Each year, American classrooms become more diverse. This makes cultural diversity in the classroom a paramount issue, which is not only faced by educators, but the educational system as whole. The act of ignoring the increase in diversity can do more harm than good, so educators are encouraged to embrace and foster diversity in the classroom. This means promoting sensitivity, strengthened by the concept of wanting each student to succeed. With that in mind, diversity poses this simple but relevant question: what is culture?
Contrary to what most believe, culture is more than a combination food recipe, preferences, language, and holidays. Culture is, essentially, the structure we build around our identity, as it influences how we engage with the rest of the world. It plays a role on the perspectives we choose to take and the expectations we set for ourselves and the outside. Each one of us belongs in a culture, and most of us even have identities founded on multiple cultures. For instance, you may consider yourself belonging to the American culture, further identifying with the culture of South Virginia, followed by the small community of immigrants in your little town, and then the culture of people who enjoy books, and so on. This holds true for the confines of the four walls of classrooms, as students come from different cultural backgrounds. Huddled in a single space, their sensitivity and acceptance towards one another should be always be taken into consideration.
Why should we promote cultural diversity in the classroom?
According to the Census Bureau, by 2020, more than half of America’s children will be part of an ethnic group or minority race. They further report that a shift will happen for America as a whole by 2044, where not a single racial or ethnic group will dominate the country in terms of size. By 2044, the students will be well integrated into their working lives. With the shift to consider, one can assume that their workplaces will be just as diverse as classrooms, where heritage, languages, and traditions are different. As early as now, multicultural students should learn to embrace differences, as well as understand the truth about people who may seem different: that they’re not really as different, despite glaring factors like physical features.
What are the kinds of cultural diversity mostly present in classrooms?
No two students are alike, even if they do share plenty in common. To nurture cultural diversity in the classroom positively, it is necessary to consider the various aspects of culture, especially those that influence perceptions, behaviors, and attitudes. Some cultural differences include the following:
The recognition of the impact one’s skin color poses is important, especially on the broader aspect of the American culture. Hard as it may be due to the surrounding issues around race, creating an environment of understanding and how it affects student’s perceptions of one another can greatly help.
Ethnicity is sometimes equated to race, but it is more precisely defined as the culture we derive from our respective nationality. There are ethnic differences that arise in every immigrant group, which persists for generations.
The act of worshiping varies greatly, and some people do not worship at all. To further understand how to nurture multiculturalism in the classroom, it’s important to familiarize yourself with religious traditions and requirements, as these also play a role in a student’s behavior and time spent.
Language can be restricting, yes, but it should not serve as an educational barrier. Of course, the reality of being able to speak every language isn’t plausible, but there are ways to accommodate those who only speak English as a second language.
Another factor to consider is a student’s economic standing, as it greatly impacts one’s education. It is important to be aware of the extent of the role of economic pressures in classroom stress, which includes finding time and a place to study.
Even with evident progress towards acceptance, one’s sexual orientation or gender identify can still bring forth conflict in their lives. To truly accept cultural diversity in the classroom, the culture of the LGBTQ+ should be considered.
How do you embrace diversity in the classroom?
To fully embrace diversity in the classroom, a school-wide effort is necessary, along with the help of implemented policies. However, there are initiatives individuals can make, especially the educators. Here are some ideas:
- Make time to understand your students
One of the best ways to nurture an inclusive environment for multicultural students is by understanding each one of them. Make sure you allot enough time to understand their strengths and weaknesses, along with personality traits and learning styles. As a teacher, this level of interaction and engagement shows that you are invested in them and their ability to succeed. Also remember that students learn differently, so taking some time to understand each one of them will make the teaching process easier for you.
- Set presentation projects on subjects about culture or a certain country
The ideas here are endless: you could ask students to write about their own cultures through essay writing and present it to the class, or perhaps assign them to research on another’s culture to write and present on. They could either do this project in pairs or groups, so that presentation aspect will not be much of a problem. Some students are rather shy while some can be outspoken; pairing the opposites can also help foster mutual respect and encourage acceptance.
- Be willing to address inequality
Supporting diversity in the classroom means creating a safe space for students and educators alike to freely talk about how discrimination affects the many parts of their lives. Opening a discussion about diversity means more will follow suit, but it should not just be limited to words. In order to make an effective change, you must be willing to take practical steps to address discrimination whenever necessary. Such steps can include the following:
- Quickly shut down discrimination whenever you hear it.
- Use language that encourages positivity.
- Don’t reinforce existing stereotypes; for instance, “boys will be boys”, a case of everyday sexism, should not be used to justify such ideology or aggression towards others.
- For inappropriate comments or actions, make sure to respond effectively. Infractions must be taken seriously and inform parents whenever necessary.
- Encourage students to include all of their peers, especially if there is apparent division forming instituted by racial or economic lines.
- Eradicate prevailing markers of inequality in your school. This could be the lunch programs for financially unstable students, as this program often makes them feel singled out and different.
Remember that fair does not mean equal. Fair means that everyone gets what they need or deserve. Equal, on the other hand, means that everyone receives the same regardless of need, even if they are already enjoying privileges. In the academic context, fairness means ensuring that every student, regardless of their background, is given what is necessary to succeed in every aspect.
- Pitch events that invites guests and motivational speakers from different backgrounds
Schools usually hire speakers and guests from numerous industries, where they’re invited to share significant messages and inspire students to reach for their dreams. To promote diversity, it could be a good idea to invite guest speakers presenting the different parts of society, so that students will have role models they can relate to. Having a culturally diverse set of speakers, all successful in their respective fields, can send out the message that no matter your gender, heritage, and physical attributes, you can reach your goals.
- Arrange a food fair to celebrate different dishes from around the world
Even the littlest of efforts can make an impact. A food fair can be a full day event, or can even be a monthly occurrence. The idea is that each student could bring a dish native to their culture or country, which others can try. A background of the dish can be discussed, which includes its relevance and history.
The importance of diversity in the classroom for all students and society as a whole
Remember that students spend a significant amount of their time surrounded by their classmates, friends, and teachers. Although academic achievement is regarded as a high priority, it is expected of the educational system to prepare students to become productive members of society. As America continues to adapt multiple cultures and heritages, the teachers are given the task to show students the value of embracing cultural diversity. While a holistic growth and positive citizenship are key to a student’s success, overall development and personal life choices are just as essential – having the ability to learn and work with people hailing from different backgrounds is a part of this. An essential way of learning about another’s culture is through the art of writing and research. You may find yourself required to write a paper about a culture you’re unfamiliar with, or perhaps a cultural identity essay infused with careful introspection.
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