Cultural sensitivity in education encompasses much more than being aware of the various cultures and ethnicities that are represented in a classroom. It also involves reflecting on one’s own personal perceptions of cultural identity and understanding what multicultural education looks like in the classroom.
The learning I have obtained through EDUC 6525- Culturally Responsive Teaching has enabled me to map out the progression of my own cultural awareness. I can now use this insight to improve my own professional practice. Some of my earlier perceptions of culture stemmed from a limited exposure to non-white cultures. I can see how this often resulted in misunderstandings and discomfort when interacting in multicultural situations. According to J. Helms’ stage theory of racial development (as discussed in Mvududu’s lecture, 2013), if left unchecked, this perception can lead to discriminatory practices in the classroom. In relation to Banks’ five types of knowledge (Banks, 1996, pp. 11-21), students receiving instruction from teachers with limited cultural knowledge (school knowledge) are also impacted by the information received from the media (popular knowledge). On top of this, students are likely taking in information that is traditional Westerncentric in nature (mainstream academic knowledge). Such knowledge sources will likely conflict with students’ own personal/cultural knowledge if they represent a non-white ethnic group. One way to counter this conflict, at least to some degree, is to broaden my own cultural knowledge as a teacher as well as present transformative academic knowledge. Transformative academic knowledge is information that challenges the mainstream academic knowledge. This, in turn, enables students to better understand how knowledge is constructed and that it often reflects the social context of where it was developed (Banks, 1996).
Currently, I would equate my level of cultural awareness with Helms’ stage IV, pseudo-independence (as described in Mvududu, 2013). As an educator I am purposeful about recognizing the needs of the diverse population in my classroom and will seek out accurate information pertaining to the cultures represented. I strive to foster a classroom that promotes harmony and equality in which students from various cultures recognize that they can both contribute to and benefit from such a society. George Sanchez stated this philosophy well as he referred to the Spanish-speaking culture when he said “…the degree to which two million or more Spanish-speaking people, and their increment, are permitted to develop is the extent to which a nation should expect returns from that section of its public.” (Murillo, 1996, p. 137) It is to the benefit of society as a whole when educators strive to incur change through the educational system.
In my classroom and in my school I will strive to impart transformative knowledge that effectively challenges the basic assumptions of mainstream academic knowledge. I support the notion that knowledge is both objective and subjective and is built by the person who is acquiring the knowledge (Barnett, 1996). I believe that transformative knowledge that is fueled by the experiences and knowledge of diverse cultures as well as by the efforts of a transformative educator can and will weave its way outside of the classroom and into the school, community, and society as a whole. The Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History declares that, “[They dream] of the day when the sharing and contributing of all Americans will be so appreciated, accepted and understood that there will no longer be a need for any ethnic group to call attention to its contributions.” (Roche, 1996) I do not believe this could be any better stated.
In conclusion, I would like to share a yearlong multicultural unit that a colleague and I created which attempts to incorporate the power of transformative teaching. This unit, titled Dimensions of Multicultural Education, aims to bring to the table the knowledge and experiences necessary to foster mutual respect and acceptance that transcends the here and now. I look forward to expanding my professional development in order to continue pursuing such a worthy goal.
Banks, J. A. (1996). Multicultural education: Transformative knowledge & Action. New York: Teachers College Press.
Barnett, E. F. (1996). Mary McLeod Bethune: Feminist, educator, and activist. In J. A. Banks (Ed.). Multicultural education, transformative knowledge & action (p. 218). New York: Teachers College Press.
Murillo, N. (1996). George I. Sanchez and mexican american educational practices. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural education, transformative knowledge & action (pp.129-140). New York: Teachers College Press.
Mvududu, N. (2013, January 9). Personalizing Cultural Diversity [lecture]. In Connect.SPU. Retrieved January 9, 2013
Roche, A. M. (1996). Carter G. Woodson and the development of transformative scholarship. In J. A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural education, transformative knowledge & action (p. 100) New York: Teachers College Press.