Human Rights, Multiculturalism in Medical Practice.

Human rights are firmly, legally entrenched worldwide (Ayton-Shenker, 1995). There is no cultural excuse for non-fulfillment (Ayton-Shenker, 1995).

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Plato spoke of the ideal chair (Vlach, n.d.). There is the ideal chair, perhaps floating in heaven somewhere, then there is one’s concept of it. Then there is the actual product of the craftsman’s hands. The human concept of the chair falls short of the ideal. And, ask any craftsman: the actual product falls far short of the mental concept.


Human rights. A concept? This cherished concept, this longed for reality is only achievable with multicultural awareness, and social action.


The state of multicultural education (MTE) falls far short of the ideal. Spend some time examining the distorted, flawed lens that separates us from reality. Read some of the resources below. You may come to see a new reality, a new perspective on privilege, life in society, life in the classroom. Many start to look at everything differently, from what is defined as good, or work, or bad or fun, to the larger issues of race and culture. Take a peek into what life is like for “others” (for a look at “others” see Gorski, 2008), and get an appreciation for a glass ceiling that for many is invisible, to a few is just perceptible, and for others is as opaque as granite.


Do some reading, and open your eyes. The problem then is, of course, how to internalize all this. Many of us have no framework to hang this stuff onto. How does one maintain a new perspective won with so much difficulty? Will it all fade when we look up from our books, when we’re surrounded with our usual environment? Will you have fall back into the same ruts, making assumptions without realizing it?


We are  clinical teachers. We don’t teach history, or art appreciation, or English. How can one transform clinical teaching into a more multiculturally balanced entity? Doing this is standing up for human rights. But how do we do this? My students, graduated physicians, see my patients. Topics for discussion are generated from patient problems.


One way to do this is to drop the colourblind (Singleton & Linton, 2006) pretense. There is knowing that one should do this, and actually doing it. Playing the colourblind card is denying my students, and my patients, their heritage, their culture (Singleton & Linton, 2006). My students have been WASP, Chinese, Dutch, Congolese, Korean, Emirati, you name it. I have not yet, in the busyness of the clinical day, asked any how race has affected her learning, her acceptance as a health professional, her life in Canada. I have missed many such opportunities in my career as a teacher. That question could have helped them. Could have helped me. Could have helped my patients.


I hereby resolve to drop the colourblind pretense, and acknowledge race. And culture, and the richness of the human experience. It will only bring my society, and my own personal life more texture, and colour.


Another way to do this is to acknowledge the factor of race and culture in my interaction with my patients. It has never entered the conversation, despite there being many opportunities, and perhaps the need to do so. Again, the colourblind issue.


Confrontation has never been my strong suit. As a young lad, I just stood up, and people backed down. There’s an advantage to being over 6’4”! But there’s also a disadvantage: I’ve rarely had to open my mouth to challenge someone. Or, perhaps I’ve just conveniently said nothing.


I hereby pledge to open my mouth, and perhaps start some “courageous conversations” (Singleton & Linton) in my own social circle.


How does one keep this alive? How does one remain cognizant of that distorted lens floating in front of our eyes? Do you stand for human rights, or just talk? Do it by acting. By doing. By living one’s life differently.


That is the way to incorporate what you study into your teaching. By living our lives, differently.


Accurately, clearly.




Ayton-Shenker, D. (1995). The challenge of human rights and cultural diversity. United Nations background note. [pdf] Retrieved from


Gorski, P.C. (2008). What we’re teaching teachers: An analysis of multicultural teacher education courses. [pdf]. Retrieved from


Singleton, G.E.& Linton, C. (2006). Courageous conversations about race: A field guide for achieving equity in schools. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.


Vlach, M. (n.d.) Plato’s theory of forms. Theological studies. Retrieved from:

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