Multicultural Education: Definition & Approaches

Instructor: Mary Firestone
Find out what multicultural education is, and the different approaches to the multicultural classroom. Read the lesson, and then take quiz to test your new knowledge.


Multicultural education is an educational philosophy that focuses on celebrating cultural differences while also recognizing the importance of challenging all forms of discrimination based on race, gender, age, religion, ability or sexual orientation.

Approaches to Multicultural Education

Dr. James A. Banks, educator and author of over 20 books on multicultural education, has identified four approaches that teachers can use for integrating multiculturalism into their curriculum. The approaches are described below:


Teachers using this approach provide examples of the relevant contributions and heroic accomplishments of people from different races and cultures, without changing the lesson plan or goals of the unit being taught. For example, in a science unit students could learn of the contributions of scientists from different countries or American ethnicities.


This approach requires adding cultural realities that traditionally are left out of a curriculum that focuses on a traditional holiday like Independence Day or Thanksgiving. Providing stories about how Native Americans were involved in the first Thanksgiving celebration would be one way to add a multicultural element. The Additive approach does not change the overall curriculum.


The transformation approach seeks to change the attitudes about cultural differences by using a different curriculum, one that encourages students to view problems and concepts from the perspective of different cultures. For example, if students were studying the American Indian wars, they would consider the views of the settlers, soldiers and also the native peoples.

Social Action

The social action approach uses the concepts from the transformation curriculum and takes it a step further, where students take action for social change. After acquiring the necessary knowledge about something in their community that needs change, students get involved in activities that may effect that change, such as writing letters to senators or taking the time to reach out and befriend students of different races or ethnic backgrounds.

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