5 Things That Educators Should Know About Diversity
We live in a diverse world. Nowhere is this more evident than in the United States. For decades, our country has been known as the “Land of Opportunity.” A chance to participate in making use of these opportunities, however, requires the acquisition of an education. This education is easier to come by for some groups of people than others. For instance, there are some people who still believe that children with learning disabilities or physical disabilities should be kept out of the school environment. Not only does this type of thinking prevent these children from receiving an adequate education; it also prevents them from becoming independent and active contributors to society in their lives beyond school.
In order to understand the full impact of student differences on school environments, multiple aspects of diversity need to be addressed. The areas in which differences can exist include gender, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation. It is also important to consider student variability in areas such as learning style and ability when we address the differences existing among students in schools.
Diversity in the United States is well represented in American schools. Public schools were created with the intention of ensuring that all students have equal access to quality education. Teachers today work in schools with diverse populations of students, in a country where diversity is only now being accepted and embraced. This diversity, however, extends beyond the boundaries of culture and ethnicity. It includes differences in affiliation, preferences, and sexual orientation. In this article, we will discuss all of the things that educators should know about diversity.
How intellectually diverse are our schools? Older IQ tests as a means of measuring intelligence are seen as flawed, and were often used to promote a racist agenda. Howard Gardner’s notion of multiple intelligences is gaining acceptance. Currently, the Wechler test, which also takes into account a broad variety of factors, is viewed as the most accurate measure of intelligence.
Gifted students and students with learning disabilities require special attention. Gifted students may benefit from broadened and accelerated learning. For students who have learning disabilities, it is important to ascertain the nature of the learning disability and work at solutions to enable the student to learn effectively. Students with learning disabilities may be highly intelligent, and many noted personalities have had learning disabilities. The law stipulates that students with learning disabilities should be given appropriate and nondiscriminatory education. Teachers will have to fill out Individualized Education Plans for these students.
How does gender affect student learning? Boys and girls have traditionally been treated differently in the classroom, and have been represented differently in textbooks, reflecting cultural norms. Boys are more likely to enroll in classes in mathematics, science, and engineering. Girls tend to do better in reading and writing and other academic subjects, but women still do not achieve the same job status and pay as men with equal qualifications: the gender gap has not yet been breached. While there are socially constructed differences, there also seem to be biological factors at play, though these are still not fully understood. It is important to create gender-aware classrooms, using teaching styles that appeal to both boys and girls. An approach focusing on students where they are, rather than the standardized “one size fits all” idea, may be useful.
What are the educational implications of sexual orientation? Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students are gaining increasing acceptance in educational settings, though this is highly dependent on location. However, the situation in U.S. schools is still difficult for LGBT students, and they are often the focus of bullying and aggression. This is even truer for LGBT students of color. Regardless of the policies of the school and the state, it is crucial that all students are safe from bullying, whether verbal or physical, from fellow students and teachers. As a teacher, you are obliged to protect your students, and to report abuse.
What are some of the other challenges that students face? Poverty is a dire and growing problem in the United States, particularly among minorities. As the gap between the wealthiest and poorest Americans continues to widen, those at the bottom end of the economic scale are being left behind. Problems they face include drugs, violence, broken homes, hunger, and inadequate medical coverage.
One and a half million children in the United States are homeless, and face a special set of problems, including lack of nutrition and difficulties finding transportation. Many have faced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
Teachers should be aware of signs that point to abuse, including shyness, bruises, and aggression, and should follow up with the appropriate authorities. Note that 97 percent of juvenile offenders were abused as children.
Bullying is perennial problem in schools, and now includes cyber bullying: bullying over the Internet. Violence is a related problem. In schools that have a problem with violence, structures should be put in place to minimize the issues. Drug use includes alcohol and tobacco, as well as illegal drugs. Thus far, programs implemented by schools and the government have done little to alleviate the problem.
Other issues faced by students include pregnancy and sex outside of marriage. Most schools promote abstinence, while still offering advice on safe sex and preventing and coping with pregnancy.
How can teachers accommodate different learning styles? Every student has an individual style of learning. They may be classified into three broad types of learners: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. It may be helpful to view intelligence not as a linear scale but as a web. Your task as a teacher is to develop each student’s strengths and needs. Students are influenced by both “emotional” factors, which refers to the responsibility and persistence that the student naturally puts into learning, and “sociological” factors, which refers whether a student has a preference in learning individually, or in small or large groups. The Learning Style Inventory, which looks at five categories—environmental emotional, sociological, physiological, and psychological—may be helpful in assessing a student’s learning style.
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