Preview to Cultural Diversity for Educators

Preview to Cultural Diversity for Educators


Cultural diversity is an idea for conceptualizing
the existence of various cultural and ethnic groups within society and the way culture
influences education. Key concepts linking cultural diversity to
education include cultural competence, equity pedagogy, and culturally responsive teaching. There are many reasons educators must understand
cultural diversity. One reason is that there are significant demographic
differences between the educator workforce and K-12 public school student enrollment. According to the National Center for Education
Statistics, more than 80 percent of the educator workforce is white and nearly 80 percent female
while K-12 enrollment is 50 percent students of color and 50 percent male. Another reason is achieving the goals of education
would be impossible without simultaneously achieving goals related to cultural diversity. Exposing cultural assumptions, reducing prejudice,
and improving attitudes toward others, regardless of differences, are required abilities and
dispositions for educators if they are going to inculcate principles of general benevolence,
public and private charity, sincerity, and all social affections and generous sentiments
among the people. As a result, it is necessary educators understand
concepts that explain cultural diversity both to manage problems related to demographic
mismatch between educators and students and to achieve fundamental goals of education. One concept for understanding cultural diversity
is cultural competence. In 1989, Terry Cross and colleagues defined
cultural competence as “a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come
together in a system, agency, or among professionals and enable that system, agency, or those professionals
to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.” Cross provides this definition in the context
of social service work, but the model has been adopted by educators. Cross defined culture as “the integrated pattern
of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs,
values, and institutions of a racial, ethnic, religious, or social group.” The word competence is used since it implies
“having the capacity to function effectively.” In summary, “a culturally competent system
of care acknowledges and incorporates the importance of culture, the assessment of cross-cultural
relations, vigilance toward the dynamics that result from cultural differences, the expansion
of cultural knowledge, and the adaptation of services to meet culturally-unique needs.” According to Cross, organizations and people
operate on a continuum of cultural competence. At one end of the continuum is Cultural Destructiveness,
which is signified by disenfranchisement, control, and exploitation. Cultural destructiveness is predicated on
the belief that one race is superior to another and that the lesser race should be eradicated. Adjacent to Cultural Destructiveness is Cultural
Incapacity. Organizations and people operating in cultural
incapacity do not intend to destroy the culture of others, but they remain extremely biased
and believe in the racial superiority of the dominant group. These organizations practice discriminatory
hiring practices along with subtle messaging to people of color that they are neither valued
nor welcome. Next on the continuum is Cultural Blindness,
denoted by organizations and people that are ethnocentric. Cultural blindness communicates to others
that color and culture make no difference. One result, according to Cross, is that solutions
used by the dominant culture to help others are considered universally applicable, and
success is measured by how closely the person being helped approximates middle class, non-minority
existence. Just past the midpoint on the continuum is
Cultural Pre-Competence, which is denoted by organizations and people recognizing their
weaknesses in serving underrepresented groups. Those operating in cultural pre-competence
ask what can be done to help and begin working to improve some aspects of their service. They hire people of color and initiate cultural
diversity training. One danger at this level, according to Cross,
is a false sense of accomplishment or failure that prevents the organization from moving
along the continuum. Another danger is the organization or people
may believe that accomplishing one goal fulfills their entire obligation to underrepresented
communities. The second to last level on the continuum
is Cultural Competence, which is characterized by acceptance and respect for differences,
continuing self-assessment regarding culture, careful attention to the dynamics of difference,
continuous expansion of cultural knowledge and resources, and a variety of adaptations
to service models to better meet the needs of others. Unlike organizations operating in cultural
blindness, culturally proficient organizations view underrepresented groups as distinctly
different from one another and as having numerous subgroups, each with important characteristics. At the end of the continuum is Cultural Proficiency,
which is characterized by holding culture in high esteem. Organizations that are culturally proficient
add to the knowledge base of culturally competent practice by conducting and disseminating research
and by hiring staff who specialize in culturally competent practice. According to Cross, there are five elements
to consider for improving cultural competence. First, the organization and its people must
value diversity. While this is done in different ways, it includes
recognizing that people share basic needs and that there are differences in how people
of various cultures meet these needs. It also includes recognition that each culture
finds some behaviors, interactions, or values more important or desirable than others. Second, the organization and its people must
be able to self-assess their collective and individual level of cultural competence; they
must be able to recognize their own culture so that organization leaders can choose actions
that minimize cross-cultural barriers. Third, the organization and its people must
be aware of the possibility of dynamics of difference, which emerge when one culture
interacts with a population from another so that one may misjudge the other’s actions
based on learned expectation. There must be awareness of potential conflict
since cultures bring their own patterns of communication, etiquette, and problem solving. According to Cross, organizations must be
vigilant about the dynamics of misinterpretation and misjudgment. Fourth, the organization and its people must
integrate cultural knowledge as part of their operational framework so that practitioners
know how to communicate with clients, along with knowing the client’s concept of health
and family. Likewise, this knowledge must be held by supervisors
and administrators to provide cross-cultural supervision and to ensure service accessibility. Fifth, the organization and its people must
be able to adapt to diversity in an ongoing process to create a better fit between the
organization and those from non-dominant cultures. A second concept for understanding cultural
diversity is equity pedagogy. In the 1990s, Cherry McGee Banks and James
Banks identified equity pedagogy as one of five dimensions of multicultural education. According to Banks, the five dimensions of
multicultural education include content integration, knowledge construction process, prejudice
reduction, empowering school culture and social structure, and equity pedagogy. Content integration consists of using examples
