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A Multicultural Core Curriculum
Using the Internet to Direct Student Inquiry
into Latino and Community History

by Howard J. Shorr
Clackamas Community College
Oregon City, Oregon

I have always taught from a multicultural perspective. My first job out of college in 1973 was teaching U.S. history and government at San Gabriel Mission School in suburban Los Angeles. My students were all girls and most of them were Mexican American. I not only made the roles of women and Latinos a central part of my history and government courses, I initiated the first Chicano studies and women's studies courses at the school. Then in 1981, while teaching at Roosevelt High School in the Boyle Heights section of East Los Angeles, I inaugurated the first course on the history of the area, which had changed from a predominantly Jewish American and Japanese American neighborhood in the 1930s and 1940s to one that is more than 95 percent Latino today. These classes helped my students to better understand themselves and the role that their community had played in the history of Los Angeles and California, as well as in the wider context of American history and world events.

In the 1970s, including the roles of women, Latinos, and other ethnic and racial groups in an American history or government course was highly unusual. Today, educators need to embrace diversity in their classes. Multicultural education is now inseparable from the core curriculum. It is not a question of finding a way to relate diversity to the core materials -- it is the core curriculum. If an instructor is teaching the American Revolution, for instance, the roles of African Americans, Native Americans, women, and poor whites are as central to the subject as the roles played by wealthy white men.

At first, few resources for teaching a multicultural history curriculum were available. My students dug into old newspapers and magazines in local libraries and I arranged for people from the community to speak to my classes. Today, the Internet provides students with more content on a wider range of topics than ever before. Yet it's critical for educators to address how to make Internet use a rewarding learning experience for students. Using the Web in class not only provides students with new sources of information. It also provides them with a means to develop critical-thinking skills, encourage individual creativity, work as a group, and close the digital divide.

A Broader Perspective

Reading local, national, and international news sources online provides one way for students to understand current issues in diversity. Now that students can search the Web to find articles and newspaper stories about a topic, they can more easily see the national and international dimensions of the Latino presence in the United States. A paper covering a local story gives students a better idea of how people view events within their own community. Comparing local coverage to national or overseas coverage allows students to explore different perspectives on the issue. For instance, when the controversy surrounding Elian Gonzalez was unfolding, we could compare the way Florida papers covered the story with other coverage. This also led us to the history of the Cuban expatriate community in Miami, non-Cubans in Florida, federal policy, and how history and politics shaped reactions.

Students don't always know a lot about other ethnic or racial groups. Instead, students bring to class a "suitcase" full of stereotypes. For instance, students often perceive Latino issues as primarily relating to either the Chicano population in the Southwest and California or the Puerto Rican population of New York City. A search of national newspapers quickly shatters this stereotype for my students when they find stories in the Des Moines Register about the need for bilingual teachers in Iowa.

When students access online data from the 2000 census, they find more detailed information about the growth of Latino populations throughout the country. For instance, they read about the large growth of the Latino populations in certain southern states. The changing demographics of Latinos in the South are further revealed in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution story about racial tensions between Latinos and African Americans in Georgia. This leads us to explore the history of race relations in the South, which is usually talked about in terms of African Americans and whites, and how the growing Latino population is affecting interracial and interethnic relations.

A Part of History

For topics such as race relations, population shifts, gender roles, and economic class to have any meaning for students today, they have to understand them in historical terms. Most history surveys discuss Mexican Americans in terms of the Mexican-American War, the Zoot Suit Riot, and the United Farm Workers. Other Latinos, such as Puerto Ricans and Cubans, are still largely left out of the story. But the Internet now helps fill those gaps with good information about many Latino groups. Directing student inquiry into the roles that Latinos played in American history not only provides a way to cover important areas of the curriculum, it begins to correct the ways in which Latinos have been marginalized in many history textbooks.

When I teach immigration in American history, I teach it as a diversity issue. Immigration is covered in U.S. history textbooks mostly in terms of the African slave trade and the European immigrant experience. Other points of entry for other immigrant groups are not dealt with as thoroughly. It's important for students to understand that Latinos were in North America before the Pilgrims and that their history is not new. We need to reshape our teaching of immigration as an important part of national history.

Exploring why Latinos frequently are excluded from history books, mass media, and politics leads students to important information literacy skills. They begin to question who is telling the story and what their motives are. These higher-thinking skills are valuable for evaluating information on the Web, as well as in newspapers, textbooks, and other media. Students' self-confidence and feelings of empowerment increase along with their degree of information literacy.

Using diverse ethnic histories and as many resources as possible -- including the Internet -- incorporates multiple perspectives into history. This approach also breaks down stereotypes and builds a new sense of community and pride among Latino students. It can even have an impact outside the classroom. In 1999, as a result of creating my Roosevelt High course, I was asked to serve as a historical advisor to an exhibition about the history of Boyle Heights at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. It has been gratifying working with the museum staff, and now people will see the range of cultures that have left their mark on this ethnically diverse neighborhood.

For many students, learning about their history and culture had a positive effect on their lives. A former student who is now a director of a non-profit in New York City that helps single parents with their children recently wrote to me. "You introduced us/me to a different world and gave us an opportunity to critically think about our world," she said. "I still remember so many details about your government class after all these years."

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1982, Colombian author Gabriel García Marquez said, "Our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable." I think for teachers and students, one means is the Internet.

About the author: Howard J. Shorr lectures on diversity, teaching methods, Latinos, and community history at universities and public schools. He served on the American Historical Association U.S. History National History Standards Committee. He is currently the Contributing Web editor for and teaches at Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, Oregon. Howard J. Shorr can be reached at

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This article was previously published in The Cable in the Classroom Magazine (Hispanic Heritage Month Issue) September 2002 and is re-published here with permission.

Published in In Motion Magazine December 1, 2002

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