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Multicultural Education Learning Objectives

After this section, participants should be able to meet the following objectives:

  •  Define key terms relating to multicultural education
  • Understand the key principles of multicultural education
  • Discuss issues relating to multicultural education
  • Understand ways to integrate multicultural education into classroom practice 


Guiding Questions

Before you read this section, consider the following questions:

  • What is culture? What are the visible elements of culture? Are there hidden elements, and if so, what are they? 
  • What are some elements of your culture that came from other cultures? Have you adopted another culture's practices into your own life?
  • What are some stereotypes that are common about people from your culture? What are some stereotypes that you commonly hear in your culture (about others)?





In today's globalized world, diverse cultures increasingly come into contact with one another, with numerous cultures living in the same space.  This diversity allows for great learning opportunities, as people share different practices that others can enjoy, appreciate and learn from.  However, it can also lead to conflict when there is a lack of tolerance or understanding. How can we educate in a way that increases cultural understanding, tolerance, solidarity, and respect? Multicultural education seeks to address this question.



Multiculturalism is the doctrine that several different cultures (rather than one national culture) can coexist peacefully and equitably in a single country. It is a philosophy that recognizes ethnic diversity within a society and that encourages others to be enlightened by worthwhile contributions to society by those of diverse ethnic backgrounds. 


Multiculturalism can be viewed within the spectrum of philosophies of assimilation and integration. With assimilation, minority cultures are absorbed into the majority culture to the point where the minority culture loses its identity. This is a one-way approach, where the minority cultures need to adapt to the majority culture. This is exemplified in the "melting pot" metaphor of American immigration doctrine, which encourages immigrants to "melt" into American culture through assimilation. If you imagine adding spices into soup in a pot, the spices will be blended into the soup, so that perhaps they are not visible or distinguishable. This is how minority cultures are absorbed into the majority culture with assimilation. While the minority culture may add certain characteristics to the majority culture, it is absorbed by the majority culture, and no longer distinguishable in its own right.


With integration, the minority cultures are still visible within the majority culture, and there is a two-way approach of social interaction through which minority and majority cultures take action to facilitate integration. This is exemplified by the "cultural mosaic" metaphor used in Canada, which brings the image of many different cultures living harmoniously in one place to create a diverse whole. With this metaphor, the minority cultures maintain distinguishable characteristics and are able to retain their identities within the majority culture. In this case, the minority cultures make up the greater whole, like small pieces of different colored glass make up a mosaic.


According to Modood (2005), multiculturalism differs from integration because it recognises the social reality of groups - for example, the sense of solidarity with people of similar origins/faith/language. Multiculturalism also acknowledges the diverse identities of each individual. For example, an individual belongs to many different cultures, depending on their ethnicity, race, religion, language, national identity, gender, sexuality, ability, socioeconomic status, etc. Each individual has the potential to identify with multiple cultural identities and therefore is not limited to their "piece of glass" within the mosaic. 


Principles and goals of multicultural education

Multicultural education "refers to the way in which all dimensions and aspects of schooling address the needs and talents of culturally diverse populations to ensure equality and social justice for all" (Grant).  Multicultural education seeks to develop the attitudes, perspectives, and the knowledge required for people of different cultural backgounds and traditions to interact with one another on positive and constructive terms (Reardon, 1999).


The principles of multicultural education include:

  • the theory of cultural pluralism;
  • ideals of social justice and the end of racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice and discrimination; 
  • affirmations of culture in the teaching and learning process; and 
  • visions of educational equity and excellence leading to high levels of academic learning for all children and youth (Quezada & Romo, 2004, p. 4).


The objectives of multicultural education (Reardon, 1999) are cognitive and attitudinal:

  • Cognitive - to develop detailed knowledge of one or more other cultures as a means to comprehend that therer are various ways to be human and expeience the world 
  •  Attitudinal - to develop tolerance of ways of life different from one's own, respect for the integrity of other cultures, and appreciation of the positive potential for cultural diversity.


Through developing knowledge about another culture, students begin to understand the myriad of ways there are to be human, and come to realize that their way of living is not "correct" or "better" than other ways, but is simply part of the diverse spectrum of humanity. As they learn about other cultures, they become tolerant of other ways of life, develop respect for other ways of life, and appreciate the positive aspects of diversity.


