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From U.S. Centered Multiculturalism To
Global Intercultural Educational Equality:
The Role of Reforms and Autonomy

Part 3
Multiculturalism or Critical Multiculturalism

by Roberto Flores
Los Angeles, California

  • Part 1 - School as a Perpetrator of Poverty, Oppression and Inequality
  • Part 2 - Where Does Power Come From?
  • (Links to Footnotes,and References open a new browser window for easy reference.)
Multiculturalism or Critical Multiculturalism

…And so the people, through resistance, are beginning to develop our political, economic, social, ideological and cultural life.
Because we are starting, collectively, to develop our programs in health, in education, in marketing and in the organization of our autonomous authorities.
Only in that way, through resistance, will the people be able to begin exercising their rights to autonomy, where the people will begin thinking, organizing themselves and deciding how they want to live and govern themselves, without the politicians intervening in the life of the peoples.
…Through resistance we are going to defend our rights to autonomy and to free self-determination.
Through resistance we are going to defend our lands, natural riches, culture and our ways and methods of government, our autonomy.
Because autonomy is a fundamental part for the indigenous peoples, because, with autonomy, we have the right to think, to decide, to organize ourselves and to govern ourselves as peoples, according to our way of understanding, according to our knowledge of life and the world, according to our culture as peoples.
The Indian peoples of Mexico and of all America have known, with intelligence and wisdom, how to organize themselves, govern themselves and manage their own destiny, and in that way they have been able to develop their political, economic, social and cultural life.
That is why autonomy is a right, which all native peoples of every country should have, so that they can live with liberty, with rights, with equality and justice, like all human beings.
That is why we zapatistas are claiming, demanding and exercising that entire right to autonomy and to free self-determination for all the Indian peoples of Mexico and of the world.
No one should take that right away, because taking autonomy away from a people is taking away the right to life, to creativity, to organization and to development.
Without autonomy, the life of the peoples would be subjugation, domination, humiliation and death.
That is why, with the weapon of autonomy in one hand and the weapon of resistance in the other, we are calling on the campesinos of Mexico and of the entire world. It is a call already made many years ago by General Emiliano Zapata, who said that the land belongs to he who works it.
The land which we work is ours, it is not the banks', nor does it belong to those who sell fertilizers and insecticides and who promote genetically modified crops.
The land does not belong to he who sees it as merchandise, sells it and buys it, destroys it and kills it.
The land belongs to us, the campesinos and the indigenous, and we should take it in our hands and make it produce for us, not for a handful of idlers who don't even know the color of the land.

Palabras del Comandante David
Comite Clandestino Indigena Revolucionario
EZLN Septiembre 2003Spoken at the WTO Demonstration Cancun, Mexico


James Banks’ research came on the heels of a militant ground swell of discontent from all corners of U.S. society in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Powerful militant sectors of the civil rights movements such as the Black Militant Movement, which identified more with Malcolm X and the more militant King, the Chicano Movement, parts of the labor movement, the national liberation movements, the Women’s Movement the Native American Movements and the Pan Asian movement in particular, demanded their rights. These movements together with the anti-Vietnam war movement signaled a critical mass rejection of many of the ideals and societal goals that were encased in the modernity paradigm. Their call was not only to reform the system but to change the inner nature of a racist and imperialist system. Some of the more militant factions were in fact calling for the overthrow of the system and its replacement by a socialist government (Zinn,2003; Sleeter, in press). This question of autonomy or an independent grassroots movement is nothing new, it is an old strategy and has been proven effective. Because of its effectiveness, the system’s discourse is one that distorts that reality and proposes that civil society instead give up it independence to work with the system to improve it (Zinn, 2003).

One of the common aims of these powerful grassroots movements was for basic educational rights and to control the values and perspective of the educational system. Under tremendous pressure, the entire system reacted with prolific amounts of legislative reforms, which included curricular changes at the elementary grade levels, some multicultural pilot teacher training initiatives and ethnic studies programs at the higher education level. One important piece of legislation was the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, which actually supported a general movement for community control that included community control of the educational system (Beck & Murphy, 1995).(33)

I was an 18-year-old student at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) in 1966 and was part of the steering committee that organized to form the first statewide Chicano student organization, United Mexican American Students (UMAS). The historic conference took place at LMU’s (Loyola Marymount University) St. Robert’s Auditorium in 1967. I was also part of the efforts to establish a teacher-training program and a training program for teacher aids. I was so involved in developing ethnic study programs and classes throughout Ventura County that immediately after graduation I was offered a teaching position at Cal State University at Northridge (then San Fernando Valley State College).

