcome, curriculum, assessment and policy across the lines of gender, color and social class. I think Amosa and Gorski were correct that this indicated a startling "lack of focus on systemic change and the role of pedagogy in meeting the social justice aims of multicultural education", given the stated goals of NAME. I expected that most of the presentations would turn out to be U.S.-centric rather than global or international in orientation, which has often been my experience with U.S. organizations. Judging by the fact that less than 5% of the presentations dealt in any way with the outside world, I would say that NAME is not particularly radical or even unusual in its orientation. It assumes that the U.S. is the norm in the world, which is not at all the case, and the conferences would definitely benefit from expanding their perspective to include more comparisons with the 'outside world.' Other points that they authors make in their conclusion, that the conferences should place more emphasis on mental illness, disability, Kindergarten and pre-school education, and outcomes and assessments in multicultural education are also well-taken.


Amosa, W. and Gorski, P.C. "Directions and Mis-Directions in Multicultural Education: An Analysis of Session Offerings at the Annual Conference of the National Association for Multicultural Education", Multicultural Perspectives, 10(3), pp. 167-174.

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