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Cultural Diversity In Educatio Essay, Research Paper
Since early American history, schools, like society, have addressed cultural diversity in
different ways. In the colonial days, some attempts to adjust to cultural differences were made
in the New York colony, but the dominant American culture was the norm in the general
public, as well as most of the schools. As America approached the nineteenth century, the
need for a common culture was the basis for the educational forum. Formal public school
instruction in cultural diversity was rare, and appreciation or celebration of minority or ethnic
culture essentially was nonexistent in most schools. In the 1930’s, the educators were in the
progressive education movement, called for programs of cultural diversity that encouraged
ethnic and minority students to study their heritage’s. This movement became popular in many
schools until around 1950. Now, these days in education, the term multicultural education
never escapes a teacher’s thoughts (Ryan, 26).
What does the term “multicultural education” mean to you? I means different things to
different people. For instance, to some minority communities, it means to foster pride and self-
esteem among minority students, like the progressive movement in the 1930’s. Another
example would be in the white communitites, that multicultural programs are designed to
cultivate an appreciation of various cultural, racial, and ethnic traditions. Cortes defines
multicultural education by the process by which schools help prepare young people to live with
greater understanding, cooperation, effectiveness, and dedication to equality in a multicultural
nation and inerdependent world (Cortes, 16).
When I observed at Madison Elementary in December, I expected the school would
be multicultural in the sense of ethnic or racial backgrounds. Instead, I was very surprised to
discover that the school was predominately white students, with only a handful of African
American students in each classroom. I did find out that the Wheeling Island area was in very
low status pertaining to income. Not only did over half of the students receive free or reduced
lunch, but the students academic skills were below the national norm. I never realized what an
effect of economic status can affect a student’s academic progress. Of course there are out
lying factors, the parent involvement was at a minimum because most families consisted of only
one care taker. To make ends meet the single parent had to spend most of his/her time
working for money to buy clothes, food, and to keep their children healthy. Madison
Elementary had made great strides to improve their efforts to better the students academic
progress. The school had instilled different programs like A-Team, Pre-K classes, Reading
Recovery, various health services, outreach to families, and many more to ensure that the
students will succeed in their studies.
The role of the teacher at Madison is to assist and guide the students through school
with smooth transitions. This at times is impossible due to fact that some students in their
classrooms have behavior disorders, not all of the students are on the same learning levels, and
the teacher can only help the students at school, not at home. Sometimes the parents do not
fulfill their responsibilities at home. The teacher must adjust to the students needs. “When
dealing with multicultural issues in he classroom, teachers must guard against perpetuating racial
and ethnic stereotypes, which is often done subconsciously and indirectly by failing to use
linguistic qualifiers such as ’some,’ ‘many,’ and ‘most’ when referring to cultural groups. There
is much diversity within culture” (Ryan, 27). Teachers must also keep in mind that the process
of social development entails the successful interplay between an integrating function and
differentiating function. It is critical that multicultural education programs foster both. The
challenge is simple but significant: Can we create places of learning where students are no
longer strangers to themselves or to one another? The answer is clear: We must (Tamura, 24-
Students need to understand that they are participating in many different networks.
They are involved in social networks, not just ethnic or racial ones; however, their cultural
background and experiences may indeed have an impact upon the nature of their participation
in these other networks. Students also need to understand they are also individuals with
talents, skills, strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes (Ryan, 27). A goal for all students,
American born or not, is to develop cross-cultural acceptance, to have them develop strategies
to work through their own prejudices and to sustain their own dignity when they become the
targets of prejudice. We as teachers must work very hard to teach children to sustain and
protect our democratic way of life and to build a world culture of human beings who resolve
disputes in ways that protect the rights of all (Higuchi, 70-71).
The curriculum at Madison is different than any other school I have been associated
with. Mr. Warren and his staff base the curriculum on the needs of the students. As I have
stated in my journal, the language arts is the area of study with the biggest deficits. Math,
Spelling, and Reading are the main emphasis of the curriculum. I witnessed a one science
lesson with the gifted students. Madison has made great strides to improve in the area of
language arts, they have improved many students’ skills. They will continue their efforts until
the students at Madison are academically strong in the area of language arts. When using
multicultural curriculum, teachers must provide opportunities for taking perspectives as a way
of helping all students appreciate other points of view, which will help them to identify, through
contrast and comparison, their own personal characteristics as individuals. With this in mind,
one is then able to establish an identity, along with a sense of control over it. Not all students
learn the same. Teachers need to develop an awareness for individual characteristics as a
prerequisite to developing instructional strategies that will meet the learning style of each
student. Teaching to a variety of learning styles will increase the probability of student
achievement, thereby leading to a greater internal locus of control and improved self-esteem
Some think that Cortes has the right idea by introducing five fundamental concepts that
all elementary schools should introduce to help their students develop greater insight into
human diversity. His first idea is individuality and group identity. He believes that students
need to understand the significance of groups- racial, ethnic, gender, cultural, religious, and
others. In addition, they need to understand that each individual can belong to many different
groups. These groups may be based on birth others the result of choice and experience.
