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In earlier paradigms of education and teaching diversity was referred to as something that was alien and foreign and which few teachers if any would come into contact with in the classroom, 'diversity' was something that happened in and to foreign lands, to other people and if any was present in the immediate environment it was of the nature of a mildly diluted form along lines of race or ethnicity. I chose the above quote as it accurately describes the changing nature of the very definition and connotations of the term 'diversity'. It is a bold and honest statement regarding perhaps one of the most important challenges facing educators today in terms of student composition, education needs and learning challenges and disabilities.
It opens up a critically important field of discussion and development, that of the increasing diversity in the classroom and the different factors and components of diversity. There is an inherent belief, perhaps mistaken; that diversity occurs only along lines of race and ethnicity, but the issue is more often than not much more complex than that. There are issues of social order, class, economic and demographic, and especially those relating to wealth or poverty. These kinds of subdivisions create a new subset of issues and complex realities that need to be faced by the teacher especially in the face of a growing social divide between the rich and the poor.
This particular quote was chosen specifically by me in order to highlight the growing reality that most societies face today is one of economic and not social or racial discrimination, nowadays one may be of the same race as another student but not his or her equal because of one's economic conditions. This is the new challenge that teachers are facing nowadays and one that needs to be addressed in a meaningful and concrete way.
"Teachers must therefore be prepared to meet the unique needs of children of diverse backgrounds. Even teachers of single-culture classrooms need to help their students understand and appreciate other cultures"
The previous century was one of inequality, discrimination and the fight against such injustices. Terms like Apartheid and Jim Crow laws are still fresh in the minds of all those that grew up at the turn of the century and had to undergo the horrific discrimination that was oh so prevalent at the time. Contrary to that, as if an attempt to balance out the inequities of the preceding century, this new century is one of increasing cultural diversity and racial harmony. This I feel is essential to inculcate in the minds of our young students that diversity is going to be an essential part of their lives, very few cultures would be monochromatically singular and as such it is our job as teachers to equip students to deal with this rising trend of variedness in their lives and classrooms.
One of the foremost cultural and social phenomena we have seen in recent years is that of globalization and greater flow of human traffic throughout the world. With opportunities sprouting up and being made available to all the world is seeing greater mixing and intermingling of peoples. While this may be in and of itself be a challenge, one of the most commonly experienced roadblocks to inter cultural mingling is the different religious differences that different cultures bring along with them. A person's religion is the single most defining factor in his or her behavioral patterns and in order to better understand the person we have to understand their religious and cultural differences from us so as to be able to better build bridges with them.
"A growing body of research demonstrates that Aboriginal students' self-esteem is a key factor in their school success (e.g., Hilberg & Tharp, 2002; Kanu, 2002; Swanson, 2003). An educational environment that honors the culture, language and worldview of the Aboriginal student is critical to this process"
There are different standards applied to different variations of classroom diversity, some students need extra attention from the teacher, while others require a firm hand to guide them through their studies. There are always subtle differences in how a teacher approaches his or her students, contrary to popular belief there is no one right way to go about managing a classroom. The above quote only serves to underline this diversity that a teacher needs to have in his or her approaches towards the differing needs of students, but especially towards those who are from an aboriginal background.
As a teacher one has to be very sensitive about the very specific needs that students have in regards to the class room environment, teaching techniques, methodology, language etc this is truer when it comes to students from a background as diverse and as richly varied as those from aboriginal backgrounds. The main thrust of an educator should be providing students from these backgrounds a sense of security and esteem so that they can overcome the negative stigma that many attach to their heritage.
For a teacher there are fewer things more important than providing their students with the tools and strengths to face whatever challenges lie in their futures. For aboriginal children, integrating into mainstream societies can be sometimes a challenging proposition and the best thing that a teacher can do for them, apart from the traditional notions of education and learning is to infuse in them a sense of self-worth and confidence that helps them overcome these challenges.
"The teacher's relationship with the student is at the heart of Aboriginal approaches to education."
The relationship between a student and a teacher is one that has been elevated to the status of sacred, hallowed bonds in most of the cultures of the world. Most religious ideologies treat the student teacher relationship as second only to that shared by the parent and the child, many elevating it beyond that to being analogous to that of the divine. Regardless of the semantics involved in classifying the relationship there is little doubt that a student teacher relationship is the basis for any sort of development and learning for the student.
There are unique challenges and approaches to be adopted when it comes to aboriginal education. The unique culture of the aboriginals values the spiritual and Meta-spiritual just as much as the tangible, the present and the literal. For those belonging to the aboriginal culture a person's worth is decided not only according to what he does, but also according to what or who he is in the spiritual sense. For this reason it is doubly important for teachers to form a relationship with the student that is grounded in trust, love, patience and respect.
A large component of any teacher student relationship is the perspectives that both have regarding the relationship, for instance in traditional cultures it is more of a experiential relationship one that is based on shared experiences that the teacher and the student share, in modern western cultures it is based on functionality and practicality, a similar flexible approach needs to be adopted in regards to aboriginal cultures when dealing with students from them. There are unique challenges and opportunities that such cultures present and all teachers need to be open to such.
"Teachers often say that their Aboriginal students are quiet in class and do not participate much in large group discussions, particularly when there are only a few Aboriginal students in the classroom. Yet teachers see that Aboriginal students do participate when they feel comfortable and safe as learners."
This perhaps more than any other quote reflects on the nature of a classroom experience with aboriginal students. The fact that they are quite capable and talented learners is not disputed by anyone but what is remarkable is seeing their behavior reflected according to the composition of the class. This reflects on their self consciousness and the low self esteem they seem to always be conflicted with.
As a teacher this is perhaps the best description of the problem symptomatic facing aboriginal culture students in a multi-cultural environment. Teachers and educators have always been planning strategies and processes to allow multi-cultural environments to be the best learning places for students of a different cultural background and this quote sums up the challenge in as concise and as succinct statement as possible. With fewer aboriginal students around in the classroom, the few that remain are bound to feel uncomfortable.
The teacher's job is to allow the aboriginal students to come into their own without feeling pressured, to allow them their own space to learn and develop. That often becomes difficult when they aren't comfortable and that is directly related to their lower proportions when it comes to classroom makeup. This is an issue which teachers have to deal with in a way that allows the students to come out of their own comfort boundaries and overcome the limitations of being in the minority.
"The over-arching benefit of involving Aboriginal Elders, community workers, cultural advisors and other resource people in the school is that Aboriginal students see themselves and their cultural heritage reflected and respected within the school. This helps students develop positive self-esteem, which in turn"
The statement above reflects one of the more innovative ways in which aboriginal students can be better integrated into the current prevailing school system and classroom culture. Aboriginal culture is heavily influenced by tradition and ritual. The elders are granted great respect and significance with most of them being the cultures standard bearers and benchmark setters. This is an example of how the characteristics of the aboriginal cultures may be used to inculcate a sense of belonging amongst students from that background.
As teachers and educators we have to sometimes take in more than one perspective at a time and involve in out of the box problem solving many a time. Traditional methods of integration and multicultural teaching are not always the practical or the feasible method to adopt, in situations like that it is best if educators adopt solutions that are not always in the text books. This is one such example of that. There are various other strategies which would have taken a lot more time but teachers are adapting to changing situations around them and this is synonymous with open mindedness and innovation.
This step holds greater meaning and deeper repercussions for the way aboriginal culture and modern classrooms will be interacting for in this kind of methodology not only the class room but the culture being introduced is also affected. Future generations might find more multi-cultural elders in their midst and the present generation might find their own elders growing more understanding of the new world that surrounds them and so often is so very challenging.