Archive for the ‘curriculum’ Tag

Multicultural Education: Roles and Responsibilities

Please note:  This post is not based on original research.  In fact, this is a summary of a report by the National Council for the Social Studies entitled “Curriculum Guidelines for Multicultural Education.”  I accessed this site on July 17 and 18, 2010.  If the above link does not work please Google “ncss, multiculturalism” and it should be the first on the list. Also, the NCSS report offers 23 curriculum guidelines and a program evaluation checklist.  This post only discusses the Roles and Responsibilities for schools incorporating multiculturalism into their curriculum.

Roles and Responsibilities for Multicultural Education.

Ethnic pluralism in the United States is growing at an astounding rate.  According to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), “students of color will make up nearly half (46%) of the nation’s school-age youth by 2020.”  Furthermore, 27% of that group will be victims of poverty.  Although this is a national trend, it is especially important in Connecticut where the achievement gap between whites, mainly living in the suburbs, and their urban counterparts is the widest compared to any state in the Union. (Hartford Courant 07/16/2010)  Of course, the factors contributing to the achievement gap are many and varied, but the burden of educating students for the future still falls to school districts, administrators, and teachers.  Educators at all levels must help students develop knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to participate in the work force and society.  Unfortunately, many, like NCSS, believe that, “as currently conceptualized and organized, schools today are unable to help most low-income students and students of color attain these goals.”

Before one can discuss the goals of multicultural school reform, it is important to look at the three major factors that make multicultural education a necessity.  First, as discussed above, ethnic pluralism is a growing societal reality that influences the lives of young people.  More and more, students are interacting in microcosms of plurality such as schools, sports teams, and in multicultural communities.  Multicultural education is also a necessity because in one way or another, individuals acquire knowledge or beliefs, sometimes invalid, about ethnic or cultural groups.  A multicultural education, where classes take an unbiased approach to studying cultures in America and the world will work to fend off discrimination.  Finally, beliefs and knowledge about ethnic and cultural groups limit the perspectives of many and make a difference, often a negative difference, in the opportunities and options available to members of ethnic and cultural groups.  Overall, it is important to provide a multicultural education in a democratic society to protect and provide opportunities for ethnic and cultural diversity, while at the same time supporting the overarching values of equality, justice, and human dignity for all groups.

Although it may be obvious that there is a need for multicultural education in our society, how would one know what an effective multicultural program looks like?  The National Council for the Social Studies suggests four principles for ethnic and cultural diversity.  For many individuals, group identity can provide a foundation for self-definition.  Ethnic and cultural group membership can provide a sense of belonging, shared traditions, and interdependence of fate.  As the first principle states, ethnic and cultural diversity should be recognized and respected so individuals who define themselves ethnically can do so without shame or conflict.  Similarly, when students’ cultures are respected and students feel secure, cultural diversity provides a basis for societal enrichment, cohesiveness, and survival.  This second principle seeks not only to recognize and respect ethnic and cultural diversity but establish across racial, ethnic, and cultural lines intercultural bonds that will contribute to the strength and vitality of society.  Next, equality of opportunity must be afforded to all members of ethnic and cultural groups.  Finally, Ethnic and cultural identification should be optional in a democracy.  For instance, just because a student is Asian and they or their parents immigrated from China or India, does not necessarily mean that the student identifies with their culture of origin.

Taking these principles into serious consideration will guide educators in developing the role of the school in a multicultural setting.  Primarily, a school’s socialization practices should incorporate the ethnic diversity that is an integral part of the democratic commitment to human dignity.  This goes beyond celebrating heroes and holidays of particular cultures and demonstrates a commitment to recognizing and respecting ethnic and cultural diversity; promoting societal cohesiveness based on shared participation of ethnically and culturally diverse people; maximizing equality of opportunity for all individuals and groups; and facilitating constructive societal change that enhances human dignity and democratic ideals.  Overall, the study of ethnic heritage should not consist of a narrow promotion of ethnocentrism or nationalism.  This is both counterproductive and detrimental to creating a cohesive learning environment.

In its comprehensive report on multiculturalism in the classroom, the NCSS also points out two goals for schools incorporating multicultural educational program.  First, “schools should create total school environments that are consistent with democratic ideals and cultural diversity.”  In this instance, multiculturalism would be evident not only in curricula and materials, but in policies, hiring practices, governance procedures, and climate or the “hidden curricula.”  This is important because students often learn more about society from non-formal areas of schooling.  Education for multiculturalism requires systemwide changes that permeate all aspects of school life.

The second goal suggested by NCSS is that “schools should define and implement curricular policies that are consistent with democratic ideals and cultural diversity.”  In short, schools should not promote the ideologies and political goals of any specific group, but, rather, promote the democratic ideologies on which the United States was founded.  Students trained to examine bias, prejudice, equality, justice, and human rights through the lens of democratic ideologies will be better equipped to make connections between a multicultural curriculum and their everyday lives.  It is these connections that will effect positive change in our schools, communities, and society.

