Important Considerations in Teaching Multiculturalism: Civic values and the study of civility

The anthology of readings, titled, Educating diverse learners, edited by Linda Orozco (1998) reprinted the article, “The art of deliberation: Schools and their diverse populations,” by Victor C. Parker, originally printed in 1997 in “Educational Leadership,” as a useful tool for guiding educators in how to nurture civic values within the classroom and answer Plato’s question, “Are there not some qualities of which all citizens must be partakers if there is to be a city at all?”    In his article, Parker gives us a point of reference in John Dewey’s work as Dewey sought to clarify this issue in the early 1900’s.  

Dewey contrasted public school life with what would be considered a gang.  He defined a gang as being a group that was held together for the ingrown purposes of ‘defense, offense and crime,’ reducing interaction with the larger society.  In building a positive multicultural climate within our classrooms we should analyze whether or not civility is growing and conversely, bigotry diminishing. Parker suggests three helpful steps to take, 1) finding ways to increase interactions between students who have cultural differences within the classroom, 2) think through together ways to overcome friction between peoples and openly discuss these points of friction whenever they enter into the core curriculum and 3) teach the higher skill of academic deliberation based on sound references versus ‘blather’. 

Skills that should be focused on in teaching deliberation include two-way conversations, practicing the understanding of differing points of view, and using opportunities to discuss multiculturalism not as a soapbox for one-sided declarations, but rather as a platform on which to build a common ground.       P. M. Forni, cofounder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project has published a book, entitled Choosing civility: The twenty-five rules of considerate conduct (2002) as a guide to promoting civility in our society.  The word civility comes from the Latin word, civitas, which means city.  In Forni’s definition of civility he includes four points 1) civility is complex, 2) it is good, 3) it has to do with courtesy, politeness and good manners and 4) it is an ethical consideration.  When asked to list notions that are related to civility, students in Forni’s class repeatedly include kindness, the golden rule, fairness, decency, lending a hand, peace, honesty and tact and he further includes the ideas of being good citizens and good neighbors.   Forni states that in today’s multicultural world two aspects of civility, respect for diversity and the ability to come to an understanding of our common humanity are crucial for the future of our civilization.