I recall that although many of us Chicanos supported other nationality struggles and worked closely with the Black Panthers both on and off campus, our primary efforts were for bilingual bicultural educational rights for Chicanos. The development of educational reforms came piecemeal from the different nationalities and tended to have a bi-lateral characteristic in dichotomous settings, i.e., Black-White, Chicano-White, Asian-White. Although all the movements were natural allies, they tended to also be competitive, a characteristic highlighted by nationalist tending individuals and groups. I taught a Field Studies in the Barrio class and by the time I was 22, I became Director of Chicano Student Services, a counseling/tutorial center that provided academic support for Chicano Students. At that point, the system was able and willing to absorb and cushion the blow of discontent and marginalization but closely monitored it and limited its effectiveness.

For the state, the purpose for educational reforms was obviously to appease the anger and suffocate the militancy and to attempt to reform capitalism to perpetuate its viability and existence. Proof of this is that while on the one hand reforms were generously handed out in the educational area, COINTELPRO, the Counter Intelligence Program, carefully plotted the dismantling and destruction of the sources of some of the sharpest counter-hegemonic discourse and critical-thinking organizations such as the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, The Young Lords, the Red Guard, and either contaminated the movement with drugs or outright killed and jailed much of its leadership (Zinn 1988).

Regardless, these militant movements created a critical mass of consciousness and conscious people that were prepared to go into the schools but had few specific materials and tools. Waves of immigrants particularly from Latin America and Asia added to the changing demographics that in turn demanded a broader perspective. Bussing poor children into predominately white neighborhoods added to the pressure to develop a multicultural curriculum. By the 1980’s, many of the intellectuals that landed university jobs took on the question and the interaction produced a second wave of literature that now addressed the question of education from a multifaceted and multiethnic angle. James Banks is one of the early pioneers of this literature. Carl Grant, Christine Sleeter, Geneva Gay, and Sonia Nieto followed shortly after providing more scholarship “developing new, deeper frameworks that were grounded in the ideal of equal educational opportunity” (Gorski, 1999).

Today multicultural educational theory is being reinforced by suggestions to include critical theory and critical race theory and antiracist education and I would add global equality theory as additional lenses through which to evaluate and continue evolving multicultural education (Sleeter, in press draft).(34)

James Banks stands out as one of the most consistent and prolific leaders in the development of multicultural theoretical framework. Banks dedication to the development of multiculturalism has contributed to the struggle for equality and educational democracy. From his writing one gets the message that he is the change that he is proposing. Banks is inclusive and open.

James Banks’ 5 Dimensions

Banks’ research on the activity and response of educators to an unjust and racist system culminated in the development of five dimensions of Multiculturalism. The following is a brief summary of those dimensions excerpted from Multiethnic Education: Theory and Practice by James A. Banks (1994).

First Dimension -- Content Integration

The initial response to the demand for multicultural inclusion was to integrate the histories and cultures of marginalized people into the curriculum. Banks admits that this was initial and insufficient and in the main provided content for some of the social science teachers.

Second Dimension -- Knowledge Construction

Knowledge Construction consists of a method of deconstruction or analysis of assumptions and values of the people who constructed the curriculum. This is particularly helpful for teachers who have assigned textbooks that have a euro-centric perspective.

Third Dimension -- Equity Pedagogy

Equity Pedagogy enables children from diverse racial groups and both genders to achieve. Equity has to do with the physics teacher not so much adding content about women physicists and African American physicists, but rather the physics teacher changing the way she teaches physics, for example, so that girls and African Americans can learn physics.

Fourth Dimension -- Prejudice Reduction

All teachers can be involved [in prejudice reduction] [b]ecause all teachers –whether you teach math or physics or social studies—should work to reduce prejudice in the classroom…[R]esearch indicates that adolescent prejudice is very real, and something that I think all teachers should be sensitive to.

Fifth Dimension -- Empowering school culture and social structure

Empowering schools expands out from the individual to the entire school culture to see how to make it more equitable. For example, grouping and labeling practices, disproportionality in achievement, who participate in sports, in the interaction of the school staff. What does the staff look like racially?

