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Friday, February 3, 2023

We have more commonalities than differences

By Chantale JimenezCSMS Magazine Staff WriterIndifference can sometimes bring great malaise. It is stemmed from a natural phobia that all mankind can’t get away from. Many times we reject things not out of intellectual understanding, but rather of fear and ignorance. But if one takes a closer look at what really draws our differences, he or she will quick to see how much more we share in common. The limited study was done by our staff writer Chantale Jimenez, who is an MED and who wanted to find out how multiculturalism works in our classrooms. She observed some classrooms at a school in Miami, Florida for several days before filing this report. The table below explains the groups that participated in the research.    

Child ethnicity Arab female Cuban male Jamaican male Haitian female
Mainstream Reserved                   Boisterous Does not talk Shy
ESOL Choosy Boisterous Choosy Cautious
Teacher Respectful Casual Distant Cautious
Same ethnicity None present Boisterous Private talking Talkative

 Discussion with TeachersTeacher A– The teacher I observed is a female, African-American, very knowledgeable about cultures different from her own. She is almost aggressive in her diversification, and seems to choose to ignore mainstream sentiments as much as she can. Her classroom materials are more representative of minority groups than of the mainstream; in fact, one would be hard to find mainstream materials in her class. She is always emphasizing multicultural aspects of American life by totally ignoring its mainstream European-American culture.Teacher B – The teacher next door to her who was gracious enough to let me interview her is also a female, white, middle-class suburban American. B is perpetually embarrassed over the fact that she is not well informed about some minority cultures and that she is quick to illustrate her much-maligned superiority complex. Therefore she is knowledgeable on the issue, and surprisingly, with not a little hint of irony, totally neglects the mainstream, perhaps even more than A. Lots of minority material, minority movies, dance classes, arts, museum trips etc.Teacher C –Who volunteered for me to come to observe his class for an hour is a white male. He is not as aware of cultural nuances as A or B; does not seem to care. He tries hard to develop multi-cultural materials in classroom, but often ends up using superficial treatments of other cultures by mainstream authors.Assessment of multicultural materialDocumentaries – These include cultural and religion-oriented documentaries. They cover such religions as Shamanism, Hmong, Shinto, Hinduism, Islam etc. A number of movies and clips describe the varied geographies and demography of other countries. One humorous documentary illustrates what happens to a helpless American traveler when she goes globe-trotting.Books – There is a good collection of children’s fairytales from other countries. These include illustrated Russian tales, old tales from India, China and Japan, Jewish religious tales etc. There is more mature literature from different countries, and one is surprised to learn that there are so many illustrious authors from so many different lands. There are also books on languages.Audio media– There are two cassettes of audio where a speaker is introduced one after another as hailing from a specific culture and asked to utter a paragraph or two in English to demonstrate differences in accent.Other material- artifacts, dresses, jewelry, coins and stamps of various countries are also gathered together.Report from table aboveThe tabulated report above shows some very interesting phenomenon. Each of the subjects is a minority child, but the Cuban boy is much more involved with the mainstream white Americans than the others. This is probably because ethnicity becomes more important than language differences, even in this context. One might have considered one or two instances of shyness as being a result of nature rather than of minority status. But when one observes every case to be so, and then notices that in their own ethnic group, these minority children are much more comfortable and involved, one understands the tremendous impact diversity seems to have on people.Multiculturalism or cross-cultural awareness does not fail to leave its mark on the teachers either. Even though the teachers are taught and expected to be conversant in minority matters, not all of them seem to be equally conversant. Then again, those who know seem to have derived their knowledge not out of love but out of a more essential necessity. The one who does seem to lack enough knowledge also is the one most comfortable with his own status in the majority-minority arena.Study materials nicely illustrate the diversity of the world. There are interesting materials, audio, video, books and other artifacts, on varieties of cultures. All these together should provide an essential outline of various cultures.My recommendationsI would do the following three things to make the class more multi-cultural:

  • Food – The class should have occasions to try out the delicacies of other cultures. In some sense, in children, food is a more important way to learn and remember to acknowledge other cultures than anything else.
  • Language – I would encourage each child to learn at least one language other than her own. Language plays an important role in getting a person closer to another culture.
  • Field trips – If possible, I would arrange for field trips to areas where a certain culture is the strongest. For instance, China Town, Little Haiti or Little Havana could be the starting point. The students would get to be exposed to unique cultural traits, tasting the food, trying out the dresses etc. The thin line of difference between cultures, if it cannot be removed, can at least be crossed over by these methods.

Also see Curriculum Gap or Achievement Gap?Role of alternative languages in our societyTips for teachers who teach ESOL students of Cuban origin

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