Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Relationships/Unity-Diversity

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Is there unity in diversity?
We may have different religions,different languages,different colored skin, but we all belong to one human race.

—Kofi Annan

Unity and Diversity are two contrasting concepts. The ideas embodied in each concept oppose the other. Unity is defined as the state of being one or singleness (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000). Unity is agreement or harmony, while diversity refers to variety, assortment or mixture. Unity has something to do with similarity in one way or another. On the other hand, Diversity is the point where things differ (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, 2000). Diversity has something to do with differences and variety.

The Educational System, even with its several parts, functions and members has unity in a sense that there is an agreement in the goals and the objectives of the school. The purpose of the existence of schools is the same or should be uniform. The main aim is to promote learning and instill knowledge, skills and values to the students. Schools are institutions for learning and thus should primarily serve the purpose of facilitating and encouraging fulfilling learning experiences.

Schools are now composed of students from all demographics. Since education is a basic right for all regardless of race, economic status, gender or religion, schools now consist of a healthy mix of students from different races, religions, social and economic strata, and genders. Non-discrimination led to a progressive diversity in educational institutions. Migration to the United States of people from different countries also resulted to non-homogeneity in the school population. Students now are of different races and religions, and thus cultures or the basic belief systems are different. Languages are different. Although medium of instruction is English and all students should know how to communicate in English, still, some are unable to express themselves well in English.

The Concept of Unity in Diversity[edit]

Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without.

—William Sloane Coffin, Jr.

Unity in diversity revolves around the principle that unity can be achieved in spite of the differences of people. These differences are likewise considered as both physical and psychological barriers. These differences may be physically, mentally, culturally, economically, and socially. Diversity may cause segregation and resentment. Unification regardless of any grouping or boundary stems from similar goals and aspirations. Unity in diversity comes into the picture when the diverse characteristics of students and teachers are unified and utilized in the achievement of learning. Adjustments, compromises and understanding should be emphasized in the process of unification.

Diversity in the Educational System[edit]

American schools now are characterized by diversity, with students coming from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Immigration has been the key factor in this rise in diversity. Asians have recently gained a considerable presence in schools. Though even before the influx of immigrants, diversity has already existed in schools, specifically the public schools. A significant percentage is attributed to African Americans and a smaller percentage to Native Americans. The Hispanics or Latinos comprise those from Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba. By 2005, the Hispanics comprise the biggest minority group in public schools. Results of The Condition of Education 2005 report found that in 2003, forty two percent of students in public schools were ethnic or racial minorities, which was an increase from the twenty two percent in 1972. The growth in number was attributed by the report to the proportionate increase of Hispanic enrollment which from the six percent in 1972 jumped to 19 percent in 2003. In 2002, Hispanic enrollment nationwide exceeded the African American enrollment for the first time, while in 2003; enrollment of minority students outdid the enrollment of White Americans (Annual Report on American Schools Shows Growth, Diversity, 2005).

Diversity is more noticeable in public schools as there are no stringent requirements or prerequisites for enrollment. Private schools are more often than not homogeneous in nature because of the affiliations of these schools which limit the enrollment to certain groups only. Most private schools are religion-based. Some are so specialized in the courses offered that enrollment fees are very expensive. High cost of enrollment is already a limiting factor as this restricts the school to enrollment of students belonging to the upper economic echelon. Public schools on the other hand are characterized by diversity because of non-discriminating policies like free and appropriate education for all regardless of gender, age and disabilities, and its nature of being non-sectarian and non-religious.

Along with issues on racial and cultural diversity, and the separation of state and church which led to non-discrimination on religion, gender equity is also a matter of concern. The roles, rights and access to information, facilities and materials of girls should be equal or balanced to that of the boys.

The American Educational System at one point carried the “melting pot” policy which aimed at assimilation to the current and existing school curriculum or set-up, and disregarding the cultural backgrounds of the students (Lewis, 2000). No effort was put in place then to assist minority students so their levels of achievement were therefore lower than the white students. Minority students were either placed in remedial classes or vocational programs. Some drop-out of school because of their failure to adapt and comprehend the learning programs. Today, schools aim to understand the different cultures where the students came from. They integrate elements of the different cultures into the curriculum for a broader learning experience. Teachers have tools and strategies to assist students who are still coping with comprehension of the English language.

Multicultural education was introduced in schools as a means to address the increasing diversity and to unify this diversity. Multicultural education refers to the instruction designed and intended for cultures of different races within an educational system (Wilson). This learning strategy is based on respect of and nurturing of cultural pluralism. Multicultural education incorporates positive racial attributes into the classroom set-up. The curriculum includes the histories and significant contributions of different cultures. Language assistance, adjustment or transition is likewise included for those whose native tongue is not English. This approach encourages the equal opportunity of students to learn. They are also given the chance to interact and share abilities and experiences through heterogeneous or multiracial groupings.

The Importance of Unifying Diverse Populations in School[edit]

It is thus tolerance that is the source of peace, and intolerance that is the source of disorder and squabbling.

