As I reflect upon current events, a contingency for harmony continues to be acknowledged only at a surface level. It is an understanding of culture and diversity. In our global society, it is the most critical element everyone must possess.
For me, my greatest lessons came when I became a teacher for the circus.
Over the course of my time there, I had to meet the educational needs of students from more than 40 countries. The first project for any student and their family to complete was the Chronicle of “Child’s Name” Box.
I had decided on the word “chronicle” because I wanted to emphasize that each child’s history, family and place of origin were important. The outside of the (shoe) box had Chronicle of “Child’s Name,” as well as words or pictures that described the child’s country of origin (holidays, celebrations, monuments, etc.). Inside, were items specific to the child and their family (favorite food, activity, belief, family make-up, paraphernalia, etc.).
After a child had the opportunity to share their box, it was placed in the Classroom Chronicles section in the social studies area of my traveling classroom for other children to experience for themselves.
- The outside of the box featured truths about the child’s country.
- The items inside of the box did not mean that everyone who is from the same country would like and do those things also.
With this said, I have seen time and again that one of the key truths that many seasoned educators miss is that within any culture, there are many subcultures. I can’t walk into my classroom with the mindset that I am going to teach this group of kids a certain way because they must be smart; or adversely, they can’t be pushed to a higher level.
If I do, I miss. I misinterpret. I mislead. I miseducate. I miss the mark of being an exceptional teacher.
I was also the sign language interpreter. Prior to arriving in each state, I would contact the local deaf agencies. I had to learn the regional signs so that I could interpret the show to my audience at that specific locality.
For me, learning who my students are is so important. How can I teach them if I have not reached them? How can I help grow their minds more if I have not minded how they have grown?
Unfortunately, the media has subconsciously wreaked havoc on our minds to the effect that we think we know people who are not like us. Couple this with our individual culture and, again, the stage is set for misunderstandings, misinterpretations and missed expectations.
Dombro, Jablon and Dichtelmiller (2007) define culture as a set of standards or rules for perceiving, believing, acting and evaluating others. Therefore, I must be very aware of how my culture affects the way I interact with the children I teach.
In order for me to interact appropriately with diverse children in my class, I must first interact with their parents as well as my co-workers. I have to be able to look children and adults in the eye and subconsciously say, “I see you and I accept you as the individual you are.” I must celebrate and acknowledge the diverse cultures within and outside of my classrooms.
In “Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves,” Louise Derman-Sparks and Julie Olsen Edwards (2014) state that “early childhood education lends itself to possibilities for anti-bias education themes and activities.” In higher grades, I searched for additional resources that tell the full story, especially in language, history and social studies.
Therefore, in the future, when you begin planning your curriculum, consider challenging yourself with the following questions:
- What ideas, misconceptions and stereotypes might children have about this topic?
- How can I design activities for this topic to include all children, given their differences in culture, family structure, language, racial identity, gender, abilities and economic class?
- How can I use this topic to support and strengthen children’s innate sense of justice and their capacity to change unfair situations to fair ones?
Read more about collaboration and inclusion by checking out our blog posts from October.
Derman-Sparks, L. & Edwards, J. O. (2010). Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Dombro, A.L. Jablon, J.R. & Dichtelmiller, M.L. 2007 The power of observation, for birth through 8. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Teaching Strategies & NAEYC.
More about Nichele:
Nichele Mason, PhD, earned her doctorate in education administration from Gallaudet University. She also has an MEd in special education and a BS in psychology. With over 25 years of experience teaching and/or supervising grades pre-kindergarten through graduate school in public and private settings, Dr. Mason’s specialty areas include special education, early childhood education and gifted education.
Currently, Dr. Mason is the education curriculum development specialist and grant writer for a family-owned company that has won over $10 million in grants for clients in the past 15 years. She is a member of the Partners of the Americas and currently in the process of participating in a bi-continental project between selected U.S. and South American universities. Topic areas include recognition and response (early childhood version of RTI); multiculturalism; using technology in assessment; developmental guidelines from birth to eighth-grade curriculum and curriculum modification; observation and documentation; diversity; and developmental guidelines. One of Dr. Mason’s favorite activities is traveling abroad, and she has traveled with the circus as a school teacher and sign language interpreter.