A common theme that will be present throughout my blog posts will be the 100% commitment on the part of school administration when it comes to transforming their schools into truly multilingual and multicultural spaces. But it’s also important to point out that schools that are closer to the monocultural side of the monocultural/multicultural continuum need to carefully transition to the other side of the spectrum. While I believe that all schools should be truly multilingual and multicultural sites, I also agree with Dr. Enid Lee’s idea that the movement towards this end take place in stages. This is due to the fact that, in many cases, such changes will be met with much resistance from key stakeholders, in particular when the topics are the ones discussed in this four-part blog series, i.e., racism against people of color and its flipside in the form of white privilege. (NOTE: The stages below can and should be applied to all areas of multiculturalism, e.g., sexuality, gender, class, able-bodiedism. In addition, the stage in which a school should begin depends on in which stage it already currently finds itself.)
As Dr. Lee points out, the first stage is the “surface stage,” wherein a few expressions of culture in the school are changed. For example, along with maintaining in the school’s hallways and classrooms photos and other depictions of white individuals who have positively influenced U.S. society and/or the world at large, there should be added at least an equal proportion of depictions of people of color who have done the same. Another example might involve teachers having students investigate and discuss musical genres that are heavily represented by artists of color. Students might then be asked to both select particular artists and/or song lyrics to which they can relate and explain why. While such examples are a nice step forward in the right direction, as Dr. Lee points out, most schools often remain stuck in this surface stage. Instead, what they need to do is “move very quickly and steadily transform the entire curriculum.” The most important action to take is to include the perspectives of people of color, both historical and present-day, as much as those of white people.
This second, “transitional stage” involves the creation of whole units of study that focus on people of color. Teachers might develop a unit on the 500-year Black Holocaust or one on the internment of Japanese Americans, each in an effort to provide students with an accurate portrayal of the negative effects of racism against people of color (e.g., material, economic, psychological), along with the benefits that white people received in these same areas, in addition to their cumulative nature on both sides. (Again, as I mentioned in the last blog post, it is always better when students participate in group investigations to discover this information themselves, rather than be spoon-fed such information by the teachers.) “One of the ways to assess multicultural education in your school,” as Dr. Lee points out, is to look at the school organization. Look at how much time you spend on which subjects. When you are in the second state you usually have a two- or three-week unit on a group of people or an area that’s been omitted in the curriculum.”
The third stage to which a school should move is that of “structural change,” when elements of units such as those mentioned in the previous paragraph are integrated into existing units. In Dr. Lee’s words, “Ultimately, what is at the center of the curriculum gets changed in its prominence.” A great example of this is the entire notion of civilizations. Instead of solely examining Western civilization, for instance, students and teachers begin to draw on what they need to know about Africa, China, and India. Different questions also begin to be asked about why and what they are doing. And in whose interest is it that students and teachers study what they study? Along these lines, why is it the case that certain kinds of knowledge are hidden? In mathematics, for example, instead of studying statistics using numbers from sports or the weather, a teacher could have students examine employment in light of race. While many would dub schools operating in this third stage as multicultural in nature, there is one final stage that needs to be reached in order for such a claim to hold. This is referred to by Dr. Lee as the “social change” stage.
In the “social change” stage the curriculum helps lead to changes being made outside of the school, some examples of which were provided in the previous blog post. Along with going out and making changes in the communities in which they live, students might also do so at a more macro-level. An example of such action might include their starting a letter-writing campaign to local and/or national news outlets that present people of color in a negatively biased manner. Students might also decide to boycott businesses that they have discovered implement discriminatory hiring practices against people of color. In this final stage, in the words of Dr. Lee, students are equipped “…with the tools needed to combat racism and ethnic discrimination, and to find ways to build a society that includes all people on equal footing.” (Again, although race is the theme of this and the previous three blog posts, as with the other stages discussed above, this social change stage should apply to other aspects of culture, e.g., sexuality, gender, religion, wherein particular groups representing the variety of these aspects encounter marginalization and/or discrimination.)
Returning to the point of this particular blog post, i.e., what administration can do to combat white privilege, then, administration’s most important role is to help its schools move through the stages of developing a truly multicultural education for their students by supporting teachers with whatever help they need in order for the social change stage of this process to be reached. And because many teachers have never truly provided their students with an anti-racist education, the most effective support that can be provided should come in the form of professional development provided by outside entities that specialize in training teachers to do just that. While learning to truly be such an educator is, in effect, a never-ending process, teacher professional development in this area must be taken seriously by school administration. For, as Dr. Lee herself states, “If you don’t take multicultural or anti-racist education seriously, you are actually promoting a monocultural or racist education. There is no neutral ground on this issue.”