Author: Dena R. Samuels
ISBN: 13: 9780807755921
APA Style Citation
Samuels, D. R. (2014). The culturally inclusive educator: preparing for a multicultural world. New York: Teachers College Press.
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In The Culturally Inclusive Educator, Dena Samuels addresses how educators can create classrooms that welcome all students regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status or any other characteristic that may make some students feel marginalized in a classroom setting. Samuels acknowledges that most educators want to create a welcoming and caring environment for all of their students but can unknowingly create an exclusionary classroom that favors some students over others. This occurs when an environment caters to the dominant group. There is currently a mismatch between teacher`s belief in their ability to create an inclusive classroom and their ability to relay that message to the students in their care.
American classrooms are becoming increasingly more diverse, and by 2050 Caucasians will be a minority in the United States. Our world is becoming more diverse and lines between genders, races and identity are no longer defined by the binary standards that have historically been used. The challenges that instructors face are multi-faceted because the make-up of faculties often does not match that of the student population. Currently, 90% of all public-school teachers are white, and 40% of schools do not employ a single teacher of color (National Collaborative on Diversity in the Teaching Force, 2004). Not only does the faculty often come from different backgrounds than many of their students, but students’ peers are often not welcoming of diverse populations which can create a school environment which seems to reject those it is intended to help educate.
Nearly 100% of students (97%) report regularly hearing homophobic comments from peers and a 53% report hearing such comments from faculty. Clearly, these types of statements regardless of the group that is targeted can have long-lasting and detrimental effects of the success on the student who is targeted or who hears such comments. Some instructors feel that it is not their place to intervene when a student in class makes an inappropriate remark, but Samuels argues that this lack of action indicates to the students that the comment is acceptable and that the teacher will not defend those who may be hurt by the comment. The common reaction from students who were not defended by the instructor is to retreat from participation and vocalization in the classroom.
Even when comments are not intended to be hurtful, they can emphasize the students perceived differences. These comments or microaggressions such as asking a person of color, “Where are you from?” assuming that they or their family cannot be from the United States can lead students feeling marginalized. These types of interactions increase the likelihood of stereotype threat impacting academic performance, increases the risk for drop out and even potential self-harm as the individual devalues their own self-worth in the wake of repeated rejection from the larger culture.
Individuals from previously marginalized groups (i.e., LGBTQ individuals or veterans suffering from PTSD) today can often be more open about their identities, instructors must continually recognize that the classroom is in constant change. In order to allow all students, the opportunity to be successful, instructors must be considerate about the words they use and the ways in which they organize their classes. If, for example there is one student of color in a teacher`s class, this person should not become the sole representative for all issues related to their race. Instructors must be cognizant of the language they use and must be willing to intervene and correct students who may use language that is demining or hurtful to others even if it is unintentional.
Samuels provides a number of helpful tips to instructors but acknowledges that becoming more culturally inclusive will not happen overnight and necessitates continual effort and the willingness to learn from one`s mistakes. Samuels suggests that instructors begin by exploring their own background in an effort to identify their own bias and internalized feelings about certain groups. Because all of us have a gender, race, sexual identity, all of us will have opinions about others whether they have been adopted from popular culture or developed through our own experiences. Samuels recounts many instructors who claim to be “color blind.” In addition to the impossibility of such as statement, she advocates in favor of seeing and acknowledging color (gender, sexual orientation, etc.) because each of these are components that make up a part of the identity of the students in a classroom and should be acknowledged as a part of who that individual is but clearly people are complex this sole feature should not be their only defining characteristic.
Once the instructor has identified and acknowledged their own biases (this can be done in part by using the Harvard Implicit Association Test; IAT), they can begin the work of inclusivity by challenging these biases. Samuels recounts an interaction with a friend who was going through gender reassignment surgery. Samuels wanted to be supportive but accidentally referred to the friend by their former gender identity. Instead of simply ignoring the mistake, she apologized, and her friend was quite understanding. Without this acknowledgement, her friend may have believed that she did not support the gender change and refused to use the correct pronoun. In another conversation with a friend of a different race, she describes her friend saying, “I want you to ignore my race, I want you to acknowledge my race, but most of all I want you to be a trustworthy and reliable friend.”
Samuels argues that the acceptance of all students in a classroom is a component of each student`s identity. By issuing a large portion of one`s grade based on participation immediately provides an advantage to the extroverts in the classroom. Samuels indicates that teachers need to be more reflective of their practices in and outside of the classroom. Assigning students, a homework assignment that necessitates an Internet connection at home may exclude those from low-socioeconomic backgrounds who may not have a computer or the ability to pay a monthly fee, some students may not even have a home.
Physical space can also inadvertently cause students to feel like outcasts. African American students have been found to more actively participate in groups when seas are arranged in tables rather than rows. Transgender students often do not have a designated place in which they can use the restroom, and school cafeterias may cater their offerings to a dominant group. While none of these practices intentionally leave out a group of individuals, teachers and administrators need to think deeply about how to create inclusive spaces and the necessity to be open for feedback and the willingness to make necessary changes.
Samuels also touches upon faculty training programs intended to increase faculty awareness of culturally diverse issues. In many cases, faculty report feeling that they have a culturally inclusive classroom until upon learning more, they realize that they are not fully prepared to facilitate an inclusive classroom. This may indicate that after training, people actually report feeling less prepared which Samuels counts as a victory, as these faculty members realize the necessity of learning in an effort to create a more inclusive classroom. Samuels acknowledges that there will be mistakes and setbacks, but rather than count these as failures, we should embrace the mistakes and learn from them so that we make sure that as faculty members all students have an environment where they feel supported and in which they have the best possibility to thrive regardless of their personal characteristics and differences. She uses the words of Albert Bandura who stated that “Intention is a precursor to action.” By becoming more cognizant of the biases we may hold, we can become active advocates to create transformative change in classrooms across the country.
Other Related Resources
Teaching Tolerance: Speaking Up Without Tearing Down
5 Ways to promote Equity and Diversity in the Classroom
Equity Maps: An app to promote equal class participation and track student responses
Illinois State: Understanding Microaggressions
Microaggressions photo project student Kiyun Kim
Microaggressions in Everyday life
If Microaggressions happened to White people
Love has no Labels
Psychological Figures and Concepts
Harvard Implicit Associations Test (IAT)
Social cognitive theory