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This paper will discuss research about culture and multicultural education. Let us first define culture. Culture is the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought. It is also those patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population. It is also those patterns, traits, and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression. Finally, it is the predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization. Now let us define multicultural education. Multicultural education is a set of strategies and materials in U.S. education that were developed to assist teachers to promote democracy while responding to the many issues created by rapidly changing demographics of their students. Now that we have defined both culture and multicultural education we will look at and explain how multicultural education can address cultural differences and cultural bias in our educational system.
The following are some ways that multicultural education can address cultural differences and cultural bias in schools. Every student must have equal opportunity to achieve to their full potential. An example would be technology. Some students have access to computers at home but others may not. If the teacher assigns a project that requires computer use then the teacher needs to make time in the classroom to allow the students to use the computer. This allows each student to have the same opportunity to succeed in this assigned project. Every student must be prepared to participate in a multicultural classroom. Communication barriers can make this a difficult task for both the teacher and student. A way to help deal with this issue is to have an interrupter in the class for those students who cannot yet communicate in English. Teachers must be prepared to teach every individual student, no matter how culturally similar or different they are. The teacher can do this by allowing the students to bring in their own experiences into classroom activities. Schools must be active participants in ending prejudice of all types, first by ending it in the school and then by producing socially and critically active and aware students. This is done first by administration taking the time to teach the teachers about cultural tolerance and then by the teachers taking that knowledge and teaching their students cultural tolerance. Education must become student centered and inclusive of the voices and experiences of the students. Every student has experiences in their life that they need to be allowed to bring into the classroom and share with their peers and teachers. This allows others to learn about another culture and will help students to be tolerant with each other. Educators, activists, and others must take a more active role in reexamining all educational practices and how they affect the learning of all students which include: testing methods, teaching approaches, evaluation and assessment, school psychology and counseling, educational materials and textbooks. It is vital that testing methods be done in a way that makes all students equal. If that means a non-English speaking student takes a test in their own language then that is what needs to be done. Assessment should also be done in a manner that is fair for every student. Some students do well on standard type tests but others do not so their needs to be other forms of assessment that shows the true knowledge of what the student has achieved such as a portfolio or a group project. These things are just the tip of what can and should be implemented in a classroom to make it a successful multicultural learning environment.
Things that teachers and students in a educational setting need to watch out for are as follows. Teachers and students need to learn from generalizations about other cultures, but not to use those generalizations to stereotype, write off or oversimplify your ideas about others. The best use of a generalization is to add it to your knowledge so that you can better understand and appreciate other cultures. The next thing is to practice communication. That's the first rule, because it's in the doing that we actually get better at cross-cultural communication. Also, do not assume that there is one right way to communicate. Different cultures communicate in different ways and it is important to learn how a culture different from yours communicates. Keep questioning your assumptions about the right way to communicate. For example, think about your body language because postures that indicate receptiveness in one culture might indicate aggressiveness in another. Do not assume that breakdowns in communication occur because other people are on the wrong track. Search for ways to make the communication work, rather than searching for who should receive the blame for the breakdown. Another thing to be careful to do is to listen actively and empathetically. Try to put yourself in the others shoes, especially when others perceptions or ideas are very different from your own, you might need to operate at the edge of your own comfort zone. Also, Respect others' choices about whether to engage in communication with you. Honor their opinions about what is going on. When a conflict arises you need to stop, suspend judgment, and try to look at the situation as an outsider. Also, be prepared for a discussion of the past. Use this as an opportunity to develop an understanding from the other's point of view, rather than getting defensive or impatient. Acknowledge historical events that have taken place. Be open to learning more about them. Honest acknowledgment of the mistreatment and oppression that have taken place on the basis of cultural difference is vital for effective communication. Have an awareness of current power imbalances and openness to hearing each other's perceptions of those imbalances is also necessary for understanding each other and working together. Remember that cultural norms may not apply to the behavior of any particular individual. We are all shaped by many factors such as our ethnic background, our family, our education, and our personalities and we are more complicated than any cultural norm could suggest.
To recap what has been discussed in this paper we have learned the working definitions for both culture and multicultural education. Then we discussed how multicultural education can address cultural differences and bias in an educational setting. We have also learned what things should not be done in the classroom, because they would hinder a successful multicultural education within the classroom setting.
Avruch, Kevin and Peter Black. (1993). Conflict Resolution in Intercultural Settings: Problems and Prospects, in Conflict Resolution Theory and Practice: Integration and Application. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Nichols, Edwin J. (November 10, 1976). A presentation made to the World Psychiatric Association and Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria.