Cultural Diversity in Schools
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...
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