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ImperativesandPossibilitiesforMulticulturalEducation

BruceBeairstoandTonyCarrigan
SchoolDistrictNo.38(Richmond)
Richmond,BritishColumbia
Canadiansinurbancenterscannothelpbutnoticeaneverincreasingethnicandcultural
diversity.Ournationalgoalofannuallylandingapproximately1%ofthepopulationas
newcomersfromaroundtheworldensuresthatthistrendwillcontinue.Whilethe
countryhasnodifficultyattractingimmigrantsandrefugeesandhaswelcomedmorethan
200,000newcomerseachyearforoveradecade,itisfarfromobviouswhetherCanadais
succeedinginitsstatedpolicyofmulticulturalism,nottheleastbecausethatpolicyis
neitherwellunderstoodnorconsistentlysupported.
Schoolshaveacriticalroletoplayintheimplementationandongoingdefinitionof
multiculturalismsothatourrichnationaldiversitycanbeasourceofsocialdynamism
andcompetitiveeconomicadvantageintheglobaleconomy.Tounderstandthe
educationalchallenge,webeginwithabriefreviewoftheoriginsandcomplexitiesof
multiculturalisminCanada,andthenexaminetheissuesandpossibilitiesforschools.
Canadawasestablishedasabilingual,andbicultural,countryinacalculatedpolitical
manoeuvrebasedonpragmatism,notprinciples.Forthefirstcenturythetwoself
proclaimedfoundinggroupsenjoyedcertainrightsandsafeguardswhiletheculturaland
linguisticdifferencesintroducedbyothergroups,includingFirstNations,wereseenas
detrimental.Assimilationofotherswasseenasnecessarytonationbuilding.
ThemassiveinfluxofEuropeanimmigrantsinthefirsthalfofthelastcenturyandthe
strongconcernsofethnicgroupswiththeRoyalCommissiononBilingualismand
Biculturalism,whichwasitselfcreatedtoaddressproblemsbetweenthetwosolitudes,
causedPrimeMinisterTrudeauin1971todevelopapolicyofMulticulturalismwithina
BilingualFramework.Thisconfusingandchallengingideawasintendedatleastinpart,
accordingtoTrudeau,toconsolidateCanadasuniquecharacterandthustodeter
envelopmentbytheUnitedStates.
Byproposingtoassistculturalgroupsinretainingtheiridentitiesatthesametimeasthey
integratedintoCanadiansociety,thispolicycreatedanirresolvabletensionthatcontinues
tovexus.Thecompetingvaluesandintentionsatitscoremeanthatmulticulturalismis,
andalwayswillbe,ajourneyandadialogue.Itisnotaproblemthatcanbesolved,but
ratheradilemmathatmustbelivedideallywithincreasingwisdomandgrace,butnot
withthehopeofresolution.
TheCanadianCharterofRightsandFreedoms(1982)enshrinesthisdilemmabystating
thatitsprovisionsaretobeinterpretedinamannerconsistentwiththepreservationand

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enhancementofthemulticulturalheritageofCanadiansbutprovidesnoguidanceasto
howthatistobeaccomplished.TheCanadianMulticulturalismAct(1988)similarly
statesinitspreamblethatCanadaiscommittedtoapolicyofmulticulturalismdesigned
topreserveandenhancethemulticulturalheritageofCanadianswhileworkingtoachieve
theequalityofallCanadiansandassertsthatmulticulturalismprovidesaninvaluable
resourceintheshapingofCanadasfuturebutalsofailstoindicateinanypractical
termshowournationaldiversityistobemadeharmonious.
Clearlytherearemanychallengestothepracticaldailyrealizationofthemulticultural
ideal.Moreover,noteveryoneisconfidentthatitisevenwise.ManyFirstNationsdo
notfeelthatthepolicyadequatelyacknowledgesthem,theirroleortheirrights.