Banks’ research on multicultural education is both seminal and current. Banks’ approach reminds one of Friere in its grassroots connection and highly developed philosophical underpinnings. The approach recommended to Multicultural Education is both general but also flexible enough to allow for specific adjustment to the particular context of application. Many of Banks cohorts such as Grant and Sleeter have how-to websites with many curriculum examples, lesson plans and ideas. Banks’ approach reminds one of Freire in that it has as one of its main pillars a caring or love for humanity. I consider Banks an honest researcher who sets a moral tone as Banks himself makes epistemological disclosures of his own positionality as a researcher and points out the role of subjectivity. Banks’ further development of the typology of cross-cultural researcher is important in pinpointing social positionality and the subjective lens of the researcher. Banks’ work on the stages of ethnic development is an important attempt to include a psychology of liberation by the oppressed. Other typologies, such as the typology of knowledge are important in not only understanding the way that the industrialized North, in particular, has compartmentalized society but also is important in defining what is transformative knowledge (Banks, 1994).

Banks has also taken to heart a collective approach to research through the establishment of the Center for the Study of Multicultural Education. Scholars such as Sleeter, Grant, Sonia Nieto, and other are collaborating scholars are at this institute.

Important to me is that Banks has an open mind and doesn’t see the evolutionary expansion of the initial culture and race base to different interpretations of what “creating a new society” means. Banks, Sleeter, Grant and some of the second wave of scholars have not written much on the impact of corporate globalization and the possibilities of “reconstruct[ing] the society” (Ladson-Billings, 1998, p. 22 cited in Sleeter, 200). However, Sleeter’s contribution in the soon to be published Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education, 2nd Edition (October 2003) indicates that the Center is not interested in defending initial levels of understanding of what is multiculturalism but instead welcome all criticism to expand and reach new levels of research, understanding and pedagogy. The inclusion of critical pedagogues such as Giroux, McLaren, Mayo, Critical Race Theorists and Anti-Race Theory intellectuals and others into the dialogue firmly roots multicultural theory within the historic struggle for social justice mentioned earlier (Sleeter, in press).

In general although multiculturalism comes from struggle for greater democracy and liberation I would agree that it needs to reaffirm its roots in that tradition and transcend it (Sleeter in press; McLaren, cited in Sleeter in press). Being from the civil rights and militant national movements tradition of the 60’s does not guarantee it a present liberatory stance or role. Similar to the bilingual bicultural movement of Mexico, multiculturalism in the U.S. runs the risk of straying from its roots and taking off in a reactionary divergence. Suffice it to say that the bilingual and bicultural promotores of Chiapas were responsible for the formation of several death squads and linked to the Acteal massacre in of the Zapatista community in Poloh in December of 1997 (Flores unpublished, on-line; Pineda, 1994)

Critique of Banks

There are three main areas of multicultural theory associated with James Banks that would benefit from critical pedagogy and they are (1) On the lack of critical pedagogy analysis on the ability to reform within globalization, (2) On the relative relationship between creation activity within autonomous spaces and struggle within the mainstream and the over-reliance on the formal classroom work (3) On Banks’ limited and reformist definition of transformative education as mainly reform through system changing activities.

Emphasis on Classroom and on Formal Education

Most of what Banks addresses (and his specialty) has been on what a teacher can control within the context of a classroom within a formal educational setting. In Educating Citizens in a Multicultural Society (1997) Banks reiterates the mantra expressing his consistent aims:

Multicultural education is an education for freedom in three important senses: (1) It enables students to freely affirm their ethnic, racial, and cultural identities; (2) it provides students with the freedom to function beyond their ethnic and cultural boundaries; and (3) it helps students to develop the commitment and skills needed to participate in personal, social, and civic action that will make our nation and world more democratic and free (Banks, 1991-1992).

From the Banks’ research and writings one gets the distinct sense that 1 and 2 are privileges in that this is where Banks research concentrates. Although Banks does give legitimacy to popular knowledge and culture (1997), what is most developed is what can occur in the classroom. As such, there exists no independent aspect -- no informal or non-formal educational approach. In the U.S. the formal educational aspect is very developed and there is little emphasis on the non-formal (oral histories) informal song and poetry, or movement, or church, workshops, social gatherings -- Fandangos. The formal and the non-formal learning areas are spheres that Banks doesn’t emphasize.

Stromquist and Apple (2003, 1999) point out that the neoliberal and neoconservative market agenda exists in competition to the welfare state and that for a long time public entities like the educational system have been under scrutiny and accused of failing. Stromquist and Apple (2003; 1999) bring out that the market mechanism most characteristic of its approach is “efficiency” and “competitiveness.” As a reaction to this threat the public sphere is marketizing its approach to education in order to ward off the threat of privatization. Just recently, the House of Representative passed the first Federal Legislation allowing provision for a federally-funded voucher program in Washington DC. This is an indicator of a growing trend that privileges privatization and the ongoing dismantling of the public school system.(35) There is research that indicates that globalization although decentralizing educational systems has increased its ability to centralize the grand discourse (Hanson 2000; Stromquist 2003, Apple1999) so that through globalization teachers have less ability to autonomy within the formal educational system.

