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Archived Content from Conference Held in May 1999 

Building on our Strengths:
Second International Conference on Language Teacher Education


Challenges of Diversity in Language Education

Eugene Garcia, University of California-Berkeley

It would seem useful to recognize that we are all walking in varied and diverse races and cultures. Moreover, diversity within each individual is as great as diversity between individuals and the many cultures and races they belong to or represent. We are all living with diversity, some of us more than others-but teacher escapes this challenge or its advantages and disadvantages. Historically, previous teachers like Plato and Aristotle differed vehemently on the value of diversity. Plato concluded that homogeneity among peoples in a nation state minimized political tensions and favoritism. Aristotle, his student, concluded that diversity fostered inventiveness and creativity as well as political compromises in a democracy. Today, within our borders, English First is passionately concerned that multilingualism will produce the next significant blood bath within our country while indigenous people and voluntary and involuntary immigrants mourn just as passionately the loss of their languages, cultures and racial pride. As this country and the world shrinks communicatively, economically, and socially our diversity becomes more visible and harder to hide. But it has been and always will be there. Our social institutions will need to address it more than in the past and of specific importance will be how our educational institutions help us address it successfully. At the core of our educational "treatment" of diversity are two presuppositions:

  • To honor diversity is to honor the social complexity in which we live-to give the individual integrity and where he/she develops as a human being a similar integrity.
  • To unify is absolutely necessary, but to insist upon it without embracing diversity is to destroy that which will allow us to unite-individual and collective dignity.

With this in mind, I will address several "tough issues" that our teaching colleagues and I are dealing with as we work within an educational framework aimed at equity and excellence:

  • How does one deal with diversity as an instructional resource in a set of institutions, public and private, which perceive racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity as a problem-too often focusing on needs assessments without a concern for asset inventories?
  • How do varied social institutions and their agents, particularly in our public education agencies, deal with the "new diversity?" That "new diversity," driven by continued waves of immigration and family mobility, collides in those agencies and either reinforces or creates racial, linguistic and national origin isolating situations which serve no student well.
  • In a society with high degrees of racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity, how must we address, in particular, the issues of educational excellence and equity?


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