When Dorinda Carter Andrews was a high school teacher, she was her own worst critic about how issues of culture, power and privilege impacted her teaching. She devoted time and energy toward reflective practice and trained to be a more effective multicultural educator. Now an associate professor at Michigan State University (MSU), Carter Andrews shared in last month’s MI Toolkit article strategies to become a more effective multicultural educator which, she says, is “not an option but a must” to serve all student demographics.
Yong Zhao, presidential chair and associate dean for Global and Online Education at the University of Oregon and former MSU distinguished professor, is another big proponent of multicultural education that is grounded in the traditional American virtue of diversity. He is a supporter of fostering creativity and encouraging students to become entrepreneurial job makers, instead of job seekers, after college.
According to Zhao, increasing numbers of American education reformers relate international test scores to equity, and seek to acquire the Asian education model of structured, standardized curricula. He believes this suppresses creative learning and innovative entrepreneurship. Rather, he says, educators should focus on America's traditional values, develop a global mindset, and embrace the multiculturalism that presides in America's schools and districts.
The United States is a country built by immigrants where different cultures and languages have coexisted. In schools, promotion of multiculturalism is essential. The world economies are becoming increasingly intertwined through advancement of technology, and Zhao suggests educators should appreciate and use the reality of globalization to seek new opportunities.
Multicultural educators understand students in non-stereotypical ways, and acknowledge that cultures influence them in different ways. As Carter Andrews shares, culturally responsive educators build on the cultural strengths of their students, and challenge injustices of culturally diverse societies. They make sure students of all cultural backgrounds receive the same opportunities and feel connected.
Multicultural educators are fully aware of the need to know their own cultural identities first in order to understand their students'. The "ABCs of cultural understanding and communication" is an effective tool for educators looking to increase their understanding of students' cultural identities. At the Visible Learning conference, which took place on July 17 – 18, 2014, in San Diego, California, authors of this tool presented this tool, prefacing it with the common stereotype that the majority of teachers are white females from middle-class homes unable to connect with students from diverse cultural backgrounds.
The "ABCs of cultural understanding and communication" stands for autobiography, biography and cross-cultural analysis. This tool invites educators to reflect on their own cultures by writing autobiographies, widen their understanding of others' by interviewing other teachers or their students and writing their biographies, and then identify and unpack any cognitive dissonance they had about cultural differences by conducting a cross-cultural analysis using tables and Venn diagrams. The tool creates a safe and productive community for teachers to better understand themselves in relation to their multicultural students and helps them to recognize the diverse cultural capital in their students.
International school consultant Franklin CampbellJones says multicultural educators should engage students so they start to appreciate others. "An educator who takes on multicultural perspectives is someone who deeply cares about people, and is very curious about what the other person has to bring," CampbellJones said, "As an educator, I'm fundamentally interested in advancing students' intellectual, social and educational growth, and maintaining the environment where my students engage with others' cultures."
One way to engage students in multicultural ways is to introduce global issues. Teachers may start the class by discussing international news. TeachUNICEF, a website filled with global education teacher resources, has lesson plans on the crisis in Syria designed to help prepare students for global citizenship. Districts looking for Chinese language teachers could receive help from the Confucius Institute at Michigan State University. World history or Chinese language teachers can take advantage of a grant from the Center for Chinese Studies (CCS) at University of Michigan, which offers stipends for teaching materials that increase awareness of Chinese culture. This grant from the American Immigration Council funds projects that provide education about immigrants and immigration.
Many people believe that America's greatest asset is its diversity, a diversity that allows creativity to thrive and paves the way for global entrepreneurship. As educators we have an opportunity to celebrate diversity and use it to enrich and expand our students' global perspectives.