Emphasis on Classroom and School Reform

Sleeter (2002) points out that there is benefit to be gained from utilizing critical theory as a lens of multicultural education. I would add that the popularization to the approach of education would also open up the possibilities for multicultural education. In Chiapas for instance, the autonomous non-formal formal process is the primary activity. As mentioned in Part II, immediately after the uprising, the Zapatistas closed down their schools to evaluate and assess what they felt was damaging and negative about the government’s official school and what they would like to keep. The autonomous setting allowed them that opportunity. In one of the last reports (July 2003) Marcos mentions that now that a group of bilingual teachers working inside the system have taken up the methods and curricular program developed by the autonomous Educational Regional Committee. The main point is that for the Zapatistas the primary area of activity, the strategic focus is the development and protection of the liberated zones where they can feely develop a new educational system. The informal liberated zones are primary and the focus of the Zapatistas’ attention. The Autonomous Regional Educational Commission is the legitimate and main educational body.(36) The official or formal school system is secondary and not the primary concern of the Zapatista Autonomous Communities yet ironically more is being done in the formal precisely because more is being developed and created in the unofficial and informal spaces. With Banks as with many other folks the formal and the “official” and the formal is a sacred cow to be shared by all.

My Story as an Example of the Relationship
between the Formal and Informal

In 1972, I was in Teacher Core in Salinas working on a teaching credential and a Masters in Bilingual Bicultural Education out of the University of California at Santa Cruz, Extension. I was assigned to do my teaching training at Alisal High School in northeast Salinas. The Salinas School Board was for at least the previous 100 years controlled by ranchers or big agri-business that had since this period utilized immigrant workers and their families as a source of cheap labor farm hands.(37) In late 1971, a strike broke out that involved strawberry immigrant and migrant workers -- mostly Mexican. This particular strike was for union recognition and the particular union was the United Farmworkers of America and involved entire families including students that I happened to have in my class. In late December of 1971, and early January of 1972, ranchers decided that they would evict the striking workers from the rancher-owned farmhand homes.

Several years before, Salinas School District had entered into an agreement with the University of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC) Extension to host teacher training for the Teacher Core Program, which aimed to train teachers in Bilingual and Bicultural Education.

On the initiative of the UCSC Teacher Core Committee and as an essential part of the agreement, a group of parents and community activists were to set up their own independent committee to form a tri-partite governing board that would oversee the Teacher Core Program as equal partners. The main methodology was Bilingual and Bicultural Community Based Education which required major input and participation of the parent-community committee.

In November of 1972, an intern (I) was fired for insubordination because I refused to send a student back to the main campus from a community-based teaching site and for refusing to divulge information concerning a student who had thrown a fire-cracker on campus. It was a matter of trust. Although this behavior deserved attention and perhaps some kind of sanction, it was known that this would be used to expel this student who was on all otherwise terms making a connection with our type of education. The student was someone that the school Alisal High School Administration categorized as a trouble maker and was trying to get rid of. I and the rest of the interns had as part of their community-based education been actively involved and constantly supported the striking families and their children. We had integrated in history, civic, English and literature courses as much as we could about the relationship between workers and ranchers in the Salinas Valley. This was not appreciated by the Salinas School District and the program and its interns had already been put on check. The School Board’s alertness in turn heightened and intensified the role of the community committee which consistently defended the interns and their overall work. Out of necessity to act as an independent force on this and other educational issues, the community committee then further developed its independence by developing a parallel structure which they named La Mesa Directiva Educativa del Valle de Salinas (The Salinas Valley Educational Board of Directors).

This Mesa Directiva was run as the legitimate Board of Directors of the community concerning all educational issues. The parents and activists involved in this Mesa had by this time become experts in educational matters and developed proposals and initiated other independent educational programs.

One of the goals of La Mesa was to have representation on the “official” school board. Because of their dedication and expertise and supported by a redistricting case won by litigant Joaquin Avila that mandated sub-district elections, La Mesa was in time able to replace the ranchers. The Mesa Directiva soon became the training ground for many who from that base ran for the “official“ school board. Thus, the “official” school board became the main location of innovative development and La Mesa Directiva was eventually replaced and abandoned. Soon after this abandonment, the critical ethos and values and the connection with the grassroots was weakened and at times severed from the community. Candidates became career politicians that crossed-over from serving with the School Board to City Council and to the Board of Supervisors etc.

