Magazine article Techniques

An Education in Diversity: Our Nation's Students May Reflect Many Races and Cultures, but They All Share the Need for an Education upon Which to Build Their Futures-And the Future of the United States

Magazine article Techniques

An Education in Diversity: Our Nation's Students May Reflect Many Races and Cultures, but They All Share the Need for an Education upon Which to Build Their Futures-And the Future of the United States

Article excerpt

America the beautiful is increasingly becoming America the beautifully diverse. Long known as 'the melting pot," our nation is now a rich stew of spices from cultures around the world. As our diversity has increased even further in recent years, a new oxymoron has joined the English lexicon: majority-minority state.

In August 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that Texas was the latest state to become a majority-minority state, as its population was estimated as of July 2004 to be 50.2 percent minority. Texas joins Hawaii (77 percent), New Mexico (57 percent) and California (56 percent). The District of Columbia is estimated to be 70 percent minority. Five more states--Maryland, Mississippi, Georgia, New York and Arizona--are poised to join the ranks of the majority-minority states, with population estimates currently at around 40 percent. The Census Bureau counts the minority population as including all people except non-Hispanic single-race whites.

As our cultural diversity has increased, so has the awareness of the necessity for adapting teaching methods to meet the needs of all students. Educators now face special challenges, but in career and technical education, teachers have always faced the challenge of educating students with diverse needs and abilities.

Teaching and Unteaching

Prejudice is not something we are born with but something we acquire from influences around us. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote in their song for South Pacific:

"You've got to be taught to be afraid/ Of people whose eyes are oddly made/ And people whose skin is a different shade/ You've got to be carefully taught."

Parents concerned about both subtle and unsubtle influences of prejudice that their children encounter are still the first line of defense, but all too often, the burden to "unteach" what has been carefully taught falls upon teachers.

The National Coalition for Equity in Education (NCEE), based at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is a coalition of early childhood through university educators that supports the achievement of equity in education. The organization notes that educators are an important force in helping many people overcome the effects of societal bias and discrimination.

According to NCEE, "Equity in education is more complex than celebrating diversity. It requires articulating individual and school goals and making changes in practice."

The NCEE approach to achieving such equity includes an ongoing effort to learn about how bias and prejudice affect schools, teaching and learning. It also asks educators to confront their own beliefs and assumptions. Other elements of the NCEE approach include development of leaders who understand the issue and can build unity, and strategies that "address policies, practices and personal transformation while focusing on specific academic disciplines or school goals."

Another source of information for educators on strategies for dealing with diversity in the classroom is the Northeast and Islands Regional Education Laboratory at Brown University. The Lab at Brown notes that culture is central to learning, as it not only plays a role in communication of information but in shaping the thinking processes of groups and individuals.

The Lab cites the characteristics of culturally responsive teaching as the following:

* positive perspectives on parents and families

* communication of high expectations

* learning within the context of culture

* student-centered instruction

* culturally mediated instruction

* reshaping the curriculum

* teacher as facilitator

The Lab at Brown's Web site offers the what, why and how information on dealing with each of the elements it lists as characteristics of culturally responsive teaching. The Education Alliance at Brown University's book, The Diversity Kit: An Introductory Resource for Social Change in Education, supports the work of the university's Teaching Diverse Learners Web site where the information on culturally responsive teaching can be found. …

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