The Educational Environment

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For a More Inclusive Educational System:

The educational environment is an opportunity to increase the self-image and positive construction of students.  It is a mandate of the educational system to increase the inclusiveness of the educational system, and as this paper will show it is necessary to approach each student as an individual (Elfrod, 2002).  The story that I have relayed shows that each student needs to be approached according to their own personal background, and I will show that the best way to do this is through a multicultural educational program. Multicultural education usually has an ethnic bend, but it can also be used to describe educational approaches that modify curriculum in a number of ways that all advance inclusiveness. As shown previously, the connection between fear and multiculturalism is clear.  The reason that schools have become racially divided is through fear, both the fear by the majority of a loss in their dominant status, and a fear by the minority that their individualism will be eliminated through integration.  Multicultural curriculum is an attempt to replace fear with rationalism and cooperation.

There are a number of ways that a school can attempt to adapt its instructional program to fit the framework of the new multicultural classroom. I have attempted to demonstrate the importance of multicultural education as well as its theoretical basis, and this information can be put to use through a practical curriculum that emphasizes diversity of opinion as well as instructional methods (Elfrod, 2002). To begin, the leadership of the school must appraise the value of multicultural education in order to buy into the program change.  Multicultural education is a broad label give to the variety of programs intended on extending the inclusivity of education to those groups which have traditionally struggled in the majority dominated educational environment.  Multicultural education has a place in the modern classroom because of the increased societal focus on diversity, and through an implementation of the following multicultural curriculum, school administrations can increase their students’ grades, participation levels, and self-esteem while also bringing positive attention to the school itself (Elfrod, 2002).

Educational Methods:

The first step in the incorporation of the multicultural educational curriculum is an examination of teaching methods, and an understanding of the ways in which teacher attitude’s can influence the education of the students in a classroom (Kohn, 2000).  The instructional techniques that are used by an instructor help emphasize certain points of the curriculum while also motivating students, and diversity in these methods allows all students, no matter what their personal learning styles to get the maximum amount out of instruction. Teachers should use a number of methods that facilitate class participation and inter-student relationships. As discussed by Althusser, (1970), teachers in multicultural schools should encourage cooperative learning in their schools where students share knowledge amongst themselves. This way, students from different cultural backgrounds can appreciate one another and share knowledge about their cultures thereby improving the learning process. In addition, giving opportunities for students to form groups for project and for instruction allows a teacher to break groups up to ensure that students are forced into cooperation with those from other ethnic groups, giving them a situation where they can facilitate communication across racial lines (Althusser, 1970).

Teachers should be given self-evaluative quizzes that will allow them to understand their own teaching styles, and how they are able to influence the learning environment through their own prejudices both subconscious and acknowledged (Althusser, 1970).  Some teachers tend to call on the same student or the same group of students more often, and this is typically indicative personal stereotypes.  For example; many teachers may have the perception that foreign students are unable to understand the material or are unwilling/unable to participate in class discussions, but this assumption damages the ability for those students to fully participate in the class environment where there is culture diversity. Such students feel neglected and they end up associating their being unable to cope with their schools to the fact they do not share the same culture with the majority (Althusser, 1970).

The responsibility for multicultural education ultimately rests on the teachers.  The balance and dynamic of power in the classroom is such that the teacher is the authority on subjects and on instruction.  Teachers who attempt to use their position to enforce their own perceptions of what is societal acceptable or normal are participating in the continuation of systematic discrimination.  Teachers who understand that they are responsible for fostering a positive learning environment are able to avoid perpetuating privilege for some students and oppression for the rest (Elfrod, 2002).

One step in the restructuring of the classroom power dynamic to avoid dictatorial uses of inappropriate power is through the development of a more inclusive teaching style that emphasizes class participation rather than assuming that the teacher is the sole source for knowledge.  In this way, this would bring primary education into a level that is more on par with collegiate classrooms, respecting each student and their intellectual ability to contribute to classes.  Teachers can help restructure their own classroom power dynamic by following three simple steps (McNeil, 2000).

  1. Ask each student, upon starting a new topic, what they already know about the topic in question.  This establishes a baseline for instruction, and it shows respect for the students by acknowledging their intellectual curiosities.
  2. Allow students to help guide topical discussions, focusing on elements of common interest or misunderstanding.
  3. Students with particular interests or knowledge levels can share with the class through mini-instructional, for example a Chinese student may be able to share a great deal on a unit about Chinese culture.

