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What Is Multicultural Education? An Educator’s Guide to Teaching Diverse Students

Students sit at their desks in a classroom.

The United States has always been a multicultural country. As a result, the US education system is made up of students from a variety of backgrounds. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 50.7 million students attended public elementary and secondary schools in 2018, bringing a variety of backgrounds, languages, perspectives, and cultures to the classroom. Since culture and education have an impact on each other, it is important for people of all cultures to value education and for the education system to value all cultures.

Educators can use different teaching methods to promote multicultural education. They can cultivate learning environments that benefit diverse student populations. Even though instruction often relies on the contents of specific curricula, teachers can infuse multicultural education into every element of their instruction, from the projects they assign to the lessons they teach. Teachers in the US education system should be willing to ask what multicultural education is and how they can incorporate it effectively.

What Is Multicultural Education?

Multicultural education values different student cultures and prepares students to thrive in a diverse world. At its core, multicultural education fosters equality, justice, and equity, and it establishes the reality of philosophical ideals in classroom environments. Multicultural education is what schools implement to establish equitable educational opportunities for all their students. It is also an ongoing process of helping students succeed in their academic and personal lives.

Teachers, administrators, and school leaders play an important role in ensuring the incorporation of multicultural education by selecting and managing policies, curricula, and teaching styles. The practice relies on educators who value the histories and experiences of diverse groups of students. Schools and teachers can approach multicultural education in a variety of ways, supporting students as they develop positive perspectives of their own cultures as well as the cultures of their peers. By incorporating culturally responsive pedagogy in curricula and teaching practices, teachers can create an inclusive classroom that values all students.

Four Ways Educators Can Implement Multicultural Education in the Classroom

There are many ways educators can promote social justice and equity in schools, from working to hire a more diverse teacher workforce to mindfully selecting assigned readings that reflect broad cultural diversity. Additionally, teachers promoting equal learning opportunities for students of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds can implement multicultural education in the classroom in the following ways:

Be Aware of Biases

For educators to understand what multicultural education is and implement it in their classrooms, they need to be aware of potential biases. While teachers may be open minded and want to deliver equitable instruction, they may have underlying biases they may not be aware of.

Further, teachers should understand they may be working with students from many backgrounds who may have biases against one another for cultural, racial, ethnic, or religious reasons. To cultivate safe and productive learning environments, teachers should be aware of any bias and work toward dissipating it. Teachers can also challenge the status quo by inspiring students to address social and school-based inequities that create unequal experiences for marginalized people. Students can be taught to recognize inequities in their classroom and community and use the classroom to discuss real problems their students identify.

Value Life Experiences

It’s important for educators to value their students’ experiences. Students bring unique perspectives to the classroom and can share their own stories or those of family members. Allowing students to share these experiences with their classmates can accomplish at least two goals: providing validation for the students who share similar experiences and introducing students to new perspectives. Teachers can also incorporate the history, values, and cultural knowledge of students’ home communities in the classroom instruction. This transformative practice validates students’ identities and communicates the importance of learning about others’ experiences.

Understand Student Learning Styles

Teachers can promote equitable learning by being aware of their students’ various learning styles, which can be influenced by their backgrounds and upbringing. Some students may be visual learners, others tactile learners or auditory learners. To embody what multicultural education is, teachers can vary their methods of instruction to reach all of their students. Teachers should design lessons that allow students to express their thoughts and experiences in their own voices. Teachers can encourage students to learn from one another’s experiences and ask questions that promote understanding.

Assign Multicultural Projects

Teachers can emphasize the importance of different cultural backgrounds represented in their classrooms through lessons and assignments. They can highlight different cultures in their curricula embedding the study of diverse cultures and peoples in their core academic content. All students can engage with this authentic reading, writing, and problem-solving experiences. Students can write about their family histories or interview family members. They can work with each other to learn about new cultures.

Benefits of Implementing Multicultural Education

Teachers who ask themselves “What is multicultural education?” can develop curricula around their students’ cultural backgrounds. Students in multicultural educational environments can learn how to value all cultures, bonding with peers over what makes them similar as well as what makes them unique. If students learn from a young age to be comfortable with differences, they are less likely to develop biases toward people of a different race or ethnicity. Ideally, they may become inclusive adults, free from racial or ethnic biases.

Implementing multicultural education benefits not only individual students but also society as a whole. Multicultural education has long-term benefits for students because those who learn to appreciate and value the cultural diversity of their peers will ideally grow up to be adults who likewise promote equality and justice.

Pursue a Master of Arts in Teaching or Master of Education in Education Policy and Leadership

To apply effective teaching practices with diverse student groups, teachers should understand how to create equitable learning environments and multicultural education classrooms. Teachers interested in implementing multicultural education techniques in their classrooms can pursue advanced degrees to understand how laws, policies, and leadership play a role in establishing curricula and coursework that positively impact students. Throughout their coursework, they can train as a classroom teacher through placement in an actual school setting.
Teachers interested in honing their skills as multicultural educators can pursue a Master of Education in Education Leadership at American University, choosing from courses including Education Program and Policy Implementation and Educational Leadership and Organizational Change. The American University program prepares teachers to become leaders in education and gain insight into legal education policies and programs. They develop research skills to help organizations enact legal and economic policies.

Educators can also further their academic journeys by earning a Master of Arts in Teaching, choosing from courses such as Effective Teaching for Diverse Students and Theories of Educational Psychology and Human Development. They learn how to develop evidence-based coursework in order to help establish multicultural education classrooms.

Advance Your Career Today

American University’s School of Education prepares graduate students who want to transition to a career as a classroom teacher, students who are teaching assistants, and current teachers who want to earn an advanced degree while teaching. They learn how to create equitable and effective learning environments in which students from diverse backgrounds can flourish. Explore how American University’s Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Education in Education Policy and Leadership degree programs can help you gain insight into what multicultural education is and further your goals as an educator.

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