Guiding Principles and Tools

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Unit 2: Guiding Principles and Tools

Guiding Principles and Tools

When thinking about creating culturally sensitive course content, the following principles may serve as a guide:

  • The selection of subject matter content should be culturally inclusive, based on up-to-date scholarship. This inclusivity should incorporate opposing opinions and divergent interpretations.
  • The subject matter content selected for inclusion should represent diversity and unity within and across groups.
  • The subject matter selected for inclusion should be set within the context of its time and place, and should give priority to depth over breadth.
  • Multicultural perspectives should infuse the entire curriculum, K-12.
  • The subject matter content should be treated as socially constructed and therefore tentative - as is all knowledge.
  • The teaching of all subjects should draw and build on the experience and knowledge that the students bring to the classroom.
  • Pedagogy should incorporate a range of interactive modes of teaching and learning in order to foster understanding (rather than rote learning), examination of controversy, and mutual learning.

(Adapted from: Gordon and Roberts, Report of social studies syllabus review and development committee, 1991)

What is Multicultural Education?

Multicultural Education ISN'T: Multicultural Education IS:
About everyone agreeing and getting along. About naming and eliminating inequities in education.
Only applicable to Language Arts and history. A comprehensive approach for making education more inclusive, active, and engaging in all subject areas.
A process of watering down good curriculum. A process for presenting all students with a more comprehensive, accurate understanding of the world.
Related only to curriculum reform. Related to all aspects of education including pedagogy, counseling, administration, assessment and evaluation, research, etc.
Only for teachers and students from minority or marginalized groups. For ALL students and educators.
Achieved through a series of small changes. Achieved through the reexamination and transformation of all aspects of education.
Modeled through cultural bulletin boards, assemblies, or fairs. Modeled through self-critique, self-examination, and cross-cultural relationship-building.
The responsibility of culture-based student clubs or organizations. The responsibility of teachers, administrators, and school staff.
A single in-service workshop for teachers. An on-going commitment.

Adapted from The IS and the ISN'T of Multicultural Education by Paul C. Gorski for EdChange.

Things I Can Do

As a teacher committed to multicultural education, I should always follow these guidelines:

  • It is important to be aware of one's own identity and how one expresses it.
  • It is important to ask questions of others to find out if I am being sensitive to their needs. It is important to invite feedback about how I am being perceived.
  • It is important that I see what the results may be of my actions in terms of who may be excluded or included. I must consider all my students as equals; therefore, if my actions favor one kind of student over another, I am discriminating and must change my behavior.
  • If I am not connecting with particular kinds of students, it is my responsibility to find out why and to accept feedback on how to be more inclusive.
  • I must extend myself to teachers who are different from me (in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, first language, disability, and other identities). These can be valuable relationships of trust and honest critique.
  • I must listen actively to what students have to say about how they view me.
  • I can always learn more as a student myself, especially of the culture and background of my students. In doing so, I can include my new learning into lessons so that students feel included and validated and see how their culture has value.
  • It is easy to blame students for failure. A sensitive teacher must take responsibility for such failure and work extra hard to help that student succeed. Many of the issues having to do with poor achievement may reflect inattention to a student's cultural needs.
  • I can celebrate myself as an educator and total person. I can, and should, also celebrate every moment I spend in self-critique, however difficult and painful, because it will make me a better educator. and that is something to celebrate!

(Adapted from Edchange , by Paul Gorki:  University of Virginia (

Tools and Approaches

Developing a Sensitive Eye: A Teacher's Story

A college student was thinking about changing her major from literature to the study of world religions. The student's only hesitation was that the religion department's mode of inquiry was to look at each tradition through the eyes of those who practiced that religion.

This was a stretch for the student who was used to the academic model of "breaking it down and breaking it apart; comparing and contrasting to find inconsistencies, etc." She was not used to looking at the world through the eyes of another as a mode of inquiry.

One day, the student went to see the world religions professor during office hours. With trepidation, the student ventured, "I'm thinking about changing my major from literature to the study of world religions. I am concerned, though, that if I do, I will lose my critical eye." The wise professor paused for a moment. "Maybe you will lose your critical eye," she said gently, "and instead, maybe you'll develop a sensitive one."

This story is pertinent to us as teachers, especially in a course entitled, "Culture for Understanding." The question for us becomes: How can we help our students develop a "sensitive eye"? First, we must understand the culture from which our students come. The key to the story above is that the professor understood the "academic culture" from which her student came: the "break it down and break it apart; comparing and contrasting to find inconsistencies, etc." mode of inquiry.  The professor knew that the very method of inquiry the student had been accustomed to was not a useful method of inquiry for "seeing", appreciating, or celebrating various world cultures.

The student had to develop a muscle for "looking at the world through the eyes of another" and the student had to experience why and how this was a useful mode of inquiry. Our goal as teachers is to help students develop this special yet vital muscle.

Compassionate Listening

How many of us really listen?

In conversation, many of us usually only half-listen to another person while he is speaking. Often we are thinking about what we wish to say, and we "listen" long enough to notice when the other person's lips have stopped moving so that we can jump in with what we wanted to say - to share our idea, to make our point, or to tell our story.

How much silence is there between one person ending and another person starting to talk? Are you able to say back what someone has said to you after they are done speaking?

Try this with your students: When a student finishes talking, ask the other students, "How many people can repeat what your classmate just said?" When the students raise their hands, do not call on any individual student to actually say it back. Instead, simply give the students time to notice how many hands went in the air. Continue with "I see that about 60% of your hands are raised. As a class, we're working towards 100%. We really want to listen when someone else is talking." Do this periodically in your class to let students know that when a student speaks, her voice is valuable to the group. It will also help students develop greater capacity for listening.

Not only do we want to be able to say back what others have said, but we want to get to a place where we can take in what others have said - with a compassionate mind and heart. This is where Compassionate Listening comes into play: it's a seed for dialogue as well as for cultural celebration and understanding. Compassionate Listening will help us achieve a sensitive eye.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource. fred. (2008, June 13). Education for the New Millennium. Retrieved May 04, 2010, from TWB Courseware Web site. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.