Molding Mutlticulturalism out of Monocultural Classrooms
Tony Michael, 20 July 1998
I would like to first point out that some issue could
very well be taken with the phrase in my title, "monocultural classrooms."
Some scholars might argue that there is no such thing as a monocultural
classroom. Even I would warn that the phrase is a dangerous one,
but I use it to refer to classrooms where the majority of students share
the same race, class, and ethnic background. As I compiled my bibliography,
I tried to develop an understanding of the area of multiculturalism, to
examine how the concept is implemented in the classroom, and then consider
what relationship(s) and effect(s) it would have upon the classrooms within
which my colleagues and I find ourselves. The works below help us understand
that even classrooms such as these aren't perhaps so homogenous. Even if
they are, perhaps it is possible to challenge them through language, writing,
and critical thinking.
It is apparent through a perusal of the texts selected
for the following bibliography that some directly reflect the ideals of
multiculturalism while others challenge them, and some are by educators
with very diverse classrooms while others are in homogenous classrooms.
At the very least, the bibliographical works are concerned with both theory
and with practice, some posing questions and challenging us for solutions
and some providing proposals for action.
Kanpol, Barry. Critical Pedagogy. Westport, Connecticut:
Bergin and Garvey, 1994.
[See particularly chapters 3-5, "Tensions of and between Cultures,"
"Coming to Terms with Difference," and "Multiculturalism and the Politics
of a Democratic Imaginary" 61-136.]
Kanpol illustrates the idea of critical pedagogy through his case studies.
Indeed his work may well be distinguished by his presentation. This presentation
seems to be addressed to readers who are unfamiliar with the concept(s)
of critical pedagogy, for the style is rather simple, the text is (perhaps
too) simply mapped with each chapter introduction, subheadings, conclusions,
classroom activities, and questions for discussion. With this in
mind, it appears that Kanpol works to explain critical pedagogy to anyone
interested and establish its importance by reaching a larger audience than
a more theoretical approach potentially would. The consideration
of the multicultural classroom appears primarily in chapters 3-5, chapters
devoted to understanding difference and its significance in the classroom.
The chapters are in essence a unit, a unit of "three case studies about
teachers" (61), and in this unit Kanpol asserts that "the reader will witness
a natural progression of the types of questions" that are significant in
the examination and understanding of the multicultural classroom, questions
that ultimately lead Kanpol to argue that "multiculturalism and understanding
of the other is about understanding differences as well as similarities
within a democracy" (133).
Klopf, Donald W., and Catherine Thompson. Communication
in the Multicultural Classroom. United States of America: Burgess
International Group, Inc. 1992.
Kanpol's work is especially significant in that it is indeed readable
for the instructor unfamiliar with critical pedagogy and the multicultural
classroom. Not only does Kanpol's approach address a large audience,
but Kanpol's case studies allow readers to see how he developed his theories
about the classroom, and his activities and questions allow his readers
to work through the complexity of the issues and reach their own understandings.
In this short book (90 pages), Klopf and Thompson assess the problem
of communication in the multicultural classroom and propose solutions to
the communication barriers. Educators themselves, Klopf and Thompson find
it important to educate other instructors about the significance of the
multicultural classroom in light of the fact that "Planet Earth is shrinking,"
thus creating a complex global community. The authors state in their
preface that the book "is designed to open the doors to the interculturalcommunication
process, a process much more complex than one book can cope with" (viii).
In other words, "the book is meant to be a start," and a start it is.
The book takes what could be considered an elementary approach to communication
in a multicultural setting, first by identifying the key terms/ jargon
of current intercultural communication conversation. The book's elementary
approach suggests that it is meant for novice teachers or "Educators preparing
to teach in the multicultural classroom" (3); these readers are further
aided by the short, clearly indexed sections, by the "consider this" sections
located at the end of each chapter, and by the accompanying workbook.
