Philosophy of Multicultural Education
Often multicultural education can seem like a giant boulder, unable to be pushed uphill, especially when obstacles stand in the way. I am interested in this boulder; why is it so heavy? What is inside this giant rock? How can we continue to push it to the top despite all of the resistance? To me, the most important part of the boulder is the plight of the multicultural learner. My goal is to support and facilitate the education of today’s multicultural learner. I know there will be challenges in teaching this population; however, I believe that meeting the students where they are is the first step to facilitating learning.
Culturally responsive teaching and learning is a multi-faceted approach to education involving a series of interactions. I believe the learner is at the heart of these interactions, branching out to include the learner and the community, the learner and self, the learner and race/class, the learner and the school structure, the learner and the teacher, the learner and other learners, and the learner and the content. These interactions help form the whole student, in and out of the classroom. I believe every student can learn when these interactions are explored and integrated into culturally responsive teaching.
Learner and Community
The community the learner is surrounded by provides an important interaction for multicultural learning. In an urban setting, the community can be characterized in various ways. Often urban communities are tight-nit and communally based. Everyone knows everyone else and there is usually a community center such as a church where the community gathers. Urban communities also share commonalities on levels of poverty, violence, substance abuse, and other socio-economic challenges. For the learners who live in these settings, there is a persistent struggle outside of the classroom that must be recognized at school. A knowledge and appreciation of the student’s home culture is essential for reaching and communicating with the student. Since most teachers don’t live in or frequent the communities their students live in, students have limited opportunities to interact with their teachers outside the classroom. I plan to incorporate a sense of community by setting up weekly neighborhood tours, where one of my students will take me to the places where he or she spends most of their time. I want to meet their families and talk with them on a regular basis about the progress of their child. This will hopefully foster parent involvement in the theatre program as well as in their child’s education. We specifically know that African American cultures value a communal orientation. Replicating the style of teaching that encourages team work and a sense of community to strengthen and support the interaction of the learner and their community is essential. Theatre rehearsals and productions are the perfect means to achieving group consensus and a sense of belonging.
Learner and Self
The way the learner interacts with self, or his or her identity, affects how the learner sees themselves as a consumer of knowledge. According to culturally specific development, students form schemas that reflect their varied backgrounds and begin to build scripts of learning on top of those already formed schemas. In the situation of a culturally unresponsive teacher, students may be forced to re-work those schemas to fit the scripts called for in that specific classroom. Changing those cultural foundations of thought development is almost impossible, and the student may appear resistant to school or learning. This cycle often perpetuates until a learner feels stupid or incapable, thus shaping a poor view of self as a learner and most likely identifying him or her self as a problem in the school system. I plan to foster the development of a positive identity for urban students. As a theatre practitioner, I will facilitate activities such as identity and story circles that define and recognize a learner’s positive identity and learning styles. I will offer performance tasks in multiple formats that honor the myriad ways learners create meaning. The learning of the student will only fulfill the expectancy of the teacher whether it is negative or positive. I hope to drown out any negative comments about students from other teachers with my own belief that every student can learn and achieve.
Learner and Race/Class
The learner’s interaction with race and class is a powerful aspect of multicultural education and a pervasive problem in the injustices of school systems today. “Individually, racism stifles our own growth and development. It clouds our vision and distorts our perceptions. It alienates us not only from others but also from ourselves and our own experiences.” (Tatum, 1997, p. 200) As a White teacher, among the current ninety percent of White teachers, I must remember that race and class privilege divisions should be recognized and discussed when they facilitate learning. I grew up in a diverse, working poor community and I remember my first interaction with race. My elementary school was right next to the projects where my friend Margarita, a Black girl, lived. I remember asking my mother if it was okay to play with someone who was Black. I was afraid my family would look down on me because of my friend choice. My mother said it was okay, but I recall a hesitance in her voice. Learners understand from an early age how racism is internalized and influenced by society or familial background. Students also recognize power dynamics in the classroom and are aware that teachers respond best to students who are like themselves. I do not believe that a teacher can or should be color-blind to her students. That is an approach that does not meet or acknowledge the students backgrounds and does not recognize their individual needs. I have to be secure in the fact that I will mess up, but that does not mean I should stop trying. My classroom guidelines will highlight respect for differences, and I will not tolerate behavior that blatantly subordinates another group.
