When one refers to the diverse school setting, it typically refers to the community of children within the school system. A majority of research available in this area focuses on diversity within the student base of the school. The culture of the child has a direct impact on their attitudes towards learning and towards the material that is being learned. However, the cultural background of the teacher can also have a major impact on the school and the ability of children to learn. However, at this time, a greater emphasis is placed on the culture of the child than on that of the teacher.
Teachers are members of their own cultural group, and as such have their own cultural biases and attitudes towards others. They may come from a different cultural knowledgebase than the children that they teach. They come into the teaching field as a product of both the educational process and their own cultural background. This can predispose them to have certain attitudes about children of certain cultural backgrounds that are different from their own. Education during the preservice training period was found to be essential to the preparedness of the teacher entering a diverse school setting (Wasonga, 2005). According to the study, exposure to diverse school settings helped to eliminate biases and to prepare teachers for teaching children from cultural backgrounds that differed from their own.
Teachers preparing to enter the field of education consider diversity to be an important issue in their future career. However, only a limited number feel comfortable teaching students of a different cultural background from themselves (Hagan & McGlynn, 2004). Studies such as this suggest that more attention needs to be paid in preparing teachers to teach in a culturally diverse environment upon graduation. This point was reiterated throughout literature on teacher preparation for teaching in an increasingly diverse and mobile society.
The theme of literature regarding the role of the teacher and cultural diversity centered on the need to prepare teachers to perform in a culturally diverse setting. Literature indicates that to date, this issue has not been addressed adequately in the preparatory curriculum for teachers. Both teachers and teacher educators feel that this issue is important, but it has not yet been included in the formal curriculum. This issue needs to be addressed if the system is to produce teachers that can respond to the needs of the diverse population that they will be responsible for in the future.
Cultural Diversity and Social Capital
Cultural diversity in the student and teacher population presents benefits and challenges. When one refers to capital, they often limit the discussion to physical objects, such as tools or money. However, many decades ago, economists began to teach us to see skills and education as a form of capital as well (Putnam, 2004). Social networks embody certain characteristics, such as reciprocity, trust, and a set of ethical rules. These characteristics represent a certain set of "social capital" that an individual possesses simply for being a member, or participant in that society. Studies from several OECD countries have suggested that social capital is an important element in the educational performance of that country (Putnam, 2004). Taking steps to increase social capital has a positive effect on the overall educational performance of the country.
Social capital promotes bonding and cohesion among cohorts in social networks. As long as this bonding is used for good, it can be a positive asset to the educational system of the country. However, as the OECD points out, the bonding produced by social capital can also be a negative force, as with the case of terrorism or gang membership (Purnam, 2004). However, when the force of bonding and networking is used for positive goals, it can be a valuable asset. Promoting positive social capital in the educational system could have a dramatic effect on improving educational outcomes for all students, regardless of cultural background.
The position of the OECD supports the position that simply sitting in the classroom with students from other cultures is not enough. Students must be exposed to experiences both inside and outside of the school setting that promote higher levels of cohesion and bonding among the students. They must develop a sense of closeness with students of different cultural backgrounds, just as they do with students of their own culture.
Social capital stems from many sources including families, friends, civic associations, political parties, religious groups, and other social contacts (Putnam, 2004). Decay in positive community bonds has been blamed for declines in the educational system as well (Putnam, 2004). Building positive community bonds stems from strong families. Strong families are the root of social capital that spreads to the rest of the community. This argument by the OECD stresses the importance of building social capital that starts with strong families, and then spreads to strong communities. The connection between social capital and strength in the educational community is apparent. Therefore, programs that build strong communities will have a positive impact on the educational system as well.
Using Social Diversity to Build Strong Schools
This study has explored academic research on social diversity, multiculturalism, social capital and the impact that it has on the educational system. Through this research, it has been discovered that cultural diversity within the student and teacher population can have a positive or a negative impact on the educational process. It has many advantages that can be capitalized upon, but only if educators take action to help students and teachers form bonds with one another. They must take actions to make certain that students understand one another's perspective and that they develop tolerance for those that have different ideals and priorities than themselves. The following will explore actions that can be taken within the classroom to develop cultural understanding and tolerance.
Inclusion of educational material that explores different cultural perspectives can play a key role in developing and understanding of those from different cultures. Using films and reading materials that explore diversity and bring understanding of different cultures to the classroom can improve the bond between different cultures in the classroom. Gorski (2009) conducted a survey that explored the most useful books, films and resources for teaching multicultural issues in the classroom. This resource can help teachers find appropriate materials for a number of different educational levels and courses of study. Using resources such as these will help to increase cultural awareness in the classroom. Inclusion of such materials will help to promote greater cultural understanding among both students and staff.
Several actions can be taken to improve the impact of diversity in the school system. The first action that can be taken is to make a diagnosis of the present culture in the school system (Rice, 2004). This diagnosis needs to include both the students and the faculty. It needs to go beyond simply listing ethnic groups. Administrators need to gain an understanding of how different cultures interact with each other within and outside of the organization. The second step is to determine which changes need to be made within the system to promote positive social capital (Rice, 2004). The organization then needs to align the actions to be taken with the goals and values of the educational system (Rice, 2004).
Instituting changes within the system to promote positive social capital involves a change management process. Administrators need to make both students and teachers aware of the need for the change and the benefits that it will produce. Actions need to be directed towards not only cultural education that is focused on the needs of the local schools, but it needs to be directed towards changing the symbolism and meaning of culture within the organization (Rice, 2004). Training programs need to be devised that will help teachers integrate the new cultural values and changes into their daily curriculum. Teachers need to have strategies to help them integrate cultural diversity into the daily activities of the classroom. They need tools to help them assist with the bonding process.
One key element that was not mentioned in Rice or the other literature examined, but one that is essential to the success of the program, is to focus on conflict resolution. Teachers and students need to develop strategies for dealing with cultural conflicts when they arise. They need to develop actions and strategies that will help to promote bonding, rather than to create divides. Translating theory into action can be difficult in this area, but it can be accomplished through creating an environment that promotes active participation and open communication between students, teachers, and administrators.
This research has explored several different aspects of cultural diversity within the school system. We learned that cultural diversity can be a positive force in the educational system, or it can represent a challenge that must be overcome. We found that in order for social cultural factors to…