By Lucas Lundbye Cone & Diane Allen
We live in an era of unprecedented global movement. From internal migrants to conflict-driven refugees, international student mobility to transborder families, the complex nature of contemporary migratory patterns is transforming the demographics of societies across the world. In short time, these patterns have catapulted questions of migration, diversity, multiculturalism, and integration – corroborated, in many spaces, by increasing xenophobia, nativism, and racism – to the fore of public debates on the nature, cohesion, and future of our societies.
For practitioners, researchers, and policy-makers working in the field of education, the growing presence of debates on migration has posited a series of challenges to the notions of teaching and learning in un mundo de movimiento. In the context of educational systems conceived largely in the service of homogeneous citizen-formation, these challenges have initiated an urgent demand to rethink and readjust the assimilatory aspirations of schooling to better accommodate the societal changes of the 21st century. In which ways can schools prepare students for a world in which diversity and immigrant-origin statuses are the norm, rather than the exception? How can schools and teachers promote and foster the linguistic and cultural flexibility needed to fare in an interconnected world? And what role should schools – as unique spaces, on paper at least, of ubiquitous socialization – play in harboring and overcoming sentiments of nomadic alienation and pastoral fear of the Other?
Today, teachers around the world remain caught in systems of education centered on drawing out the linguistic and socio-cultural gaps in the educational prospects of immigrant-origin children. This deficit-lens is, as we shall discuss in this article, both empirically and pedagogically mislead. Against educational systems intent on perpetuating a story of immigrant-origin children as linguistic, cultural, and economic problems to be dealt with, we aim instead to present a metaphor for teaching that rethinks and reframes their presence as powerful resources for all students alike. In the words of Ulrich Beck and Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim, this metaphor assumes a stance of projective integration: What can our students only learn, think about, engage in, and discuss insofar as they, on the basis of difference, enter the classroom as a space to establish new, diverse, and politically open forms of connections?
Tending the Garden: The value of the Multicultural Classroom
Echoing the tenets culturally sustaining pedagogy, the notion of projective integration acknowledges that, in our present and future societies, multilingualism, global awareness, and cross-cultural communication skills will be increasingly linked to access and power for all students alike. At the same time, it encourages us to question how, then, we as teachers, community organizers, and after-school coordinators can realize the potential of projective integration as a form of multicultural education – and to do so without ignoring the rightful concerns about teaching a student body that may not speak the same language or understand cultural codes in the same way. The metaphor of a garden – while in no way new within pedagogical thinking – will serve to exemplify a tentative pedagogical approach to this difficult and timely question.
While concepts of differentiated instruction, learning dispositions, and tiered activities are well-known in educational literature, the modus of schooling in most contemporary education systems remains largely bound to assumptions of standardized outcomes, evidence-based methods, and conservative epistemologies. Caught within such systems of gross accountability and competition, teachers are often reduced to the role of a weeder: Operating on the basis of tests, their job is to remove or accommodate learning barriers to ensure that each student learns what he or she is supposed to be learning. From the perspective of projective integration, this incessant focus on outcomes curbs the notion that in a diverse society, there must also be diversity in how we think, interact, and learn.
As a first principle of the garden, teachers must therefore assume the position of a horticulturalist. Without ignoring that some plants tend to bully others through positions of power, while others make great companions to growth, they must reject society’s demands to consume only one type of carrots, tomatoes, or cucumbers. They must remind certain plants, through promoting diverse experiences of growth and interdependence, not to over-grow their peers. And they must be given the time it takes to tend to each plant’s uniqueness – and the space to convey this knowledge to their peers in the gardener’s house.
In a global education debate beset with promoting student-centered learning, the notion of teaching all students the same content has gone somewhat out of fashion. Yet as noted by Jan Masschelein and Maarten Simons, the call to appreciate individual learning needs should not be mistaken to legitimize the complete individualization of education. In a world of increasing heterogeneity, providing all students with an iPad designed to accommodate their individual learning trajectories simply ignores the fact that today, more than ever before, students will graduate to a future in which they must be able to recognize and navigate across manifold perspectives on the same issue.
As a second principle, the garden must therefore represent – either through the actual or theoretical presence of heterogeneity – a proving ground for establishing solidarity across roots, evil herbivores, and changing weather conditions. Acknowledging that all plants share the same sun to create photosynthesis, the community of plants must acknowledge growth as a shared experience that is manifested in different ways. They must learn to appreciate differences in a socially responsive and caring manner. Tending the garden on the basis of universal content – recognizing that all plants share similar sources of energy, care, and concern – provides an initiation to the shared experience of simply being capable to grow, only with different answers, with different outcomes, and in different tempos.
Within the framework of outcome-centered education reforms, in which certain forms of knowledge and learning are perpetuated as standards against which each student’s progress is measured, the socio-cultural understandings of students are often ignored or, at best, undervalued. In such rigid structures, where benchmarks and cognitive scores determine the order of the day, there is little room to explore the cultural, linguistic, and political roots of students. The lack of appreciation for such cultural richness in the familial and social backgrounds of students effectively reduces the opportunity of schools to bring forth and explore the variety of influences and differences in thought – and in values and perspectives – that create the foundation of who students are and strive to become. It also neglects another frequently cited function of schools, which is to prepare students for the real world. Well, the real world is multicultural.
