In the new social study and history performance standards recently approved by the New Haven Board of Education, content standard 1.0 explicitly focuses upon diversity:
Students will understand the roles played by various racial, ethnic, and religious groups in the development of American Society.(8)
While performance standard 1.1 focuses upon how the various groups transmit their values and beliefs, 1.2 does so on the study of the origins of the community though its neighbors and city life and 1.3 looks for an understanding of the people, events, problems and ideas that each of those groups bring to the community.
Although this unit will focus upon the subsections of content standard 1.0, it will also give some attention to the subsection under performance standard 1.1 relating to the comparison and contrast of various cultures within a classroom with respect to family life now, over time, and between cultures.
It is important that teachers, administrators, parent groups and students participate in an open dialogue, about the assumptions and different interpretations that underlie the various multicultural curriculum approaches and the effects that cognitive type and learning style have in the way that children perceive and discover their community. While ethnic and racial diversity is a challenge, it also provides the opportunity to enrich us with the possibility of offering different perspectives and problem solving strategies by all the participants of the community. In order for the children to become more literate and effective citizens in an increasing and diverse nation and world, our children need to be more sophisticated in their understanding of race and ethnicity in America. It is my hope that in writing this unit I will be able to reach this goal.
Our community in the bilingual classroom is composed of a diverse group of students belonging all to the same ethnic group but, with very distinct and different characteristics exhibited by each of its members. This unit will fit in a larger theme on ourselves as individuals. First, we will study who we are and will learn about us in relation to our families. Then, we will compare ourselves and families to other members of our cooperative groups. This will be followed by comparisons to the rest of the members in the classroom. We will then proceed comparing ourselves and families to the students in the classroom next door, with whom we share lunch everyday and play in gym and music. Here the race similarities as well as the differences will be highlighted. The age similarities and differences will be the focus of our comparisons to the members one grade above and below ours. Finally we will make comparisons and make generalizations among the members surrounding our community, to other ethnic and minority groups not represented in our community but part of the society we live in. Here I like to emphasize the point that Gomez (1991) makes about how children could develop stereotypes when there is not enough emphasis placed on the similarities among all the individuals. At the same time he also dispels the myth that multicultural education is only necessary with those members that are part of the cultural or racial groups to be studied.
I propose to meet these standards through a series of ongoing activities through out the year with the learning style of each of the individuals and the developmental pathways serving as a guide. In order to accomplish this goal some preliminary observations about individual preferences will be necessary. I propose to use Mamchur’s (1996) Action-Oriented-Reflection-Oriented Inventory (AOROI) as the tool and instrument that will help me in the discovery of each of those learning style preferences.
As stated earlier, the instructional strategies indirectly reflect the cultures and cognitive styles of the various groups in the school because they include a diversity of strategies. The learning materials I used also reflect the cultures and learning styles of the various groups.
The importance of interdisciplinary curriculum which integrates the concept of similarities and differences among cultural groups in all content areas allows the student to view, interpret, and compare events and situations which will develop into generalizations thus constructing their meaning. It is however a prerequisite that the individual identify and clarify their values and compare them to what they have learned through a process of self-reflection and inquiry. Thus, appropriate time will be given for such a purpose after each of the activities outlined.
Banks (1987) feels that the concepts of culture, ethnic group, and ethnic minority would be developmentally appropriate for elementary school children to study. He states that their definition should be introduced early in the primary grades before continuing with much more complex concepts. He suggests that a point of departure in any integrated unit on diversity should be started with the definition of culture, followed by the concepts of microcultural group, ethnic group, and ethnic minority group. Banks(9) states that:
“Culture consists of the behavior patterns, symbols, institutions, values, and other human-made components of society. It is the unique achievement of a human group that distinguishes it from other groups.”