Cultural education is an important part of preparing youth to thrive in a global world. Today's youth have greater opportunities for interactions with people from different cultural backgrounds and world views than previous generations have had. These opportunities might be seen as obstacles to effective interaction and learning if youth are not equipped with the cultural abilities to bridge these differences and reap the tremendous value rooted in intercultural interactions.
The nonformal learning environments found in many youth programs are ideal places to nurture this cultural learning. Unbound by the rules and expectations faced by schools, they have the potential to be relaxed enough so that youth feel comfortable sharing personal experiences and challenging their own and others' thinking.
Here are four commonly used cultural education approaches; each has a distinct purpose and role in fostering cultural education and puts forth a unique form of critical pedagogy. The application of each approach often results in an overlap or blend of purposes, which you will notice in the following examples.
Which approach or combination of approaches suits your philosophy of youth development and way of designing youth programs?
The main goal of this approach is to reform schools, institutions, and organizations so that individuals from diverse backgrounds experience educational equity. Examples include Canada's multicultural education policies, the Northstar STEM Alliance, geared to broaden the participation of underrepresented student minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and a Youth Work Institute training designed to teach youth workers how to build inclusive youth programs.
Multicultural education addresses both equity and oppression and aims to create change on individual and institutional levels. To learn more about multicultural education, start with some literature by James A. Banks.
This approach aims to resolve injustice by identifying issues, removing social barriers, emancipating individuals and groups, and creating social change. Examples include the Peace Jam movement, an international organization designed to help young people become social change agents, led by youth and with an affiliate in north Minneapolis.
Like multicultural education, this approach addresses equity and oppression and seeks deep change of multiple levels. However, it places greater emphasis on the change that occurs within individuals and therefore can be a very personal experience. For more on the social justice approach to cultural education, explore Paulo Freire's work.
Intercultural educationIntercultural education focuses on building and strengthening cultural interactions among people. It could be in the form of cultural immersion summer camp, cultural simulation activities like the underground railroad or Star Power, or intercultural communication training or courses. It is highly experiential and focuses on what connects people - their communication and relationships. In this way, cultural understanding is possible through shared cultural experiences with others.
This approach aims to teach learners to nimbly do the frame shifting needed in intercultural contexts. In it, they examine their assumptions and begin to understand how their thinking impacts their interactions with others. Like intercultural education, it reinforces human relationships but is also interested in developing independent and critically thinking leaders that are able to see their and others' worlds through a global lens. Some examples of this approach include a curriculum designed to show youth how to participate and lead in a global society that I wrote with Jessica Russo and Ali Hurtado called WeConnect.
Others include the Global Youth Leaders Conference, and the International 4-H Exchange Program, which provides opportunities for youth to implement action plans upon their return. For more information on international education, read some of Joseph Mestenhauser's work.
How have you incorporated cultural education into your youth work practice, teaching or research?
Jennifer Skuza, Extension professor and program leader