This way, teachers are able to ensure that students from various cultural backgrounds are involved in setting the school curriculum that understands their cultural related special needs and ensure that they are incorporated in the learning process. This promotes teamwork among students and teacher student participation thereby improving learning (Kohn, 2000). 

Re-Evaluation of Course Content

The next step in the creation of a more inclusive and diverse curriculum is to re-evaluate the learning material itself that is being presented to students.  In courses such as math and physical science, the influences of cultural bias and the majority have been minimal, but history and English both suffer from numerous majority led attempts at reinforcing privilege through curriculum development.  Currently, revisionist history textbooks attempt to correct some of the inaccuracies and biases that are found in earlier books, but it remains especially important that the curriculum reflects both reality as well as being as complete as possible (Althusser, 1970). Teaching something as simple as the discovery of America is rife with challenge. The statement, “Columbus discovered America” is as incorrect as it is prevalent in history classes across the country.  To claim that Columbus discovered the Americas is a Euro-Centric way of minimizing the fact that there were thousands upon thousands of natives that had been living within the country for a long time.  In addition, aside from being racially insensitive, the statement is inaccurate, minimizing the contributions of the Nordic people in the trans-Atlantic colonization of Newfoundland far in advance of Columbus’ expedition (Kohn, 2000). 

Course content should be reviewed, ensuring that textbooks stress accuracy and completion above all else.  The purpose of education is to introduce students to the truth, not to reinforce their prejudices or to encourage blind nationalism. There are many elements of American history which are either shameful or suppressed, but these elements must be taught in order to be learned from; ignorance of an event does not change the fact that it happened. Aside from accuracy, course content should attempt to reflect the experiences of all groups in America, not just the majority.  Many history curriculums fall victim to the Great Person theory of historiography, an assumption that history is made by a select few people (mostly white men) who did extraordinary things (Elfrod, 2002).  However, a broader approach towards history that acknowledges the impact of all people on the course of the nation is more accurate and more inclusive.  There is a great deal wrong with the Great Person theory, and this paper is hardly the place to point out all of its flaws, but it primarily subordinates minorities through its ignorance of their contributions in history (Kohn, 2000).

It is not enough to simple mention the contributions of a few token minority individuals, as this serves to reinforce the idea that minorities are the “other” group of people in America, and it further separates their history from the broader American history.  Underrepresented groups should have their contributions and histories interwoven with the rest of the nation, as seamlessly as possible, to create a unified national historical story.  All groups should be represented; People of color, Women, disabled people among others.  Curriculums must never include separate units to highlight the contributions of minorities.  Using headings such as “African American Literature” reinforces the belief that the American history is divided between ethnic groups without an overlap.  Differences should be explored through study and through an examination of the implication of those differences, not just superficially mentioned and “celebrated.”  The tendency to celebrate diversity through the reinforcement of stereotypes is high, for example, many teachers believe they are being positive when they have their students create headdresses as a way of celebrating Native American culture.  However this serves not to increase diversity, but instead to reinforce stereotypes of minorities.  The position of a teacher is perfect to question the societal assumptions that have previously been perpetuated through the educational system; challenging the idea that America is Eurocentric and male dominated (Kohn, 2000). 

Tangential to the curriculum itself, it is the media that is presented alongside lessons in order to reinforce learning concepts.  There is certainly a danger of creating an overly politically correct environment that is not conducive to learning when one begins to revise the way history is presented, so teachers need to strike a balance between academic integrity and sensitivity (Althusser, 1970).  For example, there is certainly a difference in reading Huckleberry Finn and watching Birth of a Nation.  Learning material that is ethnically prejudiced or racist should be examined in context, with an explanation of why people of the time might have felt like they did, and an emphasis on the flaws of reasoning that led to racial discrimination. 

In addition, the way in which teachers use words is very important at creating a multicultural learning environment.  Using words such as “classic literature” is a challenge, because many students may not consider those texts classics because of their own upbringing.  Stay away from euro-centric language when it comes to describing things such as Westward Expansion (Kohn, 2000).  It never hurts to be honest with the class on the different motivations and realities of each group engaged within a historical event.

