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In the classroom

There are many ways of making the classroom a place of acceptance and of multiracial celebration. Cultural factors influence a student’s responses, such as how much eye contact he or she finds comfortable, how receptive he or she is to group learning strategies, or his or her style of dramatic play or story-telling. If and when there is a racial conflict in the class, deal with it; do not dismiss it.

Some suggestions

Children laughing Education can foster awareness and cultivate tolerance.
  • Teach your students how to recognize behaviour that may reinforce racism.
  • Study the stories of famous people who have fought against discrimination.
  • Study the contributions made by people from all parts of the world to the common stock of human knowledge and experience.
  • Introduce as much cultural diversity as possible into the curriculum.
  • Ask parents or other relatives or friends to help in this regard.
  • Invite people of other races or colours who are active in community work to speak to the class about what they do.

Discussing minorities

The concept of a “minority group” is confused with the concepts of “ethnicity” and often “race”, and when it is, earlier activities are relevant here as well. The term is a loose one, and has also been used to describe indigenous peoples, displaced peoples, migrant workers, refugees and even oppressed majorities. Often common to these groups is poverty. A minority group may cease to be a “minority group” if it becomes powerful enough.

The members of minority groups are entitled to their individual human rights, but they usually claim certain rights as members of a group as well. Depending on the particular group, these might include claims for cultural and political self-determination, land, compensation for dispossession, control of natural resources or access to religious sites.

Identifying some “minority groups”

Help the class develop a definition of “Minority group”.

  • Are they always in a minority mathematically?
  • In what ways do minorities usually differ from the majority or dominant population?

Brainstorm with the class a list of contemporary “minority groups”, starting with the local community. Be sure to include minorities based on class, ability, sexual orientation and other non-racial factors.

  • Do these minority groups experience discrimination?
  • In what ways?

Seniors students could eventually do case studies to find out about the size, location, history, culture, contemporary living conditions and key claims of specific minority groups.

  • What are some circumstances that create minority groups in a population (e.g. indigenous peoples, immigrants, refugees, migrant workers)?

Cultural identity/cultural diversity

Everyone has a cultural identity, of which they are often unconscious because it is so much a part of them. However, in countries with ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or minorities of indigenous origin, cultural identity often becomes a human rights issue, especially when a more powerful group seeks to impose its culture on less powerful groups.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child pays particular attention to a child’s right to his/her cultural identity. Article 29 guarantees a child an education that develops respect for his or her culture, language and values.

Article 30 especially recognizes the right of children of minority communities and indigenous populations to enjoy their own culture and practise their religion and language and article 31 recognizes a child’s right to participate fully in cultural and artistic life.

UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity emphasizes the link between cultural identity and diversity: "Culture takes diverse forms across time and space. This diversity is embodied in the uniqueness and plurality of the identities of the groups and societies making up humankind. As a source of exchange, innovation and creativity, cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature" (article 1).

Examine your own community

  • Are there cultural minorities?
  • Is their culture respected?
  • Do they participate freely and publicly in their culture, or are they expected to do so only privately or not at all?
  • Does your school encourage respect for the culture of minority groups?

Discuss

  • Why is the right to cultural identity so important?
  • Why is it important to preserve, develop and appreciate different cultures?
  • Why do dominant groups often seek to impose their culture on minority groups?
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