Multicultural education entered the spotlight in the early 1970s, following the civil rights movement's initiative for change in the education system. The goal was and continues to be to help students and teachers support, appreciate and understand cultural diversity. Students with a multicultural education are often better equipped to work in diverse classroom or workplace settings and have strong social awareness. Disadvantages include resentment and alienation when students and teachers don't have the training to facilitate multicultural, anti-bias classroom improvements.

Benefit: Equal Learning Opportunities

A multicultural education offers equal learning opportunities for students of all races and ethnic backgrounds. It encourages diversity by promoting respect and appreciation for cultural differences, and helps students recognize and combat social injustices, such as bias or prejudice. A multicultural education strives to eradicate stereotypes and encourages cooperation and equality, according to educators Louise Derman-Sparks and Patricia Ramsey in their book "What If All the Kids Are White?" With multicultural education, students develop strong identities based on their interests, abilities, family values and cultural background -- not the color of their skin.

Benefit: Skills for College, Workplace

Students gain a comprehensive understanding of history, culture and society, preparing them for heterogeneous college classrooms and a culturally diverse marketplace. Teachers who support multicultural education avoid textbooks that predominantly focus on white Anglo-Saxon identity, and opt for textbooks and supplementary materials that cover a wider range of cultures and historical backgrounds. This well-rounded approach produces students and workers who are knowledgeable, inclusive, community-oriented and compassionate, according to a book by Carolyn O'Grady, director of the Center for International and Cultural Education at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota.

Disadvantage: A Risk of Alienating Students

Without strong administrative support, an all-encompassing curriculum and school policies that support and encourage multicultural efforts, some students might feel alienated. Rather than gaining respect for their cultural differences and receiving opportunities to share and experience them, they might feel as though they're being forced to blend in -- like a giant melting pot. Others might resent changes in existing school traditions and revised academic requirements designed to promote multiculturalism, suggests Keith Wilson, dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

Disadvantage: Squeezing Out Other Lessons

Some educators must omit portions of their lessons or restructure them to accommodate a wider range of cultural and historical perspectives. Thus, their lessons are less robust and are more generalized. For example, a language arts teacher might only have time to discuss one of William Shakespeare's plays or one of Robert Frost's poems during the semester to make room for other literary works by authors from other countries, such as China, Germany, Mexico or France. Students might gain a broader knowledge base, but learn fewer details about specific content areas. In this example, a generalized approach might hurt a student who plans to major in English literature or become a high school or college English literature teacher.