When we think of culture, often times we think of the "4 D's": dance, diet, dialect and dress. These elements - a culture's food, music, language, and clothing - are often the focus of cross-cultural learning. However, these are just the tip of the cultural iceberg. While these elements are visible, there are many elements of a culture that remain invisible, below the surface, much like the larger body of an iceberg. These hidden elements include values, attitudes, customs, beliefs, and others. While the "4 D's" are an important part of culture, and are also an important way to get learners interested in other cultures, it is important in multicultural education that teachers go beyond this superficial level, and reach deeper levels of cultural understanding.


Role of multiculturalism in peace education

The role of multiculturalism in peace education is two-pronged.  Firstly, multicultural education is meant to instill and develop a sense of respect and appreciation for differences, whether they are cultural, religious, or linguistic.  Secondly, multicultural education promotes the right to education for all students.  Using the inclusive perspective of multiculturalism, the hope is that no child is out or excluded from receiving a fair and equal education.  


Multicultural education is also strongly linked to human rights education, as it teaches respect for other cultures, which should lead to respect for the fundamental humanity of all people (Reardon, 1999). This respect helps to mitigate against discrimination, prejudices and racism, and leads the learners to understand that all people should be treated equally regardless of cultural, religious, or ethnic differences. 


Key concepts related to multicultural education

Here are some key concepts related to multicultural education. As you read, think about why these concepts are important to multicultural education. Also think of ways in which you can encourage students to reflect on these concepts.


Bias - subjective opinion or predisposition. A bias does not have to be based on fact, but rather may come from cultural conceptions of otherness. Cultural bias is interpreting and judging phenomena in terms particular to one's own culture. 


Prejudice - prejudgement; a preconceived notion or belief made without reason. According to Jones (2000), prejudice is differential assumptions about the abilities, motives, and intentions of others according to some characteristic (ethnicity, race, gender, ability, sexuality, etc) . Bias and prejudice are sometimes used synonymously. 


Discrimination -behaviour that results in the unequal treatment of people because they are members of a particular group. According to Jones (2000), discrimination is differential actions towards others according to a characteristic (ethnicity, race, gender, ability, sexuality, etc.). Note that the difference between prejudice and discrimination is largely in action; prejudice is largely a mental process (which may manifest verbally), whereas discrimination manifests as behaviour and action. 


Stereotype - a standardized set of ideas that represent a oversimplified depiction of a particular group (ethnic, racial, gender, etc.). 


Ethnocentricsm - thinking one's own group's ways are superior to others; judging other groups as inferior to one's own; making false assumptions about others' ways based on own limited experience (Barger, 2008). Barger argues that we are all ethnocentric, as we all make assumptions about others based on our own limited experience. The problem with ethnocentrism is that it leads to misunderstanding others and can involve false negative (or false positive) judgements. An example of a false negative judgement would be judging another culture as being "lazy" for having a different (or seemingly different) attitude towards work than one's own culture. An example of a false positive judgement would be to idealize or glamorize another culture, such as someone from a city thinking that people in the countryside have it easier because they are "free of the stresses of modern society," while not taking into consideration the many stresses of the rural way of life, such as crop instability, food security, illness, etc. 


What can we do about ethnocentrism, stereotypes and bias? The first step is to recognise that we do not understand, and that we are falsely assuming something. According to Barger (2008), one of the most effective means of recognising our own ethnocentrism is to watch for our immediate reactions (thoughts such as "that doesn't make sense" or "that's wrong," feeling offended, confused). Once you realise that you are not understanding, you can seek understanding by taking a respectful attitude and inquiring into the meaning and function of a particular context. 


Relativism - relativism usually means not judging others' ways and accepting them as equal to our own (Barger, 2008). Cultural relativism is often debated on issues related to human rights and gender equality. For example, are human rights culturally relative? Do they depend upon the culture that you come from, or are they universal? Is gender equality culturally relative, or culturally dependent? According to Barger, the real issue of relativism is "at what point is one group justified in intervening in the behaviour of another group?" (2008, p. 8). 


Racism has to do with prejudice, based on differences in race, in combination with power dynamics.  "Race" is not biological or scientific, but rather is a social and political construct which characterises people based on physical characteristics (skin colour, shape of eyes, texture of hair, body size, physique, etc). Unequal power relations are at the center of racism. Jones (2000) identifies three types of racism:


  • institutional racism - differential access to the goods, services and opportunities of society by race. Institutional racism may be legalized and manifest as disadvantage, and may structural, as it has been codified in institutions. As such, there may not be an identifiable perpetrator.
  • personally mediated racism - prejudice and discrimination, where prejudice means differential assumptions about the abilities, motives, and intentions of others according to their race, and discrimination means differential actions towards others according to their race. This is what most people think of when they hear the word "racism"; may be intentional or unintentional;
  • internalized racism - acceptance by members of the stigmatized races of negative messages about their own abilities and intrinsic worth; reflects systems of privilege and societal values; erodes individual sense of value and undermines collective action. 


