6 Things That Educators Should Know About Multicultural Education
In order to understand today’s classrooms and improve the culture of schools, the primary components of American culture must be identified and understood. Culture and education are intrinsically connected: American culture shapes education, and education subsequently shapes American culture. By understanding the relationship between the two, schools can improve culture-based education, and can reflect and promote different cultural worldviews.
Another aspect of culture is school culture. School culture consists of shared values and beliefs, as well as shared meanings of the community as a cohesive unit (Hobby, 2004). As teachers, it is essential to incorporate both community and diverse worldviews into your teaching. A number of resources are available to ensure students maintain a strong sense of cultural identity. When you incorporate culturally based materials and content into the curriculum, students learn not only about their culture, but also the diverse cultures around them.
Early in the history of the United States, there was a focus on segregation and assimilation when it came to differences between ethnic groups. Those who were of northern European heritage were often assimilated into the culture of the United States and those who were of an obviously different heritage, such individuals of African or Asian descent, were excluded from participation in dominant-culture America. This focus has changed: today, the goal is one of recognizing and celebrating cultural and ethnic differences. Still, more change needs to occur and American classrooms are on the front lines of making this goal a reality.
All children go through the same or similar feelings and experiences as they grow up. All children have a desire and a need to test boundaries. All children are curious and mischievous, and can be at times kindhearted and at other times blunt when they speak. These traits can sometimes make working with children a challenge. However, it is the differences and diversities that make teaching children an even greater challenge, and yet a blessing at the same time. This is a challenge that every teacher in today’s classrooms must face, in order to give children the best support possible as they pursue their education. In this article, we will discuss all of the things that educators should know about multicultural education.
What does “culture” mean in the United States? Culture in the United States can be separated into several elements, including behavior, beliefs, traditions, and values. In the early years of the republic, American culture was indelibly associated with European-derived, English-speaking Protestant culture. More recently, however, the influx of new languages, religions, and other cultural ingredients has created a more diverse and challenging environment.
Many elements of personal freedom, including freedom of religion and speech, are protected by the legal system. However, a conflict between autonomy and assimilation exists: is it preferable to press students into a mono-ethnic mold or to celebrate their diversity?
What role does ethnicity play in our schools? Determining ethnicity can be complex, and includes factors such as race, religion, customs, and culture. The United States is becoming increasingly diverse. Americans of Asian, African, and Hispanic origin are on the rise: this is reflected in classroom populations. Furthermore, individuals who are multiethnic (who associate with more than one ethnic group) form an increasingly large portion of the student population. Laws have changed in the United States to reflect the value of cultures and languages other than the traditional European ones. It is important that teachers are aware of and are prepared to deal with racism in the classroom.
What part does multiculturalism play in today’s school? Multiculturalism is the acceptance of multiple cultures coexisting in a society by providing equitable status to distinct ethnic groups. The former “melting pot” ideology is being replaced by a “patchwork quilt” mentality, in which cultural identity and language are preserved. A number of theories have been floated, including the cultural deficit theory (students don’t do well because of an inadequate home environment), the expectation theory (teachers have lower expectations of certain students), and the cultural difference theory (students from different cultures have different ways of learning), to explain the variety of performance levels in children of different backgrounds.
How can teachers embrace their multicultural classrooms? Thirty-seven percent of U.S. students currently view themselves as coming from multicultural backgrounds, and the percentage is increasing. By 2040, children of color will make up a majority of students. Schools are currently engaged in producing more inclusive curricula, which reflect the backgrounds of their student population. It is preferable for teachers to be “color aware,” rather than “color blind,” and teachers should encourage students to share and celebrate their diverse backgrounds and experiences by being inclusive and particularistic.
How religiously diverse are our students? Today, only 51 percent of U.S. students are Protestant. Groups such as Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists make up around 5 percent of the population, though this percentage is growing rapidly. The separation of church and state in the educational sphere has grown more pronounced in recent years, and it is now against the law, for example, to have school prayers. However, it is important to encourage students to share about their religious experiences, and to celebrate all forms of religious experience.
How linguistically diverse are our students? In the early part of the 20th century, laws were passed limiting the teaching of languages other than English. More recently, however, those laws were challenged. Students may now be taught in languages other than English, and transitional services are offered in many schools.
Does America promote linguistic and intellectual diversity in the classroom? The United States does not have an official language. About 80 percent of Americans speak English at home. Other families speak languages such as Spanish, Tagalog, Hmong, French, and Chinese. As a result, most schools now include language programs for non-English speakers. The Bilingual Education Act and similar legislation stipulate that ELLs must be provided with the tools to acquire English. Models vary, however, and include the immersion model, the transition model, and developmental bilingual education.
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