Cultural Diversity in Society and Schools

Culture affects almost all aspects of the human life in a society. First, it influences what people do or their way of life. Secondly, culture impacts on the values, ideas, beliefs, relationships, and attitudes of individuals which then determine their expected or normative behaviour patterns(Martell, 2013). Culture does not occur on its own. Instead, it is shared among the members of a given society. Also, it cannot be genetically inherited(Martell, 2013). According to Hofstede, culture is a collective programming of the brain which helps to differentiate the members of a particular group from the other. This norm is then passed from one generation to another and is ever changing due to the addition of new things before it is passed on to the next group. In this case, culture is considered as dynamic as history since it is shaped by those occupying it. People have a tendency to assume that their cultures are always correct because it is the first thing that one learns(Martell, 2013).

Diversity refers to the representation of the numerous individual similarities and differences existing among individuals in a society(Washington, 2008). In other words, diversity is anything that sets one person apart from another. These variations arise as a result of disparities in race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, age, religion, language, exceptionalities, geographical region, and sexual orientation (Washington, 2008). Further, it includes a broad range of people’s backgrounds, interests, and life experiences. Diversity also exists where different people have varied viewpoints as well as tolerance of thoughts. It can also be measured along such lines as political leanings, economic status, and professional or academic background such as the difference in career interests and skills.

Equity refers to the act of treating everyone fairly and equally (OED, 2013). To better understand the concept of equity, Martell puts forward an analogy of the difference between equality and equity. He narrates how a certain teacher instructed her students to sit down. She then tasked them to take out their shoes. After that, she collected all of them and assigned each student a different pair of shoe. She then asked if everyone was comfortable with the new wear. One of the students responded that “No, I am unhappy because the new shoes do not fit my shoes” (Martell, 2013). Therefore, whereas equality aims at ensuring an equal opportunity for everyone, equity gives room for fair, relevant, and appropriate opportunities that meet the unique needs of individuals or groups in particular circumstances. In this case, it would be unfair to assign a student a pair of shoes that do not fit them as is the case with equality. Further, equity provides an opportunity for everyone to access accommodation, services, or goods meant for the public in a manner that suits their needs (Martell, 2013).

Cultural capital refers to the social space where social stratification takes place, power conflicts are enacted and transferred from one generation to another as they interact with economic resources (Saraceno, 2014). Other authors argue that parental education influences the performance of their children. Further, they claim that primary and secondary socialization influences children’s culture and consequently impacts on their choice of careers (Saraceno, 2014). Further, the education level and cultural involvement significantly improve a person’s well-being both physically and psychologically (Saraceno, 2014).The cultural capital is also regarded as an economic asset of the society nationally and internationally. It could be an objective property of the society such as libraries, monuments, cultural sites, and concert halls which are in turn used to develop a person’s cultural capital (Saraceno, 2014).

With the current increase in globalization that involves interactional among individuals from wide-ranging backgrounds, cultural diversity has become a relevant subject matter (Mazur, 2010). It refers to the differences that exist between cultural groups. Also, it describes the variations occurring within particular cultural groups. Diversity existing within the Asian-American culture, for example, includes Japanese-Americans as well as Korean-Americans. In the modern day, there is increasing emphasis encouraging people to embrace and respect each other’s cultural differences since none is inherently superior to the other (Dietz, 2007).  Further, cultural diversity can be seen as having many individuals from different cultures who come to work, live, or learn in a common environment with a view to achieving a common goal. It not only requires people to understand and tolerate one another but also, celebrating the richness in variety of diversity that everyone possesses.

Cultural consciousness involves the development of professional and personal critical awareness about ethnic, way of life, and racial diversity of other people (Gay, 2003). In a teacher-student relationship, a teacher should be mindful if they are dealing with an ethnically diverse class to avoid engaging in wrangles. This is illustrated in the Culturally Responsive Teaching(CRT) which focuses on the use of positive experiences, cultures, and perspectives of native, African, Asian-American, and Latino to filter the appropriate skills and knowledge to pass to students (Gay, 2003). Cultural consciousness requires that tutors analyze and monitor their instructional behaviours and beliefs in order to achieve the maximum positive results such as improving the opportunities as well as outcomes of a culturally diverse class.

