Multiculturalism Curriculum Helps Expand Children’s Future Intellectual Thinking

The notion that children are the product of their environment enlightens educators of the idea of their influence on students by way of the teachings they provide. The “product” that children are directly exposed to may not always be productive to their environment and social, emotional and mental growth. However, multiculturalism in the classroom can offer students effective social skills to implement throughout their lifetime. In 2000, the U.S. Department of Education reported that over 37% of K-12 students were culturally, linguistically, and ethnically different from the dominant U.S. culture. Thus, the importance of multicultural teachings is apparent in classrooms across the country.

The theory beyond this idea of influence of society can be best described with Vygotsky’s Theory of Language Development along with the Zone of Proximal Development, which both expose the reasoning why children think the way they do (Wikipedia) and how teachers can successful increase their knowledge to implement this topic into children’s scholarly routine. Multiculturalism is defined by the characteristics of a culturally-responsive curricula within an integrated and interdisciplinary, child-centered environment, which relates to a student’s life by developing critical thinking skills, and in addition the use of strategies that jumpstart cooperative learning, whole language instruction and self-esteem building. (Banks)

As an educator of students on the elementary level, it is important to present these topics in an appropriate way. By exposing children to various cultural backgrounds with diverse materials, more advanced levels of thinking will be implemented within the curriculum. Exposure to various cultures should occur as early as lower elementary grades with materials that are appropriate for the children’s educational level of understanding. Interaction is the key to exposure; teachers are most capable of presenting children with cultural topics that will increase their level of knowledge of the culturally-diverse people around them.

Recent reports state that the teaching population consists of 90% white, female and middle class instructors. Many are concerned that with just 10% of those teaching of ethnic minorities’ the effectiveness of these teachings may not be as influential as once considered. It is clear that many thousands of students are being taught by teachers who have little or no background in the children’s culture, language, traditions and history (Mejia).

The minority voice in the classroom often times is thought of within the slavery or holocaust lesson plans. However, these topics are inappropriate for children this age to both be exposed to and expected to understand completely on a social level. Lessons using the idea of being courteous, sharing, building, and apologizing would better fit their level of understanding. These skills can teach children how to communicate their feelings and how to respect one other, thus giving great thought to human resources in the classroom. This lesson also gives children a chance to share their experiences with their classmates allowing for the elimination of specific preconceived notions of another person’s race, religion and ethnicity they may already have. The sooner that a child is exposed to these teachings, the better chance of a brighter, educated future they will have.

Within the first chapter of our text, human relations are discussed as being all around us. Our first activity had us evaluating the way we view ourselves and those around us. The questions focused on the basic skills of sociability, courtesy, adaptability and management with one’s frustration and communication. All of the concepts addressed are ones that I will implement within the multicultural teachings of my classroom. These skills can positively affect the attitudes of my students, while directly addressing important concepts of everyday society.

The importance of these lessons is apparent. A widely held view of multicultural or culturally pluralistic curriculum is seen as an opportunity to strategically improve academic performance and enhance self-esteem among students whose racial, ethnic, or language heritage differs from that of the Anglo-European population (McCarthey, 1994). However, some educators believe that multicultural literature is inappropriate in the classroom, mostly because they feel that young children will be confused by this complex subject manner.

Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development proves otherwise. The theory finds that children within concrete operational stages of development (those aged 7-11 years of age) are cognitively ready to learn about themselves and those around them. Children of this age range are typically enrolled in 1st through 3rd grades in elementary school. These primary fundamental years of learning where children learn to read and write, help to confirm Piaget’s theory that children are not too young to learn about other cultures because they have graduated out of the egoist stage within the primary stage of development.
Even though children are capable of learning about these topics relating to others around them, the information presented within lessons plans should be age-appropriate to assure that they can understand the learning concept involved.

Most teachers strive to place material in their lesson plans that are requested by their school’s board of education. For example, New York’s State Board of Education has many various curriculum mandates and policies influencing teachers to use multicultural literature in their classrooms. In a 1989 NYC Board of Education policy statement, administrators offer positive reasoning in implementing these lessons plans within one’s curriculum:
” Whereas, people from all parts of the world live and work in New York City, necessitating a multicultural education which fosters intergroup knowledge and understanding and equips students to function effectively in a global society; and Whereas, multicultural education values cultural pluralism and rejects the view that schools should seek to melt away cultural differences or merely tolerate cultural diversity; rather, multicultural education accepts cultural diversity as a valuable resource that should be preserved and extended. . .”

This ‘movement’ toward multi-cultural education has also been supported by the National Council for Accreditation of Teaching Education’s multicultural requirement (NCATE, 1982). Since 1979, NCATE standards have required that teacher education programs incorporate multicultural perspectives and cultural diversity. NCATE’s definition of multicultural education includes a focus on ethnicity, gender, race, religion, class, and exceptionality-aspects of culture discussed in the literature on multicultural education (Gollnick, 1992).

