Children: More Alike Than Different
By Carolyn Tomlin

In the early 1970’s I developed a pilot kindergarten program for a small rural town in the South. Most of my students came from Caucasian families who had lived in this same town for generations. No one came in – no one left. English was the only language spoken. Then one day the unexpected happen. An exchange family from Columbia moved to our town to teach Spanish at the high school. Within this family group was Eban, a five-year-old. I remember that first day when his father brought him to my room. Holding his father’s hand very tightly, he looked at me. He looked at all the strange faces. As silent tears dripped from his son’s eyes, the father left. I was alone with a child who didn’t know anyone, couldn’t speak English. Neither the children or myself spoke Spanish. It was not a good day. The following day, the father brought his child to my room again. This time he said,  “I think what Eban needs is a friend.”

I’ve often thought about this family. They were in our school system for two years, and Eban made many friends and mastered the curriculum as he gradually developed an understanding of the English language. And what was the turning point in Eban liking school? I seated him next to another child who was kind and compassionate to this South American boy.           

Yon Kim came to my kindergarten with his adopted parents who had been stationed in Vietnam. Dumping their trash one day, they heard a faint cry that seemed to come from a cardboard box. Looking closer, they discovered a newborn baby boy wrapped in a dirty blanket. The couple took the baby home and started adoption procedures to bring him out of the country when they would be transferred back to the United States. Yon Kim was a beautiful child with hair so dark it looked almost blue-black when the sun shined on it. Yon Kim’s birth father was an African-American, and his mother a Viennese. If Yon Kim’s mother would have kept the baby, her family would have rejected her. She had no choice. Therefore, she took the baby to the dump hoping someone would rescue him.            

Yon Kim knew very little about his homeland. But his parents, who had lived there, brought many artifacts to share with the class. Throughout the year our kindergarten class located Vietnam on a world map, learned some of the traditions of his people, and cooked several simple dishes from his native homeland – along with singing simple songs and playing games. This five-year-old boy enriched our classroom and made a difference in learning about other cultures.           

Later that year, an African-American mother and I were discussing what her child needed to become a successful learner. She said, “You know, all children are more alike than different.” In a simple phrase, this mother said it all. Children, regardless of race, culture or ethnic group – from all socio-economic groups, or levels of parental education – have the same basic needs. They need love, guidance, health care, shelter, education, food, and people in their lives who are willing to make a difference. And often, a loving, caring teacher is the most important person in a child’s life.            

As teachers and staff we must realize: All children are more alike than different.


A Changing Population

After remaining level through most of the 1980’s, the child population of the United States is on the rise. The number of persons under the age of 18 increased from 64 million in 1990 to over 67 million in 2000. Young people from the least well off demographic group form a growing segment of the child population. Black and Hispanic youth, which constitute about 27 percent of the current child population, will make up nearly 33 percent of the child population in the year 2010.           

African Americans are the largest minority group in the United States. This group is drawn from a diverse range of cultures and countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. From 1985 to 2000, the Hispanic population grew by 46 percent. The term Hispanic refers to persons of all races whose cultural heritage is tied to the use of the Spanish language and Latino culture. In recent years, thousands of young people legally immigrated to the United States, including Mexico, the Philippines, Korea, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica. (U.S. Children and Their Families, 1989).


Purpose of Multicultural Education

The world our children will grow up is changing. One fact for sure: globalization is here to stay. Preparing young children for multicultural success is an important part of the curriculum. Teachers need to focus on helping young children develop: 

·         A good self-concept and self-understanding of  all people.

·         Sensitivity to and understanding of others, including cultural groups in the United States and other nations.

·         The ability to perceive and understand values and behavior of other cultures.

·         Open minds when addressing issues.

·         Understanding of the process of stereotyping, a low degree of stereotypical thinking, and pride in self and respect for all peoples (Cortes, 1978).


