One concern some experts in multicultural education have is the proper training of teachers and the availability of resources that truly reflect the diversity that can be found in every discipline.
Dr. Patricia Payne, director of Indianapolis Public Schools’ Office of Racial Equity, said even in more urban districts like IPS and Anderson Community Schools, the majority of teachers are white and have a different life experience from those they teach.
Even worse, there are extremely few minority teachers in the pipeline, she said. But that is no guarantee of effective teaching because they receive their training from and in the same places as their white colleagues, she added.
“The schools are just a microcosm of society,” she said.
However, Payne said, sometimes no amount of training is a guarantee teachers will do right by their minority students by respecting their backgrounds and elevating performance expectations.
“If their mindset isn’t right, it doesn’t matter what is placed in their hands,” she said.
Payne, one of the first directors of multicultural education in the nation, said in 1987 she created IPS’s first black history curriculum guide for high schools and had enough printed to put into the hands of every teacher and administrator.
“A lot of them we’re still getting back were never unwrapped; they are still in the cellophane,” she said. “I sometimes wonder what all this work is about, but you can’t stop it because it might change the mind of one person.”
Payne, who offers monthly training and information for teachers from any district that would like to participate, advocates the use of supplementary books like James Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” to help students develop a more well-rounded view of history and other disciplines.
She also advocates the use of materials and resources beyond textbooks, which have yet to become as multicultural and inclusive as they could be.
“I go to people who are living the experience,” she said. “You have got to go to people who are living the materials to check out the experience. We’re just used to doing food, fashion and festivals. It has to go further than that.”
Like Payne, Monica Medina, clinical associate professor at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis School of Education, is concerned about how the courses will be executed.
“It particularly concerns me when we have teachers who aren’t trained to teach that,” she said.
And like Payne, Medina would like to see some depth to the course.
“We want to investigate ethnicity from an exotic perspective. We want to investigate it from an anthropological perspective,” she lamented. “It’s good to have cultural self-awareness, it’s good to know the history, but what is the significance in how we live today?”
Medina teaches a course called Diversity and Learning to pre-service teachers so they can understand the complexities of multicultural education.
“They also do a deep analysis of themselves and the privileges they bring to the field,” she said.