The United States is by far one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. This can be seen throughout institutional organizations such as America’s school system. Due to the growing diversity observed in everyday classrooms, schools realize the need and importance to provide a multicultural education to students. Multicultural education, in the most general sense, is an approach to teaching that values diversity in the classroom and in content. This includes diverse educational methods and perspectives that regard the cultural differences of educators, students, and ethnicities. For the teacher, it means accepting and embracing the cultural diversity of students. This encourages and fosters the personal and academic growth of the pupil. Multicultural education focuses on key concepts for providing education in the classroom consisting of students belonging to diverse cultures.
In order to understand the importance of culture in the multicultural setting, one must first understand the basic idea behind it. The use of the term “culture” was first utilized by the Europeans in the late nineteenth century for referring to a process of cultivation or improvement of agriculture or horticulture. Through a variety of developments during the past decades, the term culture now encompasses a variety of human behavior indistinctive of its genetic inheritance. The behavior of humans can be influenced by the ethnicity in his/her background. Thus, culture describes the process of living among a community; and also describes the behaviors of individuals, their values, & beliefs. This includes adopting speech patterns, body language and beliefs which are passed on to the community in which they live, (Hoebel, 1966).
Globalization has significantly influenced various fields across the world, including education. This is observed as American classrooms across the country include students of different cultures, race, and ethnic identity. As a result of increased classroom diversity, teachers must place significant emphasis on educational content as well as learning outcomes for all students. Instructors must have awareness and understanding of cultures and cultural differences that exist among students. All the while teachers must be careful to avoid cultural bias. Therefore, appropriate and respectful communication must exist between teachers and students as it is the primary source of providing education in a classroom (Banks, 2008).
Multicultural education is defined as various strategies and materials developed to assist teacher’s response to a rapidly changing cultural demographic. Multicultural education is stimulated when providing students with diverse knowledge of cultural history and contributions of varying ethnic groups. When taking the time to address classroom diversity it instills pride and confidence within students. To achieve this teacher’s may take advantage of an upcoming holiday or current events to provide cultural knowledge and awareness. In addition, teachers can decorate the classroom in cultural decor. In this way, the multicultural classroom will promote decision-making abilities, as well as critical thinking and reasoning. It will also help to reduce unequal opportunities, cultural pluralism, and bias. “Among the objectives of multicultural education lies the reformation of schools that provide equal opportunities to diverse students and provide them with equality in job opportunities within the communities” (Ameny-Dixon, 2002).
One key concept of multicultural education is respecting cultural differences within the classroom and throughout instruction. This way, educators must consider the skills and capacities of students by upholding all students to high quality standards regardless of their ethnic background. Students will learn more if challenged. If a teacher is able to look at the individual skills of each student by holding them to the same standards, the student is accountable for his or her academic success. Teachers must not display an unwillingness to reject or lower their standards because of a student’s cultural background. This remains the same if language barriers are present. This is because students have a tendency to shine when expected to do more (Burris & Welner, 2005).
As an educator in a multicultural setting, it is essential that clear expectations be spelled out in such a way that the student understands what the teacher expects from them. This can be achieved by teaching lessons on classroom behavior and expectations. Teacher must develop students to understand they are expected to achieve at high levels. Doing this will encourage the students and instill confidence. Students learn more when challenged by teachers who have high expectations for them, encourage them to identify problems, involve them in collaborative activities, and promote their learning (Burris & Welner, 2005). Maintaining high standards for all students stimulates multicultural education. It increases student productivity and success despite cultural differences.
The second key concept of multicultural education is to develop a knowledge and understanding of all students’ home cultures. By doing this, educators are able to encourage positive social conduct both in and out of the classroom. Learning about the background of students will help the teacher to understand why students may have certain tendencies. This includes talking out of turn or other classroom expectations. Cultural awareness and understanding can also help the teacher relate to students. This is done in different ways. Weather this through reading and research on a particular culture, home visits, or conferencing with parents, educators can benefit from cultural understanding and apply this to the classroom. To further stimulate awareness, educators can visit community leaders to gain a better understanding of a culture that is unfamiliar. The more knowledge a teacher obtains about the cultural background of students, the more effective they can be in the classroom. Gaining knowledge of the culture will help to explain why some parents take different roles in the academic process. In some cultures, the parents may be extremely active in the education process, while another culture parents may take on a less active role. In both of the listed scenarios, the educator would be required to treat each student differently in order to be successful. By taking the time to learn and understand the culture of students, an educator will discover that certain terms have different meanings. This will help in lesson preparation and communication with students and parents.