Diversity issues in American Schools

According to Camera Lauren, an education reporter, one of the major challenges facing the American Schools is lack of teacher diversity. A report by the Department of Education indicates thatthe male African-American educatorsconstitute only 2% of the total teacher workforce in the country (Camera, 2016). This worrying number of culturally diverse educators with regards to their cultural origin and gender is in complete contrast with the current situation in the American schools. Statistics indicate that the student population is largely made up of students of colour. On the other hand, their counterpart white teachers comprise 82% of the total K-12 tutoring department (Camera, 2016). This proportion of teachers of colour to white educators has barely changed since the 1987-1988 academic year. Since then, there has only been an increase from 15-18% in tutors of colour which is a 5% rise in the 2011-2012 educational year (Camera, 2016). King, a policy maker and Social Studies tutor argues that teachers of colour play a significant role in shattering negative stereotypes besides preparing students to take up future roles in working in a society that is multiracial (Camera, 2016). 

Secondly, the debate on making funding of schools to become more equitable is a subject of great concern. Camera Lauren examined how the funding of k-12 is negatively affecting the opportunities for both low income as well as students of colour.To start with, most schools in the East-Coast district there are in a poor state (Camera, 2018). For instance, the Lakewood Elementary school which is located in Baltimore is significantly affected by the cold weather season. Educators are thus obliged to regularly check the lower-grade students especially to ensure that they are warmly dressed. This calls for more financing to improve and maintain the learning facilities and make them usable at any time of the year (Camera, 2018). Also, mechanisms should be put in place to monitor and evaluate the spending data of schools and how effective the allocated resource meet the set goals. It is similarly unfortunate that students living in isolated neighbourhoods with high poverty levels attend schools with outdated technology, inexperienced educators, and those offering few courses (Camera, 2018).

Thirdly, paying less attention to the cultural capital such as training facilities leads to culturally unconscious preparation of educators. For instance, Camera notes that the role of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in training tutors of colour has significantly deteriorated (Camera, 2016). First, they only admit a small fraction of the total number of students who apply for the teaching profession. Out of all the African-American educators, only 16% enrolled to HBCU (Camera, 2016). An alternative to such traditional programs of preparing teachers could be such routes as “Teach for America” which currently enrol teachers who are more culturally diverse.Presently, classrooms are increasingly becoming multicultural due to the immigration influx and increased birth rate. Thus, teachers are required to be culturally conscious to meet this challenge (Alsubaie, 2015). When students from different countries attend American schools, they have to adapt to the new environment by learning how to interact with unfamiliar individuals, their language, and culture. In this case, educators have a duty to guide these students towards achieving their academic and social goals. Such a task calls for a cultural consciousness of teachers as well as possessing practices and techniques that help them understand the needs of tutoring a diverse class. To achieve this unification, educators should engage students in interactive activities inside and outside the classroom setup (Alsubaie, 2015).

Social and cultural inclusion is also an issue of great concern to the American schools. There are numerous articles addressing the subject of the need to be more sensitive to people living with disabilities. A report prepared by Camera Lauren, for instance, addresses the intervention to arrest a situation where thousands of learners were illegally denied the opportunity to receive special education (Camera, 2018). The Department of Education accused the Texas Education Agency of violating the federal laws and limiting the percentage of physically challenged students who could be enrolledin public education. As an educator, I would echo the Secretary of Education, DeVos Betsy’s, statement that all children living with disabilities should be presented with the opportunity to access special education and other related services aimed at meeting their special needs.(Camera, 2018). The article further calls on the Congress to provide adequate funds that meet the needs of students living with disability

Preparing teachers to work with culturally diverse students and their families

Culturally diverse teachers should be highly flexible and adaptable to the needs of their students. To begin with, teachers ought to understand their culture andthat of the student. They also have to recognize the special needs of the present-day culturally diverse population of students. By reflecting on one’s cultural background, values, language, and social interests a tutor is able to identify what prevents them from effectively educate a diverse class. As well, ifa teacher appreciates his or her origin, they are able torespect a student’s culture. The educator should also strive to learn the learner’s culture and how it affects their self-esteem, perceptions, classroom behaviour, values, and learning. By taking advantage of these aspects, the students feel affirmed, respected, welcomed, and valued.

Secondly, educators should strive towards building their knowledge and skills inteaching and planning lessons. In turn, this helps build a sincere caring attitude and increase the level of student engagement and participation. Further, teachers should use multicultural materials and books to improve their understanding of cultural diversity.The state and policymakers should also put in place measures that provide adequate training to tutors as well as promote cultural diversity of teachers. Camera notes that some of the school districts like Boston have progressed by having 37% of the tutor workforce being teachers of colour. In addition, 25% of the educators recruited in the 2015-2016 academic tear are African-American (Camera, 2016).

