Culture makes a huge impact on my work as an educator. Culture can be defined in so many ways. I am interested in how leaders frame culture. What is the culture of a school? Who defines the culture? I am happy to be at a school where one of our core values, as a building, centers on responding to struggling learners. I support the culture by designing lessons and assessments that address individual learning needs. I address the learning needs by trying to get to know my students. What are my students’ core values? How can I make a relationship connection with them? I am inspired by President Obama’s leadership style. He connects with me; he is a model I want to imitate. I like how he is attempting to shape the culture of American politics. He embraces change and creates a culture of optimism. I wish I could do that in my classroom. I believe the hallmark of a great leader is positivity. I want students to believe in themselves, and their ability to problem solve and overcome hurdles.
In the landmark book Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action, I enjoyed reading about Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt. It was interesting to read in Chapter 12, “Mary McLeod Bethune: Feminist, Educator, and Activist,” that Bethune needed to walk the fine line of politics. She “needed the support of rich white benefactors to keep the machinery of educational reform moving and, at the same time, needed the support of her own community.” (Barnett,1996, p.225) It was interesting to read that African American activists must “walk the line between mainstream culture and the local community.” (p.226) In Chapter 13, “A Reluctant but Persistent Warrior: Eleanor Roosevelt,” Eleanor Roosevelt had to face a similar situation with her political climate as an activist and First Lady of the United States in 1940’s racist America. Eleanor Roosevelt had to be thoughtful and careful navigating the political waters of Washington D.C. Her growth and ability to effect change in a hostile segregated culture is inspiring. Both Bethune and Roosevelt inspire me to seek change and implement strategies that improve my community’s culture.
Personalize and Connect with Diverse Learners
I have learned how important it is to personalize cultural diversity. I am aware of how I, as an educator, can make an impact on students’ lives by helping them understand the meaning of pluralism in American society. It was inspiring to read in Chapter 14, “The Intergroup Education Movement,” that “multicultural educators must make their values explicit and be prepared to respond to the conflict that may result when others do not agree with the positions they take.” (Banks, 1996, p. 273) It was sad to read how educator Rachel Davis DuBois was called before the Senate Subcommittee on Government Operations and was questioned by Senator Joseph McCarthy because of her leadership in multicultural education. DuBois and other multicultural educators encountered attacks because of the movement they had created. I am reminded of our current political climate with the ascent of Donald Trump, and his call to keep Latino and Muslim people from entering the United States. As my students watch CNN student news in Social Studies, how should I respond when my 6th graders ask about Donald Trump and his political campaign to be President of the United States?
I was inspired in Chapter 17, “Whites in Multicultural Education: Rethinking Our Role,” by the writings of Gary Howard asking whites to rethink their role in multicultural education. His words sounded like poetry when he said, “Because the music of the United States is propelled by such a rich mixture of cultural rhythms, it is time for all of us to learn to move with grace and style to the new sounds. The future calls each of us to become partners in the dance of diversity, a dance in which everyone shares the lead.” (Howard, 1996, p. 333) I like the idea of education achieving those aims. I am motivated to be more proactive in structuring lessons that address the needs of, not the few but, the many.
Responding to Diverse Beliefs
The article, “Christian Privilege, History, and Trends in U.S. Religion”, by Ellen E. Fairchild has a section titled “Know Thyself.” In that section Fairchild writes, “History demonstrates that the United States is not a Christian nation and that the separation of religion and the government was designed to prevent divisiveness, not encourage it.” Separation of church and state is one of the most brilliant ideas in history and there are examples in American history where colonies (Pennsylvania) and then states allowed different groups to establish their own communities and flourish and be free with equal rights. However, there are also many examples of religious persecution and intolerance. The Salem Witch Trials is scary example of superstition and religious extremism where twenty people (mostly women) where accused of being a witch and hanged. Today in the U.S., there seems to be a growing fear of Muslims. After 9/11 there was a call to segregate and racial profile Muslims in America. In reality, the statistics say that Americans are more likely to be killed for being Muslim — than by a Muslim. In the article, Fairchild calls for a society that is inclusive of all religions and perspectives. She says we need to “recognize those who have been marginalized because of Christian privilege.” She asks that Americans be more inclusive of those who do no practice religion.
