4. Approaches to Multicultural Curriculum

In the late 90's, James A. Bank began to develop research around what he called "Multicultural Curriculum Reform". The idea of reforming curriculum and instruction to include multiple perspectives was, in Bank's mind, not a binary choice. Rather it is a continuum structured into four approaches.  

The Contributions Approach

This approach reflects the least amount of involvement in multicultural education approaches.  This is incorporated by selecting books and activities that celebrate holidays, heroes, and special events from various cultures.  For example, spending time reading about Dr. Martin Luther King in January is a common practice that falls into this category.  In this approach, culturally diverse books and issues are not specified as part of the curriculum (Banks, 1999).  

The Additive Approach

In this approach content, concepts, themes, and perspectives are added to the curriculum without changing its basic structure.  This involves incorporating literature by and about people from diverse cultures into the mainstream curriculum without changing the curriculum.  For example, examining the perspective of a Native American about Thanksgiving would be adding cultural diversity to the traditional view of Thanksgiving.  Examining different cultural foods during a nutrition unit, or identifying different cultural contributions to health education. 

The Transformation Approach

This approach actually changes the structure of the curriculum and encourages students to view concepts, issues, themes, and problems from several ethnic perspectives and points of view.  For example, a unit on Thanksgiving would become an entire unit exploring cultural conflict.  This type of instruction involves critical thinking and involves a consideration of diversity as a basic premise (Banks, 1999). This transformative  perspective in health education might be examining how culture influences perception and realities regarding violence, relationships, power and control, or conflict resolution. It might examine how communication may differ from a variety of perspectives. 

The Social Action Approach

This approach combines the transformation approach with activities to strive for social change.  Students are not only instructed to understand and question social issues, but to also do something about important about it.  For example, after participating in a unit about recent immigrants to North America, students may write letters to senators, Congress, and newspaper editors to express their opinions about new policies (Banks, 1999). In health education a social action approach could revolve around community safety, violence prevention,  food scarcity (food deserts). Ultimately this social action approach uses advocacy skills to create change. Student centered learning strategies are one way to encourage social action in health education.

Click here to read a bit more about Banks work. 

Reflective Questions

  1. What connects can you make between Banks' work and how  you teach health education?
  2. Think about a health class or unit you are teaching this year.  Do you currently implement any of the four approaches listed above?
  3.  If your answer is "Yes" to Question 2: which of the four approaches are you applying? How did you come the decision to integrate that approach? How does it improve the learning experience for all students?
  4. If you answer is "No" to Question 2: which of the four approaches could you possibly integrate? What resources and supports would you need? How could the addition improve the learning experience for all students?