If the purpose of education is to ready students to participate in the workforce, then multiculturalism must be incorporated into the curriculum.  The United States is already diverse and will continue to become more so in the future.  Gone are the days where it is acceptable to view subjects such as History from the Eurocentric point of view.  This practice negates the debt that Western civilization owes to Africa, Asia, and indigenous America.  In reality, the world is becoming smaller and more interconnected and the students of today must be educated to succeed in the work place of tomorrow.

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The Home Stretch

As of late I have been working towards getting my students ready for the end of the year.  This may seem easy enough, but there is a lot involved.  Primarily, I have been concentrating on specific skills that students have been developing since I started this longterm substitute assignment.  Some of these skills include organizing and writing essays, analyzing primary sources, reading for information and note taking.  Each of these skills are important not only because they will be utilized on the final exam, but they also can be used in any social studies class as well as in the “real world.”  Students who are able to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information become well-informed, successful citizens in our democratic society.

Along with skills, I have been referencing course guidelines to ensure that content is introduced in a meaningful way.  I am trying to avoid a top-down march through dates, names and events, however I did give my US History class a PowerPoint presentation on the timeline of the Cold War from 1954-1970.  In this class activity, the students took notes on key events of the time period, some of which we had already discussed in the Vietnam Unit (e.g. My Lai Massacre, Tet Offensive).  Other material presented was important for students to know, but was not essential to their understanding of the course material.

Just this past weekend, I put together an outline for each final exam; three exams total.  This is my second time administering final exams.  For the most part, I think that the process of preparing for exams and administering exams are relatively easy.  The true challenge comes when it is time to grade.  Of course, there are those people out there that will say, “don’t make the test so hard to grade and you will be fine.”  Well, quite frankly, I don’t agree with that statement.  Finals are an important capstone to the semester.  The process is tedious not because of the length of time it takes to grade one paper, but all of the exams combined.

Overall, this is a time-honored tradition, but maybe it is time for a change.  The issue that I have with the typical final exam is the emphasis on memorization of facts.  Many of the finals that I have seen are a large portion multiple choice answers, identifying, matching, or true false.  I don’t see enough skills being tested/evaluated on these types of assessments.  One example of a different type of assessment would be an encompassing project looking at the themes covered in one year.  For instance, my US History class recently completed a project on the Vietnam War.  In this assignment the students had to analyze songs, political cartoons, or images and determine how they showcase a specific theme we have been studying, US democratic principles.  I haven’t graded the assignments yet, but I am already impressed by the amount of effort and creativity the students put into their work.  This assignment focused on higher order thinking, the crown jewel in education theory.  Wouldn’t you agree that would be nice to see some more evidence of higher order thinking on end of the year finals?

Teaching with newspapers.

As of late I am constructing a digital archive of Civil War Hartford. Although it is obvious that no military battles were fought in the city, it is clear that the political battles were hot and heavy. The biggest problem I am facing is presenting Connecticut’s ideological struggles to my intended audience.

This project is intended to be a resource for teacher’s to incorporate into the social studies classroom. In Connecticut, the social studies curriculum framework places the study of the Civil War in eighth grade. Although students are excited to learn about Social Studies at this grade level, their ability to comprehend the language used in 19th century newspaper articles is limited.

If you look at the three major papers in Hartford during the Civil War, it is clear that The Hartford Daily Times was a conservative paper representing Democratic ideology, The Hartford Courant was more of a moderate-Republican paper, and The Hartford Evening Press was certainly a voice for the radical Republicans. The problem lies in the vocabulary and discussion of sophisticated ideas such as republicanism (intentional small “r”), Constitutional theory, and Human Rights (abolitionism).

What it really boils down to is that the students can comprehend the ideas flaming the political and military battles of Civil War America, but many (if not most or all) will not have the ability to analyze these primary sources effectively. I wonder if it would be better to compose more of a secondary source where the students could read about the political leanings of each paper and then read shorter, more readable selections of articles to illustrate the papers’ political ideology. I guess it would be sort of like an encyclopedia entry with direct quotes illustrating a papers stance on important political issues such as the Emancipation Proclamation and the Connecticut’s 1863 gubernatorial election.

It is important for students to look at the ideological differences that Hartford’s Civil War newspapers to get a true sense of the political ideologies of everyday Nutmeggers during the War for the Union. Students will see that Connecticut had many people who viewed the Civil War as an unjust act of despotism over state sovereignty. From these stark contrasts in perspectives social studies students will learn that there is no one prescribed American history. Through the study of history students must be exposed to the many narratives that exist and draw their own conclusions based on well rounded unbiased presentation of the past.