Multiculturalism in Education

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At fifteen I accepted an exchange program for the duration of my sophomore high school year to a city outside Osaka, Japan. It was tough going but I still feel the positive effects of such a radical perspective change. Least importantly I felt tall, which hadn’t happened before and hasn’t since. I had light skin and blonde hair in a sea of Asian pigments which gave me marginal fame and it took me many months to understand cultural idiosyncrasies. In the Pacific NW United States where I grew up we’re into frankness, but the Japanese have caste protocol combining with the three faces to confuse the heck out of people like me. They say every person has the face they present to the world, the face they present to their inner circle and family and the face they only know themselves. Regarding caste, behavior and etiquette are dependent on your role but also on the roles of those around you. Certain scenarios call for differences in tone, posture and diction depending on your setting, the people involved and your objective. Sometimes acting overly respectful is a sign of dominance. Sometimes foolishness is appropriate to offer someone above you an excuse from blame. Once I was lectured two hours for being one hour late, and when it was over my host mother instantly calmed and said happily “I’ve yelled at you so now you understand and it’s over. Let’s eat!” While the attention to respect and manners are admirable, I eventually found myself missing the “get it done” attitude we prescribe to here. Luckily, Japanese culture employs a foreigner clause that allows for substantial miscues based on ignorance, but it does expire and you are expected to learn.

As a lone foreigner in a mostly homogenous culture, differences are easily identified and accepted. Here, in America, we love to identify as a melting pot. We preach to Embrace Diversity AND Celebrate Equality. Most of us view the hybrid nature of our cultural stew as a strength. If American diversity results in a stronger combined culture the product is achieved through great struggle. It’s really difficult to mix many cultures together, consider the practices of each, give everyone equal scrutiny, maintain the big picture curriculum objective and avoid frazzling some sensitivities. In fact, I think it’s probably impossible to achieve this seamlessly. But I assume that’s the point: the diversity in our country is so unique to enable us to bring together many cultures to expedite globalization of culture, and the more we struggle the better the results.

Public school classrooms are often the first cultural blending experience outside the family for children from varying racial, religious and economic backgrounds. By 2023, students of color are projected to account for 55% of the elementary and secondary public school populations (National Center for Education Statistics). Diverse religious beliefs raise challenges for educators. The holidays to be celebrated must be considered, along with religious codes related to curriculum, school lunches, interactions of boys and girls, and student clothing (Gollnick & Chinn, 2021). Nearly 1 in 5 children in the U.S. live below the official poverty level (DeNavas-Walt & Proctor, 2014). These variances don’t even take into account learning styles or physical abilities. Diversity in America is unprecedented and rapidly changing; teachers should be prepared to manage in such an environment and avoid pitfalls.

Multicultural education is an educational construct in which students’ cultures are integrated into the curriculum, instruction, and classroom and school environment. It supports and extends the concepts of culture, diversity, equality, social justice, and democracy into the school setting (Gollnick & Chinn, 2021). That’s a whole lot to keep track of.

Responding to this emerging necessity we have a brand new course:

Embracing the Multicultural Classroom: Creating an Inclusive and Equitable Environment for All Students

Global goals of the course include:

  1. To examine current research in the area of best practice in multicultural teaching
  2. To develop an understanding of the need for effective multicultural learning strategies in today’s classroom
  3. To analyze current multicultural instructional practices in order to create engaged practices to better support student learning
  4. To explore possible applications of multicultural teaching models in the classroom
  5. To explore research-proven methods of lesson plan development in a multicultural classroom 
  6. To synthesize best practice in culturally relevant teaching research and classroom applications to become multi-culturally competent

When asked about his inspiration to write the course, TCL instructor Paul Wright responded “For many teachers like myself, classrooms today look much different than the ones I attended.  This course will encourage teachers to reflect on their experiences as well as their students’ experiences, thus creating a more student-centered and culturally rich classroom that welcomes all students.” 

While the development of multiculturalism in the classroom presents many difficulties, it’s a wonderful opportunity for growth and change. We aim to offer strategies for success. Please let us know what you think and tell us how you’ve implemented learning in your own classroom!

Sources
“National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, Part of the U.S. Department of Education.” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of the U.S. Department of Education, nces.ed.gov/.

Gollnick, Donna M., and Philip C. Chinn. Multicultural Education in a Pluralistic Society. Pearson Education, Inc., 2021.

“U.S. Census Bureau Report ‘Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2014.’” The SAGE Encyclopedia of World Poverty, doi:10.4135/9781483345727.n895.


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Ike Martinson
Ike is addicted to life in the Pacific Northwest. He enjoys the mountains, the lakes, the food, the people and all the seasons. He is an amateur chef, a commercial pilot and a terrible painter.