Since early American history, schools, like society, have addressed cultural diversity in
different ways. In the colonial days, some attempts to adjust to cultural differences were made
in the New York colony, but the dominant American culture was the norm in the general
public, as well as most of the schools. As America approached the nineteenth century, the
need for a common culture was the basis for the educational forum. Formal public school
instruction in cultural diversity was rare, and appreciation or celebration of minority or ethnic
culture essentially was nonexistent in most schools. In the 1930’s, the educators were in the
progressive education movement, called for programs of cultural diversity that encouraged
ethnic and minority students to study their heritage’s.
This movement became popular in many
schools until around 1950. Now, these days in education, the term multicultural education
never escapes a teacher’s thoughts (Ryan, 26).
What does the term “multicultural education” mean to you? I means different things to
different people. For instance, to some minority communities, it means to foster pride and self-
esteem among minority students, like the progressive movement in the 1930’s. Another
example would be in the white communitites, that multicultural programs are designed to
cultivate an appreciation of various cultural, racial, and ethnic traditions. Cortes defines
multicultural education by the process by which schools help prepare young people to live with
greater understanding, cooperation, effectiveness, and dedication to equality in a multicultural
nation and inerdependent world (Cortes, 16).
When I observed at Madison Elementary in December, I expected the school would
be multicultural in the sense of ethnic or racial backgrounds. Instead, I was very surprised to
discover that the school was predominately white students, with only a handful of African
American students in each classroom. I did find out that the Wheeling Island area was in very
low status pertaining to income. Not only did over half of the students receive free or reduced
lunch, but the students academic skills were below the national norm. I never realized what an
effect of economic status can affect a student’s academic progress. Of course there are out
lying factors, the parent involvement was at a minimum because most families consisted of only
one care taker.
To make ends meet the single parent had to spend most of his/her time
working for money to buy clothes, food, and to keep their children healthy. Madison
Elementary had made great strides to improve their efforts to better the students academic
progress. The school had instilled different programs like A-Team, Pre-K classes, Reading
Recovery, various health services, outreach to families, and many more to ensure that the
students will succeed in their studies.
The role of the teacher at Madison is to assist and guide the students through school
with smooth transitions. This at times is impossible due to fact that some students in their
classrooms have behavior disorders, not all of the students are on the same learning levels, and
the teacher can only help the students at school, not at home. Sometimes the parents do not
fulfill their responsibilities at home.
The teacher must adjust to the students needs. “When
dealing with multicultural issues in he classroom, teachers must guard against perpetuating racial
and ethnic stereotypes, which is often done subconsciously and indirectly by failing to use
linguistic qualifiers such as ‘some,’ ‘many,’ and ‘most’ when referring to cultural groups. There
is much diversity within culture” (Ryan, 27). Teachers must also keep in mind that the process
of social development entails the successful interplay between an integrating function and
differentiating function. It is critical that multicultural education programs foster both. The
challenge is simple but significant: Can we create places of learning where students are no
longer strangers to themselves or to one another? The answer is clear: We must (Tamura, 24-
Students need to understand that they are participating in many different networks.
They are involved in social networks, not just ethnic or racial ones; however, their cultural
background and experiences may indeed have an impact upon the nature of their participation
in these other networks. Students also need to understand they are also individuals with
talents, skills, strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes (Ryan, 27). A goal for all students,
American born or not, is to develop cross-cultural acceptance, to have them develop strategies
to work through their own prejudices and to sustain their own dignity when they become the
targets of prejudice. We as teachers must work very hard to teach children .