Learner and School Structure
As mentioned above, the school structure with which the multicultural learner interacts is primarily a White middle class structure that replicates a business model of unequal power. Students of color do not relate to this design because it is not familiar in their communities. African American and Latino cultures typically respond best to communal situations by acting in the best interest of everyone, as opposed to individual achievement. Teachers grapple with what language to use in this school structure. The foremost register of speech is of White orientation, and typically does not recognize the home language of the student, whether it is Spanish, Creole, or an African American dialect/vernacular. In addition, “schools are part of our communities and as such they reflect the stratification and social inequalities of the larger society.” (Nieto, 2002, p. 28) As a teacher, my job is to decode and act upon these social inequalities in order to equip my students with an understanding of this structure and society. I hope to replicate a fair and safe environment for learning where the students feel accepted and equal. I plan to keep my guidelines consistent and to offer opportunities for each learner to feel as part of the theatre family, whether through classroom or after school activities. Honoring and integrating their home culture and home language is essential to creating this family feel.
Learner and Teacher
The learner interacting with the teacher is perhaps one of the most important interactions for a student’s knowledge development. Looking back, I can remember the teachers who had a passion for teaching. I remember 1st grade when I was moved to the top reading group and how it felt to be acknowledged; it made me work harder to make my teacher proud. I remember 6th grade reading when my teacher instilled in me the power to determine my own future. She told me there was no reason for my tough background to hold me back. I remember my 9th grade theatre teacher encouraging me to audition for the school musical, telling me that I was the only person who could play that part. I can also remember those who only wanted a paycheck. The qualities I bring to teaching are a passion for teaching and learning, a background that relates to my student’s situations, a deep sense of compassion, an ability to share power and place the learner at the forefront of learning, an ability to engage students in tough conversations about important issues, a desire to develop a safe family feel that reflects their home culture, and to motivate and activate my students to make change anywhere they see necessary. I am committed to fostering relationships with students in order to support and motivate the highest level of learning. I plan to do this through various instructional methods, one being an opening circle each day that “checks in” with each learner. I want to know if everything is okay in their lives and give them the choice and support to give their whole self to learning. I feel that if a teacher acknowledges the student’s choice and shows compassion, the learner will rise to the occasion. I also plan to show I care outside of the classroom by sending personal messages, supporting extra-curricular activities, and attending outside community events.
Learner and Other Learners
The interaction of the learner and other learners is also important. Peer groups have a huge impact in shaping the way students learn. Particularly students of color may struggle in class but refuse to ask for help due to the Negative Attribution Effect. The fear of other students thinking they are stupid outweighs their desire for knowledge. I must take responsibility to recognize this phenomenon and foster positive peer relationships to create a safe environment for all learners. Through a theatre curriculum with a focus on diversity, students will participate in various learning opportunities that place them in groups where they must creatively work together to achieve a common goal. Playmaking and process drama techniques based on social topics are great examples of methods to use in these circumstances.
Learner and Content
The learner interacting with the content is of particular importance in the field of theatre education. I believe theatre is one of the best, most productive ways for a learner to express their ideas creatively. I acknowledge that theatre as a discipline isn’t for everyone, but I believe theatre can reach every student on some level. I hope for the learner to see the power in theatre to uncover ideas and emotions not previously tapped. I also believe theatre can change lives; the arts have transformative powers especially when approached with diligence, respect, and belief. My own journey is a testament to this transformative power. I went from a struggling high school freshman to the recipient of a college theatre scholarship. I never knew that I would be the first in my family, the sixth of eight kids, to pursue a higher education and a career. I want to give back to my community, which gave so much to me. The mode of theatre in multicultural education is proven to be effective for urban students. Theatre gives these students, who may feel they have lost their voice, a say in the outcome of a story or situation. This is a direct parallel to their lives. Theatre naturally asks for power share, self expression, cooperation, communal orientation, and personal voice – all hallmarks of culturally responsive teaching. This is evident in performance tasks such as play rehearsals, scene work, playmaking, and self-written monologues. When students have the opportunity to express what they feel and what they are thinking, they experience a type of catharsis in dealing with the challenges of their lives. I desperately want to facilitate the student’s experience of self expression and resulting growth and change.
I hope to be the kind of teacher that honors the learner in all interactions. The boulder, though heavy, and much larger than I have indicated in my statement, will get a push in a forward direction by my efforts and commitment. I believe that my creative methodologies in theatre education, my passion to build strong relationships with every student, and my personal love of learning will encourage lifelong learners and always place them first. I plan to be there with my students every step of the way, meeting them where they currently are, and building towards the goal of learning together. I remember when I realized it was me who needs to inspire at-risk students like myself. I thought of my family and peers who struggled through learning and I promised to return to my favorite place, the place I felt most safe, and make a difference. Who knows, maybe when I teach, a student will look back and remember me.