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Teaching courses with a global perspective

Education professor proposes new model for interculturalism in the classroom
September 27, 2010
Source: Concordia Journal

Education professor Adeela Arshad-Ayaz brings global policy-making to the classroom. | Photo by Concordia University
Education professor Adeela Arshad-Ayaz brings global policy-making to the classroom. | Photo by Concordia University
Teacher education programs across the country attempt to address the every-growing number of visible minority students in classrooms. Education professor Adeela Arshad-Ayaz argues for the growing need to encourage active citizen participation across cultures to “achieve the ultimate goal of greater social justice and equality for all students.”

Her teaching and research indicates that mere recognition of other cultures is not enough. Rather, students need to be engaged in active learning about local and global processes that create inequality and difference. To that end, she has developed a course for educators: “Diversity in the Classroom” that addresses some of the shortfalls of current strategies.

Classrooms contain over a third of students from visible minority groups, reflecting population trends. However, only about a fifth of teachers represent those same cultures and experiences.

Arshad-Ayaz believes while the current model seeks to promote understanding through greater knowledge of other cultures, it relies on the false premise that culture can be reduced to a monolithic entity, knowable through a checklist of characteristics The current framework leads to both the alienation of minority group students and the disengagement of students from the dominant group.

To begin with, she says, “Culture continuously changes, for example diasporic culture is very different” from that in the country of origin.

Furthermore, minority students in these classes, hearing such checklists, “tend to think, That’s not the person I am or know, and so it creates a disconnect for them,” she says. “They shut down.”

This approach, Arshad-Ayaz says, “…leads a superficial analysis of cultural differences without making any effort to look at structural inequalities or injustices in society … this results in confusion and misunderstanding… directing students to withdraw into mere political correctness.”

As an educator, she recognized a real difference when teaching courses where a global perspective on the relations between cultures was presented. She argues that “information about global politics, environmental issues, local, regional and global agreements and treaties that are linked to creation of social class, power, need to be an integral part of an intercultural curriculum.” The same students who disconnected in her diversity classes becoming fully engaged, to the point of approaching her in the hallways to continue the discussion.

“Students these days are well-informed, they have access to technology, they know about what’s happening in Haiti, in Pakistan,” Arshad-Ayaz says. “Analysis of global citizenship and global treaties helps students make connections between the macro and the micro and provides a better understanding of why worldviews are so diverse and different among peoples.”

The benefits are clearly demonstrated. “This perspective allows them hope and possibility and puts them in a position where they learn that the choices they make can have serious consequences for people and cultures in their society and across the globe.”

Ultimately, she says, students from both majority and minority groups become more engaged. “You get their attention, you get dialogue, and you get understanding.”

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