Cultural Diversity and Conflict Resolution

In our educational institutions there is conflict. In our educational institutions there is diversity. In fact, the city where I teach is considered one of many smaller “melting pots” of the world. Brockton, the city where I teach, is a melting pot of society due to its vast collection of cultural diversity. However, it is this same diversity that has led to conflict. Diversification factors include race, ethnicity, and gender in these conflict issues. The types of conflicts to be explored are the student to student (S2S) and the student to faculty (S2F).

The concept of cultural conflict is an interesting and more common conflict. In these types of conflicts members of separate cultures find conflict in difference. Each culture is unique, and because of this, each culture is focused on it’s own well-established norms. Our childhood dictates our mindset in regards to culture. It is also the blame of lack of diversity that leads us to believe that our culture is dominant or normal. Many only experience their own culture and are unable to process decisions made by other cultures. Thus, conflict erupts due to people having different concepts of the world based on their culture.

The research presented within the case assignment suggests many goal-oriented tasks for teachers to increase their cultural awareness. For example, a type of person who is incapable of understanding or accepting the culturally different learners’ values, their motives, the rewards that are meaningful to them, their language systems, their learning styles, and their cognitive styles cannot exercise cultural sensitivity.

Educators who fail to accept racial and cultural differences often fear and dislike students who are culturally different. These teachers might judge the ability and characteristics of someone from a culturally different background before they meet or get to know the person.

In student-to-student conflicts (S2S) the end results have not always been pleasant. In my experiences, conflicts have developed due to culture differences. For example, at Brockton High School there are many gangs. These gangs do not carry any weapons. Their weapons are their fists and they use numbers as their strength. In order to be a member of a gang you must first fit the cultural requirement. A Hispanic student would never be part of a Cape Verde gang. The strongest culture difference is in the language. Hispanic students speak Portuguese or Spanish. Cape Verde students speak French or Creole. In these conflicts the end result is typically a large-scale fight after school or a confined one in school. Many cultures consider family to be the most important thing in life. Other cultures consider religion to be most important. Fights at Brockton High School have occurred because one member of one gang insulted the mother of another gang member. The most disturbing aspect of this conflict is that the aggressor is only using the sense of protecting one’s family as the catalyst to violence. This type of behavior happens more than it should.

The research suggests that educators introduce more multicultural education programs. The purpose of the programs would be to bring people together. The end result would be to increase communication and participation in diversity issues.

Of course, in a perfect world, all students would exhibit openness and tolerance to cultural diversity. One of the articles in the background material also suggested teaching children in elementary levels the importance of diversity. Ransom discusses a concept-based-curriculum that focuses on cultural diversity and conflict resolution for a California fourth-grade classroom. Each theme of the curriculum is supported by four approaches to learning: role-play, mapping, research methods and discussion activities.

Another example of cultural conflict happened last week. The conflict started between two boys. One boy was Caucasian and the other boy was Haitian. The Caucasian child thought that he was superior and referred to the other boy as a “Haitian creation”. Needless to say, the Haitian child took exception to this comment. Many white students who were born in the United States, whose parents were also born in the United States frown upon those that were not. This Caucasian child has no cultural experiences outside his own. It is due to this lack of diversity that he is like many other children: unaware of the roots or uniqueness of their own culture and that of those that are different.

Additionally, I have seen the same type of conflict exist between students and faculty members. For example, in the Cape Verde culture, boys are raised with the belief that looking at someone in the face when they are scolding you is wrong. In American culture, it is the opposite. It is considered rude to not look someone in the face when they are addressing you, especially when you have faulted. In fact, if I ever looked away when my father was scolding me I would be punished harder.

A situation occurred last month between a faculty member and a student. The student had been found skipping class. He was hiding in the boy’s bathroom. The Health teacher found him and escorted him to the office. The teacher was not teaching a class during this time and was not inconvenienced by the escort. The teacher was yelling at the child during the trek to the office, passing several classes and spying eyes wondering what had triggered the yelling. The student was Cape Verde. He looked at his feet during the barrage from the teacher. He looked at his feet because that is all he knew. He had been raised that it was disrespectful to look at an adult while being scolded. This behavior outraged the teacher who thought the student was “snubbing” him by looking away. Due to a cultural difference, the student was unable to explain his actions because they seemed normal to him. It would be like attempting to explain why we are polite and respectful in our own way (holding doors, saying “thank you”). It was later explained to me why the student was looking at his feet and not at the Health teacher. I tried to explain the circumstance to the teacher later, however, he was unable to comprehend and unwilling to listen. He is the type of person that believes that “his” way of thinking is the right way and the only way.

My parents always taught me that different didn’t mean bad. It only meant different. In our own constitution it states: “I may not agree with a word you are saying, but I will defend your right to say it”. I live my life that way. Conflict is inevitable. It is a too common aspect of life. I would like to think the societies of the future would experience conflict over something that actually matters, rather then dwelling on what makes us so different, as opposed to what makes us so similar.

In my opinion, if I were given the opportunity to become principal at my school, I would address cultural conflict in a very positive way. I feel that cultural diversity can be managed and it can flourish to become a pleasant learning experience.
In all conflicts, the key is communication. If the lines of communication are open and they stay open, I feel a lot of good things can happen. When culturally motivated conflicts occur the best source of compromise is education. Both sides need to fully understand the conception of one another. It is better to view the world from the shoes of the person with whom you have a conflict. People have to understand that cultural sensitivity is not an option; it is a requirement. As principal I would try to foster programs that dealt with how to deal with different cultures. I would also try to hire new teachers that represent the broad cultures of the students. For example, in my school, the population of minority students is 65%. In a school of over 60 faculty members, there is only one minority!

Additionally, I think it would be important to recognize conflict earlier before it becomes a bigger issue. I feel the use of peer mediators is important. Peer mediation increases the communication among conflicting students.

Not all conflicts have positive outcomes. I have always tried the “best-case-scenario” theory when addressing conflict. What needs to happen for both sides to feel that they “won” or got what they wanted? What has to be said or done for both sides to end a conflict? Some answers are easier than others. In cultural conflicts the parties take the issues very personally. The people involved in the conflict sometimes feel as if their identity is being exploited. Diversity is a good thing. The schools of the future represent the adults of the future. As principal it would be my priority to encourage education to teachers in cultural diversity and to showcase the different cultures in the classroom and hopefully into the community.

References
Cultural diversity and conflict resolution: An interdisciplinary unit: California fourth-grade classroom; Laurie Ransom; Multicultural Education, San Francisco; Winter 2001; Vol. 9, Iss. 2; pg. 30, 8 pgs
Cultural diversity in instructional design ; Zhang Jian X.; International Journal of Instructional Media [H.W. Wilson – EDUC]; 2001; Vol. 28, Iss. 3; pg. 299
Diversity Without a Distinction; Jeffrey Seglin; New York Times, New York, N.Y.; Nov 18, 2001; Late Edition (East Coast); pg. 3.4
Realities and challenges facing multicultural education; Guang-Lea Lee; Multicultural Education, San Francisco; Summer 2002; Vol. 9, Iss. 4; pg. 36, 2 pgs

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