Quebeckersfearthatmulticulturalismwilldowngradetheirdistinctsocietystatustothe
levelofanethnicminoritycultureunderthedominationofEnglishspeakingCanada.
Othercitizensfeelthatifthecountryistosurvivethenimmigrantsmustlearntobe
Canadiansfirst,fearingthatmulticulturalismdilutesandunderminesnationalidentity.
Still,multiculturalismholdsuniquepromiseandisarguablytheonlypossibleresponseto
Canadiansocialreality.Moreover,inthepostmoderneraitrepresentsauniqueattempt
todealconstructivelywith,ratherthancontainoreliminate,pluralism.Asthepursuitof
grandnarrativesgiveswaytoacceptanceofmultipleandcompetingworldviews,all
nationswillhavetodealwithdiversityinnewways.Theglobalvillagethathasbeen
createdbymasstransportationandelectroniccommunicationsisendemically
cosmopolitan.Bothoursocialpolicyandeducationalprogramswillhavetodealwith
diversityinordertosustainandstrengthenCanadaasademocraticnationandaglobal
citizen.
AstheprimarysourceofimmigrantshasshiftedfromEuropetoAfricaandAsia,the
diversityofmanyurbanschoolshasbecomehighlyvisible,bothbecauseofthemore
distinctphysicalappearanceofthestudentsandthemoreobvioussocialmanifestationsof
theirnonWesterncultures.Teachersmustnow,morethanever,realizethatthestudents
intheirclassroomsandthestudentsparentshaveawiderangeoflifeexperiencesand
worldviews.Schooladministratorsandstaff,intheirdesiretosupportallstudents,must
acknowledgetheheterogeneityofbeliefsandperceptionswithintheschoolcommunity.
Themostrecentwaveofimmigrationhasbeensorapidthatinmanyurbanschoolsthe
staffnolongerresemble,culturallyandethnically,thestudentstheysupport.Thiscan
createtwokindsofproblems.
Someeducatorsareunableorunwillingtounderstandthattheirvalues,beliefs,and
perceptionsarefilteredthroughtheirownculturallenses.Thosewhoarepartofthe
'mainstream'andmembersofthe'dominantculture'haveatendencytoassumethattheir
decisionsandactionsarethenormandarenotculturallydetermined.Justaspeopleoften
thinktheyhavenoaccent,somepeoplefromthe'mainstream'actuallybelievethatthey
themselveshavenoculture.This,ofcourse,isdangerouslyfalse.Allindividualsare
influencedbyculture,anddependinguponhowwedefineculture,onecouldarguethat

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eachofusbelongstomanycultures.Thefirststeptounderstandinganothercultureisto
recognizeyourown,andtoknowthatyourbeliefsandperceptionsareconditionedand
constrainedbyit.
Someeducatorsalsotrytobe'colourblind'andtotreatallstudentsequally.This
confusionofequalitywithequityis,inreality,oftenjustasharmfulasracialprejudice
becausebydenyingdifferenceswealsodenystudentsuniqueneedsandabilities,which
makesitimpossibletorespondconstructivelytothem.Multiculturalismisbasedona
celebrationofdiversity,notthepursuitofuniformity.
Pluralism,however,doesnotnecessarilyimplymoralrelativism.ThereareCanadian
corevaluesthateducatorsshouldarticulateanddemonstrate.Canada,forexample,
valuestherightsofwomen.ItisnotacceptableinCanadaforwomentobetreated
unfairly.Ofcourse,itmaybeacomplexmattertointerpretfairnessinaparticular
situationsothatthisvaluecanbeapplied,butthatisalwaysthecasewithvalues.Itdoes
notnegatethefactthatinCanada,notwithstandingmulticulturalism,therearecommunity
standards,determinedmuchlikeCommonLawthroughprecedenceandconventionover
thecourseofourhistory.
