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What Makes a School Multicultural?
By Caleb Rosado
Department of Urban Studies
Eastern University
Philadelphia, PA

It is an axiom of our times that our world is rapidly changing. With change comes not only a different view of the world, but also changes in language to name that ³new² world. Old words take on new meanings and new words enter the vocabulary, resulting in another way of "seeing."

It was not too long ago that as a nation we moved from an Agrarian Society concerned with conformity, through an Industrial Society concerned with nationalism and uniformity, to our present Information Society concerned with diversity within a global context, on our way to the Global Society of the 21st century with a planetary worldview. Such cultural and political upheavals have given rise to knowledgeable players in the game of social change, while leaving most people as confused bystanders, desperately hanging on to a past which in part is dysfunctional to the present and in many ways irrelevant to the future.

The needs of the 21st century demand a citizenry that is culturally sensitive and internationally focused, with an orientation toward the future rather than the past. Diversity is "in," much to the dismay of defenders of the past, the likes of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Dinesh D¹Souza, E. B. Hirsch, Allan D. Bloom and Rush Limbaugh. The American demographic landscape is such that by the year 2050 nearly half of the population of the United States will be comprised of People of Color. This is that non-dominant, non-white status segment of the population, which, by virtue of the negative meaning placed on them, has been granted limited access as a group to the societal rewards of wealth, power and prestige, and whose value and contribution to society is continually minimized.

Multiculturalism, as the new paradigm for education for the 21st century, is a political ping-pong term greatly misused and highly misunderstood. Since for many it is also a value-ladened concept, it has come under fire from diverse segments of the population, who due to their social position view the world differently. The fact that where you stand determines what you see is a reality in most situations, and it is especially true for the concept of multiculturalism.

The purpose of this article is to provide an operational definition of multiculturalism as a basis for understanding the changes coming to our society, and to propose a model for what makes a school multicultural.

What Is Multiculturalism?

The concept of multiculturalism embodies a new orientation toward the future. Unfortunately, in all the heated discussion around the term no clear definition of the concept has yet emerged. People are thus left to read into the term whatever their biases and self interests dictate. Let me put forth an operational definition of multiculturalism as a starting point to better clarify our human interactions.

Multiculturalism is a system of beliefs and behaviors that recognizes and respects the presence of all diverse groups in an organization or society, acknowledges and values their socio-cultural differences, and encourages and enables their continued contribution within an inclusive cultural context which empowers all within the organization or society.

Let's take it apart. There are the four pairs of action phrases that give substance to the definition: "beliefs and behaviors," "recognizes and respects," "acknowledges and values," "encourages and enables," and a fifth one, "empowers." Multiculturalism is a ³system,² a set of interrelated parts‹in this case, beliefs and behaviors‹which make up the whole of how humans experience today's world. It includes what people believe about others, their basic paradigms, and how these impact, and are impacted by, behavior. The outcome of this framework of beliefs/behaviors are seven important actions.

The first is recognition of the rich diversity in a given society or organization. For the longest time racial/ethnic minorities, the physically disabled, and women have not been given the same recognition as others. The one-sided approach to history and education has been a testimony to that fact.

With recognition should also comes respect. Respect and recognition are not the same, since recognizing the existence of a group does not necessarily elicit respect for the group. In a slave economy, for example, the presence of slaves was recognized but their humanity was not respected. The presence of American Indians in the Western expansion of the continent was constantly recognized by whites, but their environmentally conscious cultures were never respected. The contribution of women has usually been relegated to a footnote status. Our nation has a long history of not respecting the rights of the powerless.

Multiculturalism also entails acknowledging the validity of the cultural expressions and contributions of the various groups. This is not to imply that all cultural contributions are of equal value and social worth, or that all should be tolerated. Some cultural practices are better than others for the overall betterment of society. These cultural expressions and contributions that differ from those of the dominant group in society are usually only acknowledged when there is an economic market for them, such as music for African American, native Indian dances for tourism or Mexican cuisine. When the business sector wants our money, the advertising industry pictures people of color in a positive light. But in most other cases the entertainment media simply caricatures minority stereotypes, such as women usually in supportive roles. Multiculturalism thus means valuing what people have to offer, and not rejecting or belittling it simply because it differs from what the majority, or those in power, regard as important and of value.

