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Someone once told me the best way to teach diversity to students is to "...teach them to be color-blind." "Pretend they are color-blind; are you kidding?" But the statement lit a fire in me that, to this day, I have not been able to extinguish.
Children are growing up in exciting times. We live in a diverse world. Diversity envelops us daily, from the moment we wake to the instant we sleep. Color-blindness to me is a form of racial division. How wrong is it to tell a child to ignore the true beauty of individuality? Can you truly tell a child to ignore the color of their neighbor's skin and expect them to follow suit without being judgmental or crass? To live joyful lives we must learn to see the true beauty of color, and appreciate the differences we all share. The classroom should be considered a good, safe place for discussions of diversity.
In order to understand diversity, and to ensure that we, as teachers, place proper emphasis in our curriculum on the positive aspects of diversity, we must answer this simple question, "What is diversity?"
Diversity includes the understanding and respecting of differences in ideas, religion, gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, age, and socioeconomic status. This definition is a collaborative effort based on different dictionary definitions. It is important to note that all of these dictionaries had all or some of the information presented in the previous definition. However, all definitions were lacking in the encapsulation of the different facets of the diversities a student can and will encounter in their daily lives. Diversity is everywhere. It can be found in the media, the classroom, magazines, literature, even in the work force. To try to ignore diversity, or teach "color-blindness" can only hinder the progress that teachers need to make within their classrooms to form the proper stepping stones toward a completely edible stew which America has tried for many years to perfect with its melting pot theory.
As one researcher suggests, the Melting Pot metaphor refers to schools which "hold the perspective of equality of opportunity [that] socialize students by transmitting a common, predetermined body of knowledge about the culture..." A multicultural approach in the classroom is based on appreciating people's differences. When educators teach students to recognize and appreciate the heritage, history, traditions, customs, and color of the many cultures within our world, we invite students to look beyond differences to see the everyday lifestyles and patterns of groups and cultures which differ from their own. According to one researcher, the transformation of America into a, "pluralistic society, one that simultaneously respects the individual heritage of its members while uniting to work toward a common dream and goal," is at the heart of the melting pot metaphor. Through the discovery of various cultures in our world and more importantly our local community, a student can grasp a deeper understanding of, and respect for, people who may be different.
Diversity within the classroom is an important facet. To teach diversity to students while they are young and impressionable is an asset for creating tolerant, educated adults. Diversity within course content helps to educate students as well as give them a face-to-face experience in discussing racial differences and frustrations among their peers. In knowing that racial tolerance is the superglue of the American Melting Pot theory it is imperative, as a teacher, to be a positive role model. It is essential that the teacher know his or her influence in student's lives and thereby treat others with respect inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers never know when they might run into a student, and it would make for a more positive experience if, for instance, the student observes their teacher going into the mall behind a person in a wheelchair and he/she goes out of his/her way to open, and hold the door for the person in the wheelchair as they proceed into the building. Every little bit counts, and if a teacher feels unsure of how to teach diversity within the classroom, there is an abundance of literature, curriculum designs, and lesson plans available at any teacher curriculum/supply store, and on the internet.
There are many different ways to celebrate diversity. In each way we need to ensure that we teach students to respect everyone and his or her differences, to be proud of the different heritages, to keep an open mind, to avoid stereotyping, and most importantly, to build peace. Diversity is all around us; it is unavoidable. It is larger than cancer; it is larger than AIDS and if we do not learn to accept our cultural differences, the lack of diversity will kill quicker than both plagues combined. Diversity is at the root of America. We are all interconnected, like a melon to a vine. Diversity is a part of us, and we are all intertwined. The true beauty of America is the stew from which we all sip and feast; without it, it is hard to imagine where we might be. Multicultural lifestyles envelope us now and will only become more prevalent. To ignore our beautifully colored feast would certainly take away the flavor of something so wonderfully enriching.
Amanda Suddeth recently completed a master's degree in education at the University of Oklahoma.
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