Planning boosts gifts of diversity
Arizona Republic
Feb. 28, 2008


Mark Ryan

How best can we educate an ever more diverse set of kids in the classroom?

We actually do have many good answers based on serious research from a whole variety of fields including anthropology, sociology, social history, psychology, applied linguistics and pedagogy (education).

We know that a student often begins at a disadvantage when there is a difference between that youngster's home language and culture and the school's language of instruction and culture.
However, this beginning disadvantage for a culturally distinct youngster can be turned into plus for everyone.

This is because a culturally different student brings a cultural and language resource that, over time and with enlightened instruction, should enhance the learning experience for both students and teachers alike.

How can this happen?

When we focus on what others bring to the table instead of what they lack, we find more "assets" - an increased knowledge of our human family - to engage everyone in the learning experience.

To begin, a culturally literate teacher plays a pivotal role in creating a classroom that celebrates diversity and endorses the self-worth of every student - especially those youngsters who have been traditionally marginalized.

Unfortunately, there are still some schools and communities who continue to hold conscious and unconscious negative assumptions and stereotypes about those who are culturally or ethnically different.

How big of a challenge are we facing? About 45 percent of all children in the United States younger than 5 are ethnic or linguistic minorities. These children are coming to our classrooms soon; will we be ready?

To be prepared, teachers, parents and the community should support a caring and inclusive classroom. To do this, teachers need to make their standards-based curricula "look like" the students they are teaching.

To begin, posters and/or thought-provoking quotations can be placed on the classroom walls of famous figures from all cultural segments of the student population.

A classroom where cultural sharing occurs sets a safe yet challenging atmosphere that will build both the academic and social skills every child will need as an adult.

In a sense, we are setting a school environment where every student, teacher and parent (remember, we are all learners) can choose to become inspired, motivated and ultimately empowered to learn about each other and the world in which we live.

Surprise resident Mark Ryan has taught at all levels, from elementary classes to university seminars. Contact him at his blog: www.wvblogs.azcentral.

com with your questions. Visit for Ryan's book Ask the Teacher.