and content from a variety of cultures and groups to teach key ideas, principles, generalizations,
and theories of a subject. Knowledge construction process involves students
understanding, investigating, and determining how implicit cultural assumptions, frames
of reference, perspectives, and biases within a subject area influence the way that knowledge
is constructed. Prejudice reduction focuses on helping students
develop more positive attitudes toward race, ethnicity, and gender. Empowering school culture and social structure
is the process of restructuring the culture and organization of the school so that students
from diverse racial, ethnic, and social classes will experience equality and empowerment. Equity pedagogy is a set of teaching strategies
and promotion of specific classroom environments that help students from diverse racial, ethnic,
and cultural groups attain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to function effectively
within, and help create and perpetuate a just, humane, and democratic society. Equity pedagogy assumes an integral relationship
exists between knowledge and reflective action, which implicates students as active constructors
of knowledge. Students acquire, question, and produce knowledge
so they may participate to dismantle existing structures that foster inequality. Equity pedagogy challenges teachers to use
instructional strategies that facilitate the learning process. For example, instead of focusing on the memorization
of knowledge constructed by authorities, students generate knowledge and create new understandings
by incorporating issues, concepts, principles, and problems into curricula that are real
and meaningful. Teachers who successfully implement equity
pedagogy have a strong background in their subject area and a sophisticated understanding
of pedagogy. They can enlist a broad range of pedagogical
skills and have a keen understanding of their own cultural experiences, values, and attitudes
toward people who are culturally, racially, and ethnically different from themselves. Teachers who successfully implement equity
pedagogy also engage in ongoing reflective self-analysis, which involves examining and
reflecting on one’s attitudes toward different ethnic, racial, gender, and social-class groups. It requires exposing falsehoods that perpetuate
social class, gender, and racial privilege. Along with content and pedagogical knowledge,
implementing equity pedagogy requires teacher awareness of classroom relationships, such
as knowing how students are interacting with one another, and how students perceive their
relationship with the teacher. Teachers who are skilled in equity pedagogy
are able to use diversity to enrich instruction rather than fearing or ignoring it. They are able to analyze, clarify, and state
their personal values related to cultural diversity and to act in ways consistent with
their beliefs. A third concept for understanding cultural
diversity is culturally responsive teaching. In 2001, Geneva Gay defined culturally responsive
teaching as using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically
diverse students as conduits for teaching more effectively. Culturally responsive teaching is “based on
the assumption that when academic knowledge and skills are situated within the lived experiences
and frames of reference of students, they are more personally meaningful, have higher
interest appeal, and are learned more easily and thoroughly.” One inference of culturally relevant teaching,
according to Gay, is that the academic achievement of ethnically diverse students will improve
when they are taught through their personal filters of culture and experience. Five components educators must consider for
achieving culturally relevant teaching include acquiring knowledge of cultural diversity,
designing culturally relevant curricula, demonstrating care and building a learning community, ensuring
cross-cultural communication, and matching instructional techniques to the learning styles
of diverse students. Acquiring knowledge of cultural diversity
includes learning about culture generally, along with specific attention to those aspects
that directly impact teaching and learning, whether values, traditions, communication
styles, or relational patterns. An example, according to Gay, is learning
which ethnic groups give priority to communal living and cooperative problem solving and
how these preferences affect motivation, aspiration, and task performance. Designing culturally relevant curricula involves
integration of knowledge of cultural diversity into all facets of curricula, such as lesson
plans, instructional materials, instructional strategies, and learning processes. For example, integrating controversial issues
into lessons, assessing whether curricular materials include a wide variety of perspectives,
and analyzing how underrepresented groups are portrayed in popular culture. Demonstrating care and building a learning
community includes pedagogy, partnership, and action. Pedagogy should account for student culture
and experience to expand intellectual horizons and academic achievement. The classroom should convey a sense of partnership
between teacher and students based on respect, honor, integrity, and resource sharing. Teacher action should demonstrate high expectations
and show imaginative strategies to ensure academic success. Promoting care and community also means helping
students understand that knowledge has moral and political elements and consequences, which
oblige social action to promote freedom, equality, and justice. Ensuring cross-cultural communication, according
to Gay, means gaining knowledge about the linguistic structures of various communication
styles as well as contextual factors, cultural nuances, discourse features, vocabulary usage,
relationship of speaker and listener, and gestures. Ensuring cross-cultural communication is important
since the communicative styles of most ethnic groups of color in the United States, according
to Gay, are more active, participatory, dialectic, and multimodal. For example, some groups use topic-chaining
which is a style of communication that devotes significant time to establishing background
information. Matching instructional techniques to the learning
styles of diverse students means developing rich repertoires of multicultural instructional
examples to use in teaching ethnically diverse students. For example, using illustrations of ethnic
architecture, fabric designs, and recipes to teach subject matter, such as geometric
principles or mathematical operations. Matching also means using the cultural characteristics
of students for determining how instructional strategies should be modified. For example, cooperative group learning arrangements
and peer coaching, according to Gay, fit well with the communal cultural systems of many
African, Asian, Native, and Latino American students. Cultural competence, equity pedagogy, and
culturally responsive teaching are concepts that provide a basis for understanding cultural
diversity. Knowledge of these concepts is necessary for
recognizing the influence culture has on education to assist with overcoming important challenges
such as the demographic mismatch between the educator workforce and K-12 student enrollment. Knowledge of these concepts is also necessary
to achieve important goals of education by exposing cultural assumptions, reducing prejudice,
and improving one’s attitude toward those who may come from different ethnic, racial,
gender, and social-class groups.

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