Educators need to have a greater awareness of multicultural education as well as the effects of a global community because they good ole days are simply not good enough in today’s education. Parents erroneously believe that what was good enough for them in school is good enough for their children. But Jacobs (2010) expresses this is simply not possibly in the 21st century where the world is a student’s classroom. Technology has forever altered education as students can receive information instantly, chat with friends around the world, see into the homes of other cultures and all of this can happen on their cell phones.
Regarding multicultural awareness, Nieto & Bode (2008) state “the more that students are involved in resisting complete assimilation while maintaining ties to their ethnic and linguistic communities, the more successful they will be in school” (p 330). By allowing students to maintain their cultural identity, a positive self-concept is developed. Self-belief for every student is the foundation to academic achievement and success in education. Students must believe they can succeed (Malhi, 2012). This belief is largely based on their preconceived notions of the value of their culture to the larger dominant culture and society in general.
Medina (2008) studied the influx of Mexican American students and their academic career in the American educational system. These students have taken the place of the African American students as the most at risk students in the educational system. In 2000, 38% of American high school dropouts were Hispanic and 70% of these dropouts were Mexican. These students also report higher levels of stress as they were encouraged to assimilate into the dominant culture. Due to miscommunication in language and a lack of cultural understanding, many Mexican students are labeled as special needs and erroneously put into remedial classes. This placement suffers students to fall further behind their dominant culture peers which leads to not just academical but emotional and psychological damage as well. Their self-esteem suffers leading to increased frequency of depression amongst these students in addition to anxiety attacks, lack of interest academically, behavioral problems and even alienation from classmates and peers. These students are measuring up to the expectations given them by their teachers.
Vandeyar (2006) studied the effects of negative prejudices of teachers toward their students. Three classrooms in South Africa were evaluated who had professed prejudice teachers against black students. These students suffered from poor academic achievement, selective sympathy from teachers, discrimination in seating assignments, racial bias, and even an aversion to the home language of African decent. Results demonstrated the importance of educators being aware of their preconceived opinions and the necessity to face them.
The precept that the academic achievement of African American students in a college environment was impacted by their cultural identity and their self-concept was studied by Cokley & Champman (2008). They found there is a positive correlation between academic achievement and a positive self-perception. One’s cultural identity meaning the beliefs, attitudes and feelings regarding the ethnic or racial group have a determination on the academic success of a student. Additionally, they concluded that although there is a connection between positive self-esteem and academic achievement that there is no basis that a racial or ethnic identity determines academic achievement, meaning that one’s cultural background does not predetermine one’s academic success or failure.
Discrimination contributes significantly to a students’ perception of themselves and the value of their culture to society (Rivas-Drake, Hughes & Way, 2008). Ethnic discrimination has a negative impact on the academic performance of students of every ethnic background. Negative self-image and discrimination lead to serious psychological consequences in addition to poor academic achievement such as depression, low self-esteem, school delinquency, and substance abuse. An even greater impact on their self-concept is the perception of their peers about their ethnic background. When students have a strong self-concept which is supported through the acceptance of their heritage they experience not only greater academic success but also report greater happiness and increased well-being. This positive self-concept helps buffer themselves against the negative effects of discrimination.
Administrators and educators tackle this problem through teaching peacefully. First educators must face their opinions, stereotypes and recognize the problems before addressing the solutions. Some solutions refer to studying the individual student, getting to know them, their background and their learning preferences. Other options are encouraging both educators and students to journal their prejudices and face them. But in every option, teachers need to be aware and make conscious efforts to include all races, ethnicities and gender in classroom involvement (Arrow, 1995).
As English English language learners are becoming increasingly more prevalent in the school systems, bilingual education has been introduced to help these students’ succeed. Educators need to consider their home language and culture but also how these impact the students’ learning through previous experiences. Educators need to guide students to make connections between existing schemas and experiences to the new information to sustain an integration of the new knowledge. The development of both the home language and second language are interdependent. Students who received instruction in both languages performed better linguistically (in both languages), cognitively and academically which increases the self-identity of students (Brooks & Karathanos, 2009).
