Saturday, November 16, 2013

Cultural Identity & Diversity

This week I stumbled upon a fabulous article entitled Cultural Identity of Students: What Teachers Should Know by Lisa A. Jones. The article discusses many aspects of students' cultural identities including students' self-concepts, school environments, and multicultural teaching. Jones first delves into students' self-concepts and examines the positive impact extracurricular groups can have on students' feelings of belonging. Jones mentions that students' cultures are constantly changing and students who are discovering their identities should be involved in groups that help them define themselves and embrace who they are. Additionally, Jones talks about teachers needing to be cognizant of their teaching practices, making sure that all students' cultures and identities are valued and appreciated. Finally, Jones quotes an author who writes on culturally responsive teaching and says that teachers should use "the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them" (Jones). This is where multicultural education comes in. Educators should strive to empower their students to succeed by providing them with a learning environment that respects their culture, embraces their diversity, and celebrates their differences. 

This article certainly echoes what we have been discussing in EDFI 4080 this semester - especially what we talked about in Chapter 8 of Nieto's and Bode's text. Extracurricular activities beyond academics have been successful in supporting students' learning and skills as well as creating a sense of belonging (Nieto & Bode, p. 306). Extracurriculars help students develop critical thinking and leadership skills, shield against negative influences, and help students feel that they belong and are understood (pp. 309-310). Additionally, in relation to multicultural teaching, Nieto and Bode mention that it isn't so much about a teacher's strategies as it is about a teacher's attitude (p. 318). An educator can create a fabulous curriculum that is multicultural; however, if that teacher doesn't possess the caring, respectful, warm attitude all educators should have, he or she is not truly involved in multicultural education.

I very much appreciate this view on multicultural education. In her article, Jones reminds us that there is more to teaching than a great curriculum. Teachers must remember that things like extracurricular activities that develop and affirm students' identities are just as important. Moreover, educators must possess attitudes that display the value they place on students' diverse cultures and experiences. Assigning projects or reports that have students learning about various cultures isn't enough. I think it's so easy to say, "Oh, yes, I incorporate multicultural education into my classroom because I have students do a project on another culture." That's all fine and dandy, but this semester one thing I have learned is that multicultural education is so much more than that. It is empowering our students, teaching them to respect and appreciate others, helping students understand differences, and implementing practices that value cultural awareness. Multicultural education is a practice that should be incorporated at all grade levels, in all schools, and in all classes whenever possible. Even if curriculum can't be explicitly taught in all settings, multicultural education should be implicitly learned by students through teachers' attitudes, just nature, and willingness to incorporate and appreciate diversity in the classroom.

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