As class is over and break begins, I wanted to take a second to compile a list (albeit, a very disorganized one) of the most meaningful insights I have gained from my engagement with texts, my classmates, my professor, and the educators and students we have had the privilege to watch as they live the realities that we discuss in class. We have only scratched the surface of multicultural education and critical pedagogy this block, but, as a future teacher, these are principles I want to keep in mind and continue to practice and build upon for the rest of my life, both in and outside of the classroom.
1. Multicultural education extends to all levels of a school’s environment, from representations of people on the walls and in textbooks, to tracking, to school culture and disciplinary policies, to relationships with parents and community members. Implementation of multicultural education, therefore, requires school-wide commitment, not just to talking the talk, but to walking the walk. This includes continuous opportunities for mentorship and professional development. We saw a really powerful example of this in the teaching community we observed at Manual High School in Denver, where Humanities department leader and teacher Will Anderson described a collaborative and caring environment where teachers had time during the week to come together and support one another’s work and personal lives, as well as the space to be themselves in the classroom. He described this as one method to counteract teacher burnout and frustration with policies and inequities that negatively impact urban schools and the lives of their students every day. In addition to these school-wide supports, individual educators must be committed to being vulnerable about their growth and positionalities, and engage with their communities and work towards social justice outside of the classroom.
2. Multicultural education is rigorous, but not in the way that just reinforces the performance of whiteness as a measure of success. Students can practice academic skills as they examine their own communities and circumstances, read challenging texts by diverse authors, investigate historical systems of oppression, express themselves in various mediums, question dominant sources of information, and work towards social change. Multicultural Education requires teachers to have high standards for their students, and provide equitable scaffolding and resources for each student to achieve those standards, not just those with the privilege to have been served by our unequal education system.
3. Multicultural education is assets-based, at its core. This requires a critical shift away from perspectives which position students’ cultures and communities as a deficit and detrimental to their academic success. While this is thinking that has largely been discredited and abandoned at the level of academia, that does not mean that its impacts have been erased from policy decisions or teacher mindsets, even those who claim to be committed to multicultural education. Classrooms must engage with issues of oppression that influence their students lives; students are experts in their own experiences, and can benefit from access to language to describe those experiences and explicit acknowledgement that they are influenced by historical and deliberate patterns. An assets-based pedagogy demands that this must be accompanied by highlighting acts of resistance to oppression and leveraging the strengths and funds of knowledge of students and their communities.
4. Critical praxis, as defined by Paulo Friere, requires a constant, cyclical process of identifying a problem, researching the problem, developing a collective plan of action to address the problem, implementing the collective plan of action, and evaluating the action, assessing its efficacy, and re-examining the state of the problem. Teachers can foster this process in students as a means of addressing inequalities they notice in the world around them, and must also constantly engage in critical praxis themselves in their decision-making, lesson planning, and interactions with students. Critical praxis is key to disciplinary strategies like restorative justice (facilitated conversations with all parties involved in an issue that is aimed are developing a solution, not just a punishment) that aim to mitigate the impacts of teacher and systemic bias on the school-to-prison pipeline.
5. I wanted to end with the quotes from readings that have resonated with me most this block, as the educators who wrote them have had years of experience with the work of critical pedagogy, and can speak to it far better than I can after one month of learning. As argued by Brazilian theorist Paulo Friere, the primary goal of education is to restore humanity in response to dehumanizing systems, and Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade and Ernest Morrell speak to the pain of doing so, and the love required to do so, in the setting of the American education system.
- “The developing counter-cultural community of practice intentionally targets alienation, intellectual disenfranchisement, despair, and academic failure to be replaced with large quantities of community, critical consciousness, hope, and academic achievement” (Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade and Ernest Morrell).
- “Audacious hope stares down the painful path; and despite the overwhelming odds against us making it down that path to change, we make the journey again and again. There is no other choice. Acceptance of this fact allows us to find the courage and the commitment to cajole our students to join us on that journey. This makes us better people as it makes us better teachers, and it models for our students that the painful path is the hopeful path” (Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade).