Anne Van Le

LLED 412

Josephine Pirrone

April 21, 1998

 

"A Multicultural Perspective: How Can A Student's Cultural Knowledge and

School Knowledge be Contextualized Within the Classroom?"

 

Anne, a 15 year old Vietnamese American student stared out the window

while the teacher droned on in the background. Her thoughts centered on

lunch and her friends, and family. On a deeper level, her thoughts were

about friendship, loyalty, kinship, and how children gain status and

acceptance in the social structure of the school. Anne's attention was

brought back into the classroom when the teacher announced that "this

information will be on the test". Mechanically, Anne began to write as the

teacher dictated notes. When the teacher had finished dictating the notes,

Anne's thoughts wandered back to her own concerns.

This true story is about me as a young girl trying to identify with the

experiences of school knowledge and real life knowledge. Most of us as

students have been in my shoes can readily identify the occasional moments

of boredom and daydreaming in an otherwise interesting and engaging school

experience, and in other occasions, this is the main reality of the

classroom life. Traditionally, the educational community has tended to

view culturally diverse students as coming from a deficit model, that

somehow these students lacked the right stuff, the educational experiences

for success in school. Rarely have schools and educational institutions

viewed culturally diverse students as being culture rich and not at risk.

When children are not allowed to incorporate their prior knowledge with new

experiences provided in the classroom, learning is slowed and the child

constructs a disjointed view of the world. This paper explores the

multicultural and diversified world of the students and juxtaposes it along

the knowledge the students are encountering in the classroom. It explores

knowledge in respects to the traditional notions of commonsense knowledge

of school, and knowledge that centers on the interests and aims of the

learner. Multicultural learning needs to build on student's regenerative

(prior knowledge) along with their reified (school knowledge)knowledges,

the knowledge must be in relation to the student's home and community, the

information must be personally familiar to the child, the understanding

must come through a connection with culturally familiar stories and

materials, knowledge needs to create a meaningful linkage to give

children control over their learning, and multicultural knowledge needs to

address the histories and experiences of people who have been left out of

the curriculum (Dewey, 125).

What I experienced as a little girl was a conflict between two different

kinds of knowledge, which R.B Everhart has distinguished as reified and

regenerative knowledge. Regenerative knowledge "is created, maintained,

and recreated through the continuous interaction of people in a community

setting" and is " contextually based, meaning that understanding comes out

of the specific historical context in which the actors are immersed"

(Everhart, 124-5). It comes from the desires, experiences of the

individuals who create it, and guides their thinking and behavior.

Regenerative knowledge is also forged in the home and community. For

example, a student of Spanish, Asian, Jewish, Polish, or European

background may attach to certain vocabulary words, showing how those

meanings derive from the cultural context of their home and community. It

is knowledge that is learned within the context of everyday life structures

, how students think about themselves, their world, and experience.

Reified knowledge, on the other hand, "is knowledge that while abstract,

tenuous, and problematic, is treated as if it is concrete and real" (

McLaren, 15). Students encounter reified knowledge as being a boundary

between their emotions and knowledge, and it is knowledge that the

student's cannot control, it is rather a student role that must conform to

the teacher's script. This knowledge is already formed and must be

verbally delivered to the students and they are expected to absorb preset

formulations spoken by the teacher. School knowledge empowers to the

extent that it connects with and augments student's regenerative knowledge.

But teacher's knowledge and student's knowledge overlap in a range of

commonplaces. Seeking out these commonplaces and then engaging students

from there provides a starting point for meaningful education. This is

empowering because it engages students in dialogue with their community,

enhances their abilities to reflection and action and permits them to learn

how to control change on the basis of values and principles that they have

worked out in their comm

Students who achieve in schools experience a meshing or overlap between

the knowledge taught in school and the knowledge that has personal meaning

to them. Someone once said that knowledge is power. However, in schools

the curriculum of the school usually has very little to do with the

students. The most common way educators select curriculum is to turn to

traditionally accepted knowledge that has been encoded and passed down, in

the belief that the schools exist like the Cartesian model of teaching:

"Knowledge as information is passed on from the teacher to the student as

if it were a basket of eggs. Effective teaching and learning are achieved

if the eggs are conveyed safely, intact, and without damage" ( Pickles,

234). We need to make the classrooms a culturally familiar environment. For

many children, the classroom is a culturally unfamiliar environment, a

place where the familiar people, sights, sounds, smells are not recognized.

A cultural content can be woven into the curriculum by choosing from the

everyday lives of the students through culturally familiar stories that

students in the class are aware of and familiar class materials can be used

to illustrate concepts taught in the classroom. When we teach with

culturally based materials, tangibles items from the environment, whether

these material are worksheets, textbooks, milk cartons, tires, origami

paper, we bring the familiar environment of home into the classroom. When

teachers bring real materials from student's lives, they may not only be

more comfortable but they may also be more interested instruction.

Culturally familiar materials can be paired with materials from the school

curriculum. This serves as an affirmation of the student's community

while engaging the child in mainstream education (Wigginton, 60-4).

The importance of merging both student's cultural knowledge with school

knowledge is to give students the control over their own learning, to

realize that they have the power to create, and understand life, and that

power is not restricted to their own localized neighborhoods and peer

groups. Most importantly, student's won't feel that their own cultural

knowledge has to compete with school knowledge. Students will not see

school as a public institution in which students learn to comply with the

requirements of authority figures and experience subject matter that is

boring and not made relevant to their lives. Rather they will see that

knowledge is a doorway to the broader society and its culture (Dewey,

182). This is the heart of learning: negotiating the meaning, comparing

what is known to new experiences and resolving the discrepancies between

what is known and what is learned by new experiences.

Multiculturalism is advocating bridge to school knowledge with the

student's own cultural knowledge and encouraging students to analyze

their interaction and then use the knowledge learned to take charge of

their lives. Pickles argues that the commonplaces of student's worlds

exist so they can "understand them and hold on to the commonplaces which

are significant, and transcend those commonplaces which are constraining,

and change those commonplaces which they judge to be wrong." (Pickles,

67). For example, a research study conducted by C.A. Grant and C.E.

Sleeter (1986) came to understanding of what was in the student's head

while they sat in most of their classrooms, and to investigate the

student's cultural knowledge. The students studied were very willing and

able to tell us what concerned them, interested them, motivated them. They

could express in rich detail about their world, and their dreams. Many of

them considered much of the content they were learning to be irrelevant,

student's reported being bored in class, and some said they forgot what

they had learned once they had been tested on it, and this was true

regardless of the grades they were getting or the academic ability teachers

thought they had. Students spoke candidly about their peers, events they

could control like social parties, or hobbies, things sometimes considered

frivolous by adults. The students were never given a chance to

manipulate and recreate the knowledge learned in school into the meaningful

sector of their own lives. The commonplaces of their world were never

challenged, reformed, altered, or reaffirmed, and thus they found no

importance to school knowledge.

Part of multicultural knowledge is addressing the histories and

experiences of people who have been left out of the curriculum. It is a

perspective that allows us to get at explanations for why things are the

way they are in terms of power relations, and equity issues. And it does

so without focusing on what those expressions of culture mean: the values,

the power relationships that shape the culture. In a culturally diverse

curriculum, we look at and change those things in school and society that

prevent some differences from being valued. It is in the children's

interest to be open in mindset, especially in finding out how things really

are. Otherwise, they will constantly have an incomplete picture of the

human behavior. The other thing is, if we don't make it clear that some

people benefit from racism, then we are being dishonest. What we have to

do is talk about how young people can use that from which they benefit to

change the order of things so that more people will benefit. If we say we

are all equally discriminated against on the basis of racism, that's not

accurate.

The purpose of this paper is to better understand how important it is to

structure learning experiences in order to help students develop linkages

with mainstream school and their multicultural knowledge. It is important

that all children have the opportunity to learn within the comfort of what

they know best and to be affirmed in who they are. Culturally diverse

students are especially at risk of not knowing the culture of power.

Teachers can empower all students in using their own culturally familiar

strategies and content in order to help them be successful in mainstream

schools. Culturally diverse students are culture rich and we must affirm

our children's families and cultures by building bridges between what they

know with the dominant mainstream knowledge. Multiculturalism also

broadens the horizons of young people, to give them skills to change a

world in which the color of a person's skin defines their opportunities,

and where some human beings are treated as if they are inferior.

 

Anne Van Le

LLED 412: Inquiry Project: Reflection on Practice

Josephine Pirrone

April 21, 1998

 

When it came time to decide on an inquiry project, I knew right away that

multicultural education was something I felt deeply passionate about, and

had not experienced as a child in school. To gain ideas for my teaching

unit, I read books, journal articles, and talked to my cooperating teacher

Patty Owens and the multimedia instructor, Mrs. Yost about ways I could

implement the pedagogical theory I had researched into real life practice.

I began reading extensively over spring break about the unit I would be

teaching, the history of Holocaust and The Diary of Anne Frank, and I

realized that multiculturalism was intrinsically in the nature of the

topic, and that I could foster activities that would promote multicultural

ideals of diversity of cultures as well as diversity of styles of learners

within the three week unit plan.

To begin meshing out the structure and framework of the unit, I began

speaking to those within Park Forest, Mrs. Yost and Patty, on how I would

reach my goals in bridging school knowledge of the Holocaust, Anne Frank,

and diversity of cultures to their world. The activities and the

culminating project that I chose had to incorporate my goals and help

support me in teaching the kids what my cooperating teaching hoped to

accomplish as well. During this time, I had a sneaking feeling that I was

trying to do too much, trying to accomplish a larger task at hand with my

novice background in teaching, and that I probably could not reach each

student multiculturally. This view changed when I took a good look at the

room full of students, and I realized how homogeneous most of the student

body consisted of, but also the diversity of learning styles and

personalities in the class I would later take lead in. I knew I wanted to

try something that would channel the energy the kids had into a project

that they could be proud of, that connected with their lives, that allowed

them to pursue their own special academic preferences in a media, and would

show the relationship between what they had learned to some aspect of the

multicultural studies. I chose to bring into the classroom hypermedia, a

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Subject: inquiry project

 

multimedia program that would provided many forms of media, included many

academic preferences, would allow students to make a personal connection in

their own way, and to integrate diversity of cultures. I used this project

to structure the unit on discrimination, prejudice, and stereotyping for

the activities within the classroom.

With the support of Mrs. Yost, I was able to conceptualize in my mind what

I wanted the assignment to be, to write this down, and to present to the

class in the beginning of my first teaching week so they could also have a

goal set in mind when they would hear, see, or read about the Holocaust.

In the assignment sheet, I explained what a hypermedia program is. That it

consists of computer cards that can be filled with information in the form

of pictures, photos, drawings, graphics, voice, music, and even videos. To

get the students ready in thinking about the project, I told them to be

aware of everything that they have seen, heard, or read about the

Holocaust, and to find a visual text, which could be a picture, photo,

images from web sites, a drawing they've made; along with a creative

response that was also open ended. The creative response may have been in

the form of explanation, voice commentary, or poetry; and had to focus on

the emotion that the visual image conjured within the student. After

giving this assignment, the task began in learning how to use the program,

inside and out, and backwards and forwards. I also had to think about how

I would get the resources for the project-books for the kids to find

pictures, computer time to work in the computer lab, where they would

obtain computer disks, and the time extents that I was willing to devote in

accomplishing the project, the deadlines, and the possible problems that

may arise.

With this goal in the student's minds, we began to read the The Dairy of

Anne Frank the first week, focusing on prejudice, discrimination, and

stereotyping. The diversity portion of my inquiry project began to take

shape the first day I taught with Melissa. We both kept silent as we

handed each of the students a circle shaped piece of paper or a square

shaped piece of paper. We instructed each group of their responsibilities

in class: the squares were not as worthy as the circles, they had to take

notes, could not utter a sound, and did not get any candy; the circles were

more privileged, they could talk, have candy, did not have to take notes,

and were always told that they were better than the squares. Then, we

talked about fairness, discrimination, stereotyping, and injustice in

relation to the activity. Following this, we watched "Eye of the Storm", a

movie documentary that explores the nature of prejudice in a dramatic third

grade classroom experiment conducted by the teacher to her third grade

class. Mrs. Elliot decides to help her students understand the nature of

prejudice by pretending to be prejudice herself. She divides the class

into two groups, the blue-eyed and brown-eyed children. The kids watched

the documentary and compared it to the activity that happened that day in

class. The students responded to the activity and had much to say about

what had occurred to them and how that was linked directly to the ideas of

discrimination, prejudice, and stereotyping. I spoke to them about how

prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination and how it is in every corner

of our world. No group seems to be exempted. Violence, prejudice, and

discrimination aimed at one group or another is rampant. This prejudice

and discrimination has its roots in the beginning of mankind, and its

branches have become so widespread and have extended into the heart of the

twentieth century. I explained how these branches have woven a web so

strong that it created a Holocaust in which an entire people was virtually

destroyed.

This theme of prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping continued the

following day with our class discussion on the Star of David. I explained

to the students the significance of the star with racial identification,

and in the justification of prejudice towards the Jews. The students

linked this with labeling of individuals in their world: homosexuals,

jocks, preps, cheerleaders, boys who wear purple. It stimulated them to

look beyond the boundaries of their world, to see that racial

discrimination occurs so subtly in our everyday lives and how important it

is to be aware of diversity and cultures and respect them. The students

discussed this, and many of them had much to say about this topic. This

linked to the reading of The Dairy of Anne Frank in class that day.

My goal was to have the students take with them the philosophy that

multiculturalism is respect for diversity that must become the spirit that

motivates people of color, white ethnic groups, and other marginalized

groups of people to believe in the American creed. The American creed

guarantees dignity for every individual, equality for all humankind, and

unalienable rights for freedom, justice, and equal opportunity for every

American. These beliefs must be genuine because they are the very

cornerstone of democracy in this country. I wanted them to able to link

the characters they would be reading that day with the idea that

prejudice, discrimination, and stereotyping can be overcome. I tried to

link prejudice with the idea of a virus that eats away at our very beings,

like a cancer that destroys the spirit and kills the soul. But like a

virus or a cancer, prejudice can be destroyed, and education is the best

cure for resistance, as well as standing up when we see injustices

occurring. So, I presented the students with a question: "If you were

confronted by a coworker, friend, relative, or neighbor, and asked to help

hide their family, would you do it? Where would you hide? What would be

the sacrifices, and the consequences of your actions?" We discussed this

and I tried to link how Miep was a resistance fighter, she reminds us of

the sanctity of life. She shows us how courage, compassion, and kindness

can change history. And I explained how Miep and Mr. Kraler are a

testimony to the fact that had resistance was more widespread, the Nazis

could never have accomplished what they did. Had people individually and

collectively refused to allow Hitler's Final Solution the Holocaust could

never have happened. Perhaps, in the final analysis, these heroes and

heroines will inspire the kids to stand up for what is right-to make a

difference in this world. The majority of the students found themselves in

the position of Miep and Mr. Kraler, helping the Jews and breaking the

law. They couldn't see not helping their own family members, friends, or

coworkers.

For the last week, the focus on diversity was culminated with a guest

speaker on the Holocaust and a collage on the theme of prejudice. Trudy

Lipowski, who was born in an internment camp, and whose parents were both

survivors of the Holocaust came to speak to my class about her experiences.

The students were able to empathize more with the issues we had been

talking about because Trudy was a living testimony. She described her

visits to the concentration camps with vivid detail and clarity and gave

the students an inside perspective to those who deny the Holocaust and why.

Since the students have been working on Anne Frank, she described the

Annenex and the proportions, and also revealed the emotions conjured up

when she walked through the attic. The students had many questions on the

contemporary issues of discrimination, the swastika, and the lessons we had

to learn. They were very quiet and silence filled the room when Trudy

spoke. The kids connected by showing sadness, madness, and also becoming

inspired with Trudy's words. They were able to identify and give a face and

name to the Holocaust with Trudy's expressions and her words. They also

spent some time working on a collage that week, which focused on prejudice.

