ERIC Identifier: ED339548
Publication Date: 1991-00-00
Author: Gomez, Rey A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Teaching with a Multicultural Perspective. ERIC Digest.
Teaching with a multicultural perspective encourages appreciation and
understanding of other cultures as well as one's own. Teaching with this
perspective promotes the child's sense of the uniqueness of his own culture as a
positive characteristic and enables the child to accept the uniqueness of the
cultures of others.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF STEREOTYPES
Children's attitudes toward
their race and ethnic group and other cultural groups begin to form early in the
preschool years. Infants can recognize differences in those around them, and
young children can easily absorb negative stereotypes. Children are easily
influenced by the culture, opinions, and attitudes of their caregivers.
Caregivers' perceptions of ethnic and racial groups can affect the child's
attitudes toward those minority groups. Early childhood educators can influence
the development of positive attitudes in young children by learning about and
promoting the various cultures represented among the children they teach.
Young children can develop stereotypic viewpoints of cultures different from
their own when similarities among all individuals are not emphasized. Teachers
can help eliminate stereotypes by presenting material and activities that enable
children to learn the similarities of all individuals. Circle time is
particularly helpful in this respect, as it provides children with a feeling of
group identity and introduces them to the variety of cultures represented in the
class (Dixon and Fraser, 1986).
A multicultural program should not focus on other cultures to the exclusion
of the cultures represented in the class. Children from different cultures often
have to make major behavioral adjustments to meet the expectations of the
school. Teachers should take whatever measures are necessary to see that
children do not interpret these adjustments as evidence of cultural stereotypes.
DISPELLING THE MYTHS
Early childhood teachers and parents
of young children should become aware of the myths associated with multicultural
education so that they can enhance developmentally appropriate practices.
MYTH #1: OTHER CULTURES SHOULD BE PRESENTED AS DISTINCT WAYS OF LIVING THAT
REFLECT DIFFERENCES FROM THE DOMINANT CULTURE.
The emphasis on so-called exotic
differences will often accentuate a "we" versus "they" polarity. Children who
are not able to identify with another culture because of exotic differences will
often feel superior or inferior to the culture. A multicultural program can
focus on the presentation of other cultures, but at the same time allow children
to be aware of the nature and uniqueness of their own culture. Children can
learn about their class as an example of a common culture. Teachers can
emphasize how other classes can be similar and yet different.
MYTH #2: BILINGUALISM IS A LIABILITY RATHER THAN AN ASSET.
suggest that, all other things being equal, higher degrees of bilingualism are
associated with higher levels of cognitive attainment. It is evident that the
duality of languages per se does not hamper the overall language proficiency or
cognitive development of bilingual children (Hakuta & Garcia, 1989).
MYTH #3: MULTICULTURAL EDUCATION IS ONLY RELEVANT IN CLASSES WITH STUDENTS WHO ARE MEMBERS OF THE CULTURAL OR RACIAL GROUPS TO BE
Our world is multicultural, and children need to experience the diversity outside their immediate environment. If children are
to know about minority groups, they must be taught about them in the same way
they are taught about majority groups. Otherwise, children can grow to adulthood
unaware of, and insensitive to, the experiences of other cultural groups.
MYTH #4: THERE SHOULD BE A SEPARATE, UNIFIED SET OF GOALS AND CURRICULUM FOR
This myth conflicts with the purpose of providing
relevant and meaningful education to children from all cultural backgrounds.
Since we have a multitude of cultures in our world, it is impractical, perhaps
impossible, to teach about all of them. Goals and curriculum will, therefore,
differ considerably from class to class. It is important for early childhood
teachers and parents to acknowledge that everyone has a culture, not just those
who appear to be different. Children who are taught to appreciate and understand
their own culture learn to understand others' cultures in the process. The
appropriate curriculum for understanding America's diverse cultures is a
multicultural curriculum taught within a developmental framework. It promotes
recognition, understanding, and acceptance of cultural diversity and individual
uniqueness. This curriculum is based in concepts such as cultural pluralism,
intergroup understanding, and human relations. It is not restrictive or limited
to a specific course, set of skills, or time of year.
