Educators have estimated that non-English language speakers comprise about 40% of school going children. This percentage represents an increase in miscellany of population in the US and an irresistible need in the educational sector to reassess the focus of education. Because the school age population grows larger annually, there is need to adapt the educational curriculum to fulfill the needs of diverse groups of students. This paper discusses multicultural content in education, with respect to the integration of Chinese American art education.
Importance of Multicultural Education
Despite a concrete and global definition of multicultural education remaining elusive, a significant portion of educators agree that multicultural education refers to a teaching and learning method, which exposes students to various cultures, social groups, and traditions, with an aim of helping the students have a better understanding of different cultures. Multicultural education in a typical setting should integrate bilingual education, which seeks to improve proficiency of non-English students in English, without interfering with the proficiency in their first language. Throughout the past decade, multicultural education has gained popularity due to the growing number of diverse student population.
Irrespective of the opposing points of view, multicultural education is an important issue faced by the American education system. According to Ballengee-Morris & Stuhr, snubbing multicultural education is almost similar to forcing non-American cultures to drop their cultural identities for the sake of fitting into the American society. Presently, many non-American cultures, including non-English speaking students, suffer from not being able to acculturate. In addition, snubbing multicultural education will deny most American students` knowledge concerning other relevant cultures. Without multicultural education, American school-going population cannot be exposed to other cultures.
Multicultural education has other benefits besides exposing American school going population to other cultures. The first benefit is that is creates equal representation in the educational curriculum. Educators understand that learning is simple when students can link it to personal meaning. Through multicultural education, students can create a personal meaning to various concepts. For instance, studying farming in the US examines the significant contribution of migrant workers, and studying jazz examines the contributions of African Americans.
Schools as a Melting Pot of Cultures
The debate concerning the importance of multicultural education remains sophisticated. As such, it is easier for people to ignore it instead of addressing it. Arguments against multicultural education have frequently created a fearful image or perception of a ‘melting pot’. The idea of melting pot equates the US to a giant pot housing every culture from all over the world. With the increasing number of immigrants, American schools have also become part of this melting pot.
According to Gay, most Americans are immigrants. The US is a preferable place for many people for building a better life. Some immigrants come along with their cultures. The culture of an individual refers to the beliefs and customs he or she deems important. Many foreign-born parents are enrolling their children resulting in a demographic bulge moved through the school system. This has resulted to an increase in the number of non-English speaking students in the US. According to a study conducted by Wang & Lin in Boston more than 40% of students speak a different language from English while at home. According to the opponents of multicultural education, the increasing number of non-English speaking students poses various problems to the US education system.
The main problem resulting from the cultural diversity in American schools is inability of non-English speaking students to learn, and communication failure between teachers and students. Stewart & Walker cited that students from non-English cultural language and backgrounds were underachievers. In the USA, English is the official language, which implies that it is almost a basic need to understand and communicate in English. Schools use English in teaching. Students from non-English speaking backgrounds might not be proficient in expressing themselves in English. In addition, the language barrier between students and teachers contributes to underachievement of these students.
Emergence of Chinese Students in US Schools
Chinese students have continuously flocked to US colleges in anticipation for a better education, prestige and greater opportunities. Studies have shown that about 157,500 Chinese people studied in the US colleges in 2011. This number accounted for a 23% increase from the previous year. A study conducted by the US Department Homeland Security revealed that only 65 Chinese students studied in American private high schools between 2005 and 2006. By 2011, this number has grown to 6,725 students by a factor of 100. This implies that the number of Chinese students in the US is growing faster than the GDP of China.
However, Chinese students face difficulties fitting into the American society, leave alone fitting into the US education system. The adjustment from Chinese culture to American culture can often result in fatigue, which in turn leads to isolation. According to recent studies about one in four Chinese students attending Ivy League universities drop out before graduating. In addition, the study also indicated that most Chinese students who graduate go back to China after University; the majority of them cited poor social skills as the reason for dropping out and returning to China after graduation.
The higher value placed on education by Chinese people seems to work against them when studying in the US. Most American students prefer entertainment and education almost in an equal amount. As a result, Chinese students might be treated as aliens who do not know how to socialize.
Besides the language barrier experienced by non-English students, Chinese students have continued applying for vacancies in the US schools. According to Marginson, the majority of Chinese students joining the US education system have spent several years in China’s demanding education system. In the Chinese education system, test scores measure performance. US school applications ask open-ended behavioral questions, and can be confusing or even unfamiliar to Chinese applicants. In the Chinese education system, obligatory paper samples and recommendation letters are out of context.
Differences and Similarities Between American and Chinese Education
The two education systems show differences and similarities in terms of the goals of education. China’s educational system, unlike the US one, emphasizes tests. On the other hand, the US educational system focuses on all aspects of an individual, including things like leadership, teamwork, creativity and hands-on experience, which Chinese students lack. Chinese students are accustomed to a lot of theory work and not hands-on work. The Chinese educational system seems to be theory-oriented. Many Chinese students attend graduate school immediately after undergraduate one, whereas many Americans seem to value the experience of the real world. As a result, most Americans would spend one year or two before deciding on whether to go to a graduate school.