The students had a fun time with the project, and the seriousness of the

project was lost somehow. I had given the assignment: "If prejudice was an

animal, what would it be? If prejudice was a shape, what would it be? If

prejudice was a number what would it be? If prejudice was a color, what

would it be? The students had a party for Melissa and I that day, so they

chatted with their friends, glanced through magazines for different

pictures, and munched on chips, and doughnuts. I found many of the

students choosing images that they felt could embody prejudice, but they

didn't justify it a manner that was appropriate. At the end of class, I

realized that my goal of having them think of diversity from a different

standpoint was not accomplished.

Almost one week after the beginning of the unit, the class ventured to the

computer lab, taking with them all their ideas from The Diary of Anne

Frank, their books they've been reading independently, and our class

activities and discussions. The hypermedia project helped to develop

literacy. From this inquiry implementation, I truly believe that learning

happens in socially relevant environments and is constructed, that students

actively create, experience, and organize the knowledge they have, and this

is true learning. This literacy includes the ability to represent

information in a variety of ways, to think with the information, and to

use technology to extend these abilities. I loved working with this

program because it got the kids in my class actively engaged with various

forms of information (text, graphics, pictures, animation, sound), to

create and link that information and provide a support for higher level

thinking. The kids in the class used the program to extend their abilities

as readers, writers and thinkers. To prepare for this day, I brought the

kids to the library and had a work day in which there was a variety of

sources available for them to look into, and some students started their

creative responses. Time was devoted in class to the instruction of basic

skills to create a card, add a graphic, and a button. Mrs. Yost helped

extensively. In addition, instructional sheets were given to the students

with step-by-step instructions to help them in creating the cards, and

alleviated us from having to answer many of the questions. This seemed to

be an excellent way to introduce the students to the possibilities and

tools of hypermedia. The actual cards had been created for them but needed

to be filled out. The focus was therefore on helping the students learn

how to use all the tools by scanning in photos, creating graphics,

recording sound, and eventually creating buttons to link a network of

completed cards. As students were introduced to various hypermedia, I was

overwhelmed. It seemed like there were five hands waving in the air at all

times. The students presented their works to the class in the following

week, sharing visual images, and creative responses. We talked about each

card, why the student chose this particular visual image, how they

interpreted the story behind the picture, and what were the emotions and

the level of discrimination that were apparent in the image. I was

surprised by how many of the students volunteered to share their projects.

Reflecting upon the hypermedia project, I noticed that a lot of time was

spent on trivial aspects of the computer process. To alleviate this, I

could of created instructional sheets so that the students could scan in

the photos themselves, this would of freed me of more time to help

individual students. In addition, the hands waving in the air and the

wait time wasted much time and energy, I needed to create a system that

still allowed the students to be productive and allowed me to

systematically tackle each of student's questions in an orderly manner.

Ideally, I would of liked to have spent more time on the hypertext, I felt

like it was crunched into a time spot. Overall the hypertext program was

highly motivating for the students, because they could connect in their own

personal way to the Holocaust, and it allowed them the choices and freedom

to work in a media that they created. The program provided endless

possibilities and new challenges. If we had more time, I would of liked to

focus on the writing that the students accomplished and different

techniques to peer edit. The program allowed the students to read and

connect themselves with the information they found, analyze the visual text

they chose, be self designers in representing and reflecting seriously on

the information and design, and presenting to their classmates, teachers,

and guests the diverse projects they've createdand how this connected to

multiculturalism.

Reflecting upon my implementation of the inquiry project on

multiculturalism, I feel sure that the students have reached the goals

created at the beginning of the unit. I look back on the vignette that I

wrote about in my original theoretical paper, and I realize that each of

my students were able to identify in some way with the experiences of

school knowledge and real life knowledge, that the knowledge they acquired

empowered them to analyze their interaction and then use the knowledge

learned to take charge of their lives, making the classroom culturally

familiar by providing knowledge that personally meaningful for them, and

providing them with a broader view of people, and their multicultural world.