Much has been written within the last decade about demographic changes in the nation and how multiculturalism is a solution to the problems brought by these changes. Cottrol(4) warns us of the dangers of designing multicultural education programs for minority students as a quick fix for the many problems of inner-city education.
Multicultural education attempts to actualize the idea
of e pluribus unum
(out of many, one) and to create a society that recognizes and nurtures the cultures of its diverse people within a democratic frame. Up until now such an idea often meant that incoming new groups would be assimilated into one single American culture. An opposing perspective views
e pluribus unum
from a very different perspective. Its goal is cultural pluralism. Cultural pluralists promote the value of retaining cultures, not just tolerating them or melting them down. According to Janzen(5)
“multiculturalism . . . should not only develop appreciation for the perspectives of others, but should sustain a value-tolerant acceptance of diverse cultural understandings, belief systems, costumes, and (perhaps) sociopolitical traditions.”
It is essential that all members of society become multiculturally literate if we are going to accomplish and actualize the idea of
e pluribus unum.
There is no other goal in education as important for the well being of the American society in the 21st century, as acquiring the knowledge, skills, and values essential for functioning in a cross-racial, cross-ethnic, and cross-cultural situations. It is with this context in mind that we must take action in helping our students learn how to go beyond their own cultural borders so they can function in a democratic, pluralistic, nation-state. It is my hope that through the implementation of this unit we will be taking a step towards this goal.
Of Sleeter’s (1993)(6) five different approaches to multicultural education, it is the Human Relations approach with which I identify most. This approach tries to foster positive interpersonal relationships among diverse ethnic groups present in the classroom, and to strengthen student’s self-concept. This approach adds to the curriculum lessons on stereotyping, individual differences as well as similarities, and different contributions to society by the members of each of the represented groups. I would go a step further by including other minority and ethnic groups which are not represented in the classroom, school and community. This approach should be integrated in the rest of the subjects such as language arts, social studies and social development. The main purpose of such activities is to challenge the different stereotypes the students bring to school about each other and encourage them to feel good about the contributions each of them make to society.
Language is an integral part of self-discovery and the filter through which sociocultural understanding takes place.(7). Do to the fact that my classroom is part of the bilingual program, where teaching a second language is one of the central objectives, we could say that for at least the Hispanic children cultural diversity does permeate the total school environment. However, often their behavioral patterns, learning styles, and orientations are not openly accommodated do to a lack of understanding/ knowledge of such differences. It is here that the main focus of this unit lays. It seeks to give a response to the question: what role does ethnicity, etc. play in the cognitive and learning style of students?
Sandhu (1994) describes in detail the comparisons between Eastern and Western values and the effects that each culture has on its people. The Western World places emphasis on self control, glorifies the individual and makes use of analytic thinking. The Eastem World encourages self-expression, glorifies the family and values holistic thinking. Since Euro-Americans generally base their decisions and behaviors on Western values, while most of the other ethnic groups use Eastern values, this creates for some difficult situations when working with children of diverse ethnic backgrounds. It is thus important that the teacher is aware of these differences and acknowledges them as part of what makes each of us who we are. Such differences are also present in culture-based preferences for the learning environments between diverse and traditional students. Traditional students, mainly of European cultures, prefer a competitive learning environment, individual study, express emotions selectively and value analytical thinking. Their counterparts, belonging to diverse ethnic backgrounds, prefer cooperative learning environments, group study, expresses emotions freely and utilize relational and affective learning styles.
Ogbu (1994) classifies cultural differences in the educational context into three types: universal, primary and secondary. The first differences are universal in that all the children must make the transition from the home culture to school culture. Primary cultural differences arise due to the fact that those differences were present already before they came in contact with each other. Secondary cultural differences are based on qualitative differences in the nature of the relationship between the dominant culture and that of the minorities. These secondary cultural differences are affected by and have an effect on those differences depending upon if they are voluntary or involuntary. The teacher needs to be aware of such distinction if he/she is to understand the reasons why some minorities behave in specific given ways.
Currently a variety of instruments and techniques are being used in the classroom (i.e. cooperative learning, individual learning, lectures, hands-on activities, etc.) in order to accommodate the different learning styles of children and meet the largest number of learning preferences possible.