In general, multicultural education has been perceived as a useful strategy in promoting racial tolerance and sensitivity toward the history and culture of ethnically diverse groups. In the USA, it has been adopted in a growing number of educational institutions and school districts as a solution to racial antagonism and minority underachievement in schooling. Unfortunately, critical curriculum theorists and educators have largely ignored developments in multicultural education. This essay evaluates the viability of the core ideological assumptions and desired outcomes of three different types of multicultural approaches to racial inequality. These three approaches are the following; (a) cultural understanding—the idea central to many ethnic studies programmes that students and teachers should be more sensitive to ethnic differences in the classroom; (b) cultural competence—the insistence in bilingual and bicultural education programmes that students and teachers should be able to demonstrate competence in the language and culture of groups outside their own ethnic affiliation; and (c) cultural emancipation—the somewhat more social constructionist thesis that the incorporation or inclusion of minority culture in the school curriculum has the potential to positively influence minority achievement and consequently life chances beyond the school. McCarthy argues that the subtle differences among these three policy-oriented multicultural approaches have important political and ideological implications for race relations reform in education and society.
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