Do I have to diversify my curriculum?: Why the answer is always yesNov 02, 2021
When it comes to diversifying curriculum, many teachers can easily feel overwhelmed. If you’re a first year teacher, you may have inherited a program without a lot of diversity. On the other hand, if you’re a veteran teacher, you may have eased into a routine that is comfortable and familiar, but you may be realizing now that there is room for improvement.
Diversifying curriculum is not as easy as simply singing a folk song in a different language or reading a story book with a character of color in it. When you go through the process of making your curriculum more inclusive and representative of more people, you have to also consider the “why” and the “how” of the process. Why are you singing this particular song or reading that one book? How does this story represent my students?
Windows and Mirrors
When some people talk about diversifying curriculum, many bring up the analogy of windows and mirrors. Some stories and songs are windows into other cultures different than our own. Others are mirrors that reflect our culture back to us; these are stories/songs that we see ourselves in. Both are vitally important to a classroom.
The school I teach in is predominantly white. If I chose only materials that were mirrors to my students, they would never experience any Hispanic, Asian, African, or other cultures’ music. On the other hand, if I chose only materials that were windows, my students might feel disconnected and not relate to what I’m trying to teach them. Students need both in order to be well rounded.
Is it necessary?
If you’ve read this far, I’m assuming you’re interested in diversifying your curriculum and are wanting to provide more opportunities for your students to engage with different types of music. I’m proud of you! Looking for resources is a great first step. However, if you’re like me, you likely know some people who think that all of the recent movement toward diversity, equity, and inclusion isn’t necessary. “But what I’ve been doing works!” “I don’t have any of those students in my class!” There are many complaints people might have, but I will tell you: It is absolutely necessary to change up your curriculum.
Even if your school is like mine and skews toward one type of population, whether that be race, socioeconomic status, religion, or any other defining characteristic, it is still important to be inclusive of everyone. If you only use one type of music the whole time, you are inadvertently telling your students that only that type of music is worth studying. Every culture has value, and they all deserve a place in your music room.
How do I start?
When I first started really getting into the idea of making my curriculum more inclusive, I first looked at my student population. As I said earlier, we are a predominantly white school; however, we are not all white. I have some Black, Hispanic, and Asian students. Knowing that, I took a look at the standards I needed to teach and what songs I originally used to meet those standards. I asked myself “why am I singing this particular song” and really tried to figure out its place in my music program. If it wasn’t truly valuable, I decided it could be replaced by something else.
When choosing new material, make sure not to choose it simply because it’s different. You should not make other cultures seem “exotic” or “weird.” In other words, don’t sing a Japanese folk simply because it’s from Japan. Make it fit somewhere naturally in the progression of your lessons.
With picture books, I looked through the ones on my shelf and took note of who I didn’t see. Like many teachers out there, I noticed that my shelves were filled with mostly stories with white boys as the main characters. Knowing that, I decided to order some new books that would show more diverse characters and highlight different types of music. A couple new favorites in my room are Your Name Is A Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and When the Beat Was Born by Laban Carrick Hill.
Diversifying your curriculum doesn’t have to be scary. Set your intentions and start small. Maybe you get a couple new books and incorporate just one or two new songs. That’s more than you had before! Any start is a good start. Whatever you do, make sure to always say yes to making your classroom more inclusive. Your students (and you) will benefit greatly from it!