Creating a multicultural school and classroom.

We are seeing waves of immigrants and refugees arriving on our Canadian soil, and as families arrive, we are registering a more and more diverse generation of children into our schools. How do we address everyone’s cultural differences, while helping our new students appreciate our North American culture?

I’m currently taking an Additional Qualifications course on teaching English Language Learners (ELL). This week, we focused on welcoming our newcomers into our schools and classrooms and how we can help them with their orientation into their new home. In Canada, we pride ourselves in being a cultural mosaic; however, what exactly does this mean for our hallways, our classrooms, our way of life as Canadians?

Here are some of the strategies I thought of while working on one of our weekly assignments. There are certainly more, but I stuck with pointing out key points that I feel we as a community need to work on.

  • Display art, posters, signs, etc. from a variety of cultures to create an environment where diversity is celebrated. Doing so will explicitly express the principle that the school appreciates and admires our differences. I find however that there is never enough emphasis placed on this aspect of creating an inclusive environment. Oftentimes, schools would opt to displaying posters that quote the necessity of diversity; yet the visuals stop there. Clearly, there needs to be more substantial examples of diversity.
  • Our readings suggested appointing only one student ambassador for the class; I would suggest training your whole class to be ambassadors of new students. This shares the responsibility of welcoming newcomers with the class as a whole and creates a community of helpers. Perhaps we could try this at the beginning of our school year; and once this is established, we can choose different students to be ambassadors for the same student at different times, and every student will have the opportunity to feel responsible for taking care of their peers.
  • Incorporate diversity in the various subjects taught: artists, scientists, mathematicians, linguists, politicians, etc. This should be done to show our students the global picture of contribution to the world’s progress. Too often, we make use of the same icons over and over again to discuss our subject matters, but our students deserve a broader perspective. Examples: Einstein, the German Jew, was not the only genius in science and math. The French and the English were not the only explorers, though they were the ones to colonize Canada. There was more to Japan in World War II than the atomic bombs that were dropped. Martin Luther King Jr. was not the only ethnic person in North America to battle racism. The list goes on.
  • Most personally fundamental for educators is that we must make it a habit to learn about the different cultures of our students, and to integrate our curiosity into a part of our way of life. We can make use of the strategies above in an attempt to teach our students about diversity, but if we do not take the time to personally embody the values of acceptance and appreciation, our students will never learn those values from us, because then we are not genuinely living them day-to-day. I have witnessed teachers teach lessons with Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, which is beautiful; however, that’s where the diversity and lessons of peace end. And so I don’t feel that this is enough. There needs to be more substance within the classroom culture, and within the teacher’s view of diversity.

Questions? Thoughts?

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Reaction Management 101: feeling offended?

I’m sure you’ve all come across people who have been too blinded by their emotional response to share ideas and opinions rationally. We are all guilty of it. I think this is one of the reasons why democracy struggles: most are willing to share their opinions, but they aren’t willing to hear the opinions of others. The concept of the debate goes out the window; offense is taken when it is not meant, and the very foundation of discussion crumbles into a shouting match.

Questions to consider are as follows:

  • How often have you responded angrily to what someone is saying, and found it overwhelmingly difficult to see what they saw?
  • When was the last time you consciously kept your anger in check and decided to listen rather than harshly draw premature conclusions?
  • Have you ever name-called during a debate?

I’ve found that the key to a healthy discussion, in addition to simply listening, is to manage your responses. It’s difficult to discuss a topic with someone you don’t agree with at all, and to have your beliefs questioned; but what’s even more difficult is to remain calm when this happens.

Reaction Management 101: some things to keep in mind when you feel offended by what the other person has said to you:

  • Paraphrasing for clarity: Take a deep breath, look at the other person carefully, and paraphrase what the other person has said. Say to them calmly and respectfully, “Let me see if I understand you correctly: are you saying that _____________?” Usually, this clears up any misunderstandings, and the source of offense is wiped off the table.
  • Articulate your point: If the other person confirms and the source of offense is still there, what better way to defend your position than to provide a counter argument? If what they are saying doesn’t make sense, take a breath to calm your boiling anger, and explain to them why you feel their rationale is flawed or offensive.
  • Accept and walk away: If the other person still doesn’t agree with your premises, and therefore disagrees with your logic, what else can you do but agree to disagree? Simply end the debate then and there and walk away from it, because at that point you’re at a place where neither of you can compromise your point of view. That’s all there is to it.

I just looked over the list. Man. Can you tell I’m a teacher?

Anyway, those are some of the strategies I’ve used to keep myself out of shouting matches. They’ve worked for me so far. Anyone have any more they’d like to share?

Food for thought, out.

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The Rape of Nanking: Shining Human Courage

Earlier this year, I read Iris Chang’s “The Rape of Nanking“. The book as a historical piece is lacking in careful detail; however, it serves as a useful introduction to the Chinese perspective in World War II. As horrible as it seems already, there was more to this war than Nazi Germany and the Jewish genocide; there was more to this war than the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese by the Americans.

Segue.

The horrors inflicted on the Chinese population in Nanking can only be described as appallingly gruesome. And of course, there will be cynics who growl at these incidences, point to these acts of absolute indecency, and declare that humans are implicitly evil.

But.

What of those who discovered the raping, those who witnessed these atrocities, and risked their very own lives to put a stop to it? What of John Rabe? What of Schindler? What of the father who gave his own life to save his daughters from rape? There are Japanese scholars aplenty now who risk ostracization and death threats and seeing their careers crumble so that they can bring this story to light.

What of them?

For as there are so many who falter and become victim to human nature’s darkest potentials, so there are those who will rise above it and fight against this darkness with courage and strength. We cannot forget that there are both. We cannot forget to protect the world of the former, and we cannot despair so much as to forget and therefore discredit the efforts of the latter.

Being born and raised with parents who will do all they can to provide for me and protect me, I am one of the more fortunate ones. But I would hope that my fears of bodily harm and excruciating pain will not keep me from pursuing justice. And I hope that at the end of the day, if I need to put everything on the line, I will do it in the name of justice and all that is right and compassionate. Because at the end of the day, what else do we have? What else do we have but our principles and our dignity? What can mean more than fighting for what we believe is right?

Generation Y in North America is lucky enough to live in an age of affluence, so much so that our basic needs are all met as soon as we are born. I hope that in being so lucky, we do not lack in sheer human courage.

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