Perspective and a Critical Historiography

Just as important as the lesson presented in a history book is the way a teacher uses primary sources to bring in additional viewpoints to the history textbook’s course material.  For example, a teacher may use slave narratives to bring more perspective to the debate over slavery, and might use texts from Native Americans to help show how westward expansion influenced natives as well as westerners. Using primary sources from a broad selection of races and classes prevents Eurocentric bias in instruction by ensuring that material is not all produced by the majority.  Most textbooks like it or not, are written by white Americans, so teachers need to look elsewhere to show the perspectives of other groups.  Students also are able to internalize material much better when it is presented from a human standpoint rather than a purely objective one, so giving the students something that they can relate to is a good first step at increasing the inclusivity of instruction.  For example, a source that is written by African Americans will help African American students feel as though the class is teaching to them rather than just to the white students, and it will foster broader understanding from all students.  Including diverse viewpoints is a win-win for teachers (Kohn, 2000). 

School should not be about forcing students to memorize and regurgitate facts; this will help them very little in the long run.  Rather, the best way to create an inclusive and positive school curriculum is to encourage critical thinking and academic debate.  Teach students that they must constantly question the motivation and the cultural context of source material, and they should never accept information to be the 100% truth unless they corroborate it with many more academic sources (Kohn, 2000).    

Teachers should encourage students to bring their own life experiences and their own perspectives to their education, using them to question material as well as their own assumptions.  In addition, students should be provided with a framework that allows them to question information critically, looking for overemphasis on certain people or a lack of alternative voices.  Teachers can also attempt to connect the material to the experiences of students, making the material more relevant by connecting it with the daily lives of the students.  In a multicultural classroom, the teacher needs to rely on the students and their diversity in order to help guide the material presentation.  One teacher can’t have the experience of all the different backgrounds within the classroom, so they must rely on their students for help in instruction and in promoting a diverse curriculum.

Tie-Ins to Civic Responsibility

The goals of multicultural education are to facilitate a broader discussion about race and religious differences in order to help students achieve success in the diverse American environment.  For this reason, there should be a constant effort on the part of educators to tie in instructional material to social and civic implementations in order to teach their students how to be more active in their own communities.  By teaching social responsibility, this focus can create a new generation of young people who are primarily motivated by a desire to extend their multicultural educations into higher education and then into corporate environments around the world (Kohn, 2000). 

There have been many people throughout history who used their educations and their abilities to fight injustice.  Albert Einstein is a great example of an individual that students can look up to for an example as to how they can create positive value in their communities.  Albert Einstein saw firsthand the devastating impact that discrimination could have in a community.  As a Jew, he narrowly escaped Europe before WWII, and he never forgot his community even through his success and education.  Einstein was tapped numerous times for assistance with the new state of Israel, and he spoke at great length on the importance of various religions and cultures.  Even though Einstein was not particularly religious, he still went out of his way to show an understanding and appreciation of religious groups around the world for their contributions (McNeil, 2000).

Pay close attention to students, and to the way that they interact with each other during discussions.  Whenever an opportunity comes up to discuss elements such as racism and homophobia, whether prompted by academics or by problems within the classroom itself, seize the opportunity to help students learn.  Many students are impacted a great deal by the way that their parents talk to them about issues, so the teacher must be understanding and accepting of the diversity of opinions as well as of students (McNeil, 2000).

Controversy and Impact

Needless to say, there will be controversy with an adoption of multicultural education because of some students and teachers who have pre-existing stereotypes or prejudices.  In many communities, a multicultural approach to education will also be opposed by the community as a whole, because of perceptions that it is rewriting history or that it will lead to the dereliction of traditional values. For this reason, communication with parents is just as important as communication with students.  Parents need to be made aware that multicultural education does not mean a complete rejection of American culture, rather a strengthening of it through an inclusion of many other frames of reference (Althusser, 1970).

No subject should be considered untouchable, and no conversation ignored, as the strength of the curriculum is in its ability to foster critical debate and learning.  Teachers facilitate open discussions on once taboo topics, inviting students to form educated opinions of historical events after exposure to as balanced a picture as possible of historical events.  Above all, multicultural education is about correcting the negative aspects of majority led curriculum design, creating a more balanced and more factually accurate history education (McNeil, 2000).

Development Stages

There are many steps that lead to a seamless integration of multicultural education.  Each teacher and school goes through a number of steps if they develop their courses organically, although they can speed along the development of multicultural programs through the use of this curriculum (Kohn, 2000).

