Diversity and Multiculturalism in the Rural Classroom

Beth Melton

The Colorado Teacher Evaluation Rubric asks teachers to "demonstrate an awareness of, a commitment to, and a respect for multiple aspects of diversity while working toward common goals as a community of learners." This is a laudable goal, and we can all agree that a respect for the diversity of humans is an important value for our students to develop. However, in our rural area, it can feel challenging to help students understand diversity (and even to fully understand it ourselves) when our classrooms often don't reflect a lot of racial diversity. I hear this question from administrators and teachers all the time, "How can I help students to appreciate diversity when my classroom is not diverse?"

Recently, I found an article from The National Association for Multicultural Education that helped me to better understand what the answer to this question might be. This article, "Relevant in an all-White school?" starts by dispelling some of the assumptions underlying this question:

Assumption 1: White people are a homogeneous group - In fact, there is a significant amount of diversity within White people's heritage, experiences, and languages.

Assumption 2: The target audience of multicultural education is people/students from racial/ethnic groups other than White people - In fact, multicultural education focuses on supporting equity and inclusion in a diverse and inequitable society: a goal that is important for ALL students, regardless of their race.

Assumption 3: Multicultural education deals only with ethnic/racial diversity - In fact, it is critical that multicultural education reflect many different dimensions of identity and difference including gender, sexual orientation/identity, class, age, religion, etc.

When we challenge these three assumptions, we can start to understand what a true "awareness of, commitment to, and respect for multiple aspects of diversity" really looks like in the classroom. The article then outlines a great set of classroom strategies for multicultural education in any classroom. These strategies include conversations and activities that can help students discuss and understand identity and difference. A few other great resources for classroom strategies include:

Critical Practices for Anti-Bias Education: Classroom Culture

Four Ways to Help Your Students Embrace Diversity

Can I be a Multicultural Educator in Math?

I Teach Science. Can I be a Multicultural Educator?