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Spread a Multicultural Message Every Day

Nearly everyone agrees that teachers have an enormous opportunity to shape the lives and futures of young people. Even the slightest comment or connotation could be remembered for a lifetime. For example, I still remember when my third grade teacher, Mrs. Miller, criticized the shape of my capital "W" during a cursive lesson. I remember the frustration I experienced, as well as the stress I subsequently felt each time that I attempted a capital "W" for the rest of the year in her class.

Perhaps I was a hypersensitive child, or maybe I just have a really sharp memory. However, this example illustrates that we, as teachers, must be extremely sensitive to the things we say and the attitudes we express. The area of multicultural education is the most critical area where we must consciously eliminate any and all suggestions of stereotypes or bias from our vocabulary and actions. Collectively, we are educating the adult population of tomorrow, so our uniform message must be one of tolerance and open mindedness. It's not enough to preach these values only during Black History Month or on Martin Luther King Day. Every day is an opportunity to influence the outlooks of young minds, through our conduct and commentary.

In order to communicate appropriately, our perceptions and vocabulary must change with the times. For example, the term ethnic "majority" no longer means the White Anglo-Saxon population of yesterday's United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 1997 Population Profile of the United States, by the year 2050, the non-Hispanic White population is expected to decrease from 72% of the nation's population to less than 53%. The balance of the nation's population will be 15% Black, over 24% Hispanic descent and nearly 9% Asian and Pacific Islander. Our conception of the dominant culture in society must change with the times and the demographics. Thus, our own open-mindedness backed by a conscious effort to nurture a respect for diversity in our classrooms can go a long way towards positively impacting the society of the future.

So, what does this endeavor look like on a daily basis? What are some of the ways to spread a multicultural message every day? Here are some ideas and links for widening your global perspective:

  • Choose literature with multicultural themes and diverse characters.
  • Provide quality books for your bilingual population.
  • Integrate multiculturalism into every subject of your curriculum. For example, Ethnomathematics is the study of math from other cultures. Have a Multicultural Math Fair to explore and celebrate accomplishments from other cultures. In general, introduce your students to the myriad of intelligent, accomplished individuals who have influenced the fields of math, science, art, and more across the globe and throughout history.
  • Check with resources such as the Clearinghouse for Multicultural/Bilingual Educationfor the latest research and techniques for working with the increasingly diverse population of our public schools. Be tireless in your quest for the latest theories and insight.
  • Look into special programs that will broaden your students' perspectives. For example, the One World Our World School Assembly Program integrates Social Studies with conflict resolution lessons to unify students of diverse backgrounds.
  • Seek out and share reliable and unbiased information about the cultures and societies of the world. Web sites and encyclopedias offer a wealth of information for student research projects, as well as for your own background information.
  • A high quality Pen Pal program offers new, global experiences to students who might otherwise never interact with children from other cultures. Such positive interactions form the basis of healthy attitudes towards people who are different from us.
Above all, showcase yourself as an example of an open-minded, non-judgmental individual who appreciates other cultures every day of the year. Use the term "Native Americans" instead of "Indians." Avoid describing something that's different as "weird" or "strange." Explain that the dominant culture's habits are just one of thousands of various traditions. No one expects you to be perfect, but in light of the enormous influence teachers can have over the lifetime outlooks and attitudes of our students, we must strive to communicate the highest ideals of tolerance, diversity, and appreciation. Together, we can influence the future!

Your Guide, Beth Lewis
Elementary School Educators Guide

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