Multiculturalism in the Classroom
As marginalized communities in the United States push to have their voices heard, it is essential that classrooms reflect cultural diversity and recognize differences in backgrounds, giving each student the chance to reach academic success. In the paper, Professing Multiculturalism: The Politics of Style in the Contact Zone” Lu expands on scholar, Mary Louise Pratt’s paper, Arts of the Contact Zone. Pratt’s paper advocates for the integration of contact zones, “a social space where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical power (Pratt 34), into educational environments to promote diversity. Lu takes this notion farther and argues for the inclusion of student driven discussions to use individual cultural differences as examples of world views. Though in theory, Lu’s intention to facilitate conversations and drastically change the education institution may help expand students’ understandings of cultures, if incorporated, contact zones could create an unpleasant learning environment. This negative atmosphere would prevent students from learning traditional writing techniques which would harm their qualification for future career opportunities.
Though the notion of bringing personal student discussions into the classroom may expand students’ world views may work in a utopian scenario, the reality of student driven conversations and analyses based on personal backgrounds could leave minority students feeling further alienated. Lu states, “This type of activity reduces the alienation students often experience” (457). Though conversations driven by diversity may work in a class room that is composed of a variety of cultures, it would not function the same way for classes that have a distinct majority culture. Unfortunately, though universities are attempting to diversify campuses, social areas are divided by race and poverty, resulting in classrooms with a dominating culture and few minorities. This makes it unlikely that a class room will have a range of students who are willing to discuss their background. Grobman shares this perspective and states, “Under the right circumstances, this approach could work in professional communication classrooms…However, we must be cautious of this approach in the contact zone, for Lu’s classes, unlike many others (including mine) are relatively heterogeneous. Thus, she can use student communication without singling out minority students” (Grobman 440). In classrooms where students share a similar background, many would share views on language which would limit the perspectives shared. Additionally, a classroom contact zone could create an uncomfortable environment that further segregates classrooms by forcing those few minority students to choose between exposing beliefs that do not fit in, and deciding to stay quiet out of fear, at the cost of their education. Lu’s approach to multiculturalism through classroom contact zones may result a counter-productive learning environment if incorporated into the wrong class room settings.
To avoid exposing student differences in a way that makes the classroom accessible, there are better ways to incorporate contact zones which will benefit everyone’s learning environment. Lu suggests that contact zones should be content based, meaning discussion and class material are generated by students. Unlike Lu’s proposition, Bizzell and Grobman approach incorporating contact zones into the class room by emphasizing integration into the course by redesigning the curriculum. This alternative shifts the perspective of contact zones suggests that they can be an approach to existing content rather than a means of generating it. Grobman suggests “incorporating multicultural content into professional communication courses in such a way that lends thematic unity to the course… In so doing, we wed race, class, and gender issues with rhetorical content and assignments” (Grobman 439). Grobman intends to incorporate multiculturalism into the classroom by carefully selecting content that matches the theme of the unit and provides well-rounded global perspectives. The selection of “theme” as the unifying factor will provide a focus on course content will prompt students to talk about assignments and readings rather than a particular minority student’s differences. Similarly, Bizzell also approaches contact zones through course material. She states, “I am suggesting we organize English studies… in terms of historically defined contact zones, moments when different groups within society contend for the power to interpret what is going on” (Bizzell 167). Her choice to organize the contact zone through history is an approach that, like Grobman’s selection of theme, will provide teachers and students with a starting point to begin the discussion of multiculturalism. These alternative techniques reveal that there are better ways to incorporate diversity and an understanding of cultures into the classroom than by putting individual students on the spot.
Though Lu’s interpretation stems from intentions of creating social inclusion and a more accepting world, her propositions would be extremely difficult to implement successfully into learning environments with a dominant culture. To incorporate multiculturalism into pedagogy, teachers must be willing to change their routine and syllabi. Unfortunately, Bizzell reveals that she has observed“faculty’s unwillingness “to depart from their specialized fields” (Bizzell 163). If teachers are not adapting their methods of teaching, contact zones are unlikely to prosper. Even if teachers were ready to introduce diverse material into their classroom, it is unlikely that they would be qualified to speak on every perspective from multiple cultures without adding their personal bias to the classroom. To assist teachers in making this leap, learning resources would have to follow. For multiculturalism to be introduced in every class, textbooks would need to determine how to include relevant and diverse cultural information into the curriculum. Though this would help teachers, “the reluctance of most of the major textbooks in the field to adequately deal with intercultural communication steps from its depth and complexity, the obstacles it presents to both the students and the teachers” (Grobman 437). Without text books following the trend of cultural integration into the classroom, students will lack resources necessary to understand course material. Cultural information is vast and because a single course could not manage to cover in depth explanations of each cultural approach to writing, it would extremely difficult to justify the decisions of which cultures to include in the curriculum.
Finally, along with potential benefits, it is essential to consider the consequences of incorporating contact zones into the classroom when it comes to students’ futures. Lu states, “I encourage each student to think about “life” in terms of how she has lived in the past, is living in the present, and envisions for the future” (Lu 453). I agree with Lu that adding multiple perspectives to the curriculum will help expand students’ world view, however, when thinking about the future, fear that the disregard for proper grammatical structure will limit students’ opportunities. Lu criticizes the focus on grammar and proper writing technique when he claims, “how to sound right becomes a “real” concern for my students” (Lu 446). Though traditional writing techniques should not be the only worry in a classroom, it should still be given attention to prepare students for writing college and job applications which care about grammar and punctuation use. Perhaps, less of an emphasis on writing technique would be more appropriate in a creative writing classroom, rather than every class. In attempt to change social standards and increase tolerance, students should be exposed to diverse perspectives, however, need to continue practicing writing technique because there are specific standards to meet outside of school.
Though Lu’s interpretation of Pratt’s contact zones is well intentioned, there are better ways to incorporate multiculturalism into the classroom which prevent individual students from feeling isolated from the majority. To begin making shifts toward promoting diversity, strategies to ensure teacher and textbook compliance would be essential to creating a cohesive classroom. Though difficult to implement, multiculturalism is worth including in the common curriculum because it challenges students to understand that there is are multiple ways to look at the world. That being said, traditional education should not be rapidly abandoned because this may leave some students unprepared to enter the workforce. To create a well-rounded learning environment, classes need multiculturalism in moderation.
Bizzell, Patricia. “‘Contact Zones’ and English Studies.” College English, vol. 56, no. 2, 1994, p. 163., doi:10.2307/378727.
Grobman, Laurie. “Beyond Internationalization.” Journal of Business and Technical Communication, vol. 13, no. 4, 1999, pp. 427–448., doi:10.1177/105065199901300403.
Lu, Min-Zhan. “Professing Multiculturalism: The Politics of Style in the Contact Zone.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 45, no. 4, 1994, p. 442., doi:10.2307/358759.