Thirdly, educators should enhance the home-school communication. Teachers need to establish a collaborative relationship with the caregivers and parents to help in assessing the literacy development of a student. However, tutors should not entirely rely on the preconceived notions that the family holds towards the learner. Moreover, developing a communication culture with one’s students helps understand their needs. For instance, a Chines student in a multicultural class may prefer indirect rather than the direct approach of asking questions in class. This is because they could be afraid of criticism if they give wrong responses (Alsubaie, 2015).

Summary

            In a nutshell, culture is a combination of values, beliefs, ideas, and attitudes affecting the way of life or behaviour of a particular group of people. Diversity, on the other hand, refers to the differences and similarities existing among individuals in a given society. Further, equity involvesthe equal and fair treatment of every person regarding the public opportunities available. Whereas cultural capital includes the society’s objective assets such as libraries and cultural sites, cultural diversity refers to the differences existing between various cultural groups. Finally, cultural consciousness is defined as developing professional and personal awareness regarding the race, ethnicity, and way of life of a diverse population. The five most significant issues related to diversity in American schools during the last three to five years from the perspective of an educator include:

  1. Lack of teacher diversity- there are few teachers of colour despite the modern-day cultural diversity in classrooms.
  2. Inequitable funding of American schools- There are inadequate resources to develop and maintain learning facilities especially in schools located in isolated neighbourhoods.
  3. Paying less attention to the American cultural capital such as training facilities- For instance, the HBCU currently trains a small percentage of African-American teachers than is expected.
  4. Multicultural classrooms due to the immigration influx and increased rate of birth- Teachers are, therefore required to be more culturally conscious.
  5. The Social and cultural inclusion of learners living with disability- These persons should be allocated equal opportunities in public schools and the state should increase funding to provide them with special requirements.

The three recommendations that I would give regarding how teachers can prepare to work with culturally diverse students and their families are:

  1. Educators should be highly adaptable and flexible to meet the needs a culturally diverse class- This is achieved through understanding the students’ cultures and self-reflection by the teacher regarding their origin.
  2. Tutors and the state to focus on enhancing the teacher’s skills and knowledge in planning lessons and teaching – This is achieved through the use of culturally diverse materials and books, and availing adequate training to tutors.
  3. Educators should build a strong home-school communication network which entails building a relationship with the student’s parents to assess their literacy development.

References:

Alsubaie, M. A. (2015). Examples of Current Issues in the Multicultural Classroom. Journal of Education and Practice6(10), 86-89.

Brittany Martell, 2013. Culturally Based Equity for First Nations Children & Youth. P1-3. Extracted from: https://fncaringsociety.com/sites/default/files/Information%20Sheet_Culturally%20Based%20Equity_May%202013_5.pdf

Camera, L. (2016). Major Teacher Diversity Problems in U.S. Schools. Extracted from: https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-05-06/major-teacher-diversity-problems-in-us-schools

Camera, L. (2018). U.S Commission on Civil Rights to Congress: Make School Funding More Equitable. Extracted from: https://www.usnews.com/news/education-news/articles/2018-01-11/us-commission-on-civil-rights-to-congress-make-school-funding-more-equitable

Dietz, G. (2007). Keyword: Cultural Diversity. Zeitschrift für Erziehungswissenschaft10(1), 7-30.

Gay, G., & Kirkland, K. (2003). Developing cultural critical consciousness and self-reflection in preservice teacher education. Theory into practice42(3), 181-187.

Mazur, B. (2010). Cultural diversity in organisational theory and practice. Journal of Intercultural Management2(2), 5-15.

Oxford English Dictionary (2013). Equity. Retrieved from http://www.oed.com.proxy.library.carleton.ca/view/Entry/638 38?redirectedFrom=equity#eid.

Saraceno, C. (2014, October). Do we need capital accounts for culture? In Joint IEA/ISI Strategic Forum 2014 and Workshop of the HighLevel Expert Group on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress on Intra-generational and Inter-generational Sustainability, Rome (pp. 22-23). http://www.oecd.org/statistics/measuring-economic-social-progress/Saraceno.pdf

Washington, D. (2008).The Concept of Diversity.Washington & Company. Extracted from: http://dwashingtonllc.com/images/pdf/publications/the_concept_of_diversity.pdf

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