Lessons from the Salinas Experience

Although the initial need for an independent grassroots parallel structure was recognized it was not understood that this base needed to be a main and permanent base. The official system’s ethos and framework enveloped the School Board and limited what the Salinas community could do. This is a negative example but an extremely important learning experience. My contention is that had the Mesa Directiva resisted the lure of what appears to be the source of power at the top it would have had an autonomous space from which it could have continued to be critical and creative. Ironically, had this type of community base prioritizing occurred, the school board would have become a sharp weapon for introducing counter hegemonic and homogenizing dictates and an effective protection of the main community base component. Banks’ approach and associated theories and theoriolettes are silent on in-formal and non-formal education. Banks entire approach privileges the formal institution which on the whole is under the control of the state.

One of the roles of critical theory is to deconstruct the myth of the primacy of “official and formal education.” My initial hunch is that the belief that “change” initiates in the official system and its subsequent privileging has to do with the fact that teachers do this for pay or salary; for wages. Getting paid directly by someone other than the parents of the children one is teaching would seem to contribute to a disconnect. The accountability of a teacher is to whom is cutting the check. In the public school system it is the public that is paying but there is a conceptual misconnection that allows those given the public’s trust to administer its taxes not to be accountable. So that one of the pressures seems to come from the fact that teachers’ salaries comes from government; the same government one is defying. Privileging seems to be further perpetuated by credentialing and degrees which give the formal system disproportionate legitimacy and privilege. But we all know of cases of teachers that are highly credentialed that don’t know how nor want to teach. There are also many people who are not credentialed who deeply respect and care for children and their differences. Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent (1988) makes a direct connection between the degree legitimating process and the amount of corruption involved in manufacturing silence and apology.

Definition of Transformative Education Needs to Expand: Need for Critical Multiculturalism

Formal school-based transformation, while necessary and positive, needs to expand out to an overall community project and local community projects need to be connected to an overall global movement for the creation of another world. Globalized corporativism has presented to us the opportunity to connect, to globalize cooperation (Walters, 2000). McLaren (1995, cited in Sleeter) recommends that multiculturalism be referred (as an important area of research and pedagogy) as “critical multiculturalism” to emphasize that “justice is not evenly distributed and cannot be so without a radical and profound change in social structures and in terms of a development of historical agency and a praxis of possibilities” (p. 13). Banks (1997,1994) recognizes interconnection and dialectics between action critical praxis and multicultural education but the connection is not developed, nor does it point out the primacy of the type of critical multicultural pedagogy that calls for the creation of a new and independent system parallel to the current one.

One of the questions in the balance from Banks multiculturalism is: Equal education to whom? Equal to U.S. middle class? What are we asking for when we ask for inclusion and an open society? and Inclusion to what? …Inclusion to a society that has for sometime been using up to 20% of the world’s resources? Globalization has uncovered and made glaringly obvious the interconnections between people throughout the world.

Transformative education has to be not only global in the sense of looking at the ethnic based contribution but to the bottom. The excluded and marginalized bottom of the South may be oil workers in Venezuela or indigenous in Chiapas or it could be immigrant workers in Los Angeles. It is not necessarily ethnic based nor class based but usually a combination of both. Similar to white privilege there is a phenomenon that I call American privilege. Banks is silent on that question but seems to be open to the inclusion of both critical theory as a way of examining multicultural education Theory to address that.


Banks’ lack of connection to the global setting and the role of the U.S. can lead to a separation of the goal for internal educational equality and the goal for global equality and what Walters calls global cooperation (2000). The question would then be; “Can we develop an educational experience that calls for equality at home and global equality simultaneously.” Ultimately Banks’ transformative approach is in reference to local school transformation or system changing activity that fall within the reform framework. Banks does call for different models of power but does not call for an overall global transformation. This is a major deficit in a context where the U.S. is the lone superpower with the most influence in the supra-structures affecting the globe. Banks does not contextualize the U.S. within the current economic globalization project and its impact on social justice curriculum. Banks’ U.S. multicultural pedagogy is ultimately not (at this point) within the agenda of global social justice and is not within the present political economic realities of the U.S.

  • Part 1 - School as a Perpetrator of Poverty, Oppression and Inequality
  • Part 2 - Where Does Power Come From?
  • (Links to Footnotes,and References open a new browser window for easy reference.)

Published in In Motion Magazine October 16, 2003.