Building a Multicultural Classroom
What does it look like when all cultures are respected in the classroom, receiving a healthy portion of representation? That’s a difficult question to answer. There is so much that goes on behind the scenes in terms of making sure people feel safe, respected, and at home in the classroom that we could write a book. But we’re going to try to keep it down to one guide, possibly two on the subject. Far too often, people question why we need to “bother” with such a concept as a multicultural classroom. Isn’t one point of reference okay for most subjects?
Not at all. Just about every culture on earth has contributed in some way to the fields of philosophy, mathematics, sciences and the humanities, and it would be foolish to try to pretend that this isn’t the way it is. Representation comes into play because it’s about making sure that everyone can see themselves reflected back in the history that’s being looked at. Without properly giving credit, it can feel like one group is being isolated rather than everyone getting a turn.
We suggest the following steps for ensuring a more inclusive classroom:
1. Don’t sugarcoat history
Being truthful about the historical record is one way to set things in motion for proper dialogue. That doesn’t mean “make one side the good guy” or “make the other side the bad guy”. It’s acknowledging that all parties come to the table with a little dirt on their hands. Seeing humanity in its natural state means that you’ll study some of the worst acts in history. By being open and honest about the dialogue, you’ll get much more sincere answers than usual.
2. Be willing to allow all parties to debate peacefully
It can be tempting to stop debates before they really have a chance to begin, but that’s the last thing that you want to do. It makes a lot more sense to approach topics head on and then present logical arguments. Both sides should be able to walk away from a debate not feeling as if they won or lost, but that they gained some insight that they didn’t have before. Even if it all feels old hat to you, you should still let everyone have their say. There are a few lines that you need to draw for a good debate, however. The biggest boundary here is that you will want to discourage the use of name calling or other derogatory statements about a person’s character. That doesn’t make way for peaceful communication.
3. Let them present new ideas
Sometimes in our quest to run the class we end up dominating the class. And believe us, there is a strong difference between being the gentle leader and a fierce dictator. Sometimes you have to let your class run the rabbit trails of a topic without you necessarily pulling them away. Let them bring their ideas into the light. If they have weight to them, they’ll hold up. It’s a good logic exercise for the rest of the class. Everyone’s ideas should be open, but everyone’s ideas should also be criticized and studied as neutrally as possible. While it’s impossible to remove all traces of a bias, you should still try to remove your own personal feelings from the subject as much as possible.
There will be times where it’s very difficult to add more inclusion into the classroom, but this is still a worthy goal to pursue. The best part of it is that you can pursue this goal and still be able to take care of all of your classroom objectives. Inclusion shouldn’t be seen as a dirty thing that should be tackled as fast as possible, but an ongoing conversation that will change the flavor of the classroom conversation for the better over time.