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Standards and Multiculturalism

The following is condensed from a dialogue about school reform, standards, and multicultural education between Anita Bohn, a professor with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Illinois State University, and Christine Sleeter, a professor at California State University - Monterey Bay and co-editor with James Banks of Culture, Difference, and Power (2001).

Anita Bohn:
For two years I have interviewed and observed elementary teachers and administrators in a large Midwestern school district and during that time I've seen decreasing concern with multicultural education. The blame seems to fall on the state's new standards-based reform, which is causing the district to emphasize the standardization and testing of content to the exclusion of all other social concerns. Is this a national trend?

Christine Sleeter:
The problem is that the development of new standards, or new revisions of old standards, is happening during an increasingly repressive social and political climate.

The issue of standards is complicated - standards tend to allow people to bypass the question, "What curriculum is of most worth?" If the curriculum is overly prescribed, one may not even spend a lot of time finding out what one's students are interested in, or know already. To the degree that standards are highly prescriptive and only minimally sensitive to multiculturalism, they certainly can mute attention to it. In addition, I think that multicultural education needs to be grounded in dialogue and collaboration between the school and the community. The more prescribed the curriculum, the less space there is for dialogue and collaborative thinking.

However, I've also had experience with standards that require attention to multiculturalism, and literally opened up spaces for people to address it. In some states there are now state requirements that the K-12 curriculum address multiculturalism.

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