Don’t Miss this Quick (Yet Important) Guide to Multiculturalism in the United States
The United States is becoming more diverse every day. We are rapidly approaching, if not yet solidly in, an era where the majority of students are from ethnic minority groups. Because of this, it’s really important to know the role multiculturalism plays in the United States and in American education.
Here are 7 questions you’ll want to know the answers to. You will be that much more prepared to face any unique challenges that come with educating with multiculturalism in mind.
- 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. But there’s a conflict between autonomy and assimilation: Is it better to press students into a monocultural mold or to celebrate their diversity?
- What is the role of ethnicity 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, and 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 is the role of multiculturalism in today’s schools? Multiculturalism is the acceptance of multiple cultures coexisting in a society that provides equitable status to distinct ethnic groups. The former “melting pot” ideology is being replaced by a “patchwork quilt” perspective, in which cultural identity and language are preserved. A number of theories have been floated to explain the variety of performance levels in children of different backgrounds, 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).
- How can teachers embrace their multicultural classrooms? Currently, 37% of U.S. students 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. Teachers should be “color aware,” rather than “color blind,” and 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% of U.S. students are Protestant. Groups such as Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists make up around 5% 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. But 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% 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.
Do you have any beneficial information on the role of culture in our society? What is your personal experience with multiculturalism in the classroom? I would really appreciate hearing your thoughts, so feel free to leave a comment.