Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Uncharted Territory: Mapping Students' Conceptions of Ethnic Diversity

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Uncharted Territory: Mapping Students' Conceptions of Ethnic Diversity

Article excerpt


This paper presents findings from a research project that focuses on grade seven students' understandings of ethnic diversity. It describes the ways in which students understand the concept of ethnic diversity and the related concept, tolerance. It represents a significant shift from past research that has focused solely on attitudes toward ethnic diversity without investigating the knowledge structures that inform an individual's mind-set. Data for this study were collected using semi-structured, stimuli centered interviews. Phenomenographic analysis techniques were used to develop descriptions of the students' understandings of the concept. We argue that students understand the concept of ethnic diversity in a limited number of qualitatively different ways, and that, in general, these understandings are far less sophisticated than those outlined in curricular expectations.

Cet article presente des resultats d'une etude qui vise a explorer comment les eleves de la septieme annee comprennent le concept de la diversite ethnique. Ce travail decrit les manieres dont les etudiants comprennent le concept de la diversite ethnique et le concept associe, la tolerance. Il represente un decalage significatif de la recherche passee qui s'est concentree seulement sur des attitudes envers la diversite ethnique sans etudier les connaissances qui informent ses memes attitudes. Des donnees pour cette etude ont ete rassemblees en utilisant des entrevues individuelles et en discutant des situations quotidiennes dont la diversite ethnique pourrait jouer un role central. Des techniques d'analyse de la phenomenographie ont ete employees afin de developper des descriptions des conceptions que les eleves ont demontrees. Nous estimons que les eleves comprennent le concept de la diversite ethnique d'une maniere variee mais aussi limitee et que, en general, ces connaissances sont moins sophistiquees que celles qui sont decrites dans les programmes d'etudes.

Questions regarding how nations will deal with ethnic diversity are central to public policy debates around the world. As Kymlicka points out, there is "a striking worldwide trend regarding the diffusion and adoption of the principles and policies of multicultural citizenship" which has reached way beyond the West, to "even the most remote regions of Peru, the highlands of Nepal, and the peripheries of Communist China" (2004, xiii). A central concern wherever cultural policy is discussed is "how can we ensure that the recognition of diversity does not undermine efforts to construct or sustain common political values, mutual trust and understanding, and solidarity across group lines?" (ibid.).

Most Western (and many non-Western) nations have adopted some form of multiculturalism in response to this question. Kymlicka writes that, despite controversy about multiculturalism, "the overall trends are fairly consistent throughout the West toward greater recognition of diversity" (2003, 374). Joshee argues that Canadians take particular pride in this, contending, "acceptance of diversity is one of Canada's foundational myths" (2004, 129). While "Canada's approach to internal diversity is not so different from that of other Western democracies" (Kymlicka 2003, 369), it is "distinctive in the extent to which it has not only legislated but also constitutionalized practices of accommodation" (Kymlicka 2003, 374).

From the beginning in Canada, education has been a central institution for the implementation of policy in the area of diversity. Joshee (2004) and others (for example, Bruno-Jofre and Aponiuk 2001; Hebert 2002; Sears et al. 1999) have documented the shift in educational policy and practice over the years, from an emphasis on assimilation, to more contemporary efforts to promote understanding of, and respect for, diversity. While there is evidence of a retreat from the activist social justice curricula which appeared in some jurisdictions in the 1980s and 1990s, developing understanding of cultural difference is a key goal of education generally and social studies education in particular across the country (Joshee 2004; Sears and Wright 2004). …

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