The similarity is that both education systems teach English with a varying emphasis on its importance for future education. The Chinese education system requires everyone to be taught English in school, despite the non-English background of the country. According to Gay & Howard (2000), most Chinese believe that English and Mandarin will be the only two languages left on the Earth. The Chinese are taught English through high school. They are not obligated to study it in college, though it is optional for them to major in English, which is similar to the case in the US. However, unlike in the USA, they are not capable of minoring in it since there are not minor in China. Chinese educators did not see the reason why people would want to minor in a subject.
These differences and similarities explain the challenges experienced by Chinese students joining the American education system, and vice versa. A Chinese student joining the American education system is likely to underperform and fail to get a job since their education system focuses on theory. In the USA, a lot of theory, without real world experience, is useless. On the other hand, ignoring the effect of Chinese culture on the Americans, an American student joining the Chinese education system might excel. Real world knowledge combined with theory, which is the goal of the US educational system, is an advantage to the Americans.
Disadvantage of non-English Speaking Students in Education
Non-English speaking students exhibit deficiencies when communicating in English. A recent study conducted by Jenks, Lee, & Kanpol (2001) showed that some international students demonstrated little or no improvement of English language proficiency throughout the entire course of their university degree. These students struggle accessing academic support and understanding lecturers` accents and styles of teaching. According to Lee & Rice (2007), local students as well as international students from non-English backgrounds comprehend English grammar rules, but have problems applying them. The manner in which the educational system confronts these challenges of the language proficiency in the teaching model is critical.
Full-time employment is another challenge faced by non-English speaking students. Graduate studies provide a greater cause of concern. The US graduate survey indicates that non-English speaking students are more than twice to seek full-time employment as English speaking students. This equates to about 44% of non-English graduates compared with 16% English speaking students annually. Altbach & Knight (2007) point out that the gap is wider in engineering fields. Language command is vital to employment outcomes. Similarly, students from non-English speaking backgrounds have comparatively weak networks. Apart from qualifications, employability is also related to connections.
Integrated Art Curriculum in Both Chinese/ American Cultures
Both Chinese and American cultures should permeate the total education environment. Efficient teaching concerning these two cultural groups can best take place in a setting that accepts, encourages and respects the expression of each culture. In order to achieve this form of educational setting, the entire educational environment must undergo reformation. Teaching about Chinese culture in a few specialized courses might not be adequate. The content concerning Chinese culture must be integrated into several subject areas, preschool through 12th grade.
Educational institutions should have comprehensive, systematic, and continuing staff development programs. Teachers are significant variables of formal learning environment. Attention should be directed to the retraining and training of teachers and other professional educationists in order to create a multicultural environment that incorporates both the Chinese and Americans. Efficient staff development programs need to involve librarians, administrators and counselors from the two cultures.
The multicultural curriculum should also assist students develop and improve self-concepts. Both Chinese and American students in a multicultural setting should learn to feel positive about their identities, especially ethnic identities. For instance, the curriculum should acknowledge different talents of students and capitalize on them. All students need to have a feeling that academic success in the US is possible regardless of their cultural background.
For non-English students, teachers should design lesson plans, which consistently integrate the study of grammatical and vocabulary structures with concepts of the content areas. It is vital to incorporate language and content for three reasons. The first reason is that students tend to learn second language effectively when instructions integrate academic and social language.
With regard to classroom management strategies, teachers should design a classroom showing respect and appreciation of cultural diversity, including Chinese culture. This can be attained by decorating the classroom with items from other cultures. In addition, class labels should be in English and other languages in order to show appreciation for other cultures represented in the classroom. In order to integrate Chinese students, it is important to seat them next to their friend or near the teacher on purpose.
The teacher should also familiarize him/herself with the background information concerning students. This might also include knowing the number of years the non-English students have spent in their home education system, the level of literacy in English and first language, and their academic capabilities and weaknesses. Knowing such information is likely to assist the teacher in understanding the students and informing instructional practices.
In order to create a student-centered learning, assessments should ask open-ended questions. According to Ballengee-Morris & Stuhr (2001), open-ended questions seem to force learners to reflect and synthesize what they have learned. In addition, open-ended questions also demand that students use high order thinking.
Multicultural education is an important issue faced by the American education system. In the US, many non-American cultures, including non-English speaking students, suffer from not being able to acculturate. With the increasing number of immigrants, American schools have also become part of this melting pot. Chinese students face difficulties fitting into the American society, leave alone fitting into the US education system. Full time employment is another challenge faced by non-English speaking students, such as the Chinese. In order to eradicate these challenges, Chinese and American cultures should permeate the total education environment.
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