Responding to the continued struggle to appreciate the cultural roots of each student, a third principle of the garden, then, is that gardeners, garden administrators, and garden counselors – as many already do – must take the time to understand where each plant is coming from. This understanding must account not just for each plant’s abilities, but also the history of their species and eco-cultural traditions. The gardener’s ability to connect with these roots plays an important part in determining how well each plant will absorb the nutrients from the world surrounding and presented to them: Creating a multicultural environment, through a dynamic curriculum of watering and fertilizer, sets the stage for plants to appreciate, negotiate, and even test their roots against their surroundings. In such a space, learning and growing come alive, and it is in this setting that we create independent, critical plants, able to draw on their long-tested resources in whatever forest grounds or garden they end up.
Teachers are the backbones of creating a supportive classroom environment. Their norms, standards of performance, values, and communication styles – always in interaction with the values and styles of the schools and political regulations in which they are embedded – set the tone for a healthy culture between the students in class. Yet in a competitive culture of performativity and tests, it is no wonder that many teachers perpetually struggle to find the space, time, and resources it takes to establish an emphatic and respectful classroom. Unreasonable workloads, constant comparisons, and an unhealthy propagation of teacher evaluations limit teachers’ abilities to intentionally intervene when members of the class face issues of demotivation due to poor performances, disengagement, discrimination, low self-esteem, or bullying.
Against the reduction of a healthy classroom culture to effective classroom management, the fourth and final principle of the garden is to reclaim the importance of the soil – the part that holds all plants and their manifold roots together. The soil is a shared source of nutrients for each plant; as any good horticulturalist will know, it is no easy job putting together a soil mix that is nutritious to the variety of plants it must serve, let alone match and move around the plants that are growing to create a supportive environment. And when a plant from a foreign soil stops by, such a system of mutual nurturing will not only benefit the newcomer, but also those plants that were already there, knowing where their sources of support are located. The organization of such systems cannot be decided from a gardening center hundreds of miles away.
You Don’t Need A Green Thumb
As a teacher, you don’t need a green thumb to tend respectfully, caringly, and holistically to the needs of the diverse existences that grow in front and with you year after year. Yes, it takes a willingness to pay attention to uniqueness while at the same time leveraging these idiosyncrasies within each lesson and in the classroom space itself. But as we have sought to illustrate, we believe – as do many of our colleagues for whom we write – that such attention and leveraging comes naturally if we acknowledge the radical potential of schools to prove, on behalf of their societies, that we are capable of living and creating a future together on the basis of our geographic, cultural, linguistic, and epistemological differences.
Naturally, we are not oblivious to the important differences in the conditions of a child whose family has fled from bombings in Syria to a White child in the US of upper-class European background. We argue, however, that the difficulties arising from such differences are the product of a pedagogical, not empirical, misorientation in many popular debates on education and immigration. Just as the plants in the garden, it takes both time and resources to ensure that students learn to talk with and respect one another – despite the fact that they won’t end up the same place, be measured on the same scale, or learn things in the same way. From complex linguistic understanding to cross-cultural communication skills and awareness, we must focus our attention to acknowledging the things we can only learn because we share a space in which the presence of Arabic, middle eastern folktales, and Syrian cultural practices is seen as an asset to everyone in the class. By 2050, when more than every third child in the US is expected to grow up in an immigrant household, and non-Hispanic Whites no longer constitute the majority of school-age children, we can only hope that such thinking has shifted from the exception to the norm.
For gardeners who wish to embark on this journey, start with some of the links listed below; they provide excellent resources to include some of the principles we have discussed in your classroom curriculum, culture and practice. Above all, never forget that a single tiny seed may, someday, germinate to become a mighty and powerful tree.
Guides to Creating a Multicultural Curriculum:
Four Approaches to Multicultural Curriculum Reform:
Lucas Lundbye Cone is a PhD student at the Danish School of Education. He earned his MA in Comparative Education at UCLA GSE&IS. His research examines the global privatization movement and its detrimental effects on the integrative potential of public education.
Beck, U., & Beck-Gernsheim, E. (1994). Individualisierung in modernen Gesellschaften Perspektiven und Konrroversen einer subjektorientierten Soziologie. Riskante Freiheiten—Individualisierung in modernen Gesellschaften. Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag.
Harry, B. & Klingner, J. (2007). Discarding the Deficit Model. Improving Instruction for Students with Learning Needs, 64(5), 16-21.
Masschelein, J., & Simons, M. (2013). In defense of the school. A public issue. Leuven: Education, Culture & Society Publishers.
Meier, D. (1994). The Power of Their Ideas. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Orellana, M. F. (2016). Immigrant Children in Transcultural Spaces: Learning, Language, and Love. New York, NY: Routledge.
Paris, D., & Alim, H. S. (2014). What Are We Seeking to Sustain Through Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy? A Loving Critique Forward. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 85–100. https://doi.org/10.17763/haer.84.1.982l873k2ht16m77
Passel, J. S., & Cohn, D. V. (2008). U.S. Population Projections: 2005 – 2050. Pew Research Center: Social & Demographic Trends, 1–49. Retrieved from: http://pewhispanic.org/reports/report.php?ReportID=85
Suárez-Orozco, C., Gaytán, F. X., Bang, H. J., Pakes, J., O’Connor, E., & Rhodes, J. (2010). Academic trajectories of newcomer immigrant youth. Developmental Psychology, 46(3), 602–618. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018201