• Multiculturalism In The Classroom

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    In light of the increasing number of diverse people groups moving to the United States the complexion and complexity of our society is changing. Approximately 32 million people speak a language other than English at home (Nieto, 2000).

    The impact of this growing cultural and linguistic diversity is nowhere more visible than in our schools. More than 3 million or 7.4% of students in all public and private schools are limited in their English proficiency (Macias, 1998) and is a reality not just in the urban schools, but suburban and rural as well are experiencing this tremendous diversity.

    Based on the philosophy of Paulo Freire (1998) “to study is not to consume ideas, but to create and recreate them” (p.4). Educators and leaders of our society must reevaluate our educational policies and classroom practices to ensure we are promoting the learning of all students, and as Sonia Nieto states “when our society, teachers, and schools view students’ differences in a more hopeful and critical way, then the result can be that all students soar to the heights they deserve” (2000).

    In her book “Language, Culture, and Teaching” (2000), Sonia Nieto states “socio-cultural and sociopolitical perspectives are first and foremost based on the assumption that social relationships and political relations are at the heart of teaching and learning” (p.5). Therefore, learning is not simply a question of transmitting knowledge but rather of working with students and their families, so they can “reflect, theorize, and create knowledge” (p.7). The focus is on reflective questions which allows students to draw from their knowledge as well as their own experiences and for other students to consider other options, to question traditionally accepted truths which may not be considered truths in other cultures, and analyze more deeply individual and social problems from a culturally and politically diverse viewpoint.

    A traditional definition of culture may need to be reconsidered as well. Nieto defines culture as “complex and intricate and needs to be understood a dynamic, multifaceted, influenced by social, economic, and political factors, crated and socially constructed, learned, and dialected” (1999). Culture is a verb and not a noun (Carvizu, 1994). A deeper understanding of culture implies that differences need not hinder learning but can obviously enhance learning for all students.

    For the necessary change to occur so ALL students can succeed in the learning process, teachers must first acknowledge students’ differences and then act as a bridge between their students differences and the culture of the dominant society.

    To conclude, multiculturalism education is:

    • An antiracist education. Paying attention to all areas where some students are favored more than others, analyzing curriculum, policies, and teacher relationships with students and their families.
    • A basic education. Schools must develop a wider cultural literacy and art curriculum.
    • Important for all students. Because it is about all people.
    • Pervasive. Because it si a world view, a philosophy not simply an academic subject a cultural sensitivity experience.
    • Education for social justice. Invites students and teachers to put their learning into action for social justice.
    • A process. Unlearning conventional, mono-cultural views, and dismantling policies and practices that are disadvantageous for some students at the expense of others and being open to see the world from a different view is definitely a process.
    • Critical pedagogy. Using a critical teaching method that is not always teacher centered, students learn there is not just one way to view the world. A multicultural curriculum helps students develop decision making and social action sills. (Nieto, 2000)

    Kimberly Alexander


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