The Importance of Multicultural Education:
A Culturally Responsible Pedagogy
The student population in the United States is becoming more and more culturally diverse. According to Zion and Kozleski (2005), “In urban centers, almost two-thirds of the students are neither European-American nor middle-class” (p. 2). In contrast, the current teaching force continues to be composed of white middle-class women and I find my own situation reinforces this statistic. As a teacher today, I can expect that many of my students will bring customs, values, beliefs, behaviors and experiences into my classroom that are very different from my own. After reflecting on classroom discussions and the articles provided I realize that I must prepare myself with specific characteristics and skill sets to be a culturally responsive teacher. This new knowledge has impacted my teaching philosophies and pedagogy. It has inspired me to think of ways I can implement these ideas into my teaching practice. In doing so, I am confident that I will be able to provide a more equitable learning environment for all of my students.
We as teachers must become culturally responsive in order to meet the needs of our students. Zion and Kozleski (2005) stated that cultural responsivity is about, “cultivating an open attitude and acquiring new skills, and it involves exploring and honoring your own culture while learning about and honoring other people’s cultures” (p. 15). Understanding that culture influences a person’s thoughts and actions is an integral part of becoming a culturally responsive teacher (Villegas and Lucas, 2002). Many times we make assumptions about a person based on one cultural indicator like race, ethnicity, social class, language, religion or gender. In reality, culture is made up of a blend of all the groups we belong to as well as how they influence our values, beliefs and behaviors (Zion and Kozleski, 2005). We must understand that we are all members of different cultural groups created by our own individual life experiences. Teachers must understand reading a book about Kwanza will not allow us to understand all African American people and their culture. Listening to salsa music will not guide us to understanding the values of all of our Hispanic students and going to a Chinese restaurant will not provide insight in to the beliefs of all Asian people. That is because culture is much bigger than visible traditions (Zion and Kozleski, 2005).
The first step to becoming a culturally responsive teacher is to develop cultural self-awareness and realize that others may hold values and attitudes that are different from my own (Zion and Kozleski, 2005). As a white middle-class woman this meant realizing that my culture is the dominant and privileged culture that our country has inherited (Johnson, 2006). I now realize that ideas I had surrounding appropriate behavior, attitudes and values come from my cultural biases, which may not be held by my students and their families. In order to provide an impartial learning environment for all of my students I must discover and examine my own behaviors and expectations as well as those held by my students and their families. Do they align? More than likely they will not and if I allow my cultural biases to influence my practice I will be minimizing my teaching effectiveness.
How can we examine the behaviors of our students in the classroom? The Professional Development for Academics Involved in Teaching recommends Critical Incident Analysis on events in our classroom that we interpret as a problem (ProDait.org). A CIA allows us to evaluate our own practice and find better ways to respond to our students’ needs. Instead of simply acknowledging that a problem exists in our classroom, it allows us to uncover why it exists. For example, instead of saying, “Sam and Alicia talk during writing workshop,” we can say, “Why do Sam and Alicia...
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