Everybody wants the best for their children: access to quality education, healthy nutritional food, caring and well-mannered friends. But most importantly, we want to raise them in an environment of trust and inclusion, an environment in which we can foster in them a sense of social responsibility so that they grow up to be the best they can while continuing to be model members of society. This includes being tolerant and understanding of the culturally diverse society we live in. And what better way to ensure this than by introducing a sense of multiculturalism in the classroom?
Introducing multiculturalism in classrooms is more than just pinning colourful brochures and diversity paintings on the bulletin board. It requires teachers to be patient and non-judgemental when dealing with students. It requires an extensive knowledge of the different cultural practices unique to each child’s race and ethnicity. For example, it is a common practise for Latin American people to greet each other with hug and a kiss on the cheek. Some cultures may frown upon such an intimate showing of affection, but teachers should be open minded and treat such exchanges with respect and acceptance.
Teachers can also take active steps to try and inculcate a sense of cultural understanding and racial tolerance. Some of the best methods include planning classroom activities that help bring cultural diversity to the forefront. For example, organizing a food fair in which students are encouraged to cook a dish that is unique to their culture is not only educational and fun but also highlights an important aspect of cultural diversity, i.e. the rich variety in cuisines. Teachers can also organize movie nights showcasing foreign language films (with subtitles of course). This helps provide a first-hand glimpse into the lives of people from different cultures and walks of life.
Some people have taken much more extensive efforts to bring about a sense of multiculturalism in the classroom. The UnityWorks Program started by the UnityWorks Foundation—a Washington-based educational non-profit—is designed to improve race relations by educating staff and students about living in a diverse society. Hoover Elementary, one of the more recent schools to participate in the program, hosted a multicultural night, on which children would show off their self-portraits painted with a blend of non-traditional shades like peach, beige, cream and olive, to signify the melting pot of cultural diversity in the school.
Another example of multiculturalism in the classroom is that of Princeton Choose, an organization started by Indian-American Priya Vulchi and Chinese-American Winona Guo. The idea was born after the duo’s U.S. history teacher started a conversation about race in class, which was surprisingly the first time the topic was discussed in a school setting for them. With the objective to write a book that could be used in classroom discussions, the two went about interviewing strangers in Princeton’s downtown area, chronicling their personal experiences on race. Their efforts resulted in a 224-page textbook filled with heart-warming personal anecdotes from people of all races and cultures, winning them multiple awards including the Princeton Prize in Race Relations.
Only with continued efforts like those of Vulchi and Guo can we continue to encourage the inculcation of multiculturalism in classrooms around the world, and in doing so, help mould our future leaders to be shining examples of racial tolerance and understanding.