Jones argues that the key to addressing all forms of racism is through eliminating institutional racism which will lead to the subsequent elimination or address of the other forms.  


Anti-racism education

One of the roots of multicultural education is anti-racism education. As defined by Sefa-Dei (1997), anti-racism education is an action-oriented strategy for institutional, systemic change to address racism and the interlocking systems of social oppression. The purpose of anti-racism education is to create a just and humane society for the well-being of all people. Power relations are at the center of the discourse. Anti-racism goes beyond individual prejudices to examine how racist ideas are entrenched and supported in institutional structures. 


Sefa-Dei (1997) outlines ten basic principles of anti-racism education:

1. Examining the social effects of "race"

2. Understanding all forms of social oppression, such as oppression based on gender, class, and sexuality

3. Understanding white male power and privilege and the rationality for dominance in society

4. Acknowledging the subjugation of knowledge and experience of subordinated groups in education systems

5. Providing for a holistic understanding and appreciation of the human experience

6. Discussing notions of identity, and how identity is linked to schooling

7. Confront the challenges of diversity and difference via appropriate pedagogy

8. Acknowledging/Understanding the traditional role of educational system in perpetuating inequalities

9. Understanding school problmes within material and ideological circumstances

10. Promoting student-teacher-parent-community relations based on the important role that family and/or home environment plays in the student's education. 


Anti-racism education thus overlaps with multicultural education and human rights education, and is a key component of peace education efforts.  


The Integrative Theory of Peace

A theory relevant to the field of multicultural education is the The Integrative Theory of Peace (ITP), which "is based on the concept that peace is, at once, a psychological, social, political, ethical and spiritual state with its expressions in intrapersonal, interpersonal, intergroup, international, and global areas of human life" (Danesh, 2006, p. 55).


The ITP contains four tenets:

  1. Peace is a psychosocial and political as well as a moral and spiritual condition.
  2. Peace is the main expression of a unity-based worldview.
  3. The unity-based worldview is the prerequisite for creating both a culture of peace and a culture of healing.
  4. A comprehensive, integrated and lifelong education within the framework of peace is the most effective approach for a transformation from the conflict-based meta-categories of survival-based and identity-based worldviews to the meta-category of unity-based worldview (Danesh, 2006).


The relevance to multicultural education steps from the idea that a distinctive worldview is the foundation of every culture.  This worldview provides an inherent framework for all daily processes such as thoughts, feelings, choices, and actions. According to Danesh (2006), one of the main functions of education is the formulation of our worldview (p. 64).


Danesh (2006) describes three different kinds of worldviews: survival-based, identity-based, and unity-based. The survival-based worldview is noraml during infancy and childhood and corresponds to agrarian and pre-industrial periods of development. Unequal power relations and use of force are common manifestations of this worldview, and it requires conformity, blind obedience, and passive resignation. This worldview is not conducive to peace, as it tends to concentrate wealth and power, and results in disadvantage for large segments of the population. The identity-based worldview corresponds to the coming-of-age of an individual or society, and is typically characterized by increased democracy. However, this phase is also characterised by extreme competition and power struggle, and an individualistic "survival of the fittest" mentality. Both the survival-based and identity-based worldviews are conflict-based worldviews, in which conflict is seen as an inevitable part of human existence.


With the unity-based worldview, a new level of consciousness is reached and humanity becomes aware of its fundamental oneness.  In this worldview "society operates according to the principle of unity in diversity" (Danesh, 2006, p. 68).  The unity-based worldview supports the equality of all members of society through a cooperative power structure. 


The unity worldview encompasses a different view of conflict. While other worldviews hold that conflict is an inherent part of being human, the unity worldview proposes that once unity is established, conflicts are often prevented or easily resolved (Danesh, 2006). Danesh draws the analogy of health in the human body - the unity worldview would be a process of creating health, rather than try to deal with the symptoms of a disease (p. 69). Thus within the unity worldview, conflict is not inevitable, but is rather preventable.


