Accommodating cultural diversity in practice
Accommodating cultural diversity involves more than adding cultural content to the curriculum—more than celebrating Mexican holidays in an American social studies class, for example, and more than discussing the history of slavery of African-Americans. These are useful actions, but they are only a starting point for truly multicultural education (Banks, 2009). In addition it is important to engage students in exploring the culturally based assumptions of whatever subject they are studying.
James Banks has proposed five features of a fully multicultural educational program (2009):
1. Integrating cultural content into the curriculum wherever possible
2. Stimulating knowledge construction to help students understand cultural assumptions
3. Flexible teaching strategies that give all students access and success with learning, e.g. if some students prefer to learn cooperatively rather than independently, then teachers should make provisions for cooperative learning activities.
4. Encourage prejudice reduction among all students. This can and should happen even in classes that do not seem culturally diverse on the surface. Such classes always have diversity, even if it is not visible immediately, e.g. students' families will vary in their financial circumstances, students themselves will vary in their gender preferences, and students will vary in their attitudes about religion, politics, and many other issues.
5. Encourage the entire school to be aware of cultural diversity and its effects. What is the racial composition of the school staff? What are their attitudes? What school policies favour particular students unfairly?
Of all of these strategies, the most important is the third: being flexible about the choice of teaching strategies. By allowing for various styles of learning, teachers can accommodate a wide range of students, whatever their cultural backgrounds, and whatever cultural background the teacher herself may have. Flexibility also has an added advantage: by honouring students' individuality, it avoids the danger of stereotyping students' learning needs on the basis of their cultural background.
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