Multicultural education usually arises from a concern that schools prepare young people for constructive public participation as citizens in a diverse society that is struggling with equity issues. Conventional multicultural education, which I will critique, tends to assume a liberal conception of citizenship that is based on individualism and a simplistic analysis of how power works. I will argue that the growing reach of neoliberalism requires reframing multicultural education and citizenship education. Neoliberalism can be understood as a ‘restoration of elite power’ in which increased privatization and market competition is eroding a sense of the public, linking education more firmly to the needs of large corporations, and facilitating the flow of wealth and power to a small global elite. Multicultural education conceptualized as a political project of social justice that embraces a diverse public, and that links local with global struggles for equity and human rights, offers a potential counter-narrative to neoliberal education, and a rich framework for considering citizenship.
The task of preparing students as citizens in diverse societies is complex, particularly under neoliberalism. Yet, it is necessary for strengthening participatory democracy and giving substance to ideals of equity and justice. As educators, we have a choice: We can, by default, prepare young people to accept the status quo, or we can dive into the complicated and messy business of educating for multicultural citizenship. I believe that the latter is not only important, but infinitely more interesting.