In this unit I plan to present some strategies that teachers can use to help children come to value the diversity that exists in the world around them—on a small scale, in their schools, communities, the teams they play on, and penpals they interact with, but also in a larger framework, as children inevitably encounter diversity through the media. Television, videos, books, newspapers and magazines, etc., continuously bring to our living-rooms the concerns, needs and accomplishments of people of all types from different cultures and ethnicities. “The World is coming to America,” Gust and McChesney exclaim in the introduction to their book,
, and we, both as parents and teachers, have a responsibility to help our children to become more appreciative of the differences that surround us.
My approach will be to present concepts in a particular sequence, one building on the other, beginning with having my students take a closer look at themselves, their names, their families and their neighborhoods in an effort to foster their knowledge and appreciation of themselves as individuals and as members of a group. From there we will move on to the exploration of ‘differences’ and ‘similarities’ in people. Following this, we will examine stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. Because I am a teacher of primary-aged children, I have chosen concepts and learning activities that are both specific and concrete. I leave the teaching of the more complex concepts of racism and oppression to the teacher of the older child.
Good stories, says Louise Derman-Sparks in her book,
Anti-Bias Curriculum: Tools for Empowering Young Children
, “capture the heart, mind and imagination, and are an important way to transmit values” (p.16). I plan to use children’s literature—both fiction and nonfiction and poetry—as a vehicle to introduce each topic. I find that a well-selected piece of children’s literature embodies the essence of the concept and expresses it in ways that children can identify with much more than any single poster, audio-visual aid or mini-lecture that I might give. To bring further clarity and meaning to the concept being explored, I have chosen relevant interdisciplinary activities to accompany each lesson.
I teach second-grade in a self-contained classroom at Lincoln-Bassett Community School. My children are primarily from African-American descent, a heterogeneous group with varying abilities in the 7-to-9 year age range. Although I have designed this unit with them in mind, I am confident that it could easily be adapted by teachers to suit the K-3 grades, if not older.
The lessons in this unit center around the following diversity themes, one building on the other:
I.) Valuing ourselves as individuals and as members of a group.
II.) Looking at the similarities and differences of people.
III.) Understanding stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.
The lessons will be introduced on a daily basis for a period of about 45 to 60 minutes. I anticipate the unit covering a four to six month span of time.
Part of the challenge of designing my lessons has been simply identifying and acquiring appropriate samples of children’s literature at the primary level to help introduce and support the particular multicultural theme being explored. To my knowledge there is no single resource at the primary level comparable to Hazel Rochman’s excellent resource for adolescent literature, entitled
Against Borders: Promoting Books for a Multicultural World
. I have, therefore, undertaken the laborious task of reviewing numerous picture books in an effort to select those that, in my estimation, most effectively address the themes I am covering in my unit. I have ultimately found more good books than I could possibly use in my limited unit, and so I have provided two appendices preceding the bibliography pages in which I have listed other books that teachers may consider in presenting the various multicultural themes. Appendix A includes books whose main theme concerns identity, family and heritage. Appendix B includes books centering around the themes of neighborhoods, similarities and differences in people and prejudice.
Before I begin introducing the lessons (which begin under Section I below), let us take a brief look at the four approaches for implementing multicultural education in the classroom as put forth by James Banks, a major theorist in the field.
Since the civil rights movement of the 1960’s more efforts have been made to integrate ethnic content into the school curriculum which before that time had been reflective exclusively of the majority white culture. In his book entitled
Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives
, James Banks describes four approaches that have evolved by which this integration can be implemented. He ranks them in order of their effectiveness.
, the mainstream curriculum stays relatively intact and the teacher simply inserts content about ethnic heroes/ heroines and specific cultural artifacts (such as food, music, celebrations of various ethnic groups, etc.). This is a quick and easy way for teachers to create a more multicultural curriculum and it at least provides students with one-time experiences of particular heroes/ heroines. Clearly, this approach has its drawbacks. It does not enable students to develop a more global view of the role played by the various ethnic groups in our society. They may learn about specific individuals of various ethnicities and yet not understand the role they played in the total context of our country’s history and society. In addition, with this approach the insertion of only very discrete cultural aspects fails to present students with a complete picture of the culture, often simply trivializing it and, in fact, creating misconceptions. Banks suggest that such an approach may even reinforce stereotypes.
, a book, unit or course is integrated into the core-curriculum without restructuring it, thus leaving the content and perspective primarily Eurocentric. Such an effort is often piecemeal and, similar to the ‘contributions approach’, it fails to provide students with an adequate view of the many-faceted ethnic content from multiple perspectives. In the final analysis, students are still not enabled to appreciate the many ways in which our country’s various ethnic groups are interconnected.
, the core-curriculum’s basic goals, structure and perspectives are changed in order to help students view issues, concepts and conflicts from multiple ethnic perspectives and points of view in an effort to enhance their understanding of both the development and complexity of our society. So when students study the American Revolution, for example, they learn about it from the perspectives of the many groups that were involved.
The fourth approach, the
social action approach
, encourages students to reflect on the particular issue or concept under study, synthesize their knowledge and make some decisions about it. Learning is extended beyond the classroom to the real world and students are encouraged to take some form of political or social action on a variety of community issues.
James Banks points out that the movement to infuse multicultural content into the core-curriculum is going to have to be gradual. Therefore, the teacher may find that she begins with the ‘contributions approach’ and later builds on it by using elements of the ‘transformation approach’. In fact, these approaches are frequently combined as teachers strive to make their curricula more and more effectively multicultural.
The primary goals of a multicultural curriculum and the ones I am including as my unit objectives are the following:
1.) To help every student to build a strong and confident self-identity as well as an informed and proud group-identity.
2.) To help students to develop an enthusiastic and creative interaction with diversity.
3.) To help students develop the necessary critical thinking skills for speaking up for oneself and others in the face of injustice.
Now, let us begin our lessons under the three following sections.