Banks and Multicultural Education

James Banks’ Contribution

Since the 1960s, the content of educational curricula has been expanded with the integration of cultural and ethnic content. The importance of this integration is explained by the suggestion that multicultural education can have a great impact on society when students in classrooms receive the appropriate level of education. James A. Banks is considered the pioneer of multicultural education, which, in his opinion, combined three important aspects: a concept, a movement of educational reform, and a process. Importantly, all of these aspects are meant to incorporate the idea that all students despite their status, gender, cultural, or racial components must have equal opportunities to receive education at schools (Banks & Banks, 2010). Nevertheless, the way in which schools are structured causes some students to have worse chances to learn at schools because they belong to underserved groups with different characteristics of a culture.

In order to push the ideas of multiculturalism at transforming the existing school structure, Banks created five dimensions pertaining to multicultural education. These include: “content integration, the knowledge construction process, prejudice reduction, and equity pedagogy, and empowering school culture and social structure” (Banks, 1993, p. 5). Content integration deals with the degree to which educators use information, examples, and data from different groups and cultures for illustrating principles, concepts, and theories learned in classrooms (“Multicultural education: Goals and dimensions,” 2012). Knowledge construction implies the process of helping students understand and investigate various cultural assumptions as well as “frames of reference” within the disciplines that they are learning (Banks & Tucker, 1998, p. 1).

The third dimension, equity pedagogy, is meant to change the way in which teachers educate their students to ensure that children from diverse cultural and racial groups as well as both genders achieve at schools. Prejudice reduction is the fourth dimension developed by Banks (1993) and describes various characteristics of students’ racial strategies and attitudes employed for establishing democratic values within the classroom. Lastly, empowering school culture is that which can restructure itself so that students from diverse backgrounds can experience equality and cultural empowerment (Cummins, 1986).

In the process of reforming the multicultural curriculum, James Banks proposed to implement four approaches: the contributions approach, the additive approach, the transformation approach, and the social action approach. The contributions approach is the most commonly used in classrooms. It implies the inclusion and addition of ethnic heroes into the curriculum without compromising the basic structure and characteristics of the mainstream curriculum. The ethnic additive approach goes beyond the inclusion of cultural heroes and is associated with the inclusion of themes, concepts, and perspectives pertinent to ethnic content. Importantly, similar to the contributions approach, the process should not change the basic purpose of the curriculum (Banks, 2015).

The transformative approach to reforming the multicultural curriculum is fundamentally different from the two approaches mentioned previously. It is concerned with changing the main assumptions and characteristics of the curriculum and encourages students to look at various themes, concepts, ideas, and so on from multiple ethnic perspectives. Rather than adding information about ethic heroes or cultural concepts, the transformative approach enables an infusion of “various perspectives, frames of reference, and content from various groups that will extend students’ understanding of the nature, development, and the complexity of U.S. society” (Banks, 2015, p. 38).

It is possible to connect Banks’ transformative approach to curriculum reformation to the transformative theory of learning developed by Mezirow. This theory of adult learning proposes to use disorienting dilemmas for challenging the thinking of students who are encouraged to employ their critical thinking and questioning for considering whether any assumptions and beliefs they have are accurate. Within the process of challenging learners, perspective transformation takes place through the manifestation of three dimensions: behavioral, psychological, and convictional (Khabanyane, Maimane, & Ramabenyane, 2014). The behavioral dimension of perspective transformation implies any changes in lifestyle, conventional transformation deals with the revision of belief systems while psychological transformation implies any changes in self-understanding. Therefore, the transformative approach can imply not only changes in the curriculum but also prompt the reconsideration of students’ own beliefs and attitudes.

The final approach, which is associated with decision-making and social action, is a combination of the transformational elements with components that make it possible for students to make decisions in regard to problems, issues, and concepts that they have studied in the classroom. Therefore, social issues are viewed from the perspective of actions that can be implemented for resolving them. Overall, the contribution of Banks into multicultural learning is vast and diverse since it implies the mixing and blending of different approaches and theories to challenge the status quo and to develop the learning environment in which all students regardless of their background, status, race, and gender can feel equally secure in their opportunities to acquire new knowledge.

Applications, Benefits, and Limitations

As the global society is becoming more complex in terms of social conditions, demographics, political and economic circumstances, the need for multicultural education has grown exponentially (Gay, 2011). The cases of successful implementation of multicultural education principles have been reported in numerous research articles, pointing out that even such fields as STEM require enhancement through the application of multicultural perspectives (Hinnant-Crawford, 2016). Banks’ multicultural model has shown to be applied in multiple contexts, from nursing to counseling due to the wide range of concepts and topics that can be further explored.

