Teaching Diversity Within the Classroom
The issue of diversity didn’t truly hit me until my final years in college. I was observing a classroom of entirely white 8th graders who were watching a video of an Arab woman with a heavy accent describe active and passive voice. One of the students instantly said, “She’s Spanish!”. The teacher then smiled, chuckled, and nodded. She ditched the video and said something about finding a video with a speaker that was “easier to understand” . As a pre-student teacher, I was a little taken aback. Surely they know the difference between Spanish and Arabic accents. Surely the accent wasn’t detrimental to their education — and most importantly, why wouldn’t the teacher correct the student and let the class know that the woman was Arabic, not Spanish?
If they live in a region with only white people, it doesn’t matter if they don’t learn about diversity, right? After all, it’s not like they’ve ever actually met an Arab or African American. Wrong. Throughout my college education, I have noticed this sad culture shock possessing several Freshman students. Individuals who come from secluded rural areas suddenly are introduced to African Americans, Africans, Arabs, Mexicans, LGTB students, and all of the above. How these students react to this sudden culture shock relies entirely on their upbringing, and let’s face it — most of them are going to react how they would imagine their parents would. If a father sends a slew of racial slurs at the television every day, that child is likely to react negatively to these individuals. This could be through bitterness, verbal abuse, or even violence. Therefore, I propose that it is our duty as educators to let our students know that they are not the only culture group living in America.
I had grown up in an area with little to no diversity. We had the occasional student who fell under a category of African American, LGTB, or Special Needs. However, we had little to no knowledge of Mexican, Arab, or Chinese students. The lack of diversity was reflected in religion as well, since the school only recognized one religious organization. As students, we were expected to take a World Cultures and World Religion class in order to graduate. In this way, we were given a glimpse of regions unlike those that we were accustomed to. Even with my education, I was still surprised when I saw a real-life Arab for the first time, which wasn’t until I transferred colleges my late Sophomore year. My parents raised me with the belief that everyone is special in their own way and deserve kindness. I cannot imagine being introduced to such different beliefs and cultures without having that mindset.
When it comes to diversity, many teachers cringe. Who am I to teach these students about diversity? After all, I was born and raised in an area with little to no diversity. What do I know about the Muslim religious practice or Mexican culture?
To every teacher who uses this as an excuse, please stop and listen to yourself. Are you willing to give up on your students so easily? No — you probably don’t know much about diversity. I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject. I don’t believe anyone can be an expert on diversity. After all, diversity is such a broad topic and no individual is exactly the same. Therefore, we need to start at the basics and educate ourselves so that we can better teach our students. While we might teach in an area of primarily white students, what are we going to do if — heaven forbid — an African American student moved into town and we had to teach them? Are we going to give up on them because we can’t do our job? No, of course not! Think about it — we really aren’t that different. We are human and have basic human needs. We live very different lives with different backgrounds, but no individual is exactly the same. We need to seek as much online sources as we can. We have our diploma. Surely we have some experience in writing research papers. Why can we not research cultures and customs of diverse individuals?
There are infinite tools for us to use in order to further educate ourselves on the topic of diversity. If we are so concerned about “getting it wrong”, we could and should simply let our students know that we are not experts and that everyone is different. Not all African Americans speak in African American Vernacular and not all white people like pizza and Starbucks. If we always remember that we don’t know everything, we should be fine. We only get in trouble when we resort to stereotypes by saying that “all of these type of people” are a certain way. As a white female, I would find it offensive if a teacher told me that all white females like pink. Personally, I loathe the color. However, if she said “some like pink” or “it is common for white females to like pink”, I wouldn’t have an issue with the statement. I know plenty of white females (and males) who like pink. Chances are, if a student is offended, they will tell you. If you apologize and show genuine interest in learning alongside them, they likely won’t hold a grudge.
As teachers, it is our duty to know and understand all of our students and help them become kind and non-discriminatory individuals. We want them to grow and to become successful. If we teach them literature without incorporating diverse texts, or teach them history without including diverse culture, we put them at a disadvantage. We need them to recognize and embrace their own individuality and have compassion for those different to them. Therefore, it is up to us to introduce them to the uniqueness of human life so that they are able to move about the world with fresh and gentle eyes.