Multiculturalism will also encourage and enable the contribution of the various groups to society or an organization. Women and persons of color, for example, often experience discouragement because what they bring to the "table" for discussion is often regarded as of little value or worth. Not everything can be utilized, however, nor is of the same worth and value. But it does have value, even if for no other reason than the effort invested in bringing it forward. Such efforts must be encouraged, for who knows from where the next great idea may come‹from a youth, from an elderly person, from an African American, from a single parent, from a lesbian, from a high school drop out, from a business executive, etc.? The word enable here is important, because what lies behind it is the concept of empowerment‹the process of enabling people to be self-critical of their own biases so as to strengthen themselves and others to achieve and deploy their maximum potential. People's sense of self-worth, value and dignity is most often determined not only by the kind of support and encouragement they receive from others, but also from how willing they are to be self-examine negative behaviors in their own life and in their cultural group. If I or my group is practicing self-destructive action, all the external help will go for naught.

The essence of multiculturalism, the undergirding concept of multicultural education, is the ability to celebrate with the other in a manner that transcends all barriers and brings about a unity in diversity. Multiculturalism enables us to look upon the Other, especially the Other that society has taught us to regard with distrust and suspicion, and to be taken advantage of, not as a "potential predator, but as a profitable partner."

The last part of this definition of multiculturalism‹"within an inclusive cultural context"‹is most important, because it is here where many people get off and refuse to go along with an inclusive approach to society or to education. Many people fear multiculturalism will bring in "foreign" concepts and ideas which will deviate the nation from its historic course and transform the United States into something different from what it has been. We need to realize that America has always been a multicultural society, whether or not many have been willing to admit it.

As our society has changed from an Industrial Society concerned with nationalism and uniformity, to an Information Society concerned with internationalism and diversity, on the way to the Global Society of the 21st century concerned with the environment and interconnectedness, the ethnic make-up of society as well as of our schools has also changed. This ferment of change, brought about by the "new wine" of multiculturalism, is putting pressure on the old ³"wineskin" structures of the educational system and of society. And unless these old brittle structures are willing to make the necessary changes, the result will be social spillage‹protests, disturbances, apathy, dropouts, a lack of financial support from the community, and a voting with the feet as parents take their children elsewhere to private schools. Look around at the world today, and everywhere one looks one will see the new wine of multiculturalism, the ferment of change and the resulting socio-political spillage‹the demise of the Soviet Union, the fragmentation of Yugoslavia, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the conflicts in the Middle East, violence in our cities, and social ferment in our schools and communities. Along with the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation and environmental destruction, one of the principal problems confronting world society today is the problem of racial/ethnic hostility and cultural insensitivity‹the new wine of racial/ethnic ferment in conflict with the old wineskins of intolerance.

A new age demands new methods and new structures, for the ferment of change cannot be contained in the old structures, but will burst these. It is the old problem of "new wine in old wineskins." This age-old truism of Jesus Christ is so clear that one wonders how people throughout the ages can continue making the same old mistakes in the face of inevitable change. Yet Jesus Himself gave us the reason why people continue making the same perennial mistake. In the very next breath, He declared, "No one after drinking old wine desires new; for he says, 'The old is better'" (vs. 39). What He is telling us here is that even in the face of inevitable change, no one really wants to change; people still prefer the old. Thus those who have the most invested in the old structures are the most reluctant to change, since they stand the most to loose in the new order of things. The bigots would prefer spillage rather than change their self-preserved, sacro-sanct, social structures. They may woof, woof all they want, however, but the caravan of change moves on. When change is inevitable, they desire that change which will not necessarily change the old structures. The result is a lot of fine rhetoric that is slow to change, because the concern is with reformation not revolution.

Managing Diversity

: What's the solution? It is found in managing diversity! Managing diversity is nothing new. In fact, historic colonizing empires like Spain, Portugal and England, and modern nations like the United States, South Africa, Japan, Germany, and now newly emerged nations with their "ethnic cleansing" efforts, have managed diversity most effectively‹but for purposes of exclusion, at both the individual and institutional dimensions.

Various institutions in society, such as schools, churches, businesses, corporations, as well as communities have also managed diversity well, but again, for purposes of exclusion. In part this is because as Audre Lorde tells us, "we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals." Without such patterns or models, the prevailing attitude and behavior toward persons of color and others with biological, physical and socio-cultural differences has been one of exclusion and control. Today, to reach our potential as organizations and society, that attitude has to shift to one of inclusion.

Managing diversity is an on-going process that unleashes the various talents and capabilities which a diverse population bring to an organization, community or society, so as to create a wholesome, inclusive environment, that is "safe for differences," enables people to "reject rejection," celebrates diversity, and maximizes the full potential of all, in a cultural context where everyone benefits. Multiculturalism, as the art of managing diversity, is an inclusive process where no one is left out. Diversity, in its essence, then is a ³safeguard against idolatry² ‹the making of one group as the norm for all groups.

