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Race and gender are factors that greatly contribute to the culture that a student will identify with. Therein lays a commonality with ethnicity, physical appearance, language, heritage and the inherent and deep-seated values, traditions, home and social experiences. Making eye contact for Americans may be a sign of sincerity while for some Asian groups, this may be interpreted as aggression.
Cultural identity can be filtered further into smaller and more varied groups based on religion, sexuality, social class, ability and disability. Those with apparent similarities gravitate towards each other and tend to isolate themselves from the bigger group. The bigger group likewise tends to keep a distance because there simply is too much difference to first overcome. Add to that the hormonal dysfunction common to adolescents to lead them on a quest for self-identity and the cultural landscape in a high school setting can be varied indeed.
The number of immigrant students in the United States had increased dramatically over the years. In North Dakota, for instance, the public school system was struggling by 2006 to educate a student body “who speak nearly 50 separate dialects” at any given time (Beck & Danbom 4). Immediate assimilation is improbable because the roots of their ethnic identity are preserved, as much as possible, within homes and communities. Parents wield a powerful influence and dictate what magazines and newspapers are read in the house, what language is spoken and what shows are watched.
Teachings at home may contrast that of the school’s. However, as Powell had observed, “Schools are places where social identities are produced, reproduced and contested… Kids spend a great deal of their time in schools making the critical spaces where they assert, question, test and reinvent their identities through the interact their interactions with their peers (Powell 156).
The immigrant students are, thus, at a crossroads whether they should allow themselves to blend into the mainstream but in the process give up too much of their ethnicity and their own unique set of traditions and sense of identity and, in effect, their self
There is no general and standardized approach that can be used to address the learning needs of all English language learners. A group competition approach may benefit students of European descent having come from a culture that is more egalitarian and individualistic but may result to a loss of face for some Asian groups who generally feel threatened by uncertain and ambiguous situations.
For cultures with strong family orientation and who put importance in maintaining relationships among family and clan members, a cooperative may be effective as it replicates what they are accustomed in their community. Subtle differences should also be considered because the success of the strategy may lie simply on the selection of the peer partner’s gender. An educator must be constantly aware that LEP students have yet to cross cultural boundaries and are therefore still closed to experimentation and risk taking. Effort must be exerted to develop an understanding of the cultural backgrounds of his or her students.
In the early stages of the development of a multicultural curriculum, the thrust was towards maximizing individual potential to improve academic performance and for immersion into society through the promotion of intergroup and interpersonal relationships. There was also the “cookbook” approach which called for “activity-based programs” (Ramsey, Williams and Vold 264). Nowadays, the trend is not merely towards an acceptance of the differences but to point to the inequities in the hope of fostering transformative action and to better teacher education.
To achieve this, it will involve not just professional proficiency but a self-transformation into a genuine multicultural teacher. Wurzel had plotted this transformation into six stages with reference to the extent of contact with multicultural diversity. It starts with monoculturalism, then cross-cultural contact, cultural conflict, multiculturalism-educational interventions, disequilibrium until finally the sixth stage which he calls awareness is reached.
This is when it is realized “that the curriculum must be redesigned from the bottom up, with full attention to the inclusion of multiple perspectives and experiences, varying constructions of knowledge, and a range of strategies that supports the development and learning of the children in their classrooms.” In order to enforce the correct teaching strategy, an assessment and familiarization of the cultural dimensions must be done. Finally, the seventh stage is multiculturalism and is strongly connected with activism (cited in (Ramsey, Williams and Vold 150-151).