MYTH #5: MERE ACTIVITIES, WHICH ARE NOT PLACED IN AN EXPLICITCULTURAL CONTEXT, CONSTITUTE VIABLE MULTICULTURAL EDUCATION CURRICULUM.
All activities should be accompanied by commentaries that explain their cultural context. Activities should always be chosen on
the basis of developmental appropriateness.
PROMOTING A MULTICULTURAL PERSPECTIVE
education embodies a perspective rather than a curriculum. Teachers must
consider children's cultural identities and be aware of their own biases. It is
tempting to deny our prejudices and claim that we find all children equally
appealing. Teachers and parents need to acknowledge the fact that we, like our
children, are inevitably influenced by the stereotypes and one-sided view of
society that exists in our schools and the media. Not only must we recognize
those biases, but we must change the attitude they represent by accepting all
children as we receive them.
One problem with the current thrust in multicultural education is that it
pays little or no attention to teaching people how to recognize when culturally
and racially different groups are being victimized by the racist or biased
attitudes of the larger society. In order to change people's oppressive ways, we
must learn about oppression. We must examine our responses to diversity,
devoting as much effort to changing them as we devote to learning about culture.
Nurturing diversity means making multicultural education a process of action,
through which we as adults achieve clarity about our condition in this society
and ways to change it (Phillips, 1988).
Teachers and parents can take several approaches to integrate and develop a
multicultural perspective. The promotion of a positive self-concept is
essential, as is a focus on activities that highlight the similarities and
differences of all children's lives. Children's play, particularly role play, is
an excellent strategy for developing new perspectives on culture and lifestyles.
The treatment of children as unique individuals, each with something special to
contribute, is an important strategy. If a teacher is to understand the whole
child, he or she must become aware of the child's cultural background. Children
can benefit from understanding the teacher's heritage and background. The
feeling of connection that results is vital to the child's acceptance of the
similarities and differences of others.
Through multicultural literature, children discover that all cultural groups
have made significant contributions to civilization. A well-balanced
multicultural literature program includes literature that depicts people with a
variety of aspirations, from different sociometric levels, with different
occupations, and with a range of human characteristics (Norton, 1985).
As our country continues to exhibit great
diversity, the need for understanding and accepting the differences among all
people has never been more important. Thus, the challenge for educators is to
present an effective multicultural education foundation by means of which all
children can learn to accept others.
The goal of multicultural education is not only to teach children about other
groups or countries. It is also to help children become accustomed to the idea
that there are many lifestyles, languages, cultures, and points of view. The
purpose of multicultural curriculum is to attach positive feelings to
multicultural experiences so that each child will feel included and valued, and
will feel friendly and respectful toward people from other ethnic and cultural
groups (Dimidjian, 1989). One key to helping young children develop a sense of
being citizens of the world lies with the early childhood teacher. The
disposition exhibited by this individual in promoting everyone's culture will be
the successful factor in the child's development of a multicultural perspective.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Dimidjian, V.J. (1989). "Holiday, Holy
Days, and Wholly Dazed." YOUNG CHILDREN, 44, 6, 70-75.
Dixon, G.T. & Fraser, S. (1986). "Teaching Preschoolers in a Multilingual
Classroom." CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, 62, 4, 272-275.
Hakuta, K. & Garcia, E. (1989). "Bilingualism and Education." AMERICAN
PSYCHOLOGIST, 44, 2, 374-379.
Kagan, S.L. & Garcia, E.E. (1991). "Educating Culturally and
Linguistically Diverse Preschoolers: Moving the Agenda." EARLY CHILDHOOD
RESEARCH QUARTERLY, 6, 427-443.
Norton, D.E. (1985). "Language and Cognitive Development Through
Multicultural Literature." CHILDHOOD EDUCATION, 62, 2, 103-108.
Phillips, C.B. (1988). "Nurturing Diversity For Today's Children and
Tomorrow's Leaders." YOUNG CHILDREN, 43, 2, 42-47.