Therefore, one of the dangers that must be avoided in grasping a proper understanding of multiculturalism is bashism. Bashism is the tendency to verbally and/or physically attack another person or group based solely on the negative meaning given to group membership‹due to biological, cultural, political or socioeconomic differences (such as gender, age, race/ethnicity, political party, class, education, values, religious affiliation or sexual orientation)‹without regard for the individual. The motivating factor for bashism is fear, arising out of ignorance of the other.

One of the backwashes of a narrow view of multiculturalism, especially as espoused by some women and persons of color, is what I call "white maleism." White Maleism is the tendency of minority groups to blame white males for most of the social evil in the world today, especially as it relates to sexism and racism, and view them as selfish, ruthless, unrepentant and unredeemable, and, as a consequence, refuse to recognize and accept the contribution that many white males have made, continue to make, and desire to make, to remove oppression.

While much of oppression today has been the historical by-product of the abuse of power by white males, not much is gained in terms of creating an inclusive, caring, compassionate educational system and society, by reversing the process and excluding many white males who have been instrumental in creating the "house of abundance" and structures of inclusion. Some of us persons of color would not be where we are today if it were not for culturally, politically and morally concerned white males who opened institutional doors, made decisions, implemented policies, and stood in the breach to bridge the gulf of intolerance. The effective management of diversity includes, empowers and benefits all persons concerned, whites included.

In an age of cultural pluralism, multiculturalism is needed to manage diversity effectively. In essence, then, multiculturalism is nothing more than the art of managing diversity in a total quality manner. It is the only option open to educators, leaders and administrators in an ever-increasing culturally pluralistic environment. In schools the process of multiculturalism is best maintained through Multicultural Education‹an intrinsic approach to education and curriculum construction that acknowledges and respects the contributions which the various racial/ethnic groups have made to society, and incorporates these contributions in an overall program of instruction which meets the needs of an ever-changing society and is sensitive to the personal and social development of all persons concerned.

Today's diverse student populations and workforce is simply not going to go away, but increase. This is the direction of the future‹multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual communities. And effective leaders, concerned with the bottom line‹the maximizing of profit, whether material or nonmaterial‹are recognizing this new direction.

The art of managing diversity is thus of great concern to all persons charged with the responsibility of overseeing the work of others. Organizations, however, that try to force today¹s reality into yesterday's management styles will seriously jeopardize the viability of their enterprise. Beyond the challenge of creating a humane educational environment where students and staff of diverse backgrounds and experiences learn to appreciate each other, lies the additional one of changing the structural arrangements.

A Model of Structural Change‹Total Quality Diversity:

Managing diversity should be a comprehensive, holistic process for developing an environment that works for all concerned. There are two dimensions to a holistic model of managing diversity‹horizontal and vertical. The first, focused on the individual, is concerned with the horizontal dimension of embracing and valuing differences. This area is of tremendous importance, since individual students and staff that do not get along, nor understand each other, are not able to maximize their greatest potential for optimal excellence. Here is where workshops on prejudice, cultural awareness, cross-cultural communication and conflict resolution are most helpful. However, if this is all that is done such efforts will come to naught, for the individual interactional dimension is only one dimension of change. This dimension must be evaluated by the urgent question of, "Valuing diversity for what?"

The purpose of valuing diversity and appreciating differences is not simply to make people feel good about each other. Schools have a specific purpose for existing, to implement their mission through whatever product or service they provide. Thus, bringing interactional change at the individual level is only half the process. Christine Sleeter reminds us that, ³A major problem with most staff development programs for multicultural education is that the unit of change on which they focus is the individual rather than the [institution] as an organization." Such change must be paralleled by a change in the culture and structure of the school, the vertical dimension, since it is here where the root problems at the horizontal level often reside.

What Makes a School Multicultural?

So how does this Total Quality Diversity Model work out in "real life"? The answer to this question lies in examining what makes a school or organization multicultural. Many schools and organizations regard themselves as "multicultural" simply on the basis of the ethnic diversity present in their midst. But is this what makes an organization multicultural? And if not, what does and what are the implications for effective schools in the 21st century?

The mere presence of an ethnically and racially diverse student population, due to legal, moral or social imperatives, does not make a school multicultural This is merely being concerned with affirmative action. This was the main accomplishment of the 1960s and 70s, giving people access to the system. In the 1980s the concern was with "valuing differences." In the 1990s the push is for "managing diversity." But in the 21st century the focus of schools and corporations needs to be on "living diversity" (see graphic, The Process of Change).