For instance, Bagnardi, Bryant, and Colin (2009) reported the success of applying Banks’ multicultural model into the nursing curriculum. It was done for bridging the gaps between the need and the desire to educate nursing students about diversity and the lack of experience of educators in this area. The five dimensions of multicultural education developed by Banks were built upon each other throughout the semester to ensure the multicultural development of students in the nursing field. Merlin (2017) reported the application of the five dimensions of multicultural education in the context of school counselors’ practice. Despite the rapid cultural and social advancement of society, it was identified that both students and school counselors lacked the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to effectively function within a multicultural context (Banks & Banks, 2010). Such issues as bias, racism, and bigotry are regular occurrences in US schools, which points to the need for creating a safe and nurturing environment in which students of all backgrounds will be valued and accepted (Hassan, 2016). Improving race relations in schools is not only a matter of eliminating negative attitudes but also a vehicle for achieving high levels of multicultural competence (Banks, 2006).

Therefore, the application of Banks’ multicultural models in different educational settings prompts the discussion about the underlying issues of bias and prejudice that may exist. The benefits of the scholar’s approach toward transforming the mainstream curriculum are vast and range depending on the extent to which teachers and students understand the need for creating a culturally conscious environment. Banks (1994) proposed to reconsider the way curriculum is approached; without the complete restructuring of existing processes, it is possible to integrate new content that will help students understand the value of multicultural education and be effective in functioning within the diverse environment.

In terms of limitations, it can be suggested that multicultural education is greatly limited by the lack of teachers’ and students’ knowledge on how to implement appropriate practices successfully (Banks & Banks, 2010). The adverse effect of racial segregation and prejudice can still be traced in modern educational settings, which limits the scope of implementing reforms that could have enhanced the learning process and made the community aware of the need to make significant changes (Badger, 2017). When it comes to teaching in multicultural classrooms, the variance in ethnic, social, and linguistic backgrounds can be challenging for both students and their teachers. For instance, the language barrier can be limiting because teaching is based on meaningful communication, and when either students or teachers lack the vocabulary to express themselves, the learning will be ineffective. Apart from language barriers, cultural behaviors also play a role in effective communication between students and teachers. For instance, people from some cultures may be raised to be indirect or submissive, which, in educational settings, can prevent them from writing persuasive argumentative essays or participating in debates.


One of the most prominent pieces of criticism pertaining to multicultural education is that the latter “presupposes crude and ill-defined concepts of culture, and of the processes of cultural transmission” (James, 2010, p. 225). This type of criticism is linked to the suggestion that each culture has a complex set of features, belief systems, attitudes, and norms, all of which contribute in their own ways. Therefore, cultures are not homogenous and the doctrines, beliefs, and behavioral codes cannot be passed easily from one group to another (James, 2010). The second bulk of criticisms of multicultural education refers to the idea that the latter was developed for the children of ethnic minorities to be subsumed with the supposedly dominant white, middle-class, and Christian culture as effortlessly and as quickly as possible (Jones, 1998).

In responding to this kind of criticism, Banks may suggest that the purpose of multicultural education is not to create one homogenous culture in which all values, beliefs, and norms combine into one. Rather, multicultural education implies the integration of information on important cultural landmarks to create better connections and create equal opportunities for learning. In addition, Banks (2013) may also mention the factors that influenced the conception of multicultural education in the very beginning: it was the revolution of the Civil Rights Movement that prompted the strive for equal educational rights and not the assimilation of cultures. The racial turmoil and tension that existed in the American society prior to the movement adversely influenced the sphere of education, limiting children from diverse backgrounds from getting the appropriate level of knowledge they need for future life. Because of this, it was necessary to develop strategies for improving the educational environment.


Badger, E. (2017). How Redlining’s racist effects lasted for decades. The New York Times. Web.

Bagnardi, M., Bryant, L., & Colin, J. (2009). Banks multicultural model: A framework for integrating multiculturalism into nursing curricula. Journal of Professional Nursing, 25(4), 234-239.

Banks, J. A. (1993a). Multicultural education: Historical development, dimensions, and practice. Review of Research in Education, 19(1), 3-49.

Banks, J. A. (1994). Transforming the mainstream curriculum. Educational Leadership, 51(8), 4-8.

Banks, J. A. (2006). Improving race relations in schools: From theory and research to practice. Journal of Social Issues, 62(3), 607-614.

Banks, J. A. (2013). The construction and historical development of multicultural education, 1962-2012. Theory into Practice, 52(1), 73-82.

Banks, J. A. (2015). Approaches to multicultural curriculum reform. School Staff, Family, and Community Development, 1(2), 35-37.

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Cummins, J. (1986). Empowering minority students: A framework for intervention. Harvard Educational Review, 56, 18-36.

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Hinnant-Crawford, B. N. (2016). Increasing access: The application of multicultural education to STEM. Journal of Multicultural Education, 10(3), 250-256.

James, A. (2010). What’s wrong with multicultural education? Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 10(2), 225-232.

Jones, R. (1998). Multicultural education is dead. Web.

Khabanyane, K. E., Maimane, J. R., & Ramabenyane, M. J. (2014). A critical reflection on transformative learning as experienced by student-teachers during school-based learning. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 5(27), 452-459.

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