Research/tech assistance org
Multicultural activities are appropriate in that we have an opportunity to experience some aspects of culture such as food, national dress and the arts. The problem is that if this is all we do, we are defining and presenting culture in a very limited way. These types of events (multicultural fair, international day) do not lead to real understanding of the cultures represented in a community. There is never any type of follow-up to dialogue about what elements within the culture are important and why these elements are important. Thus, there is a danger that by focusing only on music, food and national dress, without delving into the culture’s historical, political, or religious background, we might be perpetuating stereotypes and misunderstandings students may have about certain groups. These events by themselves merely allow us to look at cultures as exotic or foreign, which in turn allows us to continue to maintain a distance or make us think these cultures are incomprehensible to us and will always remain a mystery.
Sandra Fradd (1993) states four steps that lead to a personal knowledge base of culture:
1. "Talking about observations and personal experiences, sharing and synthesizing ideas, and validating perceptions are some ways of increasing cultural understanding."
2. " No perceptions, values, or insights are universal."
3. " Time and carefully planned experiences, combined with patience and thoughtful reflection, are critical ingredients in learning about other cultures."
4. " It is important to understand not only the current observed behaviors, but also the meaning implied by those behaviors."
By sponsoring only a yearly multicultural fair in our schools, in place of developing and implementing a multicultural curriculum, we are delegating issues of diversity to a level of entertaining option. The increasing diversity in our school, the ongoing demographic changes across the nation and the movement towards globalization dictate that we develop a more in-depth understanding of culture if we want to bring about true understanding among diverse populations.
Banks (1995) identifies four approaches used in curriculum reform, starting from an approach which narrowly defines culture and moving up to more effective approaches to bring about real understanding of diverse groups that can lead to change.
Level I: The Contribution Approach: Heroes, heroines, holidays, food, and discrete cultural elements are celebrated occasionally.
Level II: The Additive Approach: Content, concepts, lessons, and units are added to the curriculum without changing its structure.
Level III: The Transformation Approach: The structure of the curriculum is changed to enable students to view concepts, issues, events, and themes from the perspectives of diverse ethnic and cultural groups.
Level IV: The Action Approach: Students make decisions on important personal, social, and civic problems and take actions to help solve them.
Banks, James A. Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education, New York, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1995.
Fradd, Sandra H., CREATING THE TEAM: To Assist Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, Tucson, Communication Skill Builders, 1993.
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