Help Students Reap Diversity’s Benefits

One-third of my daughter's kindergarten class is bilingual, speaking both Spanish and English, and 10 percent speak only English. Where do we live?

Texas? Florida?

No, Forsyth County, Ga., where, a little over 20 years ago, Oprah Winfrey did a special on white supremacy.

Two decades ago there were no African-American residents. Since then, this community's diversity has blossomed and all its residents have reaped the benefits. Now, with over 7,000 African-Americans living here and a growing Latino population, Forsyth County is one of the most financially successful counties in America and is considered a great place to raise a family.

This trend is not isolated.

The minority population is increasing throughout our nation. The “melting pot” image has been obsolete for some time. Furthermore, our globe, teeming with diversity, is becoming more and more a close-knit village, as technology allows people from different cultures to interact intimately and effortlessly.

Looking at the evidence, it is not difficult to understand why we need to prepare our students for a diverse world. It may be more of a challenge to answer how we do this. For our students to be able to successfully navigate a culturally diverse environment, they must be empathetic, humble and open-minded.

  • They need to be empathetic, so they can step into others' shoes, to see the world from another's viewpoint.
  • They need to be humble, to not see their culture or way of thinking as superior.
  • They need to be open-minded and willing to go outside their comfort zones. That will help them understand and appreciate differences in others.

There are some practical ways to fulfill these objectives. First, we must address our curriculum. It should teach about other cultures, the importance of equality and the necessity for empathy. In addition to books and our words, we must find actions that are relevant to our students.

For example:

  • Facilitate group projects which allow students to interact with peers outside their “comfort zone.” Emily Kissner did this successfully with her fourth graders as they observed tadpoles. In a matter of days it was more than just the tadpoles that were changing; students had begun conversing freely inside and outside their peer group.
  • Take advantage of all that technology has to offer and connect your students to people from other countries and cultures. This can be done via Twitter, Skype, Facebook and other social media.
  • Invite diverse guest speakers from different backgrounds to share with your class.
  • Conduct a Career Day which showcases jobs that require employees to interact with a diverse world. This could include corporations with offices in multiple parts of the world.

In the end, our students' lives are becoming more rich and diverse; our classrooms and curriculum need to do the same.

Sansbury is a middle and high school teacher in Georgia.