Ultimately, "peace is achieved when both the oneness and the diversity of humanity are safeguarded and celebrated" (Danesh, 2006, p. 69). The celebration of unity through diversity is precisely the goal of multicultural education.


Challenges of Multicultural Education

One key component of multicultural education is achieving the balance between accepting differences and working towards unification. Similarities are often turned to and emphasized in order to bring people together and promote solidarity. Incorporating differences becomes complicated when the focus is too intensely on sameness.  Focusing on similarities can be problematic since it promotes the idea that we can only work with those who are similar to us.  Therefore, it is important for teachers to take the more difficult road and discuss how differences play out and how students can be accepting of differences.


In pluralistic societies with large immigrant populations, there is a wide assortment of beliefs, cultures, religions, and traditions. Sometimes these cultural aspects blend well together, but other times they are in opposition to one another. Similarly, there is generally one culture that is seen as the majority or dominate group. While individual freedom is accepted and encouraged, it is not absolute; boundaries are in place that limit personal choices, especially when they challenge the common good or when they do not coincide with the beliefs and values of the majority. In short, finding the balance between tolerance and control is a large part of any discussion of multiculturalism.


Sample Lesson

Insert LTAW p. 24 Diversity and Discrimination


Questions for Comprehension and Reflection

  • What are the key principles of multicultural education?
  • Why is multicultural understanding a necessary component for promoting peace? 
  • When you think about your own experience with people from other ethnic groups and with attitudes expressed about relations with other countries, what examples come to your mind where you may have imposed your own views and feelings about life on their experience? 



Barger, K. (2008). What is ethnocentrism? IUPUI. Retrived from: http://www.iupui.edu/~anthkb/ethnocen.htm.


Clarke-Habibi, Sara. (2005) Transforming Worldviews: The Case of Education for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Journal of Transformative Education, 3(1),

     pp. 33-56. Retrived from http://api.ning.com/files/S0rX6xrsXdAcFXCKp0CSf77xKUfC7b*H16inslu5CBw_/ClarkeHabibiEFPCaseStudyprintformat.pdf.


Danesh, H.B. (2006). Towards an integrative theory of peace education, Journal of Peace Education, 3(1), March, pp. 55-78. Retrieved from





Jones, C. P. (2000). Levels of racism: A theoretical framework and a gardener's tale. American Journal of Public Health, 90 (8): 1212-1214. 

     Available at: http://www.cahealthadvodates.org/_pdf/news/2007/Levels-Of-Racism.pdf


Quezada, R & Romo, J. (2004). The Role of Institutions of Higher Education and Teacher Education in Promoting Peace Education and Justice. Multicultural

     Education Magazine, Spring. Reprinted in Annual Editions. McGraw-Hill Publishers. 


Reardon, B. A. (1999). Peace Education: A Review and Projection. Peace Education Reports, Department of Educational and Psychological Research,

     Malmo University. August. 


Sefa-Dei, G. (1997). Anti-racism education and practice. Halifax: Fernwood, Chap. 2.





Comments (4)

Julia Smith said

at 6:42 pm on Jul 26, 2010

I have always thought that in a melting pot society, at least in theory, the minority group also makes some contributions to the majority society and that the continual entrance of new minority groups means that the society is always slightly changing. To me this isnt' exactly what we are describing above. Am I mistaken in my conception?

Stephanie Knox said

at 7:43 pm on Jul 26, 2010

Hi Julia,
Feel free to add as you wish - I was sort of just adding to this section because I saw that it needed some additions (and I haven't finished what I started). As for the melting pot, my understanding is more that the cultures are blended into the main culture, so that these cultures no longer really stand out or are separate from the majority culture. Momood wrote that it's more of a one-way relationship, with the minority culture needing to take action to adapt, whereas with integration, the idea is more of a two-way street in which minority cultures and the majority culture engage in more of an exchange. let me know what you think!

Julia Smith said

at 4:08 pm on Jul 27, 2010

Hey Stephanie,
I did some reading on melting pot theories and it appears that my conception is what was frequently portrayed to me in my education but is not actually what most theorists who actually look at the subject critically have to say. Thanks for the information and the dialogue!

Stephanie Knox said

at 4:52 pm on Jul 27, 2010

Hey Julia!
Thanks for the dialogue too! I'll try to clarify the metaphor a bit above, too, just to be sure that the meaning I intended is conveyed. Thanks for the feedback!

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