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,
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, 24-25).
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