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Critique of Education Headlines

Devon Radant

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I recently read “Annual Report on American Schools Shows Growth, Diversity.”  It was very interesting to read how schools are growing and changing.

Public school enrollment in the United States has grown steadily in recent years.  According to a study known as “The Condition of Education 2005” done by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, 42 percent of the nation’s students were racial or ethnic minorities in 2003.  This increase is due largely to the increasing growth of the Hispanic population.  In 2002, Hispanic students outnumbered African American students for the first time.  With this increased diversity in the student population, we are seeing an achievement gap among minority students. 

Other highlights from the article include increased reading and math performance and more expenditure per student in public schools.  However, the statistics surrounding diversity in our schools are quite intriguing.  See http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe to read the full text of “The Condition of Education 2005”. 

For many years people have used the melting pot metaphor to describe immigration in America; however, this analogy isn’t really effective anymore.  Today, a more accurate description is the tossed salad metaphor in which immigrants still maintain their own characteristics while adding to the overall flavor of American culture.  This is especially evident in today’s classrooms.  Kenneth Cushner, Averil McClelland, and Philip Safford (2003) write, “In no other social setting in society does such a diverse gathering of people come together for a prolonged period of time than in the school” (100).  Teachers are facing more diverse classrooms than those they were educated in.  Educators must employ practices and strategies in the multicultural classrooms in which they teach.

Those associated with decision making, policy, and practices should recognize diversity in regard to the democratic principles in a civil society and implement plans with the goal of teaching and learning.  They should do more than foster tolerance; they should equip students to recognize and appreciate the strengths and advantages of a diverse population in a supportive, respectful climate.   Attitudes of honesty, dependability, trust, responsibility, tolerance, and respect for all should be the norm, not the exception.

The curriculum should reflect a commitment to inclusion.  Students should be exposed to a variety of ideas, viewpoints, perspectives, experiences, and cultures.  Teachers must go beyond the assigned texts and use supplemental material to provide students with a rich learning experience.  Using the Internet is a great way to acquaint students with diversity.  Students must be made aware of the difference between fact and opinion and recognize how different backgrounds can affect one’s viewpoint. 

In addition, all members of the faculty should represent a wide range of talents and abilities as well as backgrounds and ethnicity.  Students should be taught by teachers that don’t necessarily look just like them.  When hiring new staff, diversity should be considered. 

In order to promote positive interactions, ongoing staff development is needed for teachers to deal with the issue of diversity.  Teachers need to be educated about different cultures and learn how to show sensitivity toward students of those particular cultural groups (Educational Impact, 2005). 

One way in which teachers can meet the needs of a diverse student population is by providing an optimal learning environment.  In order to do this, teachers must work hard to establish a classroom community.  Haley Lyn David and Robert M. Capraro (2001) believe that “a classroom community provides each child with space to develop specific capabilities and to experience a sense of inner balance and wholeness in a community with others” (81).  In addition, a collaborative classroom environment is ideal to creating a positive community of learners.  Competition is not absent, but both cooperation and collaboration are woven throughout the instructional and evaluative processes (Cushner et al., 2003). 

In order to facilitate cross-cultural awareness and escape ethnic encapsulation, Martha Kruse (2001) advocates the use of multicultural children’s literature.  She writes, “Because educators can do little to change the ethnic composition of the communities in which they teach, multicultural literature represents a way to help learners expand their understanding of parallel cultures” (26).  While it may be simpler to identify, even celebrate, the differences among various cultures, this approach can build instead of break down cultural barriers.  Too often, students only gain a tourist view of multiculturalism because teachers focus on the “Four F’s” – food, festival, fashion, and folklore.  Students’ understanding of other cultures is likely to remain superficial.  Structured discussions of the literature may be students’ only opportunity to vicariously experience and reflect upon the differences they are bound to encounter in their adult lives. 

While educators face different challenges in diverse instructional settings, there are many ways of incorporating effective practices.  Schools should support a multiethnic community.  Teachers should be careful to avoid stereotypes while providing a positive classroom environment.  Fluent oral communication should be encouraged as well as listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  Collaborative groups are key too.  In addition, multicultural children’s literature provides a means for students to identify with other cultures while hopefully going beyond superficial understanding. 

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References

 

 Cushner, K., McClelland, A. & Safford, P. (2003) Human Diversity in Education: An Integrative Approach (4th ed.) Boston: McGraw-Hill. 

 

David, H.L., & Capraro, R.M. (2001) Strategies for teaching in heterogeneous environments while building a classroom community.  Education, 122, 80-86.  Retrieved May 15, 2005 from Wilson Web. 

 

Educational Impact.  Diversity-Chapter 8.  Retrieved May 22, 2005 from http://programs.educationalimpact.com/programs/index.cfm?ses=308465&fAction=Text&EleID=143

 

Kruse, M. (2001) Escaping ethnic encapsulation: the role of multicultural children’s literature.  The Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 67, 26-32.  Retrieved May 15, 2005 from Wilson Web. 

 

 U.S. Department of Education (2005) Annual report on American schools shows growth, diversity.  Retrieved June 5, 2005 from http://www.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2005/06/06012005.html