America's "melting pot" status is one that most citizens are proud to claim. The fact that people here often refer to themselves as one ethnicity or another, and rarely as simply an American, is proof that being from somewhere else - however far removed - is a source of familial pride. Even African Americans, who do not always have an Ellis Island story in the family tree, find collective strength in the stories of their ancestors and what it means for their lives today.
This blending of cultures is both a blessing and curse of the K-12 classroom. With more diversity than ever, teachers have to adjust methods from one student to the next, and from one year to the next. Multiculturalism is about more than a classroom with varied skin color - it includes careful examination of the neighborhoods, parenting styles and general experiences that shape each and every K-12 student.
In my new book The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching, I examine multicultural education and what impact the diverse students of today will have on the next generation of educators. Today I want to touch on the term "multiculturalism" and examine its meaning in K-12 classrooms.
In its most basic sense, multicultural education is a progressive approach for transforming education based on educational equality and social justice. The components required in educating a multicultural education are content integrations, prejudice reduction, empowering school culture and social culture. These all relate and all require attention as they relate to the efforts of conflict resolution in today's world. What kids learn in their classroom environments when it comes to interactions with those who are different from them translates into how well they will manage life in the global marketplace.
In the last century, there has been an increase in global mutual acceptance of opposing views and different cultures - though arguably, there is still a long way to go. Specifically when it comes to America, it is crucial that multicultural education exist with the increasing number of students who speak a second language and come from somewhere else. Diversity exists even within mainstream society and students need to have the communication life skills that multicultural education promotes.
Teaching in a Multicultural Society
So what does all this talk about multiculturalism really mean in the contemporary classroom? What can teachers do to make sure they practice pedagogical individualism and promote the diversity that exists in society as a whole? Since each classroom is different, each approach will be varied as well. Some important common ground when it comes to multicultural teaching should include:
Careful observation. David Kolb created a four-step model for really understanding the needs of a particular student group. He starts with concrete experience, adds reflective observation and then moves to abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. In other words, multicultural education cannot be taught in a textbook. It must be developed by each educator based on a particular student group.
Learning style guidance. Teachers can help students discover their academic strengths by helping them discover their own learning style. In this way, students discover what method of comprehension works best for them based on their own backgrounds and personalities. If educators make this learning style quest a class project, an inherent lesson in multiculturalism is taught.
Pride in heritage. Educators should look for ways to emphasize the differences between students in a positive light. This might mean writing essays on family background or partnering with other students to help each other develop projects that accent the culture of the other. This can include prompts that look back on family history for generations, or could ask students to look at their current family setup.
There are scores of ways that educators can approach multiculturalism in K-12 classrooms but the first step is recognizing its importance. For today's students to experience lifelong success on the global scale, educators must recognize the need for multiculturalism in pedagogy.
How do you adjust to and promote multiculturalism in your classrooms?