How Can University Professors Help Their Students Understand Issues of Diversity through Interpersonal & Intrapersonal Intelligences?

Article excerpt

If individuals are to understand things that are meaningful to their lives, they need to be exploring topics that are consequential to what is important in the culture. (Dobry, 1999, p. 8)


It was the first day of a typical class in our medium sized suburban state university, in a graduate class that prepares students for initial teacher certification. As always, the class was very diverse (see Figure 1).

We knew we needed to address issues of diversity and different perspectives, not only as part of the content of teacher education, but also to help our class become a community of learners.

College classrooms are changing from the traditional classroom of the past. Professors are greeted with a more diverse population of students and are seeing many different types of learners. Recent census data confirm that the United States population is becoming more multicultural and that this diversity will continue to increase. As our world is becoming more diverse, we believe that students in all domains of university study can benefit from developing an appreciation and understanding of issues of diversity.

We define multicultural education in a sociopolitical context as a process of basic education that challenges and rejects racism and other forms of discrimination and accepts and affirms the pluralism (ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, economic, and gender, among others) that students, their communities and teachers reflect (Nieto, 2000).

We see great value in exploring our own identities and having our students also do so, to further the discussion of multiculturalism. Documenting and sharing some of the "transformative experiences that help us to bridge our personal and professional identities" (Genor & Schulte, 2002) can often begin a dialogue with students that embraces issues of race and diversity.

Nieto (1994, 2000) proposes four levels of understanding diversity: Tolerance; Acceptance; Respect; and Affirmation/Solidarity/Critique. Tolerance, the lowest level, implies that differences are acknowledged and, perhaps, accepted. This level is sometimes targeted through workshops, readings and seminars that focus on diversity issues. However, in order to achieve the highest level (Affirmation/Solidarity/Critique), many opportunities for regular exploration of values as an integral part of the curriculum are necessary. Additionally, multicultural education is a process, continually changing and never finished. Given that multicultural education is critical pedagogy, it is necessarily dynamic (Nieto, 2000, p. 337).

Finally, by engaging in constant self-reflection, we, as educators must become aware of our own unconscious racist assumptions (Wynne, 2000). Do we have high expectations for all students? Do we model fairness and understanding through what we say and do? Do we use books and materials that are free of bias? Do we consider that students have a variety of learning styles and do we use a variety of assignments so that each student will feel comfortable as a learner?

Adults bring to the classroom a complex web of experiences, knowledge, skills, and dispositions regarding themselves and the topic at hand. College students lead busy and frenetic lives. They often have fixed viewpoints and entrenched habits. Many have a problem-solving orientation and can be a valuable resource for one another. Some have a need to be self-directing. They almost always represent a diverse group of learners who have strengths in one or more of the various multiple intelligences.

According to Nieto (2000), true multicultural education includes instructional strategies and interactions among teachers, students, and families. Howard Gardner gives us a framework to understand various types of learners and how to support their needs. Combining Nieto's principles with Gardner's Multiple Intelligences can provide context for various types of adult learning activities to address the range of learners and move beyond tolerance of differences toward affirmation and solidarity. …