Contextualizing Multicultural Visions from the Foot of the Mountain - Part I
My favorite painting is “Starry Night” by Vincent Van Gogh. The swirling stars in the
dark sky remind me of camping while sitting high atop a mountain I just climbed and looking
down at the small quiet village that was big and loud when I began my quest. To me it represents accomplishment, challenge, solitude, and quiet. The image calms me when I am stressed, relaxes me when I am tense, and comforts me when I am forlorn. While I have spent quite a bit of time looking at and admiring this painting, there are people who feel fear, anxiety, and discomfort when they look at it. It is the same work of art, but different life experiences bring different perspectives to the same piece.
If you view it from a distance and only look at it briefly, you miss out on what makes the
image whole. You do not see the green tucked in the night sky between the blues, whites, and
yellows. You do not see the blob of yellow near the church that looks like a face. You do not see
the purple in the rolling hills. You do not see the many shades of brown and hints of green of the dark formation in the foreground. You do not see the tiniest little speck of red in the background that could be a creature, a shadow, or something else entirely. You do not see the chunks of paint and the hard strokes that created the starry night sky. If you do not see how many things are connected to create one composition, your vision may be skewed.
The social and institutionalized inequities that plague our nation must be viewed compositely, like this painting, in order to understand the impact. Choosing not to or being unable to see (whether conscious or unconscious) the many components that create systems of inequity that overwhelmingly place people of color at a disadvantage only perpetuates the inequity. Systemic racism, institutional racism, the school to prison pipeline, for-profit prisons, poverty, segregated housing practices and policies, and unfair policing are examples of the many interconnected pieces that contribute to composing the picture of the United States we see today.
Together they comprise a kind of societal composition, somewhat like Starry Night is a
composite art form. The school year in which I undertook this research journey opened with protests in Ferguson, Missouri and closed with protests in Baltimore, Maryland. From my vantage point #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, and #BlackSpring were always on the horizon and inevitable because I see how police brutality and the policing system are connected to many other factors that perpetuate the racist foundations of the United States. Many may say that the protests were due to isolated incidents of police brutality where young Black men were not seen as victims of a tragic act, but demonized to look as though they somehow deserved to die. They do not see a Black teen walking home. They do not see a Black man breaking up a fight. They do not see a Black child playing alone in the park. They do not see a scared Black father. They do not see a Black student out for the evening. They do not see valuable people of color who make the United States a pluralistic society. Their vision is skewed because they see isolate parts or incidents instead of composite wholes. They try to see the complexity of the “mountain” by looking at it from the foot when comprehending its magnitude requires perceptions from the summit. Others, including critical race theorists, conclude that recent acts of racial brutality are just a spark and the true fuel is the systemic racism that runs through institutions across the United States, including education. Being a White woman in the education system makes it challenging to express and show why teaching through multicultural education is important in predominantly White settings because many White teachers choose not to “see” racism and Whiteness, or they do not know how to do so. While at the same time it seems like an obvious way to transform the racist underpinnings and paint the pedagogical canvas anew.
The portrait of racism in the United States runs deep, is perpetuated by Whiteness, and is at the core of the American way. Like the little speck of red, or the shades of brown, or hints of green in “Starry Night” this research study focused on one small piece of the larger picture of education in the U.S. to see if and how perpetuation of the status quo is being disrupted in predominantly White elementary school settings through the implementation of multicultural education. Multicultural education is not only for diverse classrooms. It is also necessary for White students in predominantly White neighborhoods where the purpose of schooling is to provide the best education possible, stay on top, and perpetuate the status quo. Many of these children grow up to become the economic and political leaders, policy makers, employers, and executives of U.S. society. If White students are taught by teachers well versed in multicultural education and culturally responsive teaching they may then enter their post-education careers with better knowledge of and attitudes about the struggles of oppressed populations and the privileges of their own population. They may become political leaders and policy makers who work to reallocate power and privilege among ethnically diverse groups. They may become employers and executives with a developed self- and social-consciousness
who analyze critical
sociopolitical issues and events, and promote actions to combat racism and other forms of
oppression. In order to contribute to dismantling disproportional privilege and institutional
systems of racism, this study sought to answer the question, How do White female teachers
interpret and implement multicultural education in predominantly White public elementary
school settings? This question is especially worthy of study because of the segregation that
creates predominantly White neighborhoods in the U.S.
**This is part one of a six-part series to be continued throughout the Summer of 2016**