Multicultural education a necessity, professor says

April 17, 1994|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

Public schools cannot pay lip service to multicultural education these days, an authority on the subject told a group of Maryland educators yesterday.

Dr. Geneva Gay, professor of education at the University of Washington, who has extensive experience teaching and writing about cultural diversity in schools, said that improving the teaching of varied cultures is a necessity in America these days, not a choice. No one can escape ethnic diversity, she said during the first in what is expected to become an annual meeting of state educators on multiculturalism.

"If you don't believe me, look at the labels on your clothes," Dr. Gay said during the session at Catonsville Community College. "Look under the hood of your car. We're multiethnic in practically everything we do. Schools can no longer afford to ignore it. We're all citizens of the world.

"It's not enough to say, 'Here it is, you all come if you want to.' If teachers won't become really involved, send them away," she added.

The State Department of Education ordered its school systems last fall to implement curricula and programs that would develop knowledge and understanding of all cultural groups.

"Maryland is to be commended for its aggressive attitude," Dr. Gay said. "There cannot be excellent schools without a multicultural curriculum, because if children are not at peace with their ethnic background, they won't be successful students."

Dr. Gay said educators fail to make the connection between poor grades and an educational program that doesn't recognize differences in people.

"Why do children of color continue to fail in school?" she asked. "Because they haven't been taught to be comfortable in school.

"If you want your test scores up, get real busy on multiethnic education," she said. "It's just another form of teaching constructive citizenship."

Dr. Gay suggested that school systems could raise the level of multicultural teaching by providing financial incentives, awards and scholarship funds to those who excel in it. "Build the image, package it, disseminate it and create ideas for its teaching," she said.

State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said in introductory remarks that a multicultural education prepares students for successful living.

"Our political and economic welfare depend on the education of our children, and this is part of it," she said. "Too many reach college and don't know how to live in a diverse society.

"We have to understand the lifestyles and contributions of other ethnic groups, because prejudice continues," she said.

The new regulations deal with race, gender, religion, age and disability. They include the teaching of ethnic history, contributions and points of conflict, and address racism, sexism and prejudice.

The Department of Education will assess annually the progress of multicultural programs in each school system.

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