Leverenz, Carrie Shiverly. "Peer Response in the Multicultural Composition
Classroom: Dissensus--A Dream (Deferred)." JAC 14.2 (Fall
This text is especially interesting in that the authors happen to educators
at the same university at which I teach. Though they perhaps have
more diverse classes, they do indeed address the homogeneity of some classrooms,
"even in the remotest corners of the country where the population is culturally
identical, teachers will benefit from training in intercultural communication"
(3). At the very least, developing such communication skills would
enable us to empower our students with the same skills, better enabling
us to communicate with these "more homogenous groups" (3).
Leverenz here explores the concept of a dissensus pedagogy, a
pedagogy that allows for multiple voices/ views in the classroom.
It is beneficial in that it allows students to be challenged, thus to be
forced to examine their own ideas. This type of pedagogy reflects
the idea(l)s of the multicultural classroom, the valuing of difference.
Unfortunately, as Leverenz points out, many such multicultural courses
"embody an irreconcilable tension between the institution's goals" for
teaching the status quo and simultaneously accepting divergence (169).
Leverenz "reads" a peer response group in a minority lit class, but while
the university was comprised of mostly white students, "in a typical class
of twenty-five, it is unusual to find more than two students of color"
(169), the class Leverenz analyzes is predominately black. It makes
for an interesting analysis and yields valuable information, but Leverenz
essay could have been improved, could have resonated louder with teachers
in more "typical" classrooms had she analyzed a "typical" class.
Lu, Min-Zhan. "Professing Multiculturalism: The Politics of Style
in the Contact Zone." CCC 45.4 (Dec. 1994):
Leverenz closely aligns herself with collaborative education, a field
too vast for the scope of my research, but I find her peer response and
dissensus views helpful in understanding difference within the classroom.
I must admit, however, that had she focused more upon a "typical" class,
I would have more to work with. Adapting research on a truly multicultural
classroom and ideas on difference is one thing, but having actual analyses
of more a homogenous class would have served me better.
Lu's essay involves a fresh look at multiculturalism in the classroom,
particularly through an examination of student writing. Lu is particularly
interested in students and their relationship to academic discourse:
Mahala, Daniel and Jody Swilky. "Constructing the Multicultural Subject:
Colonization, Persuasion, and Difference in the Writing Classroom."
A Journal of Rhetorical Theory 15.3-4 (1994): 182-212.
Aside from increasing the student's knowledge of and experience in
reproducing these official forms, I am most interested in doing three things:
(1) enabling students to hear discursive voices which conflict with and
struggle against the voices of academic authority; (2) urging them to negotiate
a position in response to these colliding voices; and (3) asking them to
consider their choice of position in the context of the socio-political
power relationships within and among diverse discourses and in the context
of their personal life, history, culture, and society. (448)
Lu is able to do this through "contact zones," places where cultures often
clash due to power relationships. These contact zones can very well
be the differing approaches to writing in the classroom.
Lu's essay forced me to consider how contact zones could be used in
the classroom, even a fairly homogenous one. I believe it is quite
useful in considering how best to initiate students into the idea of multiple
voices and perspectives. I am not quite sure how best to deal with
her invocation of David Bartholomae's idea that there is no need to import
other cultures through the use of anthologies because multiple cultures
"are there, in the classroom, once the institution becomes willing to pay
attention" to particular student writing. At present, the anthologies
are a necessary, albeit insufficient, means of introducing contact zones
into the classroom.
In this essay, Mahala and Swilky explore the possibility that multiculturalism,
as it is being used in current composition studies, may actually promote
essentialist views by emphasizing the necessity to accommodate diversity
rather than how the differences have been historically created.
After deconstructing the theories of Spellmeyer and Bizzell on the grounds
that both fail to sufficiently critique the problems within and outside
the multicultural classroom, Mahala and Swilky come to the conclusion that
"teachers may seek common ground with students and with each other in our
study of difference, but such common ground" may not share much with the
world outside of academia; therefore, "it is more useful to look for common
ground that we, our students," and the outside world currently "share,
rather than in any hypothetical common good we might some day share" (204).
Though quite theoretical, Mahala and Swilky recognize that many instructors'
means of uniting with students may in fact be detrimental, thus they suggest
that "teachers might promote a struggle for a new consciousness by focusing
on the ways in which all of us identify with the dominate culture" and
how we accept or attempt to change the hegemony.
