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President’s Letter: Multicultural Counseling and Cultural Pluralism

By Karen Smith | January 2019

As we move away from responsive counseling services and move into the comprehensive delivery model (counselors delivering counseling curriculum school-wide), we find that educating our diverse student body on the culturally appropriate “soft skills” and collaborative skills necessary to be successful in the workplace of the future, is timely and effective career preparation.

Recently, I was asked what I would do if I could truly facilitate education reform. In our current political climate, we appear to have forgotten the lessons of preschool and kindergarten – manners, courtesy, kindness, living by the golden rule. My hope would be to have school counselors available to our children and youth at every level – elementary, middle and high school ­– and at the ASCA recommended ratios of 1:250. Being able to work with our future leaders at a very early age helps us as a society to teach and engrain those “soft skills” from the beginning of formal education. It allows us to help students develop grit and resilience, and the abilities to be culturally appropriate and to collaborate with others.

The term banking education was first used by Paulo Freire in his highly influential book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”
Freire describes this form of education as "fundamentally narrative (in) character" with the teacher as the subject (that is, the active participant) and the students as passive objects.

Freire also refers to a banking paradigm one that regards students as "adaptable, manageable beings. ... The more completely they accept the passive role imposed on them, the more than tend simply to adapt to the world as it is and to the fragmented view of reality deposited in them."

Globalization has changed our classrooms’ demographics over the past 30–40 years. We are no longer a largely homogenous classroom, but a vibrant compilation of students from all over the world, each eagerly seeking to learn and achieve. Regardless of whether a student has come to the United States because a parent has been transferred here, parents have sought political asylum, they are refugees, or they have come seeking a better life for their family, each student deserves to learn through creativity, practical application and analysis.

Daniel Pink, in “A Whole New Mind,” speaks of the next generation in business using soft skills to foster success. We can no longer rely on the traditional banking model of education to deliver our curriculum content. We do not need humans to do the accounting, to conduct the banking, to program the computers, to check you out at the grocery store – all of that can be done by machines. We need a workforce that can think critically, adapt quickly to the ever-changing global economy, and understand that not everyone in the world operates (moves and grooves), to the same drumbeat. Being able to accomplish a task collaboratively is the key, and we must teach that skill as part of our education framework and allow our students the opportunity to practice and refine the skill.

In an effort to define the term pluralistic setting, I read an article on cultural pluralism by Thomas C. Hogg and Marlin R. McComb: “Cultural pluralism and its attendant conflicts in America are increasing under the impact of industry; pluralism plus conflict appear to be part of the new quality of industrial, social, and cultural life. Thus, a condition which in eras only recently past was viewed as a strain in the social system now appears to be the system. The new adaptation is not a matter of choosing one of many cultures, it is to succeed with many cultures.

It went on to include recommendations for cultural adaptations for education and the three most imminent changes required:

First, in cultural terms, the school must provide each student with a set of relevant cultural experiences so that successful and meaningful cultural adaptations might be made. Failing this, the school is encouraging the range of social problems afflicting all culturally different youth dropping out of school, unemployment, deteriorated self- image, hostility toward authority, and withdrawal from social involvement.

Second, through consciously sought "cultural feedback," the school must restructure its organization and activities and attempt to become a center of community interaction.

Third and final, the school must go beyond just becoming a reflection of cultural diversity. It must participate in, and prepare youth for, a culturally pluralistic life and society; and such an educational strategy must become a major and clearly articulated set of goals in the educational process.

The article was written in 1969, but the message is ever so poignant today. It truly is a small world, after all.

Contact Karen G. Smith, MAed, MAEECD, CSCA president,