When hard monetary decisions lead to teacher layoffs, shorter school days, and text books being used yet another year, does it make sense to encourage a fluffy idea like multi-culturalism?
Research by Drs. Christia Spears Brown and Hui Chu suggest that, at least for Latino students, the answer is. “Yes.”
The Study of Latino and White Students
Brown and Chu looked at the experience of 204 Latino students with an average age of nine, in a predominately White community.
The students attended 19 schools in a city in the “Upper South.”
Only one school was predominately Latino, four were primarily African American, thirteen were mainly European American, and one had equal proportions of all ethnic groups.
During the course of the study, the researchers measured each student’s ethnic identity (positive or negative), perceptions of discrimination, student attitudes about academics, feelings about “school belonging,” and academic performance.
The school environment was assessed by measures of teachers’ valuing of diversity by means of the Pluralism and Diversity Attitude Assessment, which involved rating statements. The schools’ valuing of multiculturalism was rated by viewing posters and books on display.
Multiculturalism: The Results
According to the study, published in Child Development on September 11, 2012, Brown and Chu discovered that “[i]mmigrant children with teachers who highly valued diversity held more positive and important ethnic identities than children with teachers who devalued diversity.” They also found that “[a] strong, positive ethnic identity was directly associated with more positive academic attitudes.”
In other words, teachers and schools who provided positive messages about a student’s ethnic identities were associated with students who reported less discrimination, and who felt and performed better in the classroom.
Somewhat surprisingly, Latino students enrolled in schools with more Latino kids were more likely to perceive discrimination than Latino students in the other schools, although this effect was moderated by teachers who valued diversity. The study controlled for socio-economics, so poverty was excluded as a cause of this belief.
Decoded Science asked Dr. Brown about this, and she explained that, “Those children … who attended a mostly minority school, were more aware of all kinds of discrimination, from peers, from teachers, and from the community. This was especially true if their school seemed to ignore their diverse backgrounds. It seems to be that disconnect that affects kids. They are aware of being an ethnic minority at a school with many kids similar to them, but the school seems to devalue it. That disconnect, from what they see and what they school values, seems to make children acutely aware of discrimination.”
Dr. Brown also told Decoded Science that she believes “these findings are applicable to cities and regions that traditionally have been White and African American and are seeing a somewhat recent influx of Latino immigrants. In those areas, teachers are often not used to having English Language Learners in their classrooms and may be unfamiliar with the cultural backgrounds of their students.”
Ethnic Diversity and School Improvements: The Implications
Training teachers to be open and positive about ethnic diversity is a small investment that appears to have a big pay off, a golden equation in this era of belt tightening.
Brown, C.S., and Chu, H. Discrimination, Ethnic Identity, and Academic Outcomes of Mexican Immigrant Children: The Importance of School Context. Child Development, Volume 83, Issue 5, pp. 1477-1485, September/October 2012. Accessed September 12, 2012.