A guest post by Colleen Chung
Teaching Coordinator for ELL,Title 1, & 21st Century Grant - Alvah Scott Elementary School (Aiea, HI)
Imagine Learning now publishes monthly guest posts in order to stimulate conversations about K12 education across the country. Opinions expressed herein are those of the individual author and may not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Imagine Learning.
My husband is Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese, while I am third-generation Irish. As a diverse couple, we decided that when we had children, we would raise them here in Hawaii, the state of Aloha.
Interestingly, our family's multicultural trends don't stop there.
My daughter just married a man from Norway and we expect their children to speak both Norwegian and English. Their wedding represented families from four continents.
Diversity is the American way! It not only helps us learn from each other, but it also inspires greatness, as you will see from the following example.
Patsy Mink: An example of multicultural equity
Hawaii is blessed by the diversity of its citizens. One of these was Patsy Mink.
Patsy Mink's humble, third-generation Japanese beginnings likely motivated her to achieve and change equity in America. Patsy was one of 11 children who were raised in a shack, which makes her career so improbable.
In Hawaii, Patsy lived among many ethnicities, but during college (first in Hawaii and then on the mainland) she experienced segregation and prejudice firsthand. When she learned that the Hawaii Medical School was open to males only, this was a rude awakening for her.
Rather than quit college, Patsy decided to go to law school and change the educational system from the inside through the judicial process.
After graduation, Patsy opened her own legal practice in Hawaii, becoming the first Asian American lawyer in Hawaii. Later, she became the first woman of color elected to the U.S. Congress. As a woman of high ambition, Patsy also entered the U.S. presidential race in 1972, but withdrew her candidacy after losing the Oregon primary.
As someone who cared deeply about education, Patsy Mink co-authored Title IX, a law that still has a profound positive impact on the lives of girls and women in the United States. Today, this law is known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.
Furthermore, Patsy drafted the first comprehensive Early Childhood Education Act and became an unwavering advocate for women's and children's rights, welfare, health care, and education.
Commenting on educational challenges, Ms. Mink once stated, "The problem with our education system is not that parents do not have a choice. The problem is that inequities continue to exist." ("Patsy T. Mink," Women in Congress, 2006; Rosado, C.,2010)
What is multiculturalism in education?
Multiculturalism is not just celebrating others through cultural foods, music, or dance in the classroom, as many educators believe. Instead, multiculturalism is a profound belief that all humans can value and accept each other despite differences in gender, belief, color, language, economic circumstance, or gender preference.
Valuing and accepting others is a critical step, but without empowerment too many students will face prejudice and intolerance, as evidenced through experiences of individuals like Patsy Mink.
Fortunately, educators, administrators, and state leaders can be reeducated to recognize bias and intolerance personally, in classroom interactions, in class materials, and in policy.
As a critical follow-up to this recognition, educators and administrators need to swiftly and persistently respond to bias and intolerance when they encounter it. School policy can ensure all individuals will value acceptance and application of diversity and multicultural education.
Finally, educators and administrators need the ability to teach and work in a bias- and intolerance-free environment, just as students deserve a bias- and intolerance-free environment in which to learn. (Rosado, C., 2010).
How do school systems see the world as inclusive, diverse, and multicultural?
As Caleb Rosado asserts, "if, when all is said and done, you look around and notice that everyone looks like you, you have done it wrong."Striving to create diverse staffs, administrators, and systems is reasonable in order to create equitable work environments and places to learn.
Put simply, we can change our perspectives through the perspectives of others.
One lesson I use is that of a brown egg and a white egg. Students are sure that the brown egg will look different on the inside, but as we open the hard-boiled eggs, students clearly see that the components are the same.
Students also understand the deeper meaning that the eggs may have differences (e.g., size, color, or spots) but they are all still eggs, just as humans are still humans.
Perhaps the most important lesson from such an activity is this: we can respect others' differences and dispel the notion that one human is better than another.
Why multicultural equity is important
There is an enormous need to create tolerant communities and educational systems in the United States. One way to do this is by working with educators who come in contact with diverse populations across the nation.
It will not be enough to simply learn educational pedagogy to satisfy standards and core content. Effective teachers will learn more about the family units of the students they are teaching.
This practice may give teachers the capacity to evaluate their personal intolerance and notice how it affects the students and families they teach.
Respect for values and education can facilitate and connect character education with multicultural education. Intolerance may be learned, but change in belief systems can occur when educators consider students and families.
There are 11 million English language learner (ELL) students in the United States this year alone. Many of these students lack access to English-learning environments that build academic success for the future.
Additionally, too many ELLs don't have a center-based learning environment that is leveled to language, with tools such as Imagine Learning that allow first-language translations and provide an individualized pace for learning English.
When ELLs experience face-to-face core content, explicit vocabulary lessons, KWL charts, thinking maps, and collaboration with other ELL grade-level peers, all students can synthesize lessons, vocabulary, reading, and writing skills. Then they are ready to move comfortably back into the regular classroom.
My experience and recommendations
I was born in Michigan, but I traveled extensively in and out of the country as a child. I learned Spanish in South America, and I had a difficult transition when I came back to the United States.
My time spent in a foreign country made me quiet and reserved back home, as well as less confident in an American classroom.
Any big move can necessitate learning a whole new culture and language, even if someone moves within the United States. My own experience makes me particularly drawn to ELLs and striving Title I students who come to my center with the hope of learning English and doing well in school.
Many educators do not welcome ELLs in their classes because of language/cultural misunderstandings and their perception that students lack knowledge. However, it has been my experience that by learning ELLs' cultural backgrounds and past school involvement, teachers can greatly help these students succeed.
Teachers can also help by differentiating and scaffolding instruction to students' learning levels so that all ELLs experience academic confidence and success. To facilitate this goal, I open my center to practicum/university students. With guidance and SIOP lesson planning, my practicum helpers are learning how differentiation and scaffolding impact language learning in a classroom.
American educators owe all students the right to a non-biased classroom, acceptance, and a fair and equitable education—no matter where students come from or their socioeconomic status.
Remember—one of the students in your classroom may just turn out to be another Patsy Mink, born to be a leader despite overwhelming odds. You can be the one who helps such a student overcome the odds against them so they succeed in school and in life.
About the Author
All Colleen's students use the Imagine Learning program, and 100% of the students improve with fidelity of usage. All her Reading Rockets also participate in a face-to-face individualized program to synthesize language.
Colleen's center has achieved recognition results every year for ELL Improvement and Exit. She attributes much of this success to her own education, culminating in Master of Education and Master of Leadership/Curriculum degrees plus a minor in ESOL K-Adult.
Working with academic review teams, curriculum teams, the WASC Team, and data teams has helped Colleen learn how education works and allows her to create a compliant center that provides value for the class, school, district, and state.