• by Frank Gonzales, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • October 1996 • 

Ethnic pluralism is a reality. Populations of people of color – Hispanic, Asian, African American and Native American – are increasing in numbers more quickly than are people of European American ancestry who are frequently classified as White.

The 1990 census verified that the White population increased at a rate of 2 percent during the previous decade while African Americans had an increase of 13.2 percent; Hispanics, 53 percent; Asians, 107.8 percent; and Native Americans, 37.9 percent over the same time period (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1990).

By the year 2000, 54 major cities will have minority­majority populations (US Bureau of the Census 1991). By the year 2020, nearly half of school­age children in the United States will be people of color (Banks, 1991).

But even after 30 years of equal rights efforts under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, more minority students than White students drop out of school, score lower on tests and do not participate in the school process.

School reform must include the total environment that affects the diverse student population. This environment includes curricula, instructional resources, school policies, hiring practices and district climate.


In a multicultural learning environment, the curriculum should reflect all of its students and faculty. When particular groups feel excluded or victimized, conflicts, tensions and power struggles ensue. Even when the learning environment is not multicultural, it is important that the curriculum accurately describes the contributions of all groups of people. Such transformations in curriculum will better prepare all students for living and working in a multicultural world.

Instructional Resources

Students must have available resource materials that provide accurate information on the diverse aspects of the histories and cultures of various racial, ethnic and cultural groups. Learning centers and libraries should contain a variety of resources on the literature, music, folklore, history, life ways and arts of racial, ethnic and cultural groups.

School Policy

This diversity should also be reflected in assembly programs, cafeteria menus, extra­curricular activities and decor within hallways classrooms and offices. Instead of insisting on one set of behaviors that is unmeaningful or unfair to many students, school policies should recognize individual and ethnic group differences. For example, customs that affect Jewish students” school attendance on certain religious days or food preferences should be respected.

Hiring Practices

A school’s staff should reflect the ethnic and cultural diversity of the school district. Teachers, administrators, cafeteria workers, custodians, secretaries and counselors can contribute to multicultural environments as significantly as can the curriculum or materials. Students learn important lessons about ethnic and cultural diversity by observing interactions among racial, ethnic, cultural and gender groups in the school. Often actions speak louder than words when districts do not make an effort to recruit members of racial and ethnic groups.

Multicultural education supports the notion of e pluribus unum – out of many, one. To build a successful and inclusive nation­state, the hopes, dreams and experiences of the many groups within it must be reflected in the structure of its education system. School reform must consider the diversity of the student population in order to create a system where all groups are included.


Banks, James A. Curriculum Guidelines of Multicultural Education (National Council for the Social Studies B Task Force, 1991).

Texas Education Agency (TEA). Snapshot “95 (Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency, 1995).

US Bureau of the Census (Washington, D.C.: US Bureau of the Census, 1990).

US Bureau of the Census (Washington, DC: US Bureau of the Census, 1991).

Frank Gonzales, Ph.D., was a senior education associate in the IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be sent via e-mail to feedback@idra.org.

[©1996, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the October 1996 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]