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Classroom Diversity: Beyond Race and Gender

The word diversity, especially as it is used in education today, has become a buzz-word that appears regularly in school mottos, mission statements, and informational packets.

What most institutions hope to communicate by using the word diversity is that they do not exclusively accept white students to their school or hire males only in their company.

In writing about diversity, I mean something more.

Yes, part of diversity includes the concepts of race and gender, just as it includes age and religion.

Yet diversity in the classroom can, and should, mean much more.

REFLECTING UPON DIVERSITY IN MY EDUCATIONAL JOURNEY

As I look back upon my 40-year journey in education, I see that it has almost always been diverse on so many levels.

While I did begin in basically a white classroom in MinneSNOWta, my next classroom was diverse with special learning needs. From there I journeyed to Mexico and taught in a multi-cultural school, Colegio de Americano, where I taught in English for half the day and Spanish for the other half of the day.  When I arrived in Texas, I taught in a multi-cultural, bilingual, generic special education classroom. It doesn’t get more diverse than that!

However, my years of interacting with students has taught me that diversity in the classroom extends well beyond the categories of race or gender.

DIVERSITY IN LEARNING STYLES

For example, there is the diversity found in learning styles. Not every student learns in the same way. Each one brings to the table a new perspective, a new way of seeing the world.

Equally important to diversity is the idea of multiple intelligences. Many schools tend to focus on logical-mathematical skills. But there are also spatial, linguistic, kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic intelligences.

When we limit this list to one or two ways of learning, we cut off the vast majority of students. (And yet we wonder why so many kids say they hate school and dropout rates continue to climb!).

Another important factor for diversity is that of personality. Some work better in groups, others alone. Some can generate ideas as easily as breathing, while others excel in carrying out the steps that bring that vision to life. You need the outgoing people just as you need the introverted. Each one is important.

Just as a body needs all its parts, so too does any successful, diverse classroom need to utilize the full range of its various students, as well as its teachers.

Unfortunately, many schools take too narrow a definition of diversity. Some do so by only focusing on the category of race, others by limiting the curriculum and teaching methods so that only the visual, left-brain learners feel comfortable and find success.

With the type of diversity I am suggesting, a small classroom of male kindergarten Hispanic students taking advantage of their diverse personalities, learning styles, and intelligences is capable of expressing more diversity than a large classroom full of varying ages and races who only complete worksheets all day long.

Just as a family can grow in richness from adding new members, so, too, can classrooms benefit from embracing diversity – and not simply national or racial diversity but from truly exploring and taping into the many unique gifts and traits each learner possesses.

May I challenge each school and teacher to increase their diversity, all without adding more students but by simply finding fuller expression of the hidden diversity already present. A classroom should become like a family unit in how it functions, where each member cares for each other, looks out for the needs of the other, and supports one another.

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jodycapehart@churchleaders.com'
Jody Capehart has more than 40 years' experience as a children's minister. She's the co-author of The Discipline Guide for Children's Ministry and the author of numerous other books. She currently teaches Sunday School at Stonebriar Community Church.