McCoy, Kate. "White Noise-The Sound of Epidemic: Reading/Writing
a Climate of Intelligibility around the 'Crisis' of Difference."
Studies in Education 10.3 (1997): 333-347.
Mahala and Swilky's work is significant in that it questions the standard
attempts to connect with our students in a multicultural classroom.
Quite interesting for my work is the consideration of how it would be possible
to connect the homogenous group's struggles with others. Though the relation
would not be exactly equivalent, there is indeed some
possibility in creating an association, an association that may not
be possible through simply reading and thinking about a multicultural text.
McCoy examines the possibilities within the "current explosion of discourses
representing cultural differences as a 'problem' of epidemic proportions"
(333). Grounded in a well-informed theoretical framework (Foucault,
Singer, Butler, Barthes, and Zizek), McCoy is obviously addressing a well-informed
audience. With this audience in mind, McCoy attempts to understand
multicultural education before then presenting her study on pre-service
teachers and ultimately her conclusions. She points out that multicultural
education is to address four major problems: (1) social realities; (2)psychosocial
attributes of students, their families, and their teachers; (3) schooling;
and (4) representation, but never really goes attempts to propose any solutions.
McCoy then describes the significance of "white noise," both representing
the media's significant role in promoting the "crisis" of difference as
well as the "noisiness of the postmodern condition" (337), the noisiness
of fragmentation. Her examination of white noise leads her to accept
the "staticky medium" as an atmosphere for her research on pre-service
teachers, the same medium in which she constructs poetry from the research
subjects' journals and final papers in order to understand how they analyzed
social worlds. McCoy doesn't offer any answers, but instead leaves
the reader with the indication that "pedagogical attention to issues of
representation" is a necessary means to open up possibilities for social
McLaren, Peter. Critical Pedagogy and Predatory Culture.
New York: Routledge, 1995.
McCoy's essay is both interesting and problematic. While I applaud
her research and her recognition of the crisis of multiculturalism, I am
not quite certain how her research date, presented in the form of poetry,
informs me. I admit that it realizes her goal of creating white noise,
an atmosphere of confusion and uncertainty, and perhaps that's enough.
[See particularly chapter 4, "White terror and Oppositional Agency:
Towards a Critical Multiculturalism," 117-144.]
McLaren's work illustrates that multiculturalism is "constructed and
engaged" in multiple ways (120). He defines four types of multiculturalism,
"conservative," "liberal," "left-liberal," and "critical" (119).
Conservative multiculturalism is the reflects views that are "embedded
in the self-serving, self-congratulatory and profoundly imperialist" (120)
attitudes of colonialism. Basically, this is the view that reflects
the idea of the white man's burden, to educate and improve the lesser being.
Liberal multiculturalism is, as might be suggested by the name, the opposite
of the conservative. Instead of indicating a belief in the separation
of races, liberal multiculturalism "argues that a natural equality exists"
among racial populations (124). McLaren defines left-liberal multiculturalism
as that which "emphasizes cultural difference" and that these differences
are important in defining who we are (124). McLaren's critical multiculturalism
is one that looks critically at how multiculturalism is constructed and
attempts to deconstruct the binary of sameness and difference that seems
to pervade thought on the issue of multiculturalism. McLaren's rather
theoretical would likely be interesting for anyone who wanted to do some
consideration of current issues in pedagogy, though it is not a pragmatic
work; however, Critical Pedagogy is important in the recognition that even
a term like multiculturalism is politically charged, and that the construction
of such a term is significant in understanding who it may somehow be oppressing.
Roy, Alice. "The Grammar and Rhetoric of Inclusion." College
English 57.2 (Feb. 1995): 182-95.
McLaren's work was indeed somewhat troubling, for it challenged my conception
of the term "multicultural." As I was researching this issue, it
never really once crossed my mind to consider the political ramifications
of this term, how it was constructed, or even who was using it and to what
ends. I suppose I fell into the trap of believing we are all working
toward a common goal, but such an assumption is dangerous, as McLaren's
work points out.