Stage 1: Integration
At the Integration stage, teachers transcend heroes and holidays, adding substantial materials and knowledge about non-dominant groups to the curriculum. The teacher might add to her or his collection of books those by authors of color or by women. She or he might add a unit which covers, for example, the role of women in World War I. A music teacher might add slave hymns or songs from Africa to her or his repertoire. At the school level, a course on African American History might be added to course offerings (Elfrod, 2002). The strengths of the Integration stage are that it transcends special celebrations to deal with real issues and concepts and that it more closely ties diverse material into the rest of the curriculum. But many weaknesses remain such as the following:

  1. New materials and units become secondary resources and knowledge as textbooks and the meat of the curriculum remain based on a Eurocentric, male-centric orientation (Banks, 1993).
  2. New information is still delivered from a Eurocentric, male-centric perspective. For example, the story of Manifest Destiny is still told only from a European point of view.

Stage 2: Structural Reform
New materials, perspectives, and voices are woven seamlessly with current frameworks of knowledge to provide new levels of understanding from a more complete and accurate curriculum. The teacher dedicates her- or himself to continuously expanding her or his knowledge base through the exploration of various sources from various perspectives, and sharing that knowledge with her or his students.

Stage 3 – Full integration of the Curriculum

Once educators have begun to develop their own multicultural methods of education, they begin to bring in information from other cultural groups into their mainstream education.  For example, teachers begin to bring in lesson plans that involve minority groups, such as women or blacks, and they start to bring in outside sources (not just textbooks) such as movies and literature in order to further demonstrate the viewpoints of marginalized groups (McNeil, 2000).

Stage 4 – Structural Reform of the Educational Institution

Educators themselves must eventually be made to reflect the diverse population.  This is the hardest step in the journey towards multicultural education, because it requires hiring decisions to be made to reflect the actual population.  There must be more males in the educational profession, more African Americans, and more Mexicans/Latinos as well (McNeil, 2000).  Structural Reform also includes ensuring that no one viewpoint is seen as the primary viewpoint, with other views being tertiary or secondary.

Teacher Motivation:

Multicultural Education requires a complete change in the way that teachers function, instead of teaching from a simple curriculum they must bring in their own experiences and their own opinions in order to foster critical thinking with their classes.  Teacher motivation is extremely important in this process. In “Motivation and Demotivation of University Teachers,” published in Teachers and Teaching, Kiziltepe (2008) demonstrates that Turkish teachers are forced to work under conditions which would be considered inferior by Western standards. Zeynep uses a survey to ask Turkish teachers what the various factors influencing their levels of motivation were, leaving the survey open ended in order to encourage qualitative responses to the survey questions (Kiziltepe, 2008).

The survey asked a population of three hundred teachers between the ages of 33 and 65 what they believed were the primary factors in their profession that were motivating and demotivating.  The survey was intentionally open ended to avoid the power of suggestions, the survey authors did not want to plant ideas in the minds of the participants, so an open ended survey made it possible for the survey takers to offer their own suggestions on motivational factors. The survey authors initially guessed that part of the reason behind the lack of motivation in the teaching corps could have been due to the gradual salary decreases of teachers or perhaps the loss of value that the teaching corps has been instilled with since the founding of the Republic in the 1920s.  In addition, Kiziltepe believed that other factors influenced teacher motivation such as the like of funding for classroom renovation, the high class sizes, and the lack of funding for schools (Kiziltepe, 2008).

There are many theories reflecting work motivation, and Kiziltepe briefly runs through the competing human relations theories that attempted to explain why staff in certain organizations performed their jobs.  However, teacher motivation is due to more factors than just pay and working conditions, so the survey sought to unite motivational theories with the profession of education. The survey found that the most de-motivational factor in the educational profession was actually students, and it was the most motivational factor (Kiziltepe, 2008). So although there were many other factors influencing motivation, including some that were predicted by the motivational theories and by the survey authors, students were the primary determination of how a teacher felt about their jobs.  The paper concluded that the teaching profession needed to focus on the intrinsic rewards of the profession rather than the extrinsic rewards such as pay in societies that did not have the resources to sustain high extrinsic rewards systems (Kiziltepe, 2008).

