Diversity is defined as “the condition or quality of being diverse, different, or varied” (Oxford English Dictionary, 2003). Today, this concept has evolved to include elements of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic backgrounds and mental and physical disabilities. According to Banks et al. (2001), diversity is regarded as a desirable characteristic for any society, since the ethnic, cultural, and language diversity of its citizens enrich the nation.
The importance and occurrence of diversity in American society especially in the education system has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. During the 1950’s the definition of diversity was drawn strictly along racial lines. The implementation and existence of segregation policies not only embodied social attitudes, but it also ensured that the majority controlled all aspects of life. However, with the Civil Rights movements led by Dr. Martin Luther King, a series of momentous events occurred that would reconstruct the education system. “[The] Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) ended the chapter of American history of segregation under the separate but equal doctrine and initiated the concept of equity and integration” (Hendrickson, 2001).
The United States has become one of the most pluralistic countries in the world. It encourages and promotes the immigration of peoples form all walks of life. Immigrants regard America as an opportunity to pursue upward social mobility and economic prosperity. The success of their families rests in the hands of their children. Their assimilation is facilitated by their participation in the US education system (McDonough, 1997).
These marginalized groups have, within recent times, changed the demographics of the US. It is clearly illustrated by the composition of the classroom, “ White students still are the largest numerical group, but Hispanics and Asians are the fastest growing segment of the US population because of immigration and higher birth rates” (Ruff & Fritz, 1994). Despite the many perceived advantages of having a very diverse classroom, the disadvantages that exist are quite serious; therefore, “diversity is considered both an opportunity and a challenge” (Banks et al., 2001). Furthermore, the rate at which diversity occurs within a particular region is unpredictable. The diversity in any given state is difficult to determine and manage. This poses a problem in determining what type of educational programs and policies should be instituted. As such, it affects the effectiveness of the curriculum since the composition of the student body is not constant (Hodgkinson, 2002).
The disadvantages experienced by minority students in the education system
Moreover, the societal factors of poverty and geographical location affect the quality of education received by minority students. According to the US Population Census of 2000, an alarming 37% of all African American and Hispanic children live in poverty...