This acceptance of cultural diversity should be visible throughout one’s classroom. Materials including all ethnicities, races and religions should be displayed for discussion. This is especially important to help eliminate any stigmas within one’s classroom about your preference toward specific backgrounds. Often times it is the nation’s Board of Education that has significantly affected children’s learning on multiculturalism. A long history has occurred in which minority characters are not mentioned in school books. This is especially important because children’s literature teaches history, and when children do not see their history in school they began to think it is not worthy of learning (Anaya). Many feel that issues and perspectives that are pertinent to these groups should be included, in order to offer children a large scope of the ethnic issues occurring around them. They should be included as a fundamental part of the textbook or presentation and not an add-on or appendage.” (Banks 1999)

In “The Use of Multicultural Curricula and Materials to Counter Racism in Children,” a study evaluated the benefits of a multiculturalism education for white students. Bigler and Liben (1993) asked 75 European-American students to relate positive and negative attributes to people based on the races of black and white people. Their findings were distributing; nearly half of the children stated that “only black people” could be bad, cruel, dirty, mean, naughty, selfish, stupid and ugly.
This level of bias is striking, especially given the small number of adults who respond in a similar manner. This mode of thinking indicated the continued need for intervention programs designed to reduce racial stereotyping and prejudice among children. It is also effectively displayed why it is the school system’s responsibility to educate students on multi-culturalistic ideologies.

Changes were seen in the participants of the study in a curriculum-based intervention program based on the theories of Banks. For example, instead of using an contribution or additive approach, in what Banks (1995) refers to as “contributions” and “additive” approaches, where multicultural heroes, holidays, concepts, themes, and other elements are added via books, videotapes, songs and so on to a standard, traditional curriculum – – the program showed minorities as symbolic models.
This method reduced racism and stereotypes dramatically because children could see the common thread of similarities between the characters and themselves through positive examples. One specific example used in class discussed how old western movies negatively stereotype subconscious themes of those who are black as being bad and those who were white as being good. All good cowboys had good white horses, while the bad guys rode black.

At the end of the study improvements were seen by positive intervention. Specific changes in the curriculum included implementation of a variety of culturally different materials such as “Rise and Shine, Marikochan” by C. Tomioka, a tale explaining a Japanese girl’s daily routine. Within the lesson plan, children located Japan on the map and made fish banners called koinobari. Besides familiarizing children with a culture, the teacher did a successful job in presenting student with counter-stereotypic information about races.

When teachers begin the selection process of which materials to use in their classroom, much consideration should be made to accommodate all cultural backgrounds as explained within previous examples. According to the School Library Journals, there are various folktale multicultural books that are directed toward elementary age students. The only problem with this type of material is that it does not tackle true life issues. In fact, “restricting ourselves to this genre allows us to sidestep contemporary conflicts and problems. It is far easier to offer a legend from South Africa, for example, than to portray children enduring the consequences of apartheid (Barter).” By exposing a class to a diversified set of views, a child can better understand various cultural backgrounds and become tolerant of the differences around them (McElmeel).

By choosing ethnic authors, children are able to see author tell their personal story. Many feel that by using white authors with this subject topic, students are deprived of valuable learning experiences. This often dilutes the objective of teaching students that everyone has something important to contribute to society. “Multi-ethnic literature can be used to affirm the cultural identity of students of diverse backgrounds and to develop all students’ understanding and appreciation of other cultures (http://www.readingonline.org/articles/gupta/ebonics.html).” This allows all children to grow and become tolerant of differences, and learn to respect others and their ideas (McElmeel).

“Connecting with Latino Children: Bridging Cultural Gaps with Children’s Literature” is a study that shows educational examples of how implementing multicultural literature into the classroom can improve students’ self-esteem levels. The study involved a white female graduate intern who was working with students outside of their culture for the first time. “The teachers generally came out of a teacher education program with very little background in multicultural issuers,” say the authors. The purpose of the study was to, “document the use of Latino children’s literature in field experience seminars to help preservice teachers to gain background knowledge of the other cultures, traditions, language and assure surrounding Latinos in the United States and the elementary students they will be working with.”

The intern chose a book unit with a small group of native Spanish speakers on Cuadros de famila/ Family Pictures (Lomas Garza, 1990) In order to build interest into the material; the teacher had to bridge a scenario into the topic. She effectively had the student participate in a thinking activity in which student would compare their family life to the situations mentioned in the book. Once she was finished reading, she paired students into groups in which they discussed what they had learned from the story. Their assignment was to write and create pictures of their personal family experiences.

The teacher found the activity to be successful saying “I had never seen my students so excited about discussing something they have read. One student said he liked the book because it was about real life. In fact one student who dislikes writing created a whole paragraph exceeding what was expected for the assignment.” The children’s enthusiasm and the teacher candidate’s reflection demonstrates that personal connections created by culturally familiar literature can be an effective means of engaging students in reading and writing (Nathenson-Mejia and Escamilla).

An inclusive curriculum can help promote intergroup harmony and reduce conflict between ethnic groups (Heller & Hawkins, 1994). These teachings also increase a student’s cognitive empathy that is responsible for one to take the perspective of another person. These literate teachings allow children to be interested in reading and ultimately help enhance their performance on future standardized tests (Freire). Teaching positive information about various types of people ensures less bias or lack of information within a child’s fundamental years. Vygotsky and Lareau argue that the environment around children is strongly responsible for promoting good interaction skills.

Ultimately, this information will enhance my role as a teacher in today’s educational system. The impact of a teacher and his/her curriculum is substantial to children at these ages. By shaping their views and better educating them on topics they may never experience except in school, they are allowed to grow more effectively in all aspects of their lives. These teachings offer the chance of stereotyping ending before they even begin dramatically, thus gaining the empathy of others’ societies whether they have the same background or not. By better understanding one’s background, children develop a sense of what a specific situation means to a specific person (Lockhart). This helps to communicate beginning intellectual understanding and compassion toward all people, while directly shaping these children into more culturally-acceptive people.

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