Identifying Learning Types:

For an individualized educational curriculum to work there must also be some kind of analysis of the students and their personality types.  Different people are motivated through different things, and people set goals based on different criteria. According to goal setting theory, goal setting is vital because it gives a person a compelling frame of reference to conduct their daily business through (Locke, 1990). Clarity of the goals prevents misunderstanding, and challenging goals allow a person to complete academic tasks with a degree of self-satisfaction.  However, although a goal must be challenging to avoid boredom and to keep motivation up, a group will lose morale if the goal is impossible.  Impossible goals make people lose morale, believing that they do not stand a chance of completing their task (Locke, 1990).

Goals also need to be measureable.  A goal that has a number of quantitative milestones is the best goal for keeping up motivation, because it allows the person to receive constant feedback.  As a group gets closer to accomplishing their goal, a student gets a great deal of satisfaction being told of their impending success.  While the module only touches on goal setting; I feel that it is one of the most important parts of schooling.  I will set goals for my grades, allowing me to measure my improvement through each assignment that I turn in.

This perfectly leads into the idea of concentration.  Concentration is important to academic success for obvious reasons.  Knowledge retention is aided through focus and concentration, without which much of the lesson material is lost.  There are many ways to improve concentration.  An active lifestyle with healthy habits helps concentration, as does taking notes during class or participating in discussions and activities.  The modules demonstrate a perfect example of concentration improving teaching methods; the modules are laid out so in between lessons the learner has to participate in some way through activities (Locke, 1990).

After concentration, the next step in learning is the processing of information into useable chunks that can be remembered and later recalled for tests or for other examinations.  Information processing is directly related to memory, and to the way that the brain stores information. Motivation is another way in which learning is impacted by psychological factors.  Motivation is essentially the background behind a student’s decision to do work in a class.  Motivation can range from the desire to gain knowledge to the desire to land a high paying job, it comes in many forms.  There are also many different motivational theories. There are as many motivational theories as there are motivations, but an attempt to explain the utility of motivation in education is best served by an examination of the “Acquired Needs Theory” as well as the “Goal Setting Theory” (Locke, 1990). These two theories provide far more than just theoretical examinations of human psychology; they give leaders real tools to use in developing a clear strategy for setting their own goals as well as the goals of an organization.

According to the “Acquired Needs Theory” (Althusser, 1970), there are three general categories of needs that are developed over a period of time due to external influences.  The idea that need is the result of external influences explains why everyone has different motivations.  According to the theory, people are motivated either by achievement, affiliation, or power (Weiner, 1992). There are also combinations of these needs that lead to each persons’ preference.  Every leader should understand what category their followers fit in, but they should also know their own category to avoid excesses and to be honest with themselves about their desires.

Some people are Achievers.  They seek personal achievement, so they are rewarded primarily by self-satisfaction as well as positive feedbacks that let them know they are being successful.  Achievers try to avoid activities that place them in a risky position without any chance of personal gain.  In education, achievers are generally risk adverse, and they are motivated by material gains such as grades as well as by positive feedback and assessments of their capabilities. Affiliation seekers enjoy being part of a group.  They try to maintain friendly relationships with as many people as others, and they define themselves by the groups that they are part of.  For affiliation seekers, the scholastic environment provides a second family, and they are motivated by approval.  Affiliation seekers do not like to stand out, but they can be a strong backbone of a school group because they are very pro-teamwork and willing to accept the instructional goals and mission (Locke, 1990).

Lastly, power seekers want self-determination in the form of power.  The ultimate goal of a power seeker is to have responsibility over other people as well as over their own activities, and they are motivated especially by promises of promotions.  Power seekers make good managers, and they are typically good leaders if their desire for power can be restrained to a degree.  Power seekers can be dangerous to an organization if they let their desire for power get in the way of functional group dynamics.

Conclusion

Developing a Multicultural Curriculum is not something that could ever happen overnight, it is a process that involves the entire school system and the entire population of the district.  There are many steps to creating multiculturalism, with each step important in its turn.  The end result of the multicultural curriculum is an educational approach that engages minorities and makes them feel as though they are equal to the majority students, and shows them their unique and important heritage (Locke, 1990).

It is important to also recognize that teachers are motivated primarily by their students, and so a multicultural approach to education would help foster that motivation by looking at each student as an individual.  Students all have their own needs and motivations as well, so any inclusive curriculum should include material meant to engage each type of student.  Finally, the resources in the classroom (such as textbooks) should be made electronic to broaden access to the material and to make the classroom more modern and accessible to lower income students.

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