Thepowerdynamicbetweeneducatorsandstudentsfamiliescanbeevenmore
troublesomethantheresponsetostudentsthemselves.Withthebestofintentions,
teacherscanprejudgefamiliesfromdifferentethnicculturesandmisinterpret
communicationstyles,andmoreimportantly,valuesystems.Bothblindnesstotheirown
cultureandblindnesstoothersculturespreventeducatorsfromdevelopingintercultural
insightandcancreateharmfulmisunderstandings.
Inordertopreventsuchmisunderstandings,educatorsmustattempttostepoutsideof
theirculturalcomfortzoneandcomprehendthenatureandoriginofculturaldifferences.
Atthesametime,themulticulturaldilemmarequiresthattheyrealizethatthereexistsa
setofhumancommonalities.Virtuallyeveryhumanbeingconfrontsthelifecycle,usesa
languagetocommunicatewithothers,appreciatesaesthetics,belongstogroupsand
institutions,works,feelsconnectedtothenaturalworld,andsearchesformeaning.
Outsideofourculturalzoneothersdothesethingsdifferently,butthereareunderlying
needs,valuesandprocessesthatconnectus.
Childrearingisanobviousexample.Allculturesplacechildrenwithinfamilyunitsand
allnormallyfunctioningfamilieslovetheirchildrenandwishtodowhattheybelieveis
bestforthem.However,whatthismightlooklikeinanyparticularsituationcanvary
widely.Forexample,iffamilymembersworklateanditisacceptedpracticetoeatmeals
togetherasafamily,butquitelateintheevening,shouldteachersinterveneandsuggest
thechildreneatdinnerwithoutbothparentspresent,inordertogetagoodnight'ssleep?
Andisthereacorrectwaytobalancetheobligationthataparentfeelstoprovidefor
thefamily,whichmaykeepthematworkorevenoutofthecountry,withthe
responsibilityofaparenttobepresentandtoprovidepersonalguidancetochildren.

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Differentculturesbalancethisequationindifferentways.Anappreciationofthe
commoninterestsbehindvariationsinculturalpracticesofparentinghelpsusto
understandthedepthofsuchquestionsandavoidbeingcasuallyjudgmentalaboutthem,
butinterculturalunderstandingdoesnoteliminatemulticulturalquestions.
Literacyisanotherexample.Allparentswanttheirchildrentobeabletocommunicatein
ordertoparticipateinsociety,butthedefinitionandperceivedpurposeofliteracycan
varygreatly.Forexample,whenprimaryteachersassignreadingforpleasureasa
homeworkactivitysomeparentsmaybelievethistobeawasteoftime,timethatwould
bemuchbetterspentindrillormemorization.Teachersshouldindeedencourage
familiestoappreciatethevalueofreadingforpleasure,buttheymaybemoresuccessful
inconvincingparentsofthisiftheyunderstandandrespecttheperspectivefromwithin
thefamilysculture.
Itiseasytounderstandhowthecomplexityofthemulticulturalenvironmentwithin
schoolscreateschallengesandrequireschange.Butisculturalpluralismmerelya
necessaryproblemtobeovercome,orcanbeitapositivebenefit?Learningtoliveina
multiculturalenvironmentisanessentialabilityforanyonewhointendstobeanactive
participantintheglobalcommunitysothenaturalopportunitycreatedbygrowingup
withaculturallydiversecollectionoffriendsseemsobviousenough.Theopportunityto
knowaboutthecustomsofothercountries,learnlanguages,anddevelopcultural
sensitivityandinsightisasignificantpotentialbenefit.Butmulticulturalismshouldbe
muchmorethanthat.Itshouldinvolvethedailycelebrationofhumandiversityandan
enlightenedappreciationofthepowerthatlieswithinthatcomplexity.Multicultural
educationisnotjustaboutfood,fashionandfestivals.Itisabouttherightofeverychild
tofullparticipationinthelifeofaschoolandacommunity,andresponsibilityofthat
villagetoworktogethertoraiseitschildren.