I used to teach in a Catholic School and now I teach public school. I love the diversity of my classroom! I have students from all over the world, many who have recently moved to the U.S. I feel lucky I get to teach ancient civilization. The history of these civilizations records the birth a many world religions. Our textbook includes the history of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. I teach the ancient religions as historical information, however my students have learned some great lessons from the world religions. I love reading my students’ writings on Karma or hearing students’ thoughts on the Eightfold Path of the Buddha. The religious values I taught in Catholic School are very similar to the concepts and ideas presented in my ancient civilization textbook. Religion plays a big role in an ancient civilization classroom. I think my students are the most engaged and challenged intellectually when we are studying the history of these ancient religions.
I thought Allison Davis’s research was illuminating. Davis writes in his essay, “Social Class Influences upon Learning,” that the education system is Eurocentric. Davis writes, “The present curricula are stereotyped and arbitrary selections from a narrow area of middle-class culture. Academic culture is one of the most conservative and ritualized aspects of human culture.” In Multicultural Education, Chapter 6, “Allison Davis and the Study of Race, Social Class, and Schooling,” Michael R. Hills writes an essay on Davis’s contributions to multicultural education. He expands on this idea when he writes, “The result of this education is that it reinforces behavior and patterns of thinking for middle-class students, while alienating those students who come from dissimilar situation.” (p.123) Hills states that we need to broaden the curriculum so we are representing multiple cultures.
Education should be a pursuit toward the whole truth. My team just recently added a unit on India to our Social Studies scope and sequence. We realized that we had a large population of Indian students and a large population of non-Indian students who are unaware of Indian culture. We realized that we had a unique opportunity to respond to the needs of our students because of our subject matter, ancient civilization. I am so happy we added this to our curriculum. We had heard from 8th grade teachers that Indian kids are being targeted and harassed because of their differences. We hope that this early education in 6th grade will make a big impact on our students moving forward.
Provide Access to All Learners
There is nothing worse than the feeling of being excluded, especially when one is surrounded by others with privilege. Legislation is not enough when it comes to social justice in the classroom. The community must make active steps toward a compassionate response to others who are denied access to equal opportunity. In the past, the medieval economic system of feudalism imposed the superstitious belief that privilege is a divine right. This system began to be called into question during the Age of Reason and the birth of the scientific revolution. During this time Thomas Jefferson summed up the liberal philosophy when he said, “all men are created equal.” Under this revolutionary wave, the United States Constitution was created, which states: we are all equal under the law. I am fascinated by the ideas of negative freedom vs. positive freedom. Negative freedom is summed with the expression, “who’s stopping you,” while positive freedom provides the empowerment and support of the community. Education is positive freedom. A good education system helps people achieve liberty. This, however, is not achieved through legislation; it is achieved through the compassionate relationship between a caring teacher and his or her students.
I really like the idea from Carol Gilligan’s Different Voice that puts forward that context and relationships, not abstract principles, is the driving force of moral behavior. Principles vary depending on the people one is with. So true! The teacher’s capacity to form a caring relationship determines the success of his or her students. It is the teacher’s ability to connect with students that determines if the message will be received. High expectations for all drives motivation. Students will live up or down to the expectations a teachers sets. If a teacher has low expectations because a child comes from poverty, the prophecy will be fulfilled. Children are highly susceptible to expectations, and they will rise to the challenge if the teachers cares enough to hold them accountable. It is important all students are expected to cultivate critical thinking skills. The achievement gap is created, not by biology, but by experiences. A culturally responsive teacher provides the necessary experiences to help prepare a child to survive in our society. Teacher efficacy is the key. When teachers believe they have the power to make an impact, they do.
Moving forward, I want to be sure to implement instructional strategies that promotes equity in the classroom. I need to wait for a longer period of time and allow kids to think before calling on the first person to raise their hands. I need to encourage and praise my struggling readers and writers. I need to make sure my struggling learners feel the learning target is relevant and meaningful. Lastly, I need to be critically reflective and be sure to continuously evaluate my practice with my learning community.
It was interesting to read in Multicultural Education, Chapter 2, “The African American Roots of Multicultural Education,” that science “was used to justify and rationalize the prevailing beliefs, norms, and practices of the day, including the pervasive stereotypes about African Americans.” (Banks, p. 33) Like religion, science can be used to warp the truth and rationalize just about anything. Today science is regarded as the absolute truth. I wonder if there is a higher truth beyond science and empirical observation. Or maybe the search for truth is a never ending struggle. Banks goes on to say “how racism was created to justify the prevailing negative beliefs about Southern and Eastern European immigrants to the United States as well as discrimination against African Americans. Nativism, a movement whose major aim was to exclude Southern, Eastern, and Central European immigrants from the United States, was legitimized by scientific racism. This movement triumphed when the Immigration Act of 1924, which placed tight restriction on the flow of immigrants from these regions, was enacted by Congress.” (p. 34) African American scholars had to fight science with science. They presented evidence that overturned the false logic of the past. The uphill battle and courage that Multicultural scholars had, in order to take on such an overwhelming and powerful system, is inspiring. There is still work to be done and, like multicultural educators of the past, I want to be a force of positive freedom. I want to give my students the tools they need to achieve liberty.
