Literature Review - Multicultural Definitions

In understanding the barriers to multicultural training we must understand the multicultural environment in itself. Investigation into the current academic and professional literature on the multicultural environments currently would appear to trend into the direction of two key research areas, communication and management. There is a limited supply of research into the effect of cross-cultural or multi-cultural learning and what is there is for immigrants and youth orientated learning.

Culture itself has many definitions. A basic definition of the term would be a historically transmitted system of symbols, meanings and norms (Guirdham, 1999). Whilst Kendall and Wickham explain culture in the following way:

Refers to the way of life of a group, including the meanings, the transmissions communication and alteration of those meanings (Kendall and Wickham, 2001).

Guirdham gives us a definition that is very broad in its scope and view, Kendall and Wickham can be seen to describe for us that culture is not an abstract entity but rather as a basic part of our everyday social interactions. This gives us a more tangible definition and understanding of the term in itself. Kendall and Wickham also go forward to describe how that culture is one of the names given to the different ways people go about ordering the world. Initially the term culture can be hard to lay down with a strict definition but from the similarities between these definitions we see that it can be an outline for understanding an individual’s personal experiences in life.

So in understanding culture as a definition, it has been explained as the realm of symbol and meanings (Berger, 1991). This is to say it is a collection of signs, symbols and meaning and we can therefore describe multicultural settings as a scenario where these elements may vary between all the participants. Newspapers have been used as an example of culture as a system of symbolic representation. They are not only different in terms of how and what news is reported, but also in terms of the papers values, standards, approaches to social and so on (McQuail, 2000).

Although the general consensus towards multiculturalism in education is about bringing in people together and appreciating the individualism of all participants it has been argued on occasion that prevalent forms of multicultural education are separatist and divisive in nature, irrational, inequitable, and can cause conflict (Peariso, 2010). Peariso goes on to say that “a unifying brand of multicultural education is offered as an alternative which builds on commonalities, can alleviate conflict, fosters academic achievement for all students, and is built on Christian principles” however. This is to say that Peariso does not assume to say Multiculturalism does not work but rather that it is not always effective in how it is currently applied. Peariso found in prior research that when teachers endeavour to learn about culture in the company of diverse colleagues, minority races and ethnicities were assumed to be cultural experts. This in turn he believes limits the ability of those involved to communicate naturally and inhibits the overall group learning experience, it is claimed in critical race theory that the only way to end this discrimination in the educational setting, is to dispute and displace the prevalent culture. So to truly have a multicultural environment there must not be a singular culture used as a base or starting place for all to explain their own culture around.

Further research describes being culturally competent as frequently discussing at length and with consistency how to engage, educate, understand and lead multicultural populations (Johnson, 2010). Johnson begins by realising multiculturalism can mean different things to different people, yet to develop our understanding of it there must be a commonality of how we approach and talk about it. In the research Johnson claims that, multicultural educators and the professionals trained to teach diversity would face these same challenges in creating consensus by trying to define what multicultural education means in a learning environment. Johnson for her research takes a singular definition to use for the discussion, an excerpt from the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME):

Cultural Competence 4 Multicultural education is a philosophical concept built on the ideals of freedom, justice, equality, equity, and human dignity. Multicultural education is a process that means to ensure the highest levels of academic achievement for all students while developing a positive self- concept from knowledge about the histories, cultures, and contributions of diverse groups for their responsibilities in an interdependent world (NAME, 2003).

Further on Johnson also references Hanley who claims that multicultural education has the capacity to address the educational needs of a society that continues to struggle with the realization it is not monocultural in any aspect (Hanley, 1999). This can be perceived to contrast quite strongly with the definition from NAME and it is a much more pessimistic view of multiculturalism. NAME sees multiculturalism as an endeavour and development, whilst Hanley interprets multiculturalism as something that people have already failed at and needs to be improved.

In the study of multiculturalism, cultural competencies are an important view of how the teacher’s skills are perceived in relation to multicultural learning. Cultural competencies relate to the characteristics currently perceived as being necessary for a teacher to manage in a multicultural environment. These characteristics can include awareness, knowledge, and skills (Leighton, 2010). Leighton’s study goes to say that as the diversity of students within school populations continues to grow, so does the need for teachers to provide cultural competence in their programming. The importance of cultural competence for the teachers is ever increasing as an essential part in the delivery of information. This study is one of the closest found to relate to the teachers perspective on how they manage in a multicultural environment. However the stand point of the research is to address the necessary skills for the teacher to have to facilitate the class’s multicultural nature, without taking into account the need to accommodate to the teachers perspective. The view of, if the skills are present there should be no barriers to the trainer, seems to be a predominant theme in the literature, but this involves an assumption that the skills are the only barrier to the training for the person delivering it. The research recognises the limitations however as even though Leighton managed to survey 120 teachers she says “the results are limited by the participant’s responses” and goes on to say Future research could use more advanced sub-categories to focus on the particular type and duration of cultural competency workshops. This relates to the plan of our research to focus on a smaller target audience with particular attention to the answers of the interviewee.