Bilingual education can be effectively implemented in the public school system to help English language learners succeed. Hamilton & Krashen (2006) discovered that even in immersion programs it takes five years before students are fluent in English. In a study conducted in Massachusetts, after three years, only half of the ELL students were ready for instruction in an English classroom. However, researchers have discovered that the problem is not the type of ELL program but the quality of the program. Educators propose that English immersion programs are not better than bilingual programs and neither is the reverse true. Yet, the consensus is that educators must do something to meet the needs of minority students and especially ELL students in that dropout rates for ELL students are significantly higher at 51% compared to the 10% drop out rate for the dominant English culture. As educators debate and focus on technique and programs, quality is pushed to the side and forgotten.
Additionally, multicultural education edifies everyone through the development of an appreciation for other cultures and languages. Cultural diversity increases the intellectual foundations for every student by opening a consciousness toward other cultures in addition to a larger tolerance for cultures that are different from our own. Multicultural education is an opportunity where we can open ourselves to new experiences within the world that we share (Anonymous, 2006).
Despite the frequency in which multicultural education is spoken, included in teacher inservice and even implemented in the schools, the largest problem continues to arise in the teachers’ reluctance to discuss the differences based on race, identity, sexuality, gender or culture (Asher, 2007). These practices perpetuate the stereotypical opinions prevalent in our educational system and society as instructors continue to use the ‘us-versus-them’ mentality. Every teacher need to reithink their opinions in culture and race as it is reflected in the pedagogies. Teachers need to identify, engage and discard preconceived stereotypes which prohibit minority students to reach their potential and instead foster opinions which enhance and develop cultural identities. Although an individual teacher has a limited influence, it can foster an opinion which branches outward to incorporate others in the educational field. Within our preconceived notions, educators also must address not only racial and cultural diveristy and how it is interwoven into multicultural education but also must include gender discrimination and sexual orientation.
Ukpokodu (2010) investigated the importance of multicultural education on every level, especially in higher education. Universities around the world are experiencing unprecedented diverse populations which often require policy changes. Administrators should encourage faculty to embed multicultural education into curriculum through the use of instructional materials, pedagogies and student activities. Such modifications sustain the research that universities and colleges which support such diversity boast of higher retention rates, college satisfaction, higher grade point averages as well as higher individual self-confidence in both the academic arena and social arena.
Creating an atmosphere of respect and understanding needs to be a significant goal of every educator (Morgan & Jones, 2007). This starts from the moment a teacher addresses a student for the first time by using their name. The incorrect pronunciation of the name of a student can lead to ridicule and classroom tension throughout the school year and even through the student’s academic career.
Strategies to develop positive learning environments with a diversity of students can be achieved through simple yet poignant methods such as examining family heritage, learning the origins of one’s name, initiating cooperative learning environments and involving parents, grandparents, family members as well as community members. Students can actively research their heritage through investigation, interviewing family members, internet research, library trips and through the involvement of genealogical foundations.
In encouraging younger students to learn to pronounce names of different heritages, the names can be set to music, playing games such as a memory game or associating students’ names with shapes or colors. Focusing on family heritage has a positive influence on students of every age as they learn that their heritage is valued even if it is different from the dominant culture. Students learn to appreciate their backgrounds and how their difference contribute to the overall composition of the larger culture.
Instructors must keep in mind the purpose of multicultural education which needs to happen in a comprehensive school reform for every student and not a last minute add on. Nieto & Bode (2008) define the goals of multicultural education as:
- “tackling inequality and promoting access to an equal education”
- “raising the achievement of all students and providing them with an equitable and high-quality education”
- “giving students an apprenticeship in the opportunity to become critical and productive members of a democratic society” (p 10).
