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Cultural Differences

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Multicultural education вЂ" teaching tolerance starts inside classrooms

Juan Gonzalez was a bright five-year old boy when he migrated with his family from Puerto Rico to the United States. At a time when he was ready to learn to read and write in his native tongue, Juan was suddenly enrolled in an English-only classroom. The only tool that boy possessed for oral communication (the Spanish language) was completely useless in this situation. Juan and his teacher could not communicate with each other because each spoke a different language and neither spoke the language of the other. Juan felt stupid. On the other hand, his teacher perceived him to be culturally disadvantaged and beyond help. However, the teacher and the school officials allowed Juan to “sit there” because the law required that children should be at school.

For the following two years, Juan attended classes he did not understand. Juan prayed for the teacher not to call on him. The teacher rarely collected Juan’s papers since he believed the boy was not capable of what the “more fortunate” children could do. Juan’s self-concept began to deteriorate. Another Puerto Rican boy in the classroom helped Juan in the process of adjustment. They could not speak Spanish during school time for two reasons. First, the teacher believed it would confuse Juan to speak both languages. In addition, when they spoke Spanish it annoyed people around who could not understand it. As a result, the other boy could not translate school subjects. Juan was expected to learn the language prior to the other disciplines.

By the time Juan started to understand English, he was so far behind in his schoolwork that it was impossible for him to catch up with other classmates. His teachers labeled him handicapped. Classmates frequently teased Juan. In fact, each time he attempted to speak English, other kids ridiculed him for his imperfect use of the language. The teacher believed the teasing was a good thing because it could force Juan to learn proper English. School became a battlefield for Juan. He began to find excuses to miss classes. The situation became unbearable when Juan was found to be academically retarded after the result of an English test. Juan was placed in a mentally retarded class. Finally, he dropped out during the second year of high school. He did not learn English well. Today, although he is fluent in Spanish, he did not learn how to read and write in his native tongue. He is functionally illiterate in both languages.

Despite the fact that most of the members of the current population in the United States are immigrants or their descendents, concerns with immigration policies have historically been a constant in this nation. Raymond D'Angelo argues the United States has promoted the image of a welcoming nation, based on freedom, democracy, and economic prosperity (31). As a result, this nation has served as a magnet for people seeking freedom from oppression and opportunities to improve their material circumstances.

Situations like Juan’s may not seem to have an impact on other people’s lives. However, the consequences of lack of education may affect an entire society. In schools, students learn values they will apply to their lives. Education will teach kids how to behave according to society’s norms. In addition, through education students will achieve skills in order to get to successful professional life. Kids who drop out of schools will not learn these values and skills so important for their future. They are most likely to become troublemakers and one more person among the millions who fill up prisons in the United States.

Immigration is a problem that politicians have been struggling to solve. Every day thousands of immigrants enter this country full of expectations for a better future. With immigration across the Mexican border at the center of national policy debates, it is appropriate to think about the future of immigrant children. As a result, it is a fact that immigrants’ children are becoming a large portion of classrooms in the United States. However, schools have not prepared an adequate environment to receive and educate children from diverse cultures.

The immigrants bring with them their family. Children arrive in a “new world” when they are still in the process of discovering their own country. The story of Juan Gonzalez, a very intelligent Puerto Rican boy, echoes the school experiences of many language minority children in schools across the United States. Millions of children enter the American schools each year with little or no proficiency in the English language. These children did not choose to be in a different country. Their parents brought them to another environment. They enroll in schools that are not prepared to receive them. Moreover, these schools are not ready to provide the proper education to make these children succeed despite the language they speak. It is not fair that because of adults’ decisions, children cannot take the most advantage of an important element on their lives: education.

It is vital that children start learning how to deal with cultural difference before becoming adults. Nowadays, most world conflicts relate to cultural differences. For instance, religions traditions from the East sound too extreme for the West. In addition, the Hispanic way of life may contradict the American way of life. Today, more than ever, the population needs national and global citizens who possess multicultural competence, and who are committed to the achievement of social justice and economic equity as a basis for a peaceful world. It is important that kids learn this at young age. This way, in the future, wars, terrorism, and other violent acts can be avoided. However, it is impossible for kids to learn this if they cannot communicate to teachers.

Christine Bennett argues that in order to provide equitable learning environments, teachers must be aware of both individual and cultural differences (208). If teachers do not perceive the cultural differences that exist, they may think a child is deficient. Bennett claims that culture influences the way individuals learn and understand the world (208). This author identifies some cultural factors that have an effect on children’s learning. For instance, she believes a child who came from a controlled society such as some Middle-eastern societies will be more dependent in classrooms. In addition, in societies in which survival depends upon observation of environment, such as in Alaska or African Americans in a hostile white community, the kids tend to develop better perceptual



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