Myths and Misconceptions
Myth/Misconception 1: “My students are all White. I don’t really need to teach about diversity here.”
Response: In fact, it’s in places that are not as visibly diverse that students need explicit teaching about diversity as they may not have experiences that will counter their assumptions about people they perceive as different from them. It is important to uncover students’ (mis)conceptions about diversity and plan learning experiences that directly (and repeatedly) confront these misconceptions. Sharing literature about and from different ethnic groups is a good way to do this at any grade level. Because of their vivid illustrations, pictures books are a particularly valuable resource, even beyond elementary grade levels. Consult our list of multicultural children’s literature. [link to children’s lit section]
Myth/Misconception 2: “I am so afraid to make a mistake or offend someone so it’s better if I don’t try to teach about diversity at all.”
Response: It’s understandable to be nervous. After all, we care about our students and their families and don’t want to do anything to hurt or offend them. However, teaching for and about diversity is no longer optional. Our classrooms are increasingly diverse, and even if they aren’t, our students live in a world that is. They need to learn knowledge, skills, and open-mindedness that will help them be caring and critical-thinking citizens. There are many places teachers can look for help, starting with the people in their school. You could consider asking parents/guardians or community members to talk with you about questions you have. You might even ask some students, although it’s important to be careful not to assume that students (or even parents) are “experts” of their ethnic or cultural group, so be careful not to put a student “on the spot” during a lesson. They may not know, or they may not be in a position to share certain knowledge, such as sacred stories or lessons. Teachers’ associations often have materials that are available (and free) to members, and most regions have cultural groups or associations. These are all great places to begin your own learning about teaching for and about diversity in your classroom and school. Also consult our list of resources produced by teacher associations and cultural groups.
Myth/Misconception 3: “I don’t know anything about different cultures. I think only people of that culture should teach about it.”
Response: It’s good that you are cautious but we can’t wait for the teaching profession to become more diverse before we teach about diversity. It is all of our responsibility to do so and it’s in the curriculum we are required to teach. Your local multicultural associations and Indigenous organizations (such as Native Friendship Centres) are excellent resources for learning about other cultures. Most of these organizations are very happy to do a class visit. Other resources can be the local library, the RCMP and various non-profit organizations that deal with issues of diversity (such as poverty) and how they intersect with issues of ethnicity. You can also consult our list of resources for information about what and how to teach.
Myth/Misconception 4: “It’s better if my guest from a different ethnic group come dressed in ‘native’ attire.”
Response: You would probably not dictate to a guest outside of a multicultural topic their wardrobe choice so why would you in this case? Asking someone to wear their ‘native’ clothes or bring in their ‘native’ foods reduces their cultural identity to an item, and locks that culture into a time and place. Also, you may be asking someone to wear something inappropriate: imagine wearing an article meant for a desert country in the middle of a Canadian winter, or imagine wearing something of significance out of context – For example, we would think it odd to wear a wedding dresses while teaching! Often material expressions of one’s culture have a specific purpose, use, and rationale. So instead of asking your guest to wear something from “their culture”, don’t bring up clothing or other material expressions of their identity at all. If they ask you about this, suggest that they wear whatever they are comfortable wearing and ask them to bring whatever they feel provides an accurate glimpse of their culture. Also: if they do arrive in their ‘native’ attire, never refer to it as a costume.
Myth/Misconception 5: “All – or at least most – diversity in Canada is because of recent immigrants or refugees; it is foreign.”
Response: The fact is that the territory of Canada has always been ethnically diverse. The Aboriginal Peoples living on this land comprise many Nations with different traditions, languages and cultures. In addition to the diversity among Aboriginal Peoples, many non-English and non-French ethno-cultural groups have long histories in Canada, which should be incorporated into curriculum. Read more about the history of diversity in Canada.
Myth/Misconception 6: “It is enough for me to teach to the diversity that exists in my classroom or school.”
Response: While drawing on the experience and expertise of students, families, and local community groups in teaching about diversity can be a very positive thing and works toward including all students in learning environments (although remember the caution raised in myth/misconception #2), it is a beginning rather than an end point. All Canadian jurisdictions require educators to teach students about the full range of diverse peoples in Canada the curriculum, even if these groups are not represented in their current classrooms.
Myth/Misconception 7: I use multicultural books in my language arts class and I teach about diversity in social studies. This should be enough.
Response: First of all, that’s great! Any level of inclusion should be acknowledged. However, this approach to diversity stays at the ‘Awareness’ stage of the ARC model. To deepen your diversity education to ‘Recognition/Realization’ and ‘Critique’, look for opportunities to teach about diversity in other subjects too. Examples include notions of health, approaches to money and savings, and beliefs regarding the creation of the earth. You may also look for opportunities to ask more critical questions about whose values or beliefs are more prominent in society and whose values/beliefs have been excluded or marginalized. When teaching from this perspective, be careful not to infer that your way of believing is the norm and the rest are myths.
Myth/Misconception 8: I teach different cultures during a certain time every year (Multicultural Day/Black History/ Asian History…); this seems to be enough.
Response: Again, this is a great start to teaching for diversity. These designated months or days are important, and awareness is the first step in the ARC model of diversity education. However, teachers should also include culturally diverse examples even when diversity is not the main theme. For example, in a health unit about disease, you could highlight the life of baseball player, Lou Gehrig, who was a son of German immigrants. By providing examples of people of different backgrounds on a regular basis, you can help students understand and appreciate the diversity that is all around us. Consult our list of curriculum resources for more ideas.
Myth/Misconception 9: “Canadians from the majority culture do not have an ethnicity, they are neutral.”
Response: Everyone has a cultural location or ethnicity and that shapes the way we understand and act in the world. Culture is not primarily about the outward expressions like food and dress (although those are important), but it is the frame through which a person looks at the world. It is rooted in answers to basic worldview questions such as: What is the origin of the universe, world and life? What is the proper ordering of human relationships: men and women, parents and children, young and old, among people of various ability levels, social classes etc.? What is the proper ordering of human – nonhuman relationships: humans and the natural order, humans and animals, etc.? We do not often consciously think of these questions but we all have answers for them that shape the way we live in the world. The first step in learning about the worldviews of others is paying explicit attention to our own.
Myth/Misconception 10: “It is ok to teach about diversity but religion has no place in the classroom.”
Response: Religion is fundamental to the ethnic and cultural identities of most people in the world. It is impossible to understand the social world without including religious literacy. Teaching about religion is focused on understanding how religious systems shape the way people answer the worldview questions outlined above and how those answers are expressed in individual and collective behavior. This is importantly different from teaching religion in the confessional sense – to make someone a practitioner or better practitioner of a particular faith.
Myth/Misconception 11: “People are all basically the same, the focus should be on what binds us together, not what makes us different.”
Response: This kind of statement often arises from the fear that teaching about diversity might be divisive and the desire to promote harmony rather than conflict. Unfortunately, as University of Toronto professor Kathy Bickmore points out, it often results in superficial teaching that seeks to manage diversity rather than explore it. In the end this kind of teaching does not promote harmony because it fails to take seriously the real differences in worldviews between and among people and help them learn to wrestle with those differences in peaceful and productive ways. It is true that human beings share many characteristics such as the need for food, shelter, security, community, etc., but it is also true that there are often significant differences between and among individuals and groups. An important part of being citizens in a democracy is learning to understand those differences in complex ways and how to work with people who are different.
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