Tow days ago, I was invited to speak in a graduate class in the College of Education in USA, University of Central Oklahoma where I am studying my masters degree. The class is about early childhood and elementary education. The presentation I was asked to deliver is about dealing with diversity in the classroom and how children in Iraq dealt with violence.
I started speaking by referring to not consider the subject as the diversity in the classroom, people need to learn how to assert sameness. It is treating people as people that we need to learn, regardless of origins, color of skin or hair. To me, the word "diversity" is biased. It is an embedded confession that we are different. Moreover, Middle Easterns are sensitive about their culture and religions. Pinpointing the child as a Middle Eastern and treating him with this regards is likely to provoke cultural dispute and interpreted as an offence. Therefore, treating the child as equal as the others is the secret to successful conduct. In case the child showed slowness in academic progress, it is not because he is a Middle Eastern or Hispanic or African, it is an indicator of a problem that professionals need to deal with and it is his/her problem as a child.
It is acceptable to ask the child about his culture and to give presentation. I did this in my classroom when I taught Arabic at the University. Sharing culture helped me to learn and progress as a human being. However, treating the child on the basis of his culture is very wrong. I had two Middle Easterns in my classroom, although they were grown up man an a woman. They were treated as my students, judged equally as anyone else, graded equally and treated equally as any other students.
I also pointed out that Middle Eastern culture tend to get a little more personal than western culture. It is not a curiosity issue, but people really care about each other's lives and problems. They may ask how much you make, are you married or not, how old is your husband and the like. Teacher can explain that they don't like to answer these questions politely and patiently. Basically, the key to deal with awkward situations that are resulting from cultural misunderstanding is patience.
In terms of dealing with violence, I expressed my frustration that we, as Iraqis, use violence as an excuse for not progressing or working towards better future. This practice, personally costed me a lot. However, I am proud of the new Iraqi youth generation who is fighting violence by education, liberty and voice.
I was so glad to be given the chance to speak in this class. I felt like I made a difference. This is what I am looking forward to do the rest of my life; to build bridges among cultures based on sharing and cooperation.