In recent years, multiculturalism has become an increasingly popular focus of educational research. A wide and complex concept, multiculturalism clearly plays a distinct role in the classroom environment, and the educator’s comprehension of its many dynamics is crucial to the student’s learning experience.
On another level altogether is the subject of social class. With students sharing classroom space with other students belonging to a diverse range of social classes, this factor is also highly relevant to the effective learning experience of students. Students may be unaware of how deeply social class affects their roles and this lack of awareness can also be evident in educator attitudes.
Playing a role in how classroom communication and operations are executed, attitudes about multiculturalism and social class both affect the learning process, and benefit from thorough analysis. Since these attributes have such strong bearing on the effectiveness of teaching and learning, their complete comprehension and study will assist both educators and students in achieving greater levels of success in their endeavors.
Multiculturalism involves a variety of individual aspects. Multicultural classrooms may include the following:
- Students who speak a language other than English at home.
- Students who are still trying to learn to speak English.
- Cultural differences can be the source of major obstacles and challenges for educators and students alike.
- Beliefs, values, traditions, and practices are all culturally generated dynamics prone to a great variety of display.
Instead of viewing all people from one’s own culturally derived perspective, it is now necessary that educators begin to broaden their horizons and attitudes about diversity in the classroom.
The United States has often been characterized as a “melting pot” of cultures, ethnicities, and languages. However, this term implies a homogenizing process -- a blending phenomenon that would result in the blurring or possibly even the elimination of group distinctions. Since such a characterization is not an accurate reflection of the humanscape in this country, a different conceptualization might be more useful. The metaphor of a rich human mosaic composed of contrasting cultures and complexions is an appealing alternative, for it brings to mind racial and ethnic diversity while still reminding us of the “bigger picture” that comes into view as one steps back and observes from a distance.
According to Cruz, “more than one-third of the students in [American] classrooms will be from ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse homes” by the year 2000, with continuing increases in their proportions predicted thereafter. Surely diversity is a special blessing for the United States and, as such, should be highlighted and celebrated. This paper will argue that one step toward that goal would be to require high school students to read a certain number of books by writers of color in order to graduate.
Although it is clear that multiculturalism is a reality that needs to be reconciled with the currently existing notions of student development theory, it is equally clear that this task presents formidable challenges for administrators and faculty. This paper will address the ways in which a multicultural student population can be best served by a learning institution that centers its approach on the tenets of student development theory. First, a general overview of the current state of student development theory will be presented. This will be followed by a brief introduction to the ways in which student development theory intersects with the realities of campus multiculturalism. Then, the unique challenges facing various racial and ethnic groups in the student development process will be examined, followed by an overarching assessment of the role of multiculturalism in student development theory.
Although the benefits of multiculturalism on campus are clear, especially in the context of student development theory and the formation of an autonomous self, it must also be noted that a diverse student population is not synonymous with multiculturalism, and in many institutions of higher learning, it appears that student diversity has only served to exacerbate the self-segregation of the student body. In addition, it must be recognized that students from ethnic and racial minorities often report a much higher degree of stress and anxiety stemming from race issues than their White counterparts, suggesting that the “melting pot” theory of facilitating multiculturalism should possibly examined. Clearly, racial and ethnic identity and their relation to both student development and the multicultural learning environment are highly relevant issues that require more attention and research to be fully understood.