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Classroom Culture

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Classroom Culture

America is growing. We all know this because the fields we grew up playing in are now shopping malls, the woods we camped in are condominiums, and the grassy fields are parking lots. But even if urban sprawl hasn’t come close to you, growth pokes its head in every other aspect of our lives. I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a diverse, college town growing right before my eyes. As my family and I moved around Michigan, schools where filling up faster than we could build them.

The once divided regions of the United States are fusing under the pressure of growth, not just in number, but changing demographics. Classrooms that once were predominantly white are now filling with color. The teachers of today, challenged with much more diverse classrooms, struggling to adapt to a demographically diverse classroom. How will education change? How long will change take? And how much resistance to that change will we encounter on the way to a new, greater, education system in America.

When I went to elementary school in Ann Arbor, I was exposed to many different cultures, attitudes, and ideas. At a young age I grew comfortable with the idea of diversity and equality. The school also provided proper exposure to world religions, holidays, and customs. My elementary school was truly a product of the community it served. When we moved to Rochester Hills, Michigan, an ultra conservative town, for the first time in my life I experienced culture shock. The middle school I attended was predominately white. Families in the community were mostly Catholic churches, and religious variance was not a broad as in Ann Arbor. The schools reflected the town, which it occupied.

The curriculum reflected the determinism shown by concerned, vocal parents who did not favor reform. It was interesting seeing new, excited teachers come into the school, ready to change our narrow thinking, receive resistance not from the school board but from the students themselves. In classes that should glorify the experience from different backgrounds, they assimilated the once diverse students by stealing from them the pride they took in where they came from. Only later in my education did I receive teachers enthusiastic about other cultures but it was too late; the students repressed the richness of their culture from the pressures of social conformity and the possibility of ridicule. By no means is this behavior limited to my community, or to the United States. Lack of understanding exists throughout the world.

Maxine Hairston said, ”Real diversity emerges from the students themselves and flourishes in a collaborative classroom in which they work together to develop their ideas and test them out on each other.” Writing classes have always been under the most pressure to represent the school as a whole. Writing curriculums are the most observable and reflective of the students thinking. What a crime it is to not provide the tools and motivation for students to grow in their writing and to develop culturally. Andrew Dougless agreed with Hairston saying, “ A diverse classroom will expose the student to an array of varying opinions.” Andrew followed by explaining the imminent conflicts that would arise, but made a good point about how differences of opinion encourage inner reflection.

The key to developing tolerance and encouragement of other cultures is to promote positive influences for individual thinking. A good model for classrooms can be found in Reggio Emilia, Italy. They emphasize multiple perspectives and ways to communicate. They describe “the hundred languages of children” as the multitude of strategies for communication. They don’t limit a child’s expression to one language or one culture. Their program steps above written communication and dives deep into artistic expression with drawing, painting, construction, poetry, and music. The struggles of the writing classroom lie in the development of one’s ideas and the encouragement to express those ideas in the most effective manner. Exposure to art and culture expands one’s abilities to communicate on different planes.

My view of the benefits of multiculturalism in the classroom is not shared by all. Thomas Bray, an advocate of culture assimilation, shares, “…what works for America is a set if institutions, ideas, and values that trace deep into European- and particularly British- culture.” Bray reminds me of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” type of people. I don’t think our education system is broke by any means but requires constant evaluation and amendment. How can we grow as a society by limiting ourselves to one culture? Writing effectively is a wonderful way to communicate, but forcing it as the only way to communicate ideas competently can be dangerous.

Writing is a scary thing for me to do. My thinking, which, as a kid, was very far from the norm, only attracted negative attention. So I focused my writing on what I thought people wanted to hear, not what I really thought. My experience may be an extreme example, but throughout the years I have witnessed many students and adults insecure about their own opinions.

As much as I hate to say it, grammar plays an important role in effective writing. The problem I had as a student is separating grammar from content. My writing always seemed toned down, almost censored. To make a good grade I felt as if I had to change what I really thought to a more common and acceptable view. These conflicts that occur in all classrooms scare teachers away from open discussions and debates. Everyone has there own story and a teacher’s job should be to encourage them to share that story in an effort for other students to relate and learn from the experiences we all carry within.
You cannot standardize writing content or the ways people express themselves. You can grade grammar and teach techniques, but an opinion is an opinion. I didn’t know what in America that I could be proud of. Of course our individual rights and endless opportunities do go without saying, but is all America stands for the continuation of old ideas? I was told differently in school, but it’s not very evident in the people. Sure we protect some people’s rights here and internationally, but why don’t we encourage the ideas that originally made this country.

We have natural born rights and we exercise them everyday by being our own individual selves. Why not teach our children what is great in the world and show them what’s great in themselves. America lets you think on your own. Why only give them one side of the story? A classroom that encourages difference of opinion and listening to one another is the only way to find new ideas. A classroom that standardizes its students will only teach what it already knew. As we reach out globally who’s to say what’s right if you don’t know where you’re coming from? What helps to define us as a culture is found within all of the subcultures we host.

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