Reflect on Your History: An Early Childhood Education Teacher Examines Her Biases
Lee, Seungyoun, Multicultural Education
Diversity does not simply mean differences of race or ethnicity but includes the cultural experiences that children bring to school, including language, beliefs, values, norms, family configuration, socioeconomic status, gender, special needs, home and community backgrounds, and learning styles. Yet while the population of children in our schools is becoming more diverse, the demographics of teachers continue to be less diverse, maintaining the prototypes of White, middle class, and female (Dilworth, 1992; Howard, 1999; Nieto, 2000) with sociocultural beliefs, expectations, and experiences differ markedly from the diversity of children in their classrooms.
Dean (1989) indicates "the further a child's culture is from the culture of the school, the less chance for success. Classroom environments that do not value the home culture of the students lead to decreased motivation and poor academic performance" (pp. 24-25). Considering that teachers teach children on the basis of the teachers' beliefs and interpretive frameworks, there is an urgent need for teachers to reflect on multicultural education and to confront their biases and prejudices (Dilworth, 1992; Sheets, 2009).
As Baptiste, Baptiste, and Gollnick point out (1989), teachers need to develop their analytical abilities to encounter diversity issues, including "participatory democracy, racism and sexism, and the parity of power" (p. 3), develop their abilities to clarify latent transmission of values and "examine the dynamics of diverse cultures and the implications for developing teaching strategies, and examine linguistic variations and diverse learning styles as a basis for the development of appropriate teaching strategies" (p. 3).
Early childhood teachers, themselves, are members of diverse linguistic and cultural groups. Whatever teachers' social, cultural, linguistic, and historical groups are, they bring their own beliefs and values about the world to their children (Rodd, 1996). Multicultural education stresses the importance of perceiving sociocultural situations to bridge the narrow concept of "minorities" (Garcia & Pugh, 1992). Multicultural issues still exist even if there are no children from different ethnic or racial backgrounds in a classroom.
According to Irvine (2003) and Pugh, Garcia, and Margalef-Boada (1991), multiculturalism refers to a more complex and expanded view that emphasizes individual decisions about all issues of human welfare. Multiculturalism is "a layered concept that includes not only the experiences of particular individuals and groups but also their shared interests and relationships, which in turn are embedded in the interconnectedness of all peoples of the world. In its full complexity, then, multiculturalism implies the cultivation of a global view of human affairs." (Pugh, Garcia, & Margalef-Boada, 1991, p. 3).
Therefore, it is essential for teachers to recognize their own sociocultural and linguistic background as they work with students from diverse cultures. Teachers need to be open to critiquing their unique experiences, values, and beliefs regarding equality, equity, justice, freedom, and welfare in education, keeping in mind that all learners have to be provided with equal opportunities for learning regardless of their personal backgrounds and different thoughts. This is essential if teachers are to help diverse children learn more securely and meet their needs more equally in the school setting, and can best be done by providing a safe, challenging, and nurturing environment.
From this point of view, Sheets (2009) and Tamura (1996) both assert that teachers have to reflect on what beliefs and values they have, what personal experiences have figured into their views about themselves, others, and the world, what kind of attitudes, biases, and prejudices they hold about diversity and culture, and the nature of their relationships with others.
Since teachers' personal and professional beliefs, values, and knowledge are closely connected to their practice regarding diversity and multicultural education, this study provided the opportunity for an early childhood teacher to critically analyze and reflect on her understanding about the beliefs and teaching on diversity and multicultural education. …