Why must teachers become multi-culturally literate? One reason is that 90% of the teaching force is white and has had trouble connecting with children from ethnic cultures different than their own. Native Americans, African Americans, and Latinos score significantly below whites and Asians on the SAT. Poverty is a major factor when it come to this achievement gap. In the 1970’s studies began to expose the institutional racism that contributed to the deficit. Schools began to restructure and alter instruction in order to compensate for the profound gap. When teachers increase their multicultural literacy equal opportunity becomes a reality. A study in 1997 showed that Beverly Hills classroom had 392 books and a Compton classroom only had 2.7. This shows that a child with equal intellectual capacity is not being given equal educational opportunity. As a result, these kids are less prepared. The multicultural movement helps everyone feel welcome at the table. Teachers need to learn skills that facilitate academic improvement of non-white ethnic groups. A giant theme in American history is the achievement gap between the races. When teachers become multi-culturally literate, they create cross-cultural relationships, they reduce pain caused by prejudice, they help all students achieve academically. Multicultural literacy is the responsibility of everyone who works in the education system; it is an ongoing commitment. When multiculturalism is embraced, people are transformed and our democracy is strengthened as a result.
I’m interested in how Banks deconstructs and then reconstructs knowledge. In the book Multicultural Education, Chapter 4,“The Historical Reconstruction of Knowledge about Race: Implications for Transformative Teaching,” Banks says, “Recognizing that knowledge contains both subjective and objective elements does not mean we must abandon the quest for the construction of knowledge that is as objective as possible. One’s location in the social structure is based partially on the relations of race, social class, and gender; these are location frames that we see and view as significant. If we fail to recognize the ways in which social location produces subjectivity and influences the construction of knowledge, we are unlikely to interrogate established knowledge that contributes to the oppression of marginalized and victimized groups. Hegemonic knowledge that promotes the interest of powerful, elite groups often obscures its value premises by masquerading as totally objective.” (pg. 65) This idea makes me want to question mainstream thinking. The subjective location frame of the powerful influence mainstream culture and it is dangerous not to question established knowledge. The ruling class wants people to believe that their subjective knowledge is total objective truth. Academic leaders like W.E.B. DuBois questioned the predominant mainstream racism of the early 20th century. It is shocking to read how science was used to justify racism. It is important to not blindly accept mainstream ideas as truth. One must view culture through many lenses in order to get close to the whole truth. I applaud early multicultural scholars who asserted that environmental conditions shape both the oppressor and the oppressed. One must change the environmental conditions in order to reach equitable opportunity for all people within the culture.
Provide Diverse Materials
I like the idea that curriculum is not static. Curriculum is a negotiation between what societies desire students to be taught and what the individual student desires to be taught. This definition empowers teachers to respond to student needs and empowers students to be curious. The adopted textbook can dominate classroom instruction and both students and teachers often accept the book as objective truth. In reality, textbooks can be biased against non-mainstream culture. For example, the invisibility of women’s contribution to society in a history textbook negatively shapes young minds and reinforces negative stereotypes. The selective narrative of the pilgrims and Native Americans as harmonious neighbors while omitting the awful truth of Native American genocide, presents an imbalanced view of history. The unreality that ending slavery in America ended the exploitation of African Americans, distorts the reality of the harsh economic oppression that continues up to the present. An isolated, fragmented insert on Caesar Chavez’s contribution to the labor movement presents Latino civil rights issues as a peripheral problem that is less important than mainstream white issues. Word choice matters and shows linguistic bias. Textbooks can have the illusion of equity but on a closer read have little substance. The best curriculum asks students to think critically and analyze deeper more complex issues. The best curriculum energizes the individual learner. Reading, math, and science scores increase when the curriculum is culturally responsive. When students are allowed multiple ways to show what they know, the learner is empowered.
