STUDENT VIEWS OF DIVERSITY A MULTICULTURAL MATHEMATICS ACTIVITY: Viewing Transformation during the Middle School Years

By Riskowski, Jody L. | Multicultural Education, Winter 2010 | Go to article overview

STUDENT VIEWS OF DIVERSITY A MULTICULTURAL MATHEMATICS ACTIVITY: Viewing Transformation during the Middle School Years


Riskowski, Jody L., Multicultural Education


Introduction

Multicultural education connects social change and transformation to the classroom (Banks, 2004; Sleeter, 2001). Within the field of multicultural education exists the prospect of transformative learning, defined as the process of moving beyond factual knowledge to developing greater awareness (metacognition) through the curriculum (Mezirow, 2000), growing and developing in a meaningful manner. Transformative learning highlights these factors within the personal context and societal context. With the changing face of today's classrooms, both in K-12 and higher education, there is a growing need to address multiculturalism and diversity awareness in the United States.

Of particular importance are the middle school years, which is the developmental period when students are concerned with how others perceive them and their culture (Manning, 1989). To the middle school student, their self worth and self image are at stake, and Manning suggests that the middle school classroom should be an environment that promotes cultural awareness, experiences, and opportunities.

Banks (1989) has proposed four major goals in multicultural education:

(1) To increase the academic achievement of all students.

(2) To aid students in developing a more positive attitude toward different cultural, racial, ethnic, and religious groups.

(3) To assist students from victimized groups develop confidence in their academic ability and influence upon societal institutions.

(4) To encourage all students to consider the perspectives of other groups.

Within the middle school classroom, multicultural education would act to positively enhance student awareness, develop understanding of diversity, and promote student self-confidence. It is a method to cultivate perspective and nurture diversity through cognition and action to achieve clarity in our societal mores and practices (Phillips, 1998). Hill (1992) suggests that the foundation for optimal child development is an understanding and appreciation of self, community, cooperation, purpose, creativity, and spirituality encouraged during the transition into adulthood, all of which can be achieved through multicultural activities during the middle school years.

An important aspect of multicultural education involves questioning assumptions, paradigms, values, and beliefs (Grabov, 1997; Mezirow, 1997). Mezirow (1990) states that learning is changing the way one thinks, but not all learning is transformative. Defining differences between transmissional, transactional, and transformational education, Miller and Seller (1990) state that transmission knowledge is lectured from teacher to student, while transactional knowledge is experienced, such as in practices of inquiry and interaction with others. Transformative knowledge goes beyond transactional knowledge, making learning not just behaviorally active, but cognitively active, through questioning one's own thoughts and beliefs (Mezirow, 1997).

O'Sullivan (2003) described transformative learning as:

[Experiencing] a deep, structural shift in the basic premises of thought, feelings, and actions. It is a shift of consciousness that dramatically and irreversibly alters our way of being in the world...[involving] our understanding of ourselves and our self-locations; our relationships with other humans and with the natural world; our understanding of relations of power in interlocking structures of class, race and gender; our body awarenesses, our visions of alternative approaches to living; and our sense of possibilities for social justice and peace and personal joy.

Multicultural education does not simply teach students about other cultural or demographic groups but nurtures the cohesion of these groups. It goes beyond showing that there are many lifestyles, languages, cultures, or perspectives by embracing the differences between others to provide a platform for growth and unity, helping students to become respectful and understanding (Dimidjian, 1989). …

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