Free Benefits of Multicultural Classrooms Essay Sample
There is a difference between teaching a course in which multiculturalism is the focus and incorporating an underlying multicultural, inclusive perspective into the classroom environment. Given that "there is no universal construction of a multiculturalism course that is perfect for achieving all goals for all students" (Henry, 2003, p. 26), finding a way to build a multicultural foundation for courses across the disciplines may be a better aim for faculty in learning institutions. Multiculturalism is a concept that cannot be ignored in today's society. It is real, it is related to the globalization of education, and it is going to do nothing but grow in abundance in the future of education settings in the United States. Therefore, "Schools, colleges and universities should play a leading role in preparing learners to function effectively in a more pluralistic society" (Benns-Suter, 1993, p. 1).
In learning institution's efforts to prepare students for success in a multicultural world, instructors need to recognize that they can play a lead role by exposing students to multicultural awareness in their classrooms. The purpose of this paper is to discuss the importance of multiculturalism in the classroom. It is meant to serve as a starting point for teachers who seek guidance in multicultural pedagogy. The specific areas covered in this paper include faculty responsibilities, environmental factors, classroom techniques, and the main benefits of multicultural classrooms that will lead to a more multicultural experience for college students.
Teachers hold a central responsibility for creating an environment that nurtures multiculturalism and embraces diversity. Before examining a possible means toward the development of multicultural pedagogy, this paper will describe the challenges that faculty must take on to prepare for this approach to teaching. By reflecting on their own identities and attitudes, taking the initiative to learn about their students and their students' cultures, and using their knowledge to act as multiculturally-competent models, instructors can make a positive impact on students in the area of multiculturalism.
Through self-analysis, self-critique, and self-awareness, one can reach a position of knowing his or her own identity and then begin to examine how it relates to that of others' cultures. More specifically, educators should critically reflect on their understanding of multicultural education and their position among the diversity of the student community (McIntyre, 1997). Depending on the cultural background of the educator, there may be more or less work to do in regard to this self-critique. Individuals who are of majority status and may lack knowledge about their own racial and cultural identity are especially encouraged to engage in self-reflection. For example, McIntyre suggests the following:
By white educators' questioning and confronting their white identities and challenging the meaning of being "white" teachers, they can more effectively pursue teaching practices that significantly alter the way white students are educated about themselves and about multicultural education. (p. 653)
In her study, McIntyre asked student teachers to examine internalized stereotypes that they held about students of color and found that the stereotypes that arose led to great concerns by these teachers. Among these were worries about whether they could effectively teach students of color, how they were perceived by students of color, and also regarding unequal expectations of performance from students of color. These are all strikingly harsh concerns but signify the starting point from which many teachers must begin in their self-critiquing process. By finding that some instructors viewed "inner-city students of color as passive recipients of white teachers' good will" (p. 664) or that they "didn't expect them to do much because of where they came from" (p. 665), McIntyre was able to conclude that educational racism and institutional silence need to be addressed, and that teachers must become accountable for this type of pedagogy. Although this study was conducted among student teachers in primary and secondary education, these concerns can be applied across the board and into higher education, as well. Therefore, the first step in incorporating multiculturalism into the classroom is recognizing the need for instructor-coaching to remedy the lack of knowledge surrounding multiculturalism and diversity.
The next responsibility that educators need to possess is becoming educated about their students. In a study conducted by Allen (2000), one participant stated that "it is important for teachers to be educated about their students and their backgrounds and to promote appreciation and respect for different cultures, races, and religions" (p. 9). Not only is this important in creating a comfortable environment for students, but it is necessary to have a grasp on where the students are coming from and what kinds of cross-cultural conflict could arise in the classroom. For instance, faculty members should be familiar with the campus and community climate. Also, to be able to create a multicultural base in one's pedagogy, the instructor must be able to understand the dynamic between students' different cultural groups while in the classroom (Pang, 1994). By doing this, the teacher can better set up an environment where students can be respected through acknowledgement of their background, and they will also be more apt to learn from each other.
Also, relative to multicultural pedagogy are the actions that instructors take to display their awareness and competency in multiculturalism. If the goal is to support confident, inclusive, ethical students, then educators must exert similar qualities. In fact, Pang (1994) goes so far as to say that "modeling is the most powerful strategy in teaching" (p. 89). Conveying a similar message, one of Allen's (2000) participants states that instructors must not impose their own values on students, but must be models for how to live ethically in today's society. One of the ways to model multicultural competency is by using inclusive language. An example of this is not separating cultures by saying "us" and "them" when discussing different ethnicities or different cultural groups (Nagy, 2000).
