Kindergarten is the grade most adults look back on and say, "I learned everything I every needed to know in kindergarten." Kindergarten is a wonderful experience. Kindergarten is a time for painting at the easel, dressing up and imitating in the doll corner, cutting and pasting at the art center, and making discoveries through science. It is a time for discovery of self and others.
I am currently teaching a kindergarten class of twenty-six children, twenty-three African-Americans and three Latino/Hispanics. The children range from four to seven years of age. The socioeconomic background of these students extends from low to middle class. Many of these students live in homes where both parents are present, though this is not the experience of all. I've had the pleasure of interacting with the fathers of many of these children as frequently as the mothers. This unique group of children exhibits a love for learning and an ability to work together which has made the job of teaching a very pleasurable experience.
The majority of the students are African-American but recently there has been a slow but steady increase in the number of children of Latino/Hispanic descent being enrolled. This increase demands that any unit done involving culture and history include a more ethnically and culturally diverse group of people than may have been necessary in the past.
Children today are living in a complex world in which knowledge is increasing at a startling rate. The skills and occupations needed to function in this information-based society may change as rapidly. Today's children need to be challenged to meet the demands of a global society and be prepared to make decisions concerning the community, nation, and world in which they live.
Children today are living in a culturally and racially pluralistic society. It is therefore important that children learn to appreciate their own cultures as well as the cultures of others. It is the responsibility of the educational system, parents, and adults on the whole to teach racial and cultural acceptance. People from diverse groups have to learn to live together and to resolve any racial or cultural differences in a socially acceptable way.
Multicultural education is a necessity if we are going to produce citizens who can work and play with others diverse from themselves in a positive way. It is only through education that the partitions of racism, prejudice, and bigotry can be overcome. Experience has shown that multicultural education is good for all children. A multicultural education should not consist of one special project taught once a year for a specified time but it should be diffused into the curriculum throughout the entire year.
As important as multicultural education is in today's society, it is crucial that children know their own culture and history. The educational process in the United States has for years propagated the belief that the values of the European segment of society are those for which each person should strive. These same teachings have been responsible for teaching certain minority groups that their race of people will never amount to anything and will never live up to the standards of other peoples. This imparting of information is not education. Education consists of teaching a person to think. When you control the way a person thinks you control the actions of the person. Children who are thus taught will not need to be told that they are inferior or incapable of learning but will automatically "fulfill" the role in which they are thrust.
The argument has been made in the past, that because minority groups are not tax paying citizens they should voice no argument as to how they are educated but should humbly accept the charitable contributions made to their uplift by those in control. This argument resurfaces every time a minority community reacts to the curriculum or treatment of their children. You can hear this same argument being voiced by those who stand in front of the children on a daily basis. The children are therefore portrayed as the subjects of handouts regardless of the actual progress made as a people. This has led to the generalizing of all people of certain ethnic and cultural groups and gives the power to those in control to dictate the abilities of this people to improve them.
The racial and cultural differences in people are not an indicator of superiority or inferiority. It may indicate that each race has special gifts that the others may or may not possess. By developing the gifts within their cultural group each group justifies its right to exist. Children need to know that their racial groups have made positive contributions to society and that they are still impacting society in a positive way.
This curriculum unit provides the children with the opportunity to read about the dreams, aspirations, and goals of people who were once children just like themselves. They will learn of the disappointments, hardships, and difficulties that these people faced and overcame. Knowing that others have passed this way before them and achieved their goals can only serve as a motivator as the children see themselves reflected in literature. Knowing one's own history is imperative if one is to have a positive base from which to understand others. History, which is the record of a person's past, tells a person where they have been and is a guide to where the people are going.
The main objective of this unit is to help the children celebrate the achievements of individuals of different ethnic groups by focusing primarily on the contributions made in the fields of music, sports, literature, science, etc. The basis of this unit lies in a language-based program. The literature utilized in this unit will consist mainly but not exclusively of non-fictional selections. The interdisciplinary approach will include reading, science, art, writing, and physical education. The emphasis here is not on the recall of facts but rather centers on exposure to the achievements of individuals of various ethnic groups.
Children need to see themselves and their experiences in literature. Literature is a powerful tool for building self-esteem in children and for fostering the ability to get along with others different than themselves. The integration of literature with the social studies curriculum provides a wonderful opportunity to foster self-discovery. By immersing the children in diverse literature, we provide opportunities for the discussion and evaluation of cultural and ethnic differences.
Through a rich selection of literature on persons of various ethnic and cultural groups, the children will learn about those who have made a positive contribution to society. The persons named in this unit can be introduced over a short period of time or the throughout the course of the year. Some of the names listed may be unfamiliar to the reader but it doesn't lessen the importance of their achievement. These persons have been selected from the past and present, which offers the opportunity for the children to read or hear about them through current events in the newspapers, magazines, and visual media of our time.
Social studies are the area of the curriculum that deals with people. It is through the social studies unit of the curriculum that the child learns to understand self - beginning with the family unit, then the community and expanding to the understanding of people on the other side of the world. The goal of the social studies unit is to produce a caring and thoughtful people who are well-informed, participating, and humane citizens.
This unit, Who's Who in America: Multicultural Achievers A to Z, does not have to be presented in alphabetical order for it is not the intention of this unit to teach the children recognition of the alphabet. The persons named in this unit can be introduced over a short period of time by introducing them in a continuous manner or they can be integrated into the curriculum in response to a particular holiday or day of recognition. For example: Daddy & Me, the story of the special parent/child relationship, between tennis great Arthur Ashe and his daughter Camera, is a wonderful story to read the children for Father's Day. This same story can also be used as a method of introducing the child to AIDS Awareness. The ways to utilize this unit vary according to the creativity and imagination of the classroom teacher.
Due to the limited space and the extensive nature of this unit, lessons have not been provided for each person listed in the Who's Who section. The format of the lessons is simple enough that the classroom teacher can add lesson plans for those individuals in whom he/she takes an interest. I've chosen to include lesson plans for the first three individuals listed in this unit. Each lesson begins with a brief synopsis of the life of the individual being studied. There are basic questions that I will ask as a check for comprehension and as discussion starters.