Contextualizing Multicultural Visions from the Foot of the Mountain
Hodges, Susan Marie
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Many White students will grow up to become economic and political leaders, policy makers, employers, and executives of U.S. society. If White students are taught by teachers well versed in multicultural education, these youth may become future leaders with a developed self- and social-consciousness who promote actions to combat racism and other forms of oppression, contribute to dismantling disproportional privilege and institutional systems of racism. These hopes were the guiding force for this study of how White female teachers interpret and implement multicultural education in predominantly White public elementary school settings. Data from this critical case study were collected, analyzed, and presented using portraiture methodologies. In addition to describing findings, portraiture has a transformative orientation in that it is intended to facilitate some action based on the data collected. The data generated from this study showed some significant differences needed to teach equity and social justice through multicultural education in predominantly White school settings. The conceptual framework for this study used multicultural education as a vehicle for social justice teaching along with theories of social geography and race discourse. Data were collected from semi-structured interviews with each of the four participating teachers, classroom observations, and an inventory of print texts in the classrooms, including books, posters, and management tools. This study took place in a large urban school district in the Pacific Northwest. The three school sites in the study were in predominantly White neighborhoods and had less than 10% of their students who received free and reduced lunch; were from African American, Latino American, and Native American populations; and qualified for English language learning services. The professional experience of the participants ranged from 2 to 29 years and they taught in grades 2-5. Data analyses revealed some foundational features of teaching similar to multicultural education (such as building learning communities and trustful relationships between teachers and students), but because key conditional and methodological aspects (such as being explicit about racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in teaching) were missing from their practices they were not considered genuine multicultural education. Four other major findings resulted from the data analyses. They were • Strong communities of learners were developed, but without opportunities to explicitly examine race, privilege, and Whiteness. • Interpretations and practices of multicultural education were influenced by some formative and pivotal experiences of the White teachers, such as international traveling, and economic limitations during childhood. • History was taught through the stories and experiences of different high profile individuals without connecting the past to the present when it comes to racial inequities and discrimination. • Learning activities emphasized generalized differentiation, critical thinking, and knowledge construction but without placing them in the contexts of ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity and social activism. The findings suggested that fear, anxiety, and lack of understanding about how to engage in conversations about present day issues of race, racism, and Whiteness and privilege prevented participants from actually practicing multicultural education and teaching for social justice. Recommendations for future research and practice were made to overcome these gaps between ideas and actions, and to help Whites teachers become genuine (and more competent) multicultural educators for and with their students.
- Education - Seattle