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Cultural diversity in schools

Cultural Diversity in Schools

EDCI 401

Name Here

JANUARY 31,1997

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,


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, 24-25).

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 (Ryan, 27-28).

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


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