Being able to connect with the cultural identity of students in the classroom will allow for better communication. Understanding one’s culture will assist instructors to appreciate student conduct and behavior. This includes cultural behaviors and social norms. While an act maybe considered disrespectful in America, in their nation of origin it is observed as the opposite. This can help teachers develop strategies in the classroom that will go a long way in supporting student’s academic goals. Furthermore, teachers must encourage other students to be aware of diversity and cultural differences in the classroom. In this way, the teacher can educate students and encourage dialogue to better generate an inclusive multicultural environment (Davidman & Davidman, 1997). Multicultural education does not end with the teacher; it must be passed on to students in order for the classroom to perform in a diverse manner that is void of conflict. Having a classroom that respects cultural diversity will go a long way in the learning process. In doing so, students will be respectful of one another’s differences. Gathering information about the students’ backgrounds will help them in their ability to learn. When teachers are able to draw from another student’s experience, this makes learning personable to the students by increasing motivation and self-esteem.
Another way to respect cultural differences is to enhance the classroom in cultural décor that reflects the diversity of the student body. Understanding that a multicultural classroom affects every person in the learning environment, the teacher can achieve this in various ways. One option is to include posters and pictures reflecting different images that relate to one’s culture. When a student is able to visualize concepts and achievements of people from their own culture, it motivates them by building their confidence. All the while, this encourages students academically. Research has shown that students learn more when their classrooms are consistent with their own cultural and linguistic background (Au, 1980; Jordan, 1984, 1985, 1995). Another option is to include culture within the classroom curriculum such as providing word problems using names from different cultures or books reflecting different racial ethnicities. If students are comfortable in the classroom, they are more likely to excel in the learning environment.
When applying multicultural education to the classroom, instructors must avoid cultural bias while imparting education. Before one can address cultural bias and know how to avoid it as an educator, one must be willing to address the fact that cultural bias may be present. In this way, an educator cannot address them in the classroom if they cannot admit they exist in their own lives. Multicultural educators must have the ability to treat every student with respect as a person all the while respecting their cultural background. This can be achieved by being mindful of language differences and avoid confusing speech patterns. Another thing to consider is ensuring that the language used is safe and appropriate whenever speaking to the class in general. Instructors must not use terms that is perceived as degrading, demeaning, or assuming. For instance, assuming that all Middle Easterns are Muslim would be inappropriate. Consequently, the teacher must ensure that no students make assuming comments or degrading language. Arranging different tasks so that students’ ethnic and cultural backgrounds are highlighted, allow teachers to avoid cultural bias in the lessons plan. This gives the teacher an opportunity to provide equal opportunities to students and avoid discrimination. In this way teachers encourage awareness, understanding, and positive social interactions.
Collaborative learning has proven to be a legitimate method of learning in the classroom setting as well as multicultural education. Students are able to learn with and from their peers during the process. Teachers should make use of collaborative learning by placing students into learning groups with different learning skills. This encourages students to accomplish goals as a team, social inclusion of different ethnicities, and a culturally diverse classroom. While students are working together, a form of peer mentoring is taking place allowing all students to interact with one another despite their differences in learning or racial identity.
Imparting education in the multicultural classroom is not an easy task. Apart from knowing the intellectual level of the student, a teacher must understand the basic cultural background of students in order to provide equal educational opportunities. Knowing about a student’s cultural background is not easy. This is because one classroom can include a variety of races and ethnicities. This makes the task even more difficult for the teacher. The role of a teacher becomes broad as it is his/her responsibility to understand the content of the subject and maintain a thorough knowledge of the multicultural makeup of the students in his/her class. Being able to impart the culture of students into the subject being taught, will not only simplify the subject but also makes the material relevant to the students. The students will be able to understand the materials and apply it to their daily lives.
In conclusion, multicultural education is applied in support of equality to consider ethnic diversity in the classroom. This is done to include the concepts of multicultural education in lesson plans and prior to planning activities. For example, at the start of the year, students can be given different tasks, such as, poster designs, writing comprehension, literary arts, and essay contest related to topics that best describes their ethnicity and culture. The teacher must be able to analyze diversity and prepare the lesson accordingly. This will help students become more interactive towards teachers and students from different backgrounds. Secondly, the teachers can avoid personal prejudices, and provide an atmosphere which will enable the students ‘to excel in the classroom. (Kincheloe and Steinberg, 1997). This will help students to interact with everyone and share their ideas freely, and thus enhance student learning.
Multicultural education has five basic elements, which are content integration, prejudice reduction, knowledge construction, empowering social culture and school culture, and lastly, equity pedagogy (Banks, 2008). All these components points towards a basic idea of equality of opportunities to all and providing an open communication between the students, teacher, and their peers.
Ameny-Dixon, G. M. (2002). Why multicultural education is more important in higher education now than ever: a global perspective. McNeese State University.
Au, 1980; Au & Jordan, 1981; Au & Mason, 1981;
Banks, J. (2008). An introduction to multicultural education. Pearson, Allen-Bacon.
Burris, C.C, & Welner, K. G. (2005, November). Closing the achievement gap by tracking Phi Delta Kappa, 86(8), 594–598.
Davidman, L., & Davidman, P. (1997). Teaching with a multicultural perspective: A practical guide (2nd Ed.). New York: Longman.
Hobel, A. (1966). Anthropology: The study of man. McGraw-Hill.
Kincheloe, J. & Steinberg, S. (1997). Changing multiculturalism. London: Open University Press.