Multiculturally-oriented faculty should display inclusive and openness to helping all students. Lock & Kiselica (199, p. 82), observe that "College students who perceive their professors to be highly supportive of questioning are more likely to be motivated internally and to use strategies typical of self-directed learners" (Locke & Kiselica, 1999, p. 82). Encouraging and supporting questions in the classroom are essential qualities for faculty members to have if they are striving to create a safe environment in which students can learn. Also, note that feedback addressing student progress is crucial for self-esteem (Locke & Kiselica). Feedback can be critical in aiding students' multicultural development. As instructors become more self-aware and knowledgeable of their responsibilities in creating a multicultural atmosphere in the classroom, they will naturally integrate these skills into the creation of the classroom environment.
To build on what was addressed in the previous section, the classroom environment can be a very encouraging place for multicultural learning if the climate is established in a way that is effective for all students. Or, it can be a discouraging environment for students if they do not feel represented through course material, presentations, and class discussions. Adrienne Rich, an influential American poet, once wrote:
When those who have the power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or to hear you, whether you are dark-skinned, old, disabled, female or speak with a different accent of dialect than theirs, when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in a mirror and saw nothing (qtd in Maher & Tetreault, 2001, p. 201).
In relation to this statement, Nagy (2000) notes: "As higher education teachers, we create a certain culture in classrooms which may form our students' concept of reality" (p. 3). Taking this into consideration, educators must create an environment where important issues in human relations can be discussed openly and honestly (Benns-Suter, 1993). Making mistakes should not be feared in the classroom, because "wrong answers" are legitimate (Locke & Kiselica, 1999) and "mistakes are the fertilizer of success" (Pang, 1994, p. 90). As the common cliché states, people are more likely to learn from their mistakes than from their successes.
Another factor that plays a role in creating a multicultural environment is the concept of community. In the classroom, students should know and feel comfortable with each other and their teacher. Also, it is very important for instructors to not assume that minority students are experts on multiculturalism (Locke & Kiselica, 1999); minorities should not be given the role of representing their entire race (Nagy, 2000). Students should have the opportunity of learning in an environment where they see their own and other cultures present in the classroom. Alemán and Saltever (2004) address the implications of promoting diversity to campus populations, while not forgetting the goal of diversity-based pedagogy.
They discuss the common perspective of faculty that "it is necessary to have students of color in the classroom, because these students are able to present the unique perspectives of experiential difference" (p. 51). The downfall of this, however, is that "Because the diversity initiatives are understood in this way, the pedagogical value of multiculturalism is ignored, and faculty express great skepticism about the effectiveness and worth of these initiatives" (p. 53). When it comes to contributing to the creation of a multicultural classroom environment, both diversity of students (and faculty) and diversity of curriculum should be held at great value. Also, there should be an interesting, lively classroom climate (Pang, 1994), which leads to the next multicultural education matter: some techniques that instructors can use to integrate multiculturalism into the classroom.
According to Locke & Kiselica (1999, p. 85), "Creative teaching strategies can help the process of teaching become less threatening and more productive than traditional lecture approaches." Making use of varying multicultural teaching techniques is beneficial for students of all learning styles. The following section will cover many options for integrating multicultural pedagogy into the classroom. They include reflection and writing, reading, interactive, and the IQ test.
Reflection is a key method to prompt growth and learning among students. Studies on multicultural education recognize the importance of reflection through journal-writing about lessons and their work (Rasmussen, Nichols, & Ferguson, 2006), self-critique and self-analysis (McIntyre, 1997), soul-searching for racist aspects of one's personality, exploring their beliefs about other people (Locke & Kiselica, 1999), exploration of their own background (Nagy, 2000), and summary reports about the way they think and feel about themselves after an activity (Allen, 2000). Henry (2003) suggests engaging the class in writing reflections after an activity or discussion, and displaying all of the anonymous responses on the overhead to provoke more thought about how students' perceptions may be very different depending on each of their individual backgrounds. The hope is that, through some of these times of reflection, students will experience dissonance between their own attitudes and beliefs and those of others surrounding them. They are given the opportunity to add to their own concept of diversity and multiculturalism by making connections with individuals who are different from themselves (Allen).
Specific, reflective activities that can facilitated in the classroom include the "one-minute paper" (Locke & Kiselica, 1999), free-writing in response to literature or a quote (Nagy, 2000), the "Thoughts Tape" (Henry, 2003), or sheer questioning about students' personal worldviews (Pang, 1994). The one-minute paper is assigned for one minute at the end of a class period and is meant to give students a chance to write about their concerns based on that day's class. Free-writing can be used to prompt students to react to a quote (e.g.-the Rich quote on p. 5-6), or to ask direct questions like "what do you know about your own culture?" followed by, "why do you think you need information about black culture?" (Pang, p. 89).
