America has always been a land of varying cultures. It’s classrooms, unfortunately, have not always reflected that. Today, when the US is home to more ethnicity and cultures than ever before in history, that diversity of cultures must be reflected in the classroom. Why? Because children are learning more than reading, writing, and arithmetic in school. Think of a classroom as a tiny society. This tiny society represents the larger society we all live in. In this tiny society, children are learning how to navigate the world inside and outside of a classroom setting. They are learning how to get along with others. They are learning how to embrace differences and how to handle them. In short, they are learning how to see differences and how to un-see them.
Most of us were in awe the first time we were old enough to understand the beauty of our first snowfall and snowman, our first springtime and new flowers poking their way out of the ground, our first summer of sandy beaches, and our first autumn with its turning leaves. Just as we were in awe of the first time we were aware of the changing seasons, we soon came to take them for granted without ignoring them. That pretty much sums up how diversity should be taught in our classrooms not “the way we do things around here” (Deal, Peterson, 2016) attitude.
A school’s culture is a combination of countless attributes that create the school’s “experience” (Kuntz, 2012). Teachers must find a way to make the common, uncommon and the ordinary, unique. The goal is that when Sabrina and Tommy meet Abdullah and Ricardo they learn about the differences in the family each child represents. They learn about the varying diets, customs, faiths, and cultures of each other, while finding a way to share their own stories in a safe environment. The teacher, who is the leader, or president, of the classroom, is responsible for the “political climate” created there. They can help the children learn to learn.
Part of what gives cultural differences the potential to be scary is a lack of understanding. Create a safe, trusted atmosphere. True North by George Daniels teaches us the importance of being self-aware and comfortable in your own skin. Peeling back the onion and begin looking at your outer layers. Embrace change by inviting children and their parents to bring in a dish that represents their family, photos of ancestors and short selections of music.
Children are actually quite natural at accepting differences. Think about it. They don’t question why Muppets come in all different shapes, colors, and sizes. They simply accept that they are different while still being part of the same species. What teachers really need to do is teach them to accept each other as readily. These simple things go a long way in creating a place where the children who will grow up in, and one day lead, our society learn more than tolerance. They learn trust, appreciation, camaraderie, and respect.
Cultural Video : Being Different is Beautiful
Deal, T. E., & Peterson, K. D. (2016). Shaping school culture. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Brand.
George, B., & Sims, P. (2007). True north: Discover your authentic leadership. San Francisco,
Calif: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley & Sons.
Kuntz, B. (2012). Create a Positive School Culture. ASCD, 54(9).