1993.5.23 METF: Hernando start appreciate diversity (Part 2)
Schools aim to infuse appreciation of diversity From Page 1 cials encourage all interested parents parents and community residents to attend. attend. More than language is at issue, said middle school supervisor Willie Stephens, who headed up the task force. Even children who speak English English fluently may have particular customs that people are unaware of and that may even get them in trouble trouble with school employees ignorant of their culture, Stephens said. For instance, in some Hispanic cultures it's disrespectful to look an authority figure in the eye. However, However, when disciplining a student, most teachers demand that the student student look them straight in the eye. "There are certain things so indigenous indigenous to a person's culture that so many people are just unaware of," Stephens said. Until people understand understand and accept these differences, differences, another generation of children children may be boxed into stereotypes they can't break out of, he said. Still, even with noble intentions, the term "multicultural education" conjures up considerable uneasiness among some groups, given the controversies controversies that have raged across the nation in its name. On college campuses, critics have derided it as a thinly veiled attempt to replace dispassionate academic academic scholarship with political dogma, to force students to tow the "politically correct" line and to divide divide Americans into hostile, "ethnocentric" "ethnocentric" tribes. At the public school level, anger over the multicultural "Rainbow Curriculum" sunk the superintendent superintendent of the New York City schools, after parents rejected its attempts to teach children as young as six the positive aspects of gay and lesbian families. But school officials here say multicultural education can cut itself itself free of political agendas and remain remain a positive force if people are open and focused about what they want to achieve. "I think the things got people in trouble originally is that they defined defined multicultural education very narrowly as ethnic studies African African history for African-Americans, African-Americans, African-Americans, Native American history for Native Americans, and so on," said Altha Manning, Florida's deputy commissioner commissioner of education. "But we're looking at it as global education, learning to live in this world and appreciate the differences differences between other peoples. The state will not dictate what districts must teach their students but give them room to incorporate multicultural education how they see fit. Manning said. State officials will assess their progress, though, she said. The key to making multicultural education germane and as apolitical as possible is making it relevant to the general lesson plan, said Don Kearn, an eighth-grade eighth-grade eighth-grade U.S. History teacher at West Hernando Middle School and a member of the task force. For instance, Kearn doesn't teach a separate unit on black American history. But during the a Chapter on the Civil War, he'll teach his students about such things as the Massachusetts 54th, a black unit that fought for the North. "I'm constantly conscious and aware of trying to incorporate many different people working class, women, different ethnic groups within the curriculum as possible," Kearn said. "Otherwise, what you wind up with is arbitrary, phony and fake and not only that, it's bad history." Deltona kindergarten teacher Missy Abbatiello, also a member of the task force, said it's possible to incorporate multicultural education in the early grades as a natural part of the curriculum. At Deltona, a teacher resource culture corner provides materials giving tips on how to incorporate cultural references into any discipline. discipline. For instance, a science teacher teacher can show pupils how famous foreign foreign scientists contributed to the knowledge people have today. "We're letting children know that these things came from different different places; they just didn't originate here in America," Abbatiello said. Infusing multicultural education throughout the curriculum will put an extra burden on teachers, Stephens Stephens acknowledged. It will require more in-service in-service in-service training and give teachers more things to incorporate into already packed schedules. "Will we be able to learn all things?" Stephens asked. "The answer answer is no. Will we still make mistakes? mistakes? Probably. But will we do a better job of being sensitive to all cultures? The answer is yes."