The "Thoughts Tape" exercise is a method to help students get a clearer sense of their own ideas and to self-monitor their growth (Henry). In the beginning of the term, students tape themselves talking about their beliefs on multicultural issues, diversity, and racism and turn the recordings in to the instructor. They are ensured that no one, including the instructor, will listen to the tapes. In preparation for the final class period, the tapes are given back to the students, and after listening to their original thoughts, they create a ten-minute presentation on the changes they have experienced or the new questions that have arisen for them since the beginning of the term. Henry claims this to "be one of the most powerful learning activities we have explored in class" (p. 26). These are all activities that can be altered in one way or another to become relevant to any course offered-even if it is not a course directly focused on multicultural issues.
Another area of coursework to consider while attempting creating a multicultural environment in the classroom is reading. Approaching case studies from diverse viewpoints (Rasmussen et al., 2006) are one method; selecting texts by "minority" authors can be used to explain and elucidate historical injustices (Hogan, 2006). Incorporating ethnic content and literature is a great way to uphold diverse voices in the classroom (Pang, 1994), and it can have a positive impact on students of all different ethnic backgrounds, high school and college students alike. For example, one instructor stated that "a young African-American 11th grade student recently told me how much she appreciated reading about African-American people in school" (Nagy, 2000).
Updating curriculum by incorporating race, gender, and multicultural perspectives can be beneficial in defining the classroom as a multicultural learning environment (Benns-Suter, 1993). However, it is clear in the research that students need to be exposed to more avenues of multiculturalism than just through reading and alterations of textbook curriculum. Hogan states that "ethical content does not effectively acknowledge or address the ways in which racism is a viscerally real as well as discursively constructed system... and, thus it has not led to widespread social or curricular change" (p. 356). Beyond the context, of the classroom exists the importance of contact in the classroom. The next section will outline suggestions of how to use multicultural pedagogy via interactive methods.
The first point to make regarding classroom interaction is that students must be able to grasp the relevance of the material, the lessons, and the activities to their own lives. As Pang (1994) describes it, "wise teachers create lessons on issues that their students have chosen to investigate" (p. 92). For that reason, it can be helpful to open up the classroom to suggestions on what the students would like to explore during the course of the term. Using the concepts of highest interest, instructors can create interactive methods to get the students engaged in those areas. Debates (Allen, 2000; Rasmussen et al., 2006), role-plays (Rasmussen et al., 2006; Benns-Suter, 1993; Nagy, 2000; Warren, 2006), group papers and projects, and case studies are all possible activities where students can learn by taking a multicultural approach. Case studies are particularly interesting in this respect because there is a greater comfort level for students to comment on behavior of others rather than on their own attitudes and behaviors (Nagy, 2000).
Individual growth is an emphasis in higher education and can be related to reflection activities, but this growth must be balanced with the powerful communal aspects of college life. Making community-building a priority at the start of a course will affect how the students will interact throughout the term. Taking a pragmatic approach is one method to encourage interaction between students, and it can help to create the opportunity for students to see their interdependency (Henry, 2003). Instructors can address a multicultural or individual/social divide by asking students what they all have in common and how they need each other to be successful in college or university life. Locke and Kiselica (1999) show their accordance with this idea by stating that "The central educational issues today hinge on social relations, not on cognitive ones, and on relations among persons, not relations between persons and things" (p. 80).
McIntyre (1997) suggests an activity that was successful for her. As an orientation activity and to get the students thinking about the importance of multiculturalism, she paired students and asked them to write down all the things that they had in common and also to write down all of their differences. Then they returned to the large group and had a discussion about how the activity went. This is a type of activity that can be used in any sort of classroom, and is especially important during the initial weeks of the term when students are just getting a feel for the learning environment of that particular course. Truly, through activities like this one, students are given the opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the term.
Lastly, I will describe the IQ Test method of incorporating multicultural perspective into a classroom (Warren, 2006). This can be used to raise awareness of the importance of multiculturalism in any chosen discipline. Warren uses three simple learning activities with undergraduate psychology students at Texas A&M University. One of the activities is the IQ Test-where the students complete a knowledge questionnaire that is written in Spanish. They receive one minute to complete the questionnaire, and are given the challenge of understanding what it means to struggle with language ability, to be part of the minority in United States culture. Warren states that "These activities are easy to implement (simple materials, easy to give to classes of varying sizes) and make obvious the fact that considering the construct of multiculturalism in psychology and in intelligence testing is critical" (p. 108). Again, this is an activity that can be implemented in any course to simply and quickly get students thinking about the role that multiculturalism plays in higher education in the United States.
Benefits of multicultural classrooms
Classrooms in the United States and in many other parts of the world today are made up of culturally diverse instructors and students. The cultural pluralism in classrooms makes them models of pluralistic democracy. Consequently, the application of the basic principles of the global perspective of multicultural education in learning practices and teaching in culturally diverse populations in classrooms is more important today than ever. Multicultural classrooms have enabled many learning institutions to become models of the society in which they are situated, and as such have become models for multicultural tolerance in society, centers for academic excellence, and models for the globalised world, as well as models for democratic values and equity.