Schoolsareavitalsettlementsitesforthevastmajorityofnewimmigrantfamilies.
Publicschoolsarewhereworldsmeet.FromRemembranceDayceremoniesto
Halloweenparties,schoolsimpartCanadianculturetonewandfutureCanadians.Every
playgroundconflictandschoolassemblyprovidesanopportunitytoliveoutCanadianism
andinculcateitsviews,valuesandpractices.Atthesametime,studentsfromaroundthe
globebringtheirworldviewsintotheclassroomandprovideanewvantagepointfrom
whichwecanseetheglobalcommunity,andourselves.Theresultisthateveryday,in
everyschoolinurbanCanada,Canadiansocietyisbothrenewedandreinvented.The
onlystaticcultureisadeadculture.Multiculturalismprovidesarichanddynamic
resourceforinventingourfutureasschools,communitiesandasacountry.
Multiculturaleducationalsogivesusonemorechance(asspecialeducationhas
previouslydoneandcontinuestodo)tounderstandlearningandschoolinginnewand
wiserways.Thepluralismthatisforcedonusbyamulticulturalrealitycreatesboththe
needandtheopportunitytomovefromacontentcenteredcurriculumbasedonfidelity
andmasterytoastudentcenteredcurriculumbasedoninquiryandcritique.Thisrequires

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thatmulticulturalismbeapervasiveanddefiningfeatureofschooling,notmerelyan
additionalunitorcoursehereandtherethroughoutthecurriculum.Further,itrequires
thatlearningitselfberedefinedintermsofknowledgecreationratherthanknowledge
acquisition.
Multiculturaleducationmustbeconcernedwithinclusiveenvironmentswithinwhichthe
fullrangeofCanadianstudentscanparticipateandthrive,notsimplywithacurriculum
ofculturalinfobits.Thatisnottosaythatstudentsshouldnotlearnaboutothercultures,
indeedtheymust,butratherthatthiscontentbasedconceptionisinadequatetodefinethe
multiculturaleducationthatisrequired.Multiculturaleducationshouldbeaprocessthat
affirmsthepluralismofstudentsandcommunities,promotesandexemplifiesthe
Canadianmulticulturalideal,andbuildstheknowledge,skillsandbehavioursnecessary
forstudentstobepersonallyfulfilledandpubliclyusefulinCanadiansociety.
Inordertoachievethesegoals,multiculturaleducationaimsforunderstandingthrough
engagementinauthenticinquirybasedlearningactivitiesthatbuildfromthelife
experience,pastandpresent,ofstudentsthemselves.Itrepresents,therefore,notmerely
anotherlayerofcontentbutalsoanewwayofbeinginschoolsbasedonthesame
democraticidealsthatitintendstopromote.Truemulticulturaleducationbothgenerates
coherenceandsynergyfromstudentandcommunitydiversity,andteachesstudentshow
tocontinuetothrivein,benefitfromandcontributetothepluralisticworldinwhichthey
willinevitablylive.
Whiletheimperativeformulticulturaleducationmayseemmostevidentinurbancenters
whereethnicandculturaldiversityisacurrentreality,itisequallyimportantforstudents
inthosepartsofthecountrythatdonotyethavethesamedegreeofmulticultural
resources.Theytoowillliveinapluralisticworld,becitizensofamulticulturalnation
andworkinaglobaleconomy.Thechallengeisgreaterwhenthecommunityisless
heterogeneous,buttheneedforindividualstudentsandforthecountryisthesame.In
anyevent,oncethefaadeofhomogeneitybeginstocrackitquicklybecomesapparent
thatitwasadelusionallalongandthatdiversityisthenorm.Multiculturaleducation
invitesustoconfrontthefactofhumandifferencealonganinfiniterangeofspectrums,
notsimplythemostobvious,andchallengesustodevelopapedagogythatembracesand
utilizesthisfactratherthanattemptingtoskirtordenyit.
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