Accommodating Cultural Diversity in Practice

As the comments in the previous section imply, accommodating to cultural diversity involves more than adding cultural content to the curriculum—more than celebrating Mexican holidays in an American social studies class, for example, and more than discussing the history of slavery of African-Americans. These are useful actions, but they are only a starting point for truly multicultural education (Banks, 2009). In addition it is important to engage students in exploring the culturally based assumptions of whatever subject they are studying. In studying the “Westward Movement” (the settlement of the American west), for example, it is important to point out that this movement was “westward” only from the point of view of the white Americans living in the eastern United States. To the indigenous American Indians, the “west” was the center of their world; to the Mexicans, it was “north”; to the Asian laborers living in California, it was “east.”

James Banks has proposed five features of a fully multicultural educational program (2009). The first two of these were mentioned in the paragraph above, but not the next three:

  • Integrating cultural content into the curriculum wherever possible.
  • Stimulating knowledge construction to help students understand cultural assumptions.
  • Flexible teaching strategies that give all students access and success with learning. If some students prefer to learn cooperatively rather than independently, for example, then teachers should make provisions for cooperative learning activities.
  • Encourage prejudice reduction among all students. This can and should happen even in classes that do not seem culturally diverse on the surface. Such classes always have diversity, even if it is not visible immediately: students’ families will vary in their financial circumstances, students themselves will vary in their gender preferences, and students will vary in their attitudes about religion, politics, and many other issues.
  • Encourage the entire school to be aware of cultural diversity and its effects. What is the racial composition of the school staff? What are their attitudes? What school policies favor particular students unfairly?

Of all of these strategies, the most important is the third: being flexible about the choice of teaching strategies. By allowing for various styles of learning, teachers can accommodate a wide range of students, whatever their cultural backgrounds, and whatever cultural background the teacher herself may have. And flexibility has an added advantage: by honoring students’ individuality, it avoids the danger of stereotyping students’ learning needs on the basis of their cultural background.

References

Banks, J. (2009). Teaching strategies for ethnic studies, 8th edition. Boston: Pearson Education.