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Valuing Diversity in the Multicultural Classroom
Educators of children and adults are increasingly aware that learners within a classroom represent a complex array of personal experiences, values, and intentions that can inform curriculum development and classroom instruction. In adult English as a second language (ESL) and family ESL literacy classrooms, learners' ways of understanding and acting in the world may differ radically from those of the mainstream population. Educators respect and honor their learners' ways of knowing when they create and work from curricula that emerge from issues of importance to them. (See Auerbach, 1992; Nash, Cason, Rhum, McGrail, & Gomez-Sanford, 1992; and Wrigley & Guth, 1992, for discussion of programs and activities.)
Robert Coles (1990) gives an example of how Hopi children's way of knowing God directly conflicted with the knowledge of their teachers and therefore was discounted by these teachers.
"No." "Why?" "Because she thinks God is a person. If I'd told her, she'd give us that smile." "What smile?"
"The smile that says to us, 'You kids are cute, but you're dumb, you're different, and you're all wrong!' " (p. 26)
As these examples suggest, when learners' ways of understanding the world are not heard and accepted, everyone loses‹the learners, who bring this knowledge with them to schools; the parents, who want to pass on cultural traditions but find themselves fighting both the school information and their children's perceptions of the value of their own cultural beliefs; and the teachers, who could be opening new worlds of exploration to children and themselves while providing a bridge between the culture of the school and the culture of the home.
In effective family ESL literacy programs‹where literacy needs of children and their parents are addressed through instruction in English, native language literacy, cross-cultural development, self-esteem, family learning, and home school relations (Holt, 1994)‹ diverse ways of knowing are explored and valued. In these programs, it is especially important that learning be multi-directional: Children, parents, and teachers all learn from one another as they share their experiences.
For example, some family literacy projects use elders' storytelling as a basis for lessons. Other projects encourage children to discuss and value their cultural traditions and family routines. A teacher in a literacy program for immigrant parents and children in a rural area along the Rio Grande River in Texas used information about his learners' worlds and ways of knowing in a lesson he developed on Halloween in the United States. He provided materials and assistance in making costumes, and he compared the origins and cultural traditions of the U.S. holiday with the Day of the Dead holiday traditions in Mexico and Central America (Quintero & Macías, in press).
Uncovering Ways of Knowing
Elementary school educators and researchers have done much to inform the field about the importance of valuing families' ways of knowing. One research study shows that classroom practice can be "developed, transformed, and enriched" when researchers and teachers who have received training in interviewing techniques visit minority student households to discover the "historically developed and accumulated strategies (skills, abilities, ideas, practices) or bodies of knowledge that are essential to a household's functioning and well-being" (Funds of Knowledge, 1994, p. 1).
In participatory adult ESL programs, teachers conduct informal research in the classroom itself using dialogue journals, family trees, life journeys, class newspapers, and speaking and writing assignments from learners' photos (Auerbach, 1992). Designed to elicit issues and concerns of importance to learners, these activities also serve to uncover learners' ways of knowing the world.
One example of such an activity comes from a program for American Indian parents in Minnesota. Learners demonstrate the richness of their alternative knowledge by comparing parenting styles and family values of Indian parents to those of mainstream culture. Below is an excerpt from a list of differences they developed.
(Richardson, in Stuecher, 1991, pp. 8-9)
Similarly, in an ESL literacy class for Southeast Asian adults, also in Minnesota, during a lesson regarding family values and childrearing practices, learners juxtaposed their views and cultural values with those of many Americans:
(Weinstein-Shr & Quintero, in press)
Activities like these, which involve comparing ways of viewing and acting in the world, have several benefits: they tap and provide a forum for discussing learner knowledge; they do not force the learners to abandon or devalue their own cultures; and they provide valuable information for teachers about learners' worlds, experiences, and perceptions of American culture.
In adult ESL and ESL family literacy programs, teachers can provide cultural and linguistic bridges to connect the worlds of the home and the classroom by recognizing, honoring, and building on students' ways of looking at and understanding the world and by building curricula and classroom learning around this knowledge. As educators learn to value and build on learners' ways of knowing, learners will in turn value and benefit from the education experience of the classroom.
Auerbach, E. (1992). Making meaning, making change: Participatory curriculum development for adult ESL literacy. Washington, DC & McHenry, IL: Center for Applied Linguistics & Delta Systems.
Coles, R. (1990). The spiritual life of children. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Funds of knowledge: Learning from language minority households. (1994). ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics.
Holt, D. (Ed.). (1994). Assessing success in family literacy projects: Alternative approaches to assessment and evaluation. Washington, DC & McHenry, IL: Center for Applied Linguistics & Delta Systems.
Kingston, M. H. (1977). The woman warrior: Memoirs of a girlhood among ghosts. New York: Vintage.
Nash, A., Cason, A., Rhum, M., McGrail, L., & Gomez-Sanford, R. (1992). Talking shop: A curriculum sourcebook for participatory adult ESL. Washington, DC & McHenry, IL: Center for Applied Linguistics & Delta Systems.
Quintero, E., & Macías, A.H. (in press). To participate, to speak out...: A story from San Elizario, Texas. In R. Martin (Ed.), On equal terms: Addressing issues of race, class and gender in higher education. New York: State University of New York.
Stuecher, U. (1991). Positive Indian parenting: A reference manual in support of Minnesota Indian parents and families. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Department of Education.
Weinstein-Shr, G., & Quintero, E. (Eds.). (in press). Immigrant learners and their families: Literacy to connect the generations. Washington, DC & McHenry, IL: Center for Applied Linguistics & Delta Systems.
Wrigley, H.S., & Guth, G.J.A. (1992). Bringing literacy to life: Issues and options in adult ESL Literacy. San Mateo, CA: Aguirre International. (EDRS No. ED 348 896)