Many schools and organizations, however, have begun to go back on affirmative action, instead of going on to living diversity. What this means is that the number of ethnically diverse students sitting in the classrooms does not make a school multicultural. All that this may simply represent is that students have gained access to the school‹they've gotten through the front door. But if all a school does is to give access, then students may leave just as quickly out the back door.

Neither is it merely a concern for understanding, respecting, valuing and celebrating the differences among the various groups represented in the school. Valuing diversity is important, as it may engender an awareness of and a sensitivity to differences, but it does not necessarily translate into structural changes.

What makes a school multicultural is whether or not its "Five Ps":

  • Perspectives
  • Policies
  • Programs
  • Personnel
  • Practices
implement the following Four Imperatives:
  1. Reflect the heterogeneity of the school‹the dynamic of Affirmative Action;
  2. Are sensitive to the needs of the various groups comprising the student population‹the dynamic of Valuing Differences;
  3. Incorporate their contributions to the overall mission of the school‹the dynamic of Managing Diversity;
  4. Create a cultural and social ambiance that is inclusive and empowers all groups in the school‹the dynamic of Living Diversity.
These four imperatives form the basis of multicultural education. This is an approach to education and curriculum construction that acknowledges and respects the contributions which the various racial/ethnic groups have made to society, and incorporates these contributions in an overall program of instruction which meets the needs of an ever-changing society and is sensitive to the personal and social development of all persons concerned.

In other words, at the heart of what makes a school multicultural lies managing diversity‹the proper management of the diversity in a school for the empowerment of all groups, which includes changing mindsets as well as the underlying culture of a school, especially if this culture is what is impeding change, in order for the school to begin living diversity so as to more effectively accomplish its mission. This is what makes a school multicultural. The point behind this is that unity in diversity needs to be the basic premise of all that is done in education.

This is where the five "Ps" come into play, because the rapid changes taking place in society are forcing schools to move away from a lethargic business-as-usual, reactive mindset, to a proactive one that anticipates and implements change.

Perspectives refers to the vision without which education as well as schools perish. What is "vision"? Vision is the bifocal ability to see what lies ahead (farsightedness), as well as the various impediments in the present (nearsightedness), and how to avoid them in order to arrive at the future. It must be bifocal, for focus on the future at the expense of the present, or vice versa, will result in loss and in a detour in the mission of the school.

A sense of vision and mission, will lead to appropriate Policies, the guarantees that make known the intents of the school. Policies give rise to Programs that put in action what education is all about. But effective programs cannot be run without the right Personnel, reflective of the diversity in the school. The last one is Practices, the actual conduct of the school, its staff and administration.

Of these five Ps, the most important one is the last one, "practices." A school may have the best perspectives, policies, programs, and personnel, but these are only cosmetic until practiced. And it only takes a small number of personnel who in their practice refuse to go along with a program or fail to implement policy, for an otherwise well designed plan to be sabotaged. As the saying goes in Spanish, Podemos destruir con nuestros pies lo que construimos con nuestras manos; "we can destroy with our feet what we build with our hands.²"

These five "Ps" have to alter present school structures and cultures, especially if these are exclusive and do not benefit everyone in the school. Why? Karl Mannheim, the renowned German sociologist, gives us the reason. "To live consistently, in the light of Christian brotherly love, in a society which is not organized on the same principle is impossible. The individual in his personal conduct is always compelled‹in so far as he does not resort to breaking up the existing social structure‹to fall short of his own nobler motives." This is why structural change‹a new paradigm of inclusion‹is necessary.

What is at issue in multiculturalism is not just sensitivity to other cultures and racial/ethnic groups that are marginal to the dominant culture, nor a transference of power, but an entire paradigm shift‹a different mindset‹which gives rise to a whole new way of seeing the world, as inclusive; and brings a change in institutional and societal structures, so as to create an environment (local, national and global) which is inclusive of all groups, is safe for differences and where everyone benefits. The basic measure of how well we are managing diversity is this: "If when all is said and done, you look around and notice that everyone looks like you, you have done it wrong!"

Becoming World Citizens:

But some are threatened by this inclusive process, and begin to woof, woof. Why? Because they see multiculturalism as having to give up power in order to make room on the stage of life for new characters in the play. Yes, power will have to be shared. Unfortunately, the beaches of time are strewn with wreckage from the many ships of people that set sail for ports unknown in search of power and unwilling to share it, but who ran into the gale winds of greed and the coral reefs of corruption, and ended their journey drowning in seas of racial despair. Life is a journey we as humans have to take. The going may not be smooth, the set course will not always take us through sunny, tropical waters; and once in a while the storms at sea may deviate us from our desired destination into the 21st century. But how one runs the good ship of education‹how one treats the crew (faculty/staff), how one develops the product (curriculum/students), and how one maintains the course (vision, values, mission)‹will determine a successful docking at the port of the 21st century, or a shipwreck on the beaches of time in the 1990's.

