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Multicultural Issues In Today’s Classroom

Multicultural Issues in Today’s Classroom

As mentioned earlier in this lesson, multiculturalism can be seen as the meeting of cultural diversities – this meeting could be a very pleasant one, a very puzzling one or a very hostile one. Oftentimes, the outcome depends on the backgrounds and the attitudes of those involved, but most of all, it depends on one’s willingness to step back and invite the ways of others into his/her space. In today’s education system, diversity exists at both the student and teacher levels – as such, everyone is a part of this transition.

Note the following list of types of multicultural issues that arise in today’s classroom as a result of the “meeting” of various cultures.

  • Politics
  • History
  • Language
  • Social Norms
  • Fashion
  • Religion
  • Attitudes
  • Customs
  • Cultural uniqueness
  • Respect for authority
  • Beliefs and perceptions

How do these challenges change the classrooms and how teachers handle themselves? Unlike in traditional classrooms, teachers now have to be even more:

  • Patient
  • Culturally knowledgeable
  • Careful with words and actions that can be misinterpreted
  • Careful in planning lessons so that cultures are not left out
  • Tolerant in relation to other religions, cultural backgrounds, etc.

These requirements call for additional training and preparation. Moreover, in meeting the needs of a cultural classroom, teachers are also preparing themselves to deal with the needs of today’s business world. The business world is experiencing the same level of diversity and multiculturalism. In fact, it is mostly because of the change in today’s workplace demographics that classrooms are more multicultural.

Salad Bowl versus Melting Pot Theory

Many theories and strategies have been presented to help people deal with multiculturalism. The following are two concepts that are thrown around quite frequently in an effort to deal with cultural interaction:

If you look at a salad bowl, what do you notice immediately? You can clearly see the different elements in the salad bowl. But if you look at a melting pot, it is difficult to see if there are different types of cheese, seasonings, etc.; rather, all you see is the smooth consistency of a single element.

  • You will probably enjoy the salad by biting into many different foods separately, yet at the end of the journey, your body has received the total nourishment of the entire salad as a whole. Here is how one author describes the salad bowl metaphor:

We were taught that the salad bowl was the better metaphor for us to learn about America and immigrants. In a salad bowl, different ingredients are all mixed together to make one thing, yet each ingredient also retains its own characteristics. They aren’t blended into some bland goo (Sullivan, 2006, para. 6).

  • You will enjoy the melting pot mixture, but you simply will not know what ingredients were involved unless the person who prepared it tells you, as you cannot see the different parts. In relation to America and the melting pot theory, one author shares:

America has traditionally been referred to as a "melting pot," welcoming people from many different countries, races, and religions, all hoping to find freedom, new opportunities, and a better way of life (Millet, 2000, para. 1).

Now apply these theories to diversity and multiculturalism. In the salad bowl theory, you enjoy seeing the differences in others, as well as the whole. In relation to the melting pot theory, you focus on the outcomes. You do not care who is white, black, Russian, Chinese, tall or short – you just see the results.

Which approach is more accurate? Neither one. You have to decide as an individual which one best suits you and which one will yield the healthiest results in your life and classroom.

Consider how Hispanic Research, Inc. (2007) brings together the two concepts:
The melting pot phenomenon has changed. The new immigrants do not come to this country with the same mindset of leaving the old life behind and starting anew. The new pot has often been referred as a salad bowl because the ingredients coexist together but do not mix (para. 1).

In the classroom, you may find that ignoring differences works best for a particular group of students, while identifying and discussing cultural variations is preferred by another group of students. Effectively, study your class group and see what works for whom. Be flexible, and put your classroom’s environment first so that your teaching can yield maximum educational outcomes. As teachers, you are leaders serving your student body. You want to do what works for them.

Diversity and Multiculturalism in the Classroom

Consider the following examples of diversity:

  • Male and female teachers
  • Male and female students
  • Students from all over the world
  • Physically challenged students and teachers
  • Teachers from different countries
  • Rich and poor students
  • Intellectually capable and challenged students
  • Religious diversity between students and teachers
  • Language diversity between students and teachers

To be successful in today’s classroom, teachers should first understand the differences between diversity and multiculturalism. Teaching in the multicultural classroom will require learning how to blend groups in constructive ways for both students and teachers.

Internet Resources

Multicultural Education – a variety of articles

This site has been developed to address multicultural considerations in teacher pedagogy.

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