—Pierre Bayle

Unifying students from diverse backgrounds entails imbibing the value of appreciating other people and the uniqueness of their circumstances. Appreciation comes after awareness so before students can learn to accept and find meaning in the difference of those unlike them, they should be made aware of what goes on in the specific cultures or groups of different students. Ignorance is actually a source of hostility and rejection. Discrimination usually stems from ignorance. People naturally shun and avoid things they know nothing about so it is the same with the school system. Students will be hostile and reject those who they know nothing about or those who are far different from them that they are apprehensive to discover why there is a big difference. To lessen, if not eradicate the tension between diverse groups, students should be exposed to the various cultures, religions, races, gender issues and economic or social strata. Exposure ideally leads to a better understanding and a clearer view of why things are the way they are. Knowledge and awareness are key eradicators of segregation for whatever reason.

True learning results from a vast source of information and actual experiences. Other than reading and actual traveling, the attainable means of learning and exploring new horizons is through sharing of stories and experiences with people who do not share the same backgrounds, ideologies, traditions, and origins. The unification process of cultures in school helps students not only improve their knowledge, skills and well-being, but it helps them develop people skills and helps them be open and critical thinkers.

A lot of the prejudice that is felt towards one student from another can be learned in the home by the ignorance of their parents. People have always had tendencies to steer clear of things that are different and this trait can be handed down from generation to generation. One example of this is the prejudice that some Americans felt towards the Islam and Muslim races after 9-11-01. Some looked at that culture and race as being terrorists when in all actuality most were just as mad as we were about what had happened. In this case and in other similar cases, most of that race became less involved in their community and in some cases their school and this is where the problems began. The inactivity of any race in any setting creates a barrier because without that race or culture being involved it creates a lack of understanding about the race or culture. In an article published in the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory this issue is addressed. The articles addresses that fact that most cultural diverse families are not involved in the schools and in the education well being of their child because they feel that they don’t fit in or that no one wants to hear their perspective on school related issues. The solution to this problem is to have involvement by all cultures that are represented at any school not only the involvement of the students but also the parents. I feel that if we all come together we can work out the differences that cause the prejudices that we fell against each other.

Conclusion[edit]

American schools today espouse unity in diversity in all aspects. Of course, no system is perfect so there could be flaws somewhere but the central aim of schools is to foster oneness among the students however diverse their backgrounds, physical and psychological traits are. Multicultural education is an effective means to achieve unity in diversity. It develops awareness, understanding and appreciation of various cultures and their beliefs, language, traditions and values. Schools form the foundations of the children for relative success or failure in adult life. Nurturing acceptance and appreciation of other cultures through different learning experiences shape the children into better individuals. Before an effective multicultural program becomes effective in the learning processes of the students, the teachers should themselves be trained for diversity. They can better facilitate and encourage learning if they have the skills and the competence in conducting multicultural programs. “Teachers must respond to the needs of the students by developing culturally sensitive curricula which incorporate multicultural histories and viewpoints, apply teaching strategies that encourage student achievement, and promote educational equity “(Shaw, 1997).

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Which of the following elements comprise diversity in schools?
A. Race or ethnic origin
B. Religion
C. Economic status
D. All of the above

A. Race or ethnic origin

In 2005, which minority group comprised the biggest percentage in terms of enrollment in public schools?
A. African American
B. Hispanics
C. Asians
D. Native Americans

B. Hispanics

What is a significant event or factor that contributed to the increase in diversity of schools?
A. Increase in school infrastructure
B. Training of teachers for diversity
C. Immigration to the United States
D. Leniency of public schools

C. Immigration to the United States

Discrimination is a most likely result of what?
A. Ignorance
B. Loneliness
C. Empathy
D. Selfishness

A. Ignorance

The statement: oneness regardless of physical or psychological barriers refers to which idea?
A. Unity
B. Diversity
C. Individuality
D. Unity in diversity

D. Unity in diversity

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal a sample response.

The concepts of the “melting pot” policy and multicultural education in the American Educational System have been discussed. Which do you think is more advantageous or beneficial to the students and to the whole educational system? Explain why you chose that policy and cite examples.

Multicultural education is more advantageous than the “melting pot” policy as it provides equal opportunities to the students. While the “melting pot” policy is easier to implement, multicultural education is the more effective method of learning in a diverse environment. Cultural backgrounds are part and parcel of the personalities and views of people. These cannot just be forgotten or repressed. Assimilation takes time, and a lot of effort is required of the students as well as the families and school to make it achievable.

The “melting pot” policy is very restricting and discriminating in the aspect of weeding out minority groups. It is a sink or swim policy where those who are unable to comprehend the existing learning programs are forced to drop out. It is also a breeding ground for stereotyping as it groups the minority students together. They are labeled as slow learners or students with learning disabilities, which is not true and is not fair. Multicultural education on the contrary, does not promote stereotyping but instead espouses equal opportunities in learning. It does not weed out students, but it encourages and nurtures them regardless of their racial or ethnic background. Multicultural education likewise broadens the learning processes and horizons of all the students by exposing them to various cultures and histories.

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