Multiculturalism, then, may very well be part of an on-going process which enables administrators, teachers and their students to become world citizens‹persons who are able to transcend their own racial/ethnic, gender, cultural and socio-political reality and identify with humankind throughout the world, at all levels of human need. They are thus a transcending people who know no boundaries, and whose operating life-principle is compassion. This is the principle that should be modeled in our schools by the faculty, students, staff and administrators, in the process of living diversity. The challenge is great but so is the reward.

This second area of change, focused on the institution, is concerned with the vertical dimension of harnessing and empowering diversity, the area that deals with school culture and structure, the way tasks are divided to accomplish the mission of the school. This dimension holds the key to effecting the greatest change in a school, for it is here where exclusion finds it most comfortable home. But change must be more than merely cosmetic, such as adding a diverse looking population to the school. It must also examine in what ways the vision, values, mission and structure of the school contribute or undermine effective utilization of the assets all persons bring to an school. Change at both of these dimensions results in Cultural Inclusion at the center, where ³living diversity² takes place.

This holistic model of managing diversity is called Total Quality Diversity (see graphic). Drawing the basic idea of quality from W. Edward Deming, who popularized the concept of TQM, Total Quality Management, the model goes beyond Deming, in that diversity was never an aspect of his model, largely because he worked for many years in Japan, a most homogeneous society. The Total Quality Diversity model shows how exclusion, as the model of the past, has been replaced by inclusion, the coming together at the center of the vision-values-mission of the organization in Cultural Inclusion. Total Quality Diversity (TQD) is a holistic model of managing diversity that operates on two levels: The Horizontal‹the individual interactional change dimension (embracing and valuing diversity); and The Vertical‹the institutional structural change dimension (harnessing and empowering diversity). Both factors are driven by the bottom line profit motive, to help institutions such as schools deliver a quality product‹students prepared to meet human needs in a competitive world society.

Diversity has two dimensions, the primary (mainly biological, usually visible: age, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disabilities), and the secondary (sociocultural, usually invisible: language, education, values occupation, culture, learning sty, etc.). These various differences that inhibit inclusion at both the individual and institutional dimensions, need to be examined in light of the goal of schools and communities to begin "living diversity." This is an approach to education and communal life that views multiculturalism as integral to the very fabric of our culture, as a basic value undergirding all that is done.

Included in TQD is TQR‹Total Quality Respect. Total Quality Respect is an integral part of Total Quality Diversity, in that the proper management of today¹s diverse schools is not possible without respect for human beings. TQR is the process whereby the Other is treated with deference, courtesy and compassion in an endeavor to safeguard the integrity, dignity, value and social worth of the individual. It means treating people the way they want to be treated. It is a lack of respect for others, no matter their position or the differences they bring to an institution, which gives rise to most of the conflicts in organizations.

It is important to note that organizations are unlikely to embark on change initiatives unless they either are experiencing pain regarding diversity issues, or lack a vision of the challenges before them. Both factors are driven by the bottom line profit motive, to help organizations deliver a quality product or service that meets human needs in a competitive society. The main objective of the holistic model of managing diversity is to accomplish this motive. The end result of this Total Quality Diversity process of management is a lean, competitive organization, with a multicultural, truly diverse student body/workforce, where creativity, imagination, and intelligence operate in a democratic classroom, workplace and environment.

The key dynamic in diversity management then is to maintain the two dimensions of unity and diversity in balanced tension, without erring to either side. Erring on the side of unity results in uniformity and sameness at the expense of our human uniqueness and distinctiveness. Erring on the side of diversity magnifies differences and separation at the expense of our common, shared humanity. Unity is not synonymous with uniformity, neither is diversity synonymous with separation. The solution to the tension is to respect and value diversity while working for unity, otherwise exclusion is the result. Thus the strength of a nation or organization lies in unity in diversity.

Two extremes must be avoided (see graphic). The first is similarities where no differences between humans and cultures are recognized. This is the direction of McWorld resulting in uniformity. But at whose expense? In the end it ends up being exclusive. The other extreme is differences, where, because of sociocultural differences, the different groups are regarded as having nothing in common. This is the direction of Jihad, resulting in separation. But like the other, this one is also exclusive. The solution lies in the center, focused on unity while valuing and respecting diversity. The result is inclusion.

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