Unfortunately, children are born with stereotypes and from an early age attitudes to groups other than their own can be influenced by examples of racist images and language that they witness in everyday life or the material they read. Children are smart and can quickly determine the type of language, culture and religion that is being practiced around them. Therefore, within the school environment it is important for all teachers to be aware of unintentionally displaying negative stereotypes through books or any other resources that they use.
Lynch, J. (1984) highlights some key points for schools to consider when choosing books for the classroom, in order to create positive role models for children from all cultural backgrounds. The author believes that correct books should avoid stereotyping and the reinforcement of prejudice by presenting members of ethnic minorities in centrally important roles in which the story revolves around, rather than taking a small token role.
He also believes that illustrations should not instigate bias in the form of obscure caricatures or the assumption that all persons from one culture dress identical, and the language used within the books should not be discriminating or degrading towards any culture in any way. Therefore, books with bi and multi-lingual texts will help children understand that there is more than one language in the world and will help children who speak several languages feel more valued as their home tongue is being acknowledged within the classroom. Subsequently,
When pupils have been introduced to the idea of stereotyping and have been helped to spot examples in selected texts, they should be encouraged to identify stereotypes in more general reading and to discuss them with others. (Saunders, M. 1982, p116) The development of language is an important factor in the multiethnic classroom. As outlined in the last paragraph, children will enter the learning environment with a varied and diverse knowledge of the English language. Some will be confident and fluent; others will need extra support and may find it hard switching from their first language to a second. It is for this reason that teachers must try to demonstrate the uniqueness of language, and bring language diversity into all aspects of children’s work.
To support language in the multi-ethnic school, teachers must develop situations where children have to talk. This can be achieved through thematic activities that allow children to draw on their own cultural experiences such as ‘where I went yesterday’ or ‘my family’ which will help children develop language skills through discussions. Hessari and Hill (1989) believe an excellent thematic activity is to have the children conduct a survey to discover what type of languages; accents or dialects are used within the local community. Once this is done children could plot graphs and use maps to determine where the language originated and how it originally became integrated into their society.
Other strategies to use around the classroom might include pairing children with differing language abilities and giving them tasks that involve using predictable pictures or objects and allowing the children to handle and explore them. (Saunders, M. 1982) this would lead children into using the same words to describe the materials. Ensuring that children have access to books in more than one language or audio stories in a variety of dialects can also help encourage language diversity.
However, if a school wishes to develop a sound multiethnic environment, strategies have to be in place all throughout the school and not just in the classroom. For instance during mealtimes, schools could acknowledge the possibility that not all children can eat ‘normal’ meals. Pork, beef, offal or even the way in which an animal has been slaughtered can be offensive to Moslem, Pakistan or Jewish children
Unfortunately, most schools have neither the staff, resources or time to cook kosher, Hallal or a variety of different meals every day however, providing a ‘special’ dish during different cultural festivals (Chinese food on new year etc.) followed by class discussions or assemblies as to why the food is prepared and eaten in such a way may help children with their understanding of that culture.
Another important issue that schools must address is the link between faith and clothing. A lot of cultures abide by the rules of their beliefs when they dress their children for activities outside of the home, including school. Though schools will always have a very strict dress code regarding uniform, teachers must understand that Sikh boys, for example, have to wear turbans and Asian girls may need to keep their arms and legs covered up in the presence of boys (Hill, D. 1976) If this is a possibility schools should consult the child’s parents and with permission allow their Asian girls time before asking them to change into a gym kit, and allow Sikh boys to wear turbans in the school colours.
Corridor displays throughout the school should also reflect Britain’s ethnic diversity. Posters, paintings and collages should be constructed using a wide variety of materials from around the world, and should display scenes or stories from all over the globe in which all cultures take part. Displays can also be labelled in a number of different languages along side English.
Sadly, no matter how hard a school tries; pupils will always be influenced toward a number of prejudices outside of school hours. If it is believed that certain pupils are bringing those prejudices inside the learning environment, and displaying them through racial bullying, schools need to establish a firm anti-racist policy to deal with any problems that arise. To aid the policy, racist bullying must be explicitly discussed in the classroom and there must be clear guidelines set out to children, for dealing with incidents.
If a pupil is reported to be displaying racist behaviour within the school, teachers need to remain calm and objective, and Talk through the incident with the parties involved. If the incident involves two pupils, each pupil should be listened to whilst an open mind is kept. Although full support must be given to the victim, younger children may not necessary understand what they have done wrong. If this is the case, remind the pupils that racist behaviour is any behaviour, which is perceived to be racist according to the schools policy. Finally, Make it clear to the child responsible why the behaviour was unacceptable and assure the parents of both parties are informed of the incident and the outcome.
In conclusion, it can be said that schools may face many problems and challenges when teaching a multicultural curriculum. Nevertheless, multiethnic pupils contribute to the life of the school in a thousand different ways during the course of the year. (Townsend and Brittan 1972) Regardless of their cultural status all children deserve the right to be fully educated, and all children deserve the right to be prepared for the type of bias’ and prejudices that may face them in today’s society. Sooner or later children realise that they are in a multicultural world. Surely it is better that they are taught this than find out for themselves.
DfEE/QCA (200) The National Curriculum, London, QCA. Hessari, R. and Hill, D. (1989) Practical ideas for multicultural learning and teaching in the primary classroom, London, Routledge. Hill, D. (1976) Teaching in multicultural schools, London, Metheun ; Co Ltd. Houlton, D. (1986) Cultural diversity in the primary classroom, London, B.T.Batsford Ltd.