We must teach that knowledge is constructed more completely when learners seek information from many different points of view. In Multicultural Education, Chapter 18, “Transformative Knowledge, Curriculum Reform, and Action,” Banks brings in primary sources to show students a more complete picture of the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955. Students are able to read Rosa Parks autobiography and compare her account with what the textbook says. I like how this approach asks students to critically think about how knowledge is constructed and “reflects the experiences, values, and perspectives of its creators. In this approach, the structure, assumptions, and perspectives of the curriculum are challenged so that concepts, events, and issues taught are viewed from the perspectives and experiences of a range of groups, including men and women from different social-class, ethnic, and racial groups.” (Banks, 1996) Teaching students transformative scholarship empowers them to reform society and make it more democratic. By questioning the mainstream culture students are able to form a more complete picture of the “complex ways in which the interaction of different ethnic, racial, and cultural groups have resulted in the development of U.S. culture and civilization.” (Banks, p. 340) I like that the ultimate purpose is to inspire students to take action and become agents of change.
Communicate and Connect
My school is focusing on academic vocabulary right now. We have a large population of ELL students. My school is nears Microsoft headquarters and Microsoft hires people from all over the world to move to the area. It is very exciting as a teacher to be able to teach and learn from students from Israel, Egypt, Kenya, India, Pakistan, Japan, China, Mexico, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Russia, and many other countries. My school has a unique opportunity to respond to a large population of students who are not proficient speakers, readers, and writers of English. It was interesting to learn that ELL kids know Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills and can communicate socially but struggle with Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency and need support learning academic vocabulary. It is very helpful to know that the #1 factor that impacts ELL learning is vocabulary development. ELL students can’t learn new information unless they understand the nuanced semantic meaning of words. Words have multiple meaning that affect comprehension. Vocabulary meaning may vary depending on the academic area. For example, the word scale has different meanings for math, science, and social studies. Learning strategies to help engage English Language Learners was helpful. I need to take time to summarize learning and allow students to talk with their partner. I need to use diagrams and picture cues that reinforce a new concept’s meaning. I need to explicitly model the thinking process of my content area and frequently check for understanding. It is okay to lower expectations for a student’s language output as long as I keep my critical thinking expectations high. By increasing social interaction, scaffolding comprehension, and building critical thinking skills, I help the struggling learner build skills for success.
Connect with Parents and Community
It empowers me to think of a multicultural education as a democratic agenda. How can teachers put our democratic ideals into practice? First, I can keep expectations high for all students. And I can make sure my curriculum reflects diverse cultural groups and both genders. I can make sure my teaching style matches the learning styles of my students. I can show respect for all languages and cultures. My classroom materials should represent the full range of ethnic groups. My assessments should be culturally sensitive to students of color. I need to have high expectations for the careers of all ethnic groups and help all kids plan for success. The esteemed Cornell West says race does matter. Schools need more ethnically diverse teachers. The achievement gap can be closed when teachers partner with parents and learn from parents about cultural differences. MULTICULTURAL EDUCATION = DEMOCRACY. Schools can form agreement plans that focus on shared vision. Schools can share decision making power with teachers, parents, and students. A shared multicultural vision will help dispel stereotypes, will help promote awareness, will help students form positive attitudes for cultural diversity, and will make a big impact by addressing racism. It was helpful to learn that multicultural education is not a quick fix. Schools, parents, and communities need to be in it for the long haul. This appeals to my sense of justice and inspires me to act for the common good. These are powerful ideas. This course has opened my mind to so much! When I meet with my collaboration team to discuss topics, I now filter action items and ideas through a wider and deeper lens!
My next steps are to engage with students, parents, and colleagues by differentiating instruction and assessments, personalizing the learning, and by forming strong relationships of respect and understanding. I will engage my collaboration team in a deeper discussion about seeking out more diverse materials for students to read and write about. Students need access to all points of view and need to be aware of writer’s biases and perspectives and author’s influences.
Please see my Multicultural Education Paper and my SPU Canvas Post on Providing Access to All Learners as evidence of establishing a culturally inclusive learning environment that facilitates academic engagement and success for all learners.
Banks, J. A. (1996). Multicultural Education, Transformative Knowledge and Action: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Multicultural Education Series.
Fairchild, E. E. (2009). Christian Privilege, History, and Trends in U.S. Religion. New Directions For Student Services, (125), 5-11.
Gilligan, C. (1977). In a Different Voice: Women’s Conception of the Self and of Morality. Harvard Educational Review.