Although the educational system in America has largely been associated with the idea of assimilation, one can see the beginnings of a desire for multiculturalism in the history of American education. One can look, for example, at the work of Jane Addams, the co-founder of Hull House. This establishment catered to European immigrants and offered many social, educational and artistic programs. Although Hull House was tasked with assimilating these immigrants, it did provide a forum in which these immigrants could share their unique multicultural perspectives.
Catherine Beecher, another educational pioneer, also helped to pave the way for multiculturalism in the American classroom. She was a staunch advocate of women’s right to education and even believed that women should be responsible for teaching the youth of America. Beecher’s emphasis on including more women in the educational system encouraged Americans to be more inclusive about education, and this focus on inclusion helped to foster an educational field that would eventually welcome multiculturalism. Also, the work of Paulo Freie, a Brazilian educator, has had profound impacts on the inclusion of multiculturalism in education.
In his book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire attempted to identify and break down the power structures that had so long enabled those who were rich in his country to levy their power over the poor. He argued that education should be about forming dialogue and that normal relationships between teacher and student should be replaced with more equal relationships. Forcing people to reexamine the nature of education, its purpose and the inherent power structures within it, actually helped to pave the way for the inclusion of multiculturalism in American education.