Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation?
Open Forum Discussion Topic:
Does multicultural education promote cultural appreciation or cultural appropriation?
In classrooms across America, one can find items of cultural significance such as musical instruments or articles of clothing that are intended to represent the diversity of the people living in our country. However, one may question whether using items of cultural significance in the classroom as a teaching tool promotes cultural appreciation or cultural appropriation.
Cultural appropriation is defined as the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture. This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate and also profit from disadvantaged minority cultures.
Conversely, cultural appreciation is the act of seeking to understand and learn about another culture in an effort to broaden one's perspective and connect with others cross-culturally.
In the late 1960s, "activists, community leaders, and parents called for curricular reform and insisted on a reexamination of hiring practices. Both, they demanded, should be more consistent with the racial diversity in the country."(Gorski, 1999) The civil rights movement gave rise to what has been called multicultural education. Multicultural education seeks to represent previously marginalized groups in mainstream educational curricula. The goal is to help children from preschool through grade 12 to understand that other people have different customs, traditions, beliefs, and opinions than theirs.
The danger when implementing a multicultural curriculum is to address the concerns of marginalized citizens by simply adding token programs and special units on famous women or famous people of color. Or, to add token cultural items to the classroom without teaching children the cultural significance of the items.
We must seek to prepare students to competently participate in an increasingly diverse society. We must also seek to understand our own motives as educators when implementing multicultural or diversity education. Are we just checking an item off a list of things we have to do? Or are we helping our students become global citizens?