America is increasingly becoming a very diverse nation culturally and ethnically. In all the States, there is an increasing influx of non- native Americans and estimates from the U. S Census Bureau have projected that by year 2100, the non- native Americans who at the moment are the minority, will become the majority and the non- Hispanic whites will constitute a mere 40% of the entire population of the U. S (Osborn, 2005). As a result, education debates in recent times are increasingly centering on the issue of diversity, especially in public schools.
Interestingly, many Americans treat school policies as well as programs that intend to embrace cultural diversity with much suspicion and misunderstanding; not really understanding the great importance of diversity as an educational element in our classrooms (Osborn 2005). The aim of this essay is therefore to address the issue of cultural diversity in public schools with emphasis on the kind of cultural identity that public schools should promote. Cultural Diversity and School failure American public schools are admitting an increasing number of students from diverse cultures and languages.
However, there are certain mentalities that are associated with these minority groups which not only act as an impediment to their academic progress, but may also fuel cultural intolerance, a vice which has no place in American democracy. Reports from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP) state that, students who come from poor backgrounds especially the colored students, generally perform poorly than those from a higher socio- economic status (Bowman, 1994). How can this difference be accounted for? Is it a colored gene factor that promotes such poor academic performance?
Definitely not; yet this is not clearly understood and the general assumption is that colored students simply cannot perform well in academics. The reason of course lies in the differences between cultural experiences of different groups which encourage different attitudes and life skills. Thus without schools acknowledging these differences, they actually limit their ability in educating these children (Bowman, 1994). During a child’s development, there are differences in cultural expressions which are normal and should be considered as a basis for building skills and knowledge.
However, most American schools ignore these differences and all children are judged on the behavioral characteristics of children belonging to the white middle class which is considered the only valid expression of competence. Hence children from minority groups are judged as inadequate. This is largely due to their inability to conform to these foreign standards (Bowman, 1994). The educational programs of American public schools are poorly designed and do not cater to cultural differences.
Teachers are also bound by their own personal experiences and are therefore unable to appreciate the cultural differences and may judge children who behave differently in a harsh manner. Devaluing minority culture is a cause for inter- racial conflict among students and also presents students from minority families with a tough choice between identifying with their families’ belief systems and participating in school culture. Most students opt for the latter (Bowman, 1994). Promoting Cultural Diversity-Existentialists View
Existentialism is a philosophy which lays emphasis on the unique individual experiences, in the face of a universe which is hostile. These experiences are considered in isolation as opposed to a group. The existentialism philosophy upholds the need for individual freedom of choice as and responsibility for one’s actions (Jaspers, 1952). Existentialism was the basis of several liberation movements in history. Such include the black civil rights movement and women’s rights movements (Lim, 1999). Even today, its demand for individual freedom and tolerance can be applied to the application of cultural diversity in public schools.
As the philosophy of existentialism states, the individual who is self reliant should be able to have an authentic existence which is in opposition with the given mores such as the mass culture of the contemporary world (Rupp, 2001). Promoting ethnic and cultural identity within a multicultural setting is thus one way of achieving this. It is important for all students to be able to learn about the different cultures even as they uphold their own to establish tolerance as well as understanding between races. Conclusion
There is need to change the school curricula so that it can accommodate the diverse cultural needs. This will make it both relevant to the needs of students from diverse backgrounds and sensitive to the issues of social justice. A bicultural curriculum presents the diverse cultures as equally important and powerful. Such programs which have been implemented in some schools have shown that where children are not made to renounce their culture, their academic performance improves dramatically (Bowman, 1994). Existentialism calls for authenticity of the self in the face of indifference (Rupp, 2001).
The schools thus have a responsibility towards achieving this. One way is to bring in teachers of diverse backgrounds in their schools; teachers who will be better placed to understand the needs of the students based on their different cultural experiences. To sum it up, the type of cultural identity that should be promoted in schools is one that upholds the different cultures as equally worthy. It should also be based on understanding and mutual respect of others. REFERENCES Osborn, T. A. (2005). Language and cultural Diversity in U. S Schools.
Connecticut: Praeger Publishers Bowman, B (1994) Cultural diversity and Academic achievement NCREL’S Urban Education Program, Urban Education Monograph series. Retrieved January 21, 2009. <http://www. ncrel. org/sdrs/areas/issues/educatrs/leadrshp/le0bow. htm> Rupp, G. (2001). Religion, Modern secular culture and Ecology Daedalus, 130, 23 Lim, W. S (1999). Development and culture in Singapore and beyond Sojourn: Journal of social issues in South East Asia 14, 249. Jaspers, K (1952). Existentialism and Humanism: Three Essays. New York: Russell F. Moore