With these purposes in mind, an instructor can develop a multicultural curriculum by keeping in mind the probable diversity of their students and embedding their culture into the classroom.
One such successful application of developing cultural identity and ethnic pride is the FRESA project (Cummins, Brown & Sayers, 2007). “Project Fresa is an example of a project that provided elementary students with rich language and cultural experiences while exploring their own rural community. Two teachers from Mar Vista Elementary School in Oxnard, California, created a multimedia, cross-curricular project to help their predominantly Latino students under-stand the relationship between their own lives and the strawberry crops that surround and sustain the local community” (Stuczynski, Linik, Novick & Spracker, 2005, p 1).
By acknowledging and appreciating the students’ migrant worker heritage, the instructors created a positive learning environment. Students who were normally academically challenged soared as they demonstrated intellectual prowess and capabilities. Students were encouraged to develop their sense of ethnic pride through hands on activities to explore their community and heritage.
Education is more than content (what is taught), product (assessment) and process (how students process the information). Education is also the student factor. Teachers can prepare ahead in developing a multicultural education through the acknowledgment of students’ learning styles, abilities and interest (Thousand, Villa & Nevin, 2007). In encouraging our students to succeed, multicultural education can no longer be a last minute additive, it must be a comprehensive, embedded part of curriculum.
By Tracy Harrington-Atkinson
Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, a master’s in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. She has published several titles, including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.
Anonymous. (2006). Stances on multilingual and multicultural education. Language Arts, 84(2) , 171-175.
Arrow, J. (1995). Teaching peace. New York, NY: The Berkley Publishing Group.
Asher, N. (2007 March). Made in the Multicultural USA: unpacking tensions of race, culture, gender, and sexuality in education. Educational Researcher, 36(2), 65-74.
Brooks, K. & Karathanos, K. (2009). Buildling on the cultural and linguistic capital of English learner students. Multicultural Education, 16(4), 47-53.
Cokley, K. & Champman, C. (2008). The roles of ethnic identity, anti-white attitudes and academic self concept in African American student achievement. Social Psychology of Education : An International Journal, 11(4), 349-365.
Cummins, J., Brown, K., & Sayers, D. (2007). Literacy, technology, and diversity: Teaching for success in changing times. San Francisco: Allyn & Bacon.
Hamilton, K. & Krashen, S. (2006). Bilingual or immersion. Diverse Issues in Higher Education, 23(5), 23-27.
Jacobs, H. (2010). Curriculum 21: Essential education for a changing world. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.
Malhi, R. (2012). Self-esteem and academic achievement. Retrieved February 3, 2012 from www.tqm.com.my/article5.htm
Medina, C. & Luna, G. (2008). Learning at the margins. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 23(4), 10-17.
Morgan, H. & Jones, R. (2007/2008 Winter). Classroom ideas sparklers. Childhood Education, 84(2), 94-98.
Nieto, S. & Bode, P. (2008). Affirming diversity: the sociopolitical context of multicultural education. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Rivas-Drake, D., Hughes, D. & Way, N. (2008). A closer look at peer discrimination, ethnic identity, and psychological well-being among urban Chinese American sixth graders. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 37(1), 12-21.
Stuczynski, A., Linik, J., Novick, R. & Spracker, J. (2005) Community stories. Retrieved February 4, 2012 from www.readingrockets.org/article/12741
Sullivan, A. & A’Vant, E. (2009). On the need for cultural responsiveness. National Association of School Psychologist Community, 38(3), 8-10.
Thousand, J., Villa, R. & Nevin, A. (2007). Differentiating instruction: Collaboratively planning and teaching for universally designed learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Ukpokodu, O. (2010 Winter). How sustainable campus wide diversity curriculum fosters academic success. Multicultural Education, 17(2), 27-37.
Vandeyar, S. (2006). Teacher-student interactions in desegregated classrooms in South Africa. International Journal of Educational Development, 26(4), 382-393.