In reading Banks (1996), Chapter one, “The Canon Debate, Knowledge Construction, and Multicultural Education” examines the basic ideas of multicultural education and how as educators can incorporate knowledge construction into our curriculum. The debate between viewpoints, as Banks (1996) presents, includes the “Western traditionalists, the multiculturalists, and the Afrocentrists…[where] each…share a number of important assumptions and beliefs about the nature of diversity in the United States and about the role of educational institutions in a pluralistic society” (p. 3). Banks asserts that “Teachers should help students to understand all types of knowledge” (p. 5) and explains the characteristics of knowledge that we should bring to our classroom instruction. Banks concludes the chapter by giving specific implications for teachers where he states that “multicultural education involves changes in the total school environment…[which should give students] opportunities to investigate and determine how cultural assumptions, frames or references, perspectives, and the biases within a discipline influence the ways that knowledge is constructed” (p. 21).
Response & Present Day: In reading both chapters, but specifically chapter 1, I was taken aback by the assumptions that are made about school classrooms and how Western traditional they are. I teach at a very Caucasian-centered school; however, within my IB classroom I have an incredibly diverse population of students. As Hollie (2017) reminds us, ““…U.S. schooling is based on the sink-or-swim approach. You have some students who are simply good swimmers, meaning they “do” school well. On the other hand, you have some students who are not good swimmers or are not swimmers at all. These students don’t do school “well.” In order to reach those students who are not good swimmers or non-swimmers, you are going to have to jump in the pool with them, and not stand on the side of the pool” (p. 58). It is so important that every student comes into our classroom/ “the pool” with different experiences and we need to be able to teach each one how to navigate the “waters” of expectations, content, and social interactions.
Hammond and Jackson (2015) state that “an educators ability to recognize students’ cultural displays of learning and meaning making and respond positively and constructively with the teaching moves that use cultural knowledge as a scaffold to connect what the student knows to new concepts and content in order to promote effective information processing” (p. 15). This year I have been able to look at our scope and sequence with the other English teachers where we have been asking questions about the literature, we have our students read. It has been rewarding because after realizing that our list of required texts was extremely narrow when it comes to reflecting our diverse student body. We have chosen multiple new texts that cover a much broader range of cultural norms and voices that we hope will give students the chance to connect and share their own experiences with those represented in the literature.
An important goal of multicultural teaching is to help students to understand how knowledge is constructed…Students also should be given opportunities to create knowledge themselves and identify ways in which they knowledge they construct is influenced and limited by their personal assumptions, positions, and experiences (Banks, p. 21). I explored this idea through this reflection during my time in class.
However, if we consider ourselves successful educators this implication is an ongoing trait. When we look at our students and the curriculum presented to use, we contemplate the cultural backgrounds of our students as an innate part of lesson designing.
Question: As in my introduction, I am still stymied when I consider the curriculum that I am given (mandated by the district, IB, and personal choice) which is focused on American culture. I worry that my diverse student population will not find the connections of literature and history relevant since they do not reflect their own personal cultures. They appreciate the analysis of the author’s writing craft; it is the foundation of our nation which can be totally irrelevant in relationship to their personal beliefs.
Next Steps: I am happy that homogenized schools are looking at curriculum with the goal of making sure that what is taught to their students is culturally relevant. I appreciate the team that I work with every day because they are not satisfied until the Scope and Sequence at each grade level reflects the appropriate cultural experiences that our students will relate to. In my classroom, I’m planning my next unit; and even though it is centered around an American’s viewpoint of the Vietnam War, I already have excerpts from a North Vietnamese writer’s experiences so that my students understanding of what happened is only deepened by seeing in through two different perspectives.
Banks, J.A. (1996). Multicultural Education Transformative Knowledge & Action: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a SAGE Company.
Hollie, S. (2017). Culturally and linguistically responsive teaching and learning: Classroom practices for student success. Huntington Beach, CA: Shell Education.