Roy offers a powerful examination of the power of language in this
essay. Sparked by the debate over which word, "inclusion" or "inclusivity,"
should be used in a faculty handbook, Roy's essay unveils how much is really
at stake in the relationship between power and language. It would be enough
that language is the "set of symbols" with which we "represent our experience
to ourselves and to others," but our language "also mediates that experience
for us" (186). In other words, language filters and shapes our understanding
of ourselves. The problem Roy contends with is the problem that SWE
ultimately serves to maintain a power dynamic, ultimately maintains the
status quo, ultimately maintains the oppression of minorities. English
moves from a broadly defined and accepting spectrum to an elitist form
of language. Though students may have a right to their own language,
what are the consequences of using it?
Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. "The Disuniting of America: Reflections
on a Multicultural Society." Campus Wars. Ed.
John Arthur and Amy Shapiro. San Francisco: Westview Press, 1995.
Roy's essay is of particular interest because of the reminder it affords
us about language--language is indeed power. It places us in a unique
situation in the homogenous classroom, whose language do we speak? If we
promote the standard our students will likely become indoctrinated with
it, which may be fine for them, but what are the consequences for the minorities
with whom our hegemony-indoctrined students will encounter?
Schlesinger's work assumes a different stance than many of the other
texts currently addressing the issue of multiculturalism. In fact,
Schlesinger's work seems to be an indictment of multiculturalists for the
crime of being "very often ethnocentric separatists who see little in the
Western heritage beyond Western Crimes" (232). Schlesinger's argument
seems to be directed toward scholars of Western Civilization, for he seems
extremely troubled by the fact that "students can graduate from 78 percent
of American colleges and universities without taking a course in the history
of Western civilization" (233). He has a point, understanding Western
civilization, the basis of our culture, is indeed important, and in order
to do this Schlesinger depicts the evil as the trend toward diversification,
having "black dorms, black student unions, black fraternities and sororities,"
etc., with more and more ethnic groups separating from the mainstream.
Schlesinger concludes his work with a vision of Western civilization, "the
ideal remains" and we are slowly working toward it (234).
Stockton, Sharon. "'Blacks vs. Browns': Questioning the White Ground."
English 57.2 (Feb. 1995): 166-81.
Schlesinger's work is important not in the fact that it says something
positive about multiculturalism, but instead because it takes an oppositional
stance. It would be tempting to attack Schlesinger for his perhaps
shortsighted view, but not only is it important to hear an oppositional
voice, but necessary to ensure that by promoting multiculturalism in a
monocultural classroom we are not in fact promoting separatist ideas.
Schlesinger's argument, that Western civ. needs to be taught, has merit;
after all, we should indeed understand the founding principles of our culture
in order to examine it and how it is working with our concept(s) of multiculturalism.
Stockton establishes the Western thoughts propensity to think in binary
oppositions in order to illustrate how students often "draw two thick lines"
when they attempt to criticize minority texts, one a line that divides
characters and themes, another that divides cultural values. It is
this second division that often leads her students to label one culture
or another "good" or "bad." In fact, this binary thinking ultimately
leads many of her students to qualify good as cultures that accept American
values, and bad as those with divergent ones. An instructor at Dickinson
College, Stockton indicates that the literature she teaches is approximately
half American ethnic minority. This is quiet interesting in light
of the fact that she admits "the student body here is approximately 95
percent white" (169). Though she may not have a multicultural classroom,
she is bringing multiculturalism into her monocultural class and offering
valuable insight to any teacher concerned with multiculturalism in the
classroom. This is significant in that it affords her an exceptionally
fresh perspective on multiculturalism, a perspective that argues that "we
need to strive for a pedagogy that does not teach students how to divide
the world 'objectively' into oppositional categories" without considering
the perspective that is dividing them.
In a situation similar to mine, Stockton is able to articulate the possibilities
of multiculturalism in monocultural classes. Her call for pedagogies
that work to allow our monocultural students to examine their own position(s)
before passing judgment on others is well received and beneficial.
Working to create an atmosphere of critical acceptance seems to offer the
best hope for bringing issues of multiculturalism into our monocultural
to main ENGL 320 page