Multiculturalism in Special Education: Perspectives of Minority Children in Urban Schools

Multiculturalism in Special Education: Perspectives of Minority Children in Urban Schools

Zandile P. Nkabinde (New Jersey City University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0897-7.ch020
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The goal of this chapter is to explore multicultural education in the context of special education. Multicultural education as an effective intervention in urban schools is discussed. Obiakor (2007) describes this era as that of accountability where schools are challenged to leave no child behind, which makes schools more responsive to students' needs including those with special needs who are linguistically and culturally diverse. In addition, Gay (2002) defines culturally responsive teaching as using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning more appropriate and effective for them; it teaches to and through the strengths of these students.
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This chapter was conceived with a purpose to contribute on the debate about multiculturalism and special education. The discussion explores how these overlapping spheres of influence affect minority children in urban schools. Many educators acknowledge that teachers need to be able to work well with minority students who have special needs and their families in urban settings in order to ensure that their cultural background is used to support, rather than impede their progress in education (Tepper, Tepper, 2004). The concept of multicultural education and special education when combined with terms like minority children and urban schooling usually carries negative connotations. This brings to mind academic underachievement, helplessness related to race, culture, class, and urban decay. Minority students with special needs in urban schools have triple-layered problems: that of being culturally different, linguistically different and having special needs. Diaz (2001) argued that disability itself, when framed through the lens of special education, tends to be equated with deficiency. Having these odds stacked against them presents challenges for teachers and demands creative ways to help minimize these negative forces.

Multicultural Education Defined

Haberman and Post (1998) define multicultural education as follows:

Multicultural education is a process built on respect and appreciation of cultural diversity. Central to this process is gaining understanding of the cultures of the world and incorporating these insights into all areas of the curriculum and school life with a particular emphasis on those cultures represented in our school community. Growing from these insights is a respect for all cultures and commitment to creating equitable relationships between men and women, among people of different ethnic backgrounds, and for all categories of people. Viewed in this manner multicultural education builds respect, self-esteem, and appreciation of others and provides students with the tool for building a just and equitable society (p. 98).

Banks (1994) defines multicultural education as an education for freedom that is essential in today’s ethnically polarized and troubled world. Education according to Banks (1994) should not alienate students from their home and community cultures. However, it should also not confine them by their cultural boundaries.

Special Education Defined

Smith and Tyler (2010) defined special education as a specially designed instruction to meet the individuals’ unique needs. It is characterized by individualized services for students with disabilities. The key component to the services provided to students with disabilities and their families is free appropriate education provided in the least restrictive environment.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Multicultural Education: Incorporates the cultures of all students into instruction.

Underrepresentation: Insufficient presence of students from a diverse group in a special education category; a smaller number than would be predicted by their proportion in the population.

Overrepresentation: Too many students from a diverse group participating in a special education category, beyond the level expected from their proportion in the population.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): The special education law originally passed in 1975 to guarantee a free appropriate public education for all students with disabilities.

Culturally Diverse: Being from a cultural group that is not Eurocentric or mainstream America.

Language Disorder: Difficulty or inability to master the various systems or rules in language, which interferes with communication.

Culturally Competent: Knowing and understanding the cultural standards of diverse communities.

Cross-Cultural Dissonance: A mismatch of home and school cultures.

Cultural Mismatch: When there are incompatibilities between the home culture and the school culture. For example, in the African tradition one is expected to put his/her head down and not look at the teacher while she/he talks to him/her. In the Western culture eye contact is the norm when being addressed.

Linguistically Diverse: Having a native language other than English.

Disproportionate Representation: Unequal proportion of group membership; over or underrepresentation.

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