Belonging to this group may influence the ways an individual thinks, acts believes, perceives,
and may be perceived by others. His next idea is that multicultural education involves the study
of objective culture like food, clothing, music, art, and dance. Teachers should not stop there.
There is also a subjective side to each culture like values, norms, expectations, and beliefs.
The subjective culture involves the interpretation and expression of even universal values.
Cortes states, “While learning about the many variations in people’s racial, ethnic, gender,
religious, and cultural experiences, students also need to recognize commonalties, which can
serve as bases for building intergroup and interpersonal bridges.” This is the bases for his third
idea, similarities and differences. You may use the similarities as a starting point, but in order to
bond you must find the differences and address them seriously. The differences lead to
multiple perspectives and points of view. This his Cortes’ fourth concept. When diverse
individuals and groups come together with different experiences, traditions, and views multiple
perspectives hit and sometimes cause conflicts. A muliticultural person should understand
different points of view, and the elementary school is an ideal place to begin developing this
concept. Next you must build common ground. Schools also need to help students develop
the skills to find common ground with those of different backgrounds and heritage’s. This
requires practice and experience. Schools should provide safe settings with a comfortable
climate in which all students are encouraged to draw on their cultures (Cortes, 17-19).
Sometimes we can acquire cultural ways without even knowing that we are doing so; it
is like the air we breathe. Not know that our behavior is governed by there cultural ways, we
often do not see the need for change. Most teachers have been trained in educational
programs that are not geared to the needs of the urban schools. They are normally familiar
with the white middle-class schools. Indeed, a culture of teaching exists in America that still
espouses the notion that poor children and children of color, on average, do not learn as well
as middle-class and affluent white children. A typical urban school serves students from ethnic,
racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds that are different form a typical suburban school.
Some think that urban schools posses students with low test scores, a high number of discipline
referrals, little safety and strict security, a high dropout rate, and few honor students. Over the
past three decades, most teachers in urban schools have been inserviced to death. Most
believe that many of the problems they face are caused by those outside the schools. Most of
them think that they have been involved in change but, the same range has always been present
throughout the culture of schooling (Parish and Aquila, 299).
Changing the schools must have new purpose and produce new outcomes.
Most educators know that the quality of education received in America is highly correlated
with the socioeconomic status and rave of a student’s family. Yet to suggest that educators
bear any responsibility for this reality will bring not only denial but anger-as if the outcomes of
schools have nothing to do with the work of teachers and principals (Parish and Aquila 299).
With all of these dimensions into context, multiculturalism may be associated with the
celebration of cultural diversity. In overemphasizing the importance of group membership,
such programs can over shadow the significance of individuality. Schools need to give equal
time to the importance of individual development and achievement. And students need to be
empowered with an internal locus of control that will help them develop a stable, personality
that is aware of its strengths, weaknesses, potentials, and limitations. In previous years most
school children were separated by groups and were taught to be prepared to take their place
in the world. Today, children are encouraged to be creative and to achieve. It is ironic and
distressing that many schools still remain locked I that earlier vision. They continue to package
students into tracks, ignore individual learning styles, and generally overlook related individual
differences. At Madison school every student was treated as an individual and every student
was given an equal opportunity to succeed. I believe that Madison is a successful multicultural
school with the students needs being their first priority.
Diversity need not lead to separateness. But the failure to develop intergroup
understanding through constructive multicultural education virtually guarantees societal division
based on ignorance. Multicultural education belongs in all schools not just in districts with large
multiracial student bodies, because all students will share the same multicultural nation.
Therefore, all elementary schools should expose their students to a broad range of our nation’s
racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity (Cortes,20).
Schools do not determine whether or not multicultural education will occur. The
societal curriculum guarantees that it will. Schools can only chose whether or not to participate
in this process. For the sake of our children; I hope schools accept the challenge and address
it seriously, now and in the future.
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