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Multicultural classrooms are models for academic excellence
The tenets and principles of multicultural classrooms make it possible to promote academic excellence in all students (Rasmussen et al., 2006). The fundamental rationale of the global perspective of multicultural classrooms that makes it possible to step-up academic excellence among diverse groups of students in many learning institutions in the nation (Pang, 1994) comprises the following:
- Instructors in learning institutions work together with local communities to create a supportive environment for multiculturalism and diversity.
- Education can provide dispositions, skill and knowledge for distribution of income and power among diverse communities.
- Cultural difference have value and strength
- Values and Attitudes necessary to for the development of democracy can be promoted in classrooms.
Multicultural classrooms are models of multicultural societies
In a country that champions opportunities and equal right for all to improve the living standards for all, the main concern of educators' is that learning institutions should be able to promote the social, political and academic success to all students (Rasmussen et al., 2006). In 2002, the Unites States Census Bureau predicted that by 2020 almost half of the nation will be made up of minority citizens. According to the census report, this increase in diversity reflects the diversity of the United States and the world (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002). This statistics means that there is real need to involve minority communities in the social, education and economic mainstream ((Nagy, 2000). This reality is more apparent in schools, collages and universities where there is increasing diversity in minority faculty and student population.
Multicultural classrooms as models of an independent world
The staff, instructors, and students in many learning institutions in the world including those in the United States come from various countries. These staff, instructors, and students have various racial, cultural, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds. Moreover, it has become mandatory in the United States for learning institutions to employ instructors and admit students from various racial, cultural, socio-economic, and religious backgrounds. It is also mandatory that learning institutions provide a supportive atmosphere that respect and accept diversity and provide academic programs that is inclusive of the whole community. To provide equitable services, learning institution must be conscious of the various cultural elements available in community within which the institution is located.
Multicultural classrooms as models of democratic human values
Studies on human relations on America's learning institutions in the past 30 years have shown that student-faculty relations, student-student interaction, and student performance reflects the perceptions, values, attitudes and abilities among those in the school community and the curricula offered (Maher & Tetreault, 2001). University and collage professors and administrators at the 2002 National Conference on Multicultural Affairs in Higher Education (Henry, 2003) reiterated the importance of accepting diversity on universities throughout the nation by spotlighting the approaches to create inclusive programs for all students. The long-run benefits of the global perspective of multicultural classroom education outweighs the short-term hurts that results from the anxiety by less informed administrators and educators (Allen, 2000; Rasmussen et al., 2006). Proper understanding of the various cultural elements and how they vary among groups from diverse cultures is the best way to create a positive relation among persons of diverse cultures ((Nagy, 2000).
Until recently, multicultural classrooms focused mainly on the equity in teaching as a way of counteracting the problems brought about by the assimilation of multicultural education. Today, with the increasing interconnections among the nations of the world, especially as the world faces global issues such as nuclear weapons, the ecosystem, resource depletion, human rights and terrorism, the range of classroom multicultural education must be expanded to have a global perspective. Schools and universities are models of the nations and communities in which they are situated and can functions as venues for embracing the global position of multicultural education.
Multicultural pedagogy is not an easy art to learn, especially among faculty members who have never put much thought in putting it into practice. However, given the college student populations of today, multiculturalism is essential to consider in respect to diverse students, multicultural workforces, and multicultural relationships. By acknowledging diversity of people, ideas, and pedagogical methods in the classroom, instructors are simply doing their students a beneficial service for their futures. Once faculty take on responsibility for their own self-awareness and knowledge of multicultural teaching methods, then an environment can be created for student growth in this area. Then, by using multiculturally-inclusive language, activities, and curriculum, students will be given the opportunity to reflect on what it means to them to live in a multicultural world. Nagy (2000) states the following:
I will continue to structure my classes so that the students and I can explore our own attitudes and learn about one another's attitudes as a way of helping to create a reality of which we are all part. Perhaps as my students begin or continue to teach in higher education, they will be inspired to do the same. (p. 7)
With this as an example, faculty in classrooms can begin to reshape their personal pedagogical perspectives in a multicultural way. One by one, classrooms have the potential to become more culturally-inclusive and to recognize the importance of multiculturalism in the colleges and around the world. As multicultural pedagogy becomes the norm, or the culture, both instructors and students will reap the benefits. If reflective of higher education, perhaps the rest of the world "will be inspired to do the same."
Schools and universities whose leaders embrace the idea of multicultural education will not only become the centers for academic excellence but will also reap the benefits of multicultural education, attraction for international human resource and economics and models for multicultural societies as they encourage good human relations with other nations.