Diversity Issues in American Schools: An Overview


America has been a diverse country since its inception (Banks & Banks, 2001). Many groups of people have migrated to the U.S in search of religious freedom, economic opportunity, and a better life for themselves and their children (Millet, 2000). Thus, America is often referred to as a country of immigrants. In the beginning, most immigrants came to America to stay for good. These groups of immigrants eliminated all ties with their countries of origin. This created a country of oneness and aided the formation of the melting pot theory. In the melting pot theory the focus is on the outcome, you don’t care about the difference between the members in a society. What is more important is the end results, that is, creating a country of oneness despite all the differences in the ingredients that created it.

However, the turn of the 20th century has seen another big wave of immigrants to the United States. Recent immigrant populations are quite different from the previous ones, however. In that, most of the recent immigrants still hold ties and direct relationship to their countries of origin (Spring, 2001). This phenomenon is aided by advancement in technology. Due to technology, the world has become smaller, hence the analogy “living in a global village”. As a result, the recent immigrant population can be captured better using the salad bowl theory. The salad bowl theory argues that the oneness of America concept fail to capture the true racial, cultural, and ethnic diversity of American. The theory asks us to consider and appreciate the different parts or ingredients that makes up todays America. Things such faith, values, tradition, political views, world views, and value system among the different groups of Americans needs to be appreciated rather than dismissing them all-together.

Addressing Multiculturalism and Diversity in Schools

Schools mirror societies. Because of the increased diversity in the population at large, school systems in America are also experiencing an upsurge in students, educators, and school leaders’ diversity (Banks & Banks, 2001). To help all students from the different ethnic groups, racial groups, cultural groups, economic groups, and social groups learn, a conscious effort is need to embrace multicultural education and diversity in all our schools. This can only be achieved through authentic training regarding diversity and multiculturalism to educators, school administrators, and students. Without a conscious and continued efforts to understand, appreciated, and celebrating the diverse views of others and of ourselves, I am afraid no progress will be made.

Do Leader Keys Address Cultural Competency?

In order to answer the question “Do leader keys training address cultural competency? I interviewed an assistant principal at a school in the Metro Atlanta area. Before the interview, I decided to familiarize myself with the definition of cultural competency. Cultural competency refers to an ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures (Taylor, et al., 1998). Cultural competence comprises four components: (a) awareness of one’s own cultural worldview, (b) attitude towards cultural differences, (c) knowledge of different cultural practices and worldviews, and (d) cross-cultural skills. Developing cultural competence results in an ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures (Von Bergen, Soper, & Foster, 2002).

Once I had a firm understanding of the term cultural competency, I decided to develop four questions to direct the interviewing process. The questions I developed are: 1) what does cultural competency mean to you? 2) was cultural competency part of the training you received in your leader keys training? 3) how long was the leader keys training? was it a one shot training or a continuous training? 4) how important is cultural awareness when evaluating educators in a diverse society like ours?

I contacted three assistant principals at two different schools in the Atlanta Metro area. One of the three agreed to meet me at a Starbucks coffee shop for an interview. I sent the interview questions to the interviewee three days prior to our meeting.  The interview responses and my analysis of those responses are included below.

When responding to the question “what does cultural competency mean to you?” the assistant principal described “cultural competency as the ability one has to understand others’ world view. She continued by saying….It is my understanding of others and how they view education and the process of educating students.” While I agree with the assistant principals’ understanding of the term cultural competency, I however, believe that cultural competency is more than understanding other people’s world views. My opinion is that, cultural competency is about understanding your own cultural and world view first and being strong enough not to impose your world view onto others. In addition, it is also important to have the ability to understand, communicate with, and effectively interacting with people from other culture without showing elements of prejudice.

When asked whether cultural competency was part of the leader keys training, the assistant principal flatly said, it wasn’t. According to her, leader keys training takes only one week.  She added, there are refresher meeting and follow-ups during the course of the year. She added that all leaders do receive a cultural competency training, however, in other types of mandatory district training such as the sexual abuse training, computer competency training, and others. I feel as though cultural competency training should be a part and parcel of the overall leader keys training. Currently, the educator population in the U.S is increasing becoming diverse. It is becoming an amalgam of different cultural and world views. For a leader to be effective at communicating, interacting, and evaluating a diverse workforce of educators, cultural competency should be a mandatory part of the leader keys training in my views.

Lastly, while addressing the question “how important is cultural awareness when evaluating educators in a diverse society like ours?” The administrator did not think that this was important.  She argued that best teaching practices are the same across cultures. According to her, culture has little to do with best practices. Therefore, when she is evaluating teachers; background, culture, and world view of the educator are irrelevant. Her only interest is to see how the educator is using best practices in curriculum and instruction. In my views, it is sometimes much easier to use the “one size fits all” when it comes to differentiating evaluations. If we ask educators to differentiate instruction, we as leaders should be able to do the same when evaluating educators’ practices. When we fail to do that, it isn’t painting a good picture of our expectations on others. Lamping everyone in one group, makes the work of evaluating educators much easier. On the contrary, I believe culture, world view, and background are important variables and needs to be included in an evaluation. A good understanding of others’ cultures, world views, and backgrounds would make the Teacher Keys Evaluation System (TKES) a better evaluation instrument overall.

Classroom and Online Discussions

            During classroom and online discussions, I was struck by the semblance of views held by some school administrators on cultural competence and multicultural appreciation in schools. For example, in an interview between my classmate Kimberly and her principal. She asked the principal “How does she approach the issue of diversity when hiring faculty at her school”. The answer the principal provided was similar to answer I received in my interview with an assistant principle when I asked “Does she employ cultural competency approaches when evaluating educators?” They all believe that “the one size fits all” approach is the way to go. In my views, some school administrators still hold the views that America is a melting pot country rather than the views that American is a bowl of salad where by individual culture, world views, and values are respected and celebrated in both action and deeds. We celebrate the diversity among us just when it is convenient, however, when it comes to work and education, we hold the assumptions that everyone is one and the same. Aren’t we all Americans after all?

Conclusion

In my capacity as an instructional and curriculum leader, I will work hard to influence those around me on better ways to provide professional development for teachers and administrators that incorporates cultural competency. I feel like the current model of one size fits all is not aligned with the diversity of students, educators, administrators, and families in our schools. I will advocate for authentic diverse professional development training that raises the awareness of our own biases of our multicultural society. I believe that with the amount of knowledge I have acquired in the past two years in this program, I will be able to influence the design and development of training materials and training educators and administers regarding diversity and multicultural issues in our schools. I see myself growing further as an educational leader on these issues. I believe through authentic advocacy, my voice will amplify these issues especially through the mentorship I provide to new educators, and through multicultural and diversity training in the district and hopefully, the country at large.

References

Anderson, G. L. (2009). Advocacy leadership: Towards a post-reform agenda in education. New York, NY: Routledge.

Banks, J.A. & Banks, C.A.M. (2001). Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives (4th ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Spring, J. (2001). The politics of American education. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Taylor, T., et al. (1998). Training and Technical Assistance Manual for Culturally Competent Services and Systems: Implications for Children with Special Health Care Needs. National Center for Cultural Competence, Georgetown University Child Development Center.

Von Bergen, Soper, & Foster, (2002). Unintended negative effects of diversity management. Journal of Public Personnel Management, 31(2), 239-251.

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