College Students' Myths about Diversity and What College Faculty Can Do

By Elhoweris, Hala; Parameswaran, Gowri et al. | Multicultural Education, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

College Students' Myths about Diversity and What College Faculty Can Do


Elhoweris, Hala, Parameswaran, Gowri, Alsheikh, Negmeldin, Multicultural Education


Introduction

In the last two decades the proportion of children of color in public schools in the U.S. has increased to about 40%. However, this has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in teachers of color. Many college and university teaching institutions have attempted to deal with the increase in the number of students of color in the public schools and the lack of minority teaching candidates by increasing the number of courses offered on diversity as part of their teaching programs.

Students entering teaching programs have had prior experience with issues of diversity either through personal experiences or exposure to popular media. Sometimes, their own school curriculum introduces them to issues of diversity. The popular discourse on diversity issues whether in public schools or in popular media is fraught with problems regarding both the conceptualization of what diversity is and the framing of the problems surrounding issues of diversity. Students also come with pre-conceived notions about the role of schooling in society and the goals of education in the development of a person. Many of these ideals may conflict with the goals of a multicultural education program that truly leads to the empowerment of all children.

The aim of this article is to discuss the myths that have been encountered by the authors in their personal teaching experiences with college students, and the impact of these myths on student teachers' understanding of their roles in classrooms. The authors hope to introduce readers to other writers who have commented and studied the myths. Finally we attempt to offer some suggested teaching tips as part of teacher education courses that will help clarify some of these issues for student teachers in their effort to be effective allies to underrepresented and marginalized students in their own classrooms.

Myth# 1:

Multicultural education reinforces barriers between various cultural groups.

In a class discussion about multicultural education, several student teachers in our classes stated that multicultural education is divisive and racist. Some even stated that the infusion of multicultural education in the school curriculum and the inclusion of school celebrations like Black History Month create more barriers between the various racial and cultural groups because it focuses on one group while excluding others. This argument seems to be founded on misunderstanding of the goal and practices of multicultural education.

According to Sleeter and Grant (1993), the goal of multicultural education is to promote "equal opportunity in the school, cultural pluralism, alternative life styles, and respect for those who differ and support for power equity among groups" (p. 171). Banks (1994) also defined multicultural education as "a way of viewing reality and a way of thinking, and not just content about various ethnic and cultural groups" (p. 8).

Multicultural education is for all cultural groups and it is about bringing all groups closer together. A class on multicultural education should include issues related to race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social class, religion, age, language, values, geographic origin, ability, and other differences. Multicultural education is also about developing positive attitudes toward individuals from various racial groups. Indeed, multicultural education can help us to create a more understanding, inclusive, and equitable society (Ravitch, 1991/1992).

The belief that multicultural education is divisive and racist is a myth that must be dismantled because it may discourage student teachers from teaching about cultural diversity that can foster an appreciation and respect for all students. Educators need to understand that the goal of multicultural education is to provide all cultural groups with equal educational opportunities. To address this, multicultural education must take into account the history of immigration in the U. …

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