Culture

“Culture is a notoriously difficult term to define," writes Spencer-Oatey (2012) in her 20-page compilation of quotations defining culture (1). To discuss how mathematics educators can contribute to a more peaceful world, I begin by adopting Matsumoto’s (1996) view of culture found on page 3 of Spencer-Oatey’s work. Culture is “the set of attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviors shared by a group of people, but different for each individual, communicated from one generation to the next" (16). Because our culture surrounds us, it impacts many aspects of teaching and learning that dictate how we communicate, receive, and process information—whether we are aware of it or not. Multicultural education programs attend to these aspects in the curriculum.

Multicultural Education

Like culture, there are differing views on what constitutes multicultural education. My preferred view is that of a “multidisciplinary education program that provides multiple learning environments matching the academic, social, and linguistic needs of students" (Suzuki, 1984, p. 305). As such, it is an educational reform movement that is concerned with increasing educational equity within and outside the classroom for groups from different ethnicity, race, gender, exceptionality, religion, language, and age. Culturally responsive teachers are aware that being color-blind, as Linda was, is not an equitable pedagogical approach—au contraire, including students’ cultural experiences in rich tasks to stimulate their intellectual development is highly recommended by researchers as a strategy for increasing the achievement of minority students, as will be seen in this book’s profiles.

To help educators become aware of important elements of multicultural education, James Banks (1994) describes the concept of five dimensions of multicultural education. The first is content integration where the work or information about minorities is integrated into the curriculum. The second is knowledge construction where teachers help students develop critical thinking skills that may result from the examination of cultural assumptions and frames of reference in the readings. The third is equity pedagogy where teachers vary their teaching styles to accommodate more students through implementation of Standards-based strategies. The fourth is prejudice reduction, where teachers take action to help kids develop positive racial attitudes given that kids will enter their classrooms with prejudices toward different groups. The fifth dimension of empowering school culture and social structure requires that we examine school practices that may be racist, although not intentional (1). The teachers in this book model the first three dimensions in their interactions with students.

Why should there be a national school-wide focus on multicultural education? It would suffice to say, “Because it supports the right of every child to a quality education" and leave it at that. But, for those who are economically minded, given Census reports’ predictions that by 2050 the minority population will increase and surpass the current majority numbers, we must assure that minorities will be prepared to lead, guide, and support the nation.

 
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