Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version



Published in C. S. Clauss-Ehlers (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Cross-Cultural School Psychology. Norwell, MA: Springer, 2010.


Copyright © 2010 Springer Verlag. Used by permission.


North American society is becoming increasingly diverse through immigration and the birth of children into immigrant families. The foreign-born population in the United States (U.S.) represented 11.1% of the total population in the year 2000, for a total of 31.1 million people who were born outside of the country. In addition, over 22 million people in the U.S. changed their state of residence between 1995 and 2000. In Canada, 18.4% of the total population, for a total of 5.4 million people, were born outside the country, and 11.2% of the population identified themselves as members of a visible minority group.

Accordingly, the number of immigrant and minority children in North America has increased significantly. More specifically, the number of immigrant children between the ages of 5 and 20 in the U.S. grew from 3.5 to 8.6 million from 1970 to 1995. Currently one in 15 children of school age was born outside of the U.S., and one in seven speaks a language other than English at home. Of the 1.8 million immigrants who arrived in Canada from 1991 to 2001, 310,000 were between the ages of 5 and 16.

Not surprisingly, multiculturalism has been identified as the key educational issue of the epoch. The increasing numbers of immigrant and minority students have changed the educational landscape of North American schools such that addressing issues pertaining to multicultural education have become critical for teachers, administrators, and curriculum policy makers as they work to meet the educational and social needs of this diverse student population. The role of schooling in shaping the development of children as future citizens of a culturally-diverse society cannot be underestimated. Not only is the academic performance of this population at stake but so too is their social development as contributing members of society. In many ways, schools may be seen as representing mini-societies in that what children learn in school will shape their sense of how they see society functioning as adults. A democratic school environment where children feel challenged as learners and valued as individuals, where their cultures are acknowledged in positive ways, and where they feel that they may contribute positively to their school environment helps to shape their sense of society as democratic. In fact, some researchers state that if schools are not democratic, the society in which they function cannot be democratic either. Statements such as these attest to the extent to which a society is greatly affected by the schooling experienced by children of that society. Given the role of schooling in shaping students as future citizens, the importance of what occurs in schools is obvious.