Teaching Is Knowing to Whom You’re Teaching

Dr. Beverly Hearn, Jackson-Madison County School System’s coordinator for the English Language Learners (ELL) in Jackson, TN works with those who use English as a second language. As an educator, she believes the burden is on the teacher. “You should know who you’re teaching. Many non-English speaking families feel disconnected in our culture. It is difficult to converse when language is a barrier. All people want their children to do well in school, but they often do not understand school policies and rules. By making personal visits to the student’s home, you bridge the gap between the home and school. Through home visits, you develop a sense of trust and compassion. Parents and the extended family recognize that the school and family are working on the same level. Another aspect: when you see the conditions of poverty many non-English speaking families live in, you grow in your own understanding of yourself.”


Textbooks and Instructional Material

How teachers use textbooks and other instructional materials is extremely important in providing multicultural education. Teachers need to recognize subtle as well as blatant forms of bias such as invisibility, stereotyping, selectivity and imbalance, unreality, fragmentation and isolation, and language (Sadker & Sadker, 1978).           

When other cultures are underrepresented in instructional material, this omission implies that these groups have less value, importance, and significance in our society. Language bias occurs when materials blatantly omit such things as gender, disability, or ethnic group references.          

Connie Kawehi McHugh has developed a series of tools to help young children understand world geography and to expose them to new languages in the books, Matthew Traveled Around the World and Matthew’s Great Adventures. McHugh says research shows that preschool-age children possess a phenomenal ability to learn languages. In many foreign countries children study English as a second language by the age of eight. Americans families need to follow this course in teaching their children a second language at home and insisting that child care centers and schools follow this same example. Teaching a second language doesn’t always follow a formal approach. What words can you teach in a supermarket? A restaurant? Your home computer? Many opportunities exist to help a child cultivate valuable language skills.


Making Curriculum Multicultural

Teachers in child care programs should determine the microcultures that exist in the community and teach from a multicultural perspective. Take steps to ensure that cultural diversity and exceptionality are reflected in the curriculum. Does the text and illustrations portray ethnic and cultural diversity in a positive approach? Does the material help students develop pride in their own heritage? Locate material, information, and visual aids about people from other major cultures and people with disabilities. This information should be included as part of the curriculum in every subject area, regardless of how culturally diverse the community is (Gay, 1977).


Attitudes and Teaching Styles

Actions often speak louder than words. All students, regardless of their culture, deserve a teacher who is compassionate and kind, who helps each child reach her full potential, and brings a professional attitude to the teaching profession. How a teacher relates to multicultural students often determines the success or failure of these children.           

Teachers should consider different learning styles, including auditory, visual and kinesthetic. Studies show that teachers usually rely on the style in which they learn best. However, the children in your classroom may not learn best in this modality. Teachers should organize learning environments conducive to individual students' cognitive styles so that all students could benefit equally from teaching.


Positive School Climate

Child care centers and staff can make a difference in multicultural education for all children. How? By involving the entire community in your center. Invite parents, business leaders, and government officials – to get involved in your center. Ask people to talk about what their role in the community. How does their job contribute to the overall good of the people who live in the area? When all ethnic groups feel comfortable in your center, you will be sending a message to your students as to how you feel about their culture.



Our world is changing. We are becoming more economic and cultural globalize each year. By the time our young children of today graduate from college, most of the top careers will require a second language and knowledge of that country’s customs. As teachers we must ensure that those children we teach receive a multicultural education. We must realize that all children have the same basic needs, and truly, they are more alike than different.


Carolyn Ross Tomlin is the author of What I Wish It Hadn't Taken Me So Long to Learn, More Alike Than Different, and Teachers as Published Writers. As a former professor of education at Union University, she writes for numerous education publications and writes grants for non-profit organizations.



References and Other Resources

Cortes, C.E. (1978). Future will demand culturally literate citizens. Thrust for Educational Leadership, 7(3), 20-22. 

Gay, G. (1977). Curriculum for Multicultural Education. In F.H. Klassen & D.M. Gollnick (Eds.), Pluralism and the American teacher: Issues and case studies (pp.31-62). Washington, DC: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. 

Gollnick, D.M. and Chinn, P.C. (1991). Multicultural Education for Exceptional Children. ERIC Digest #498. 

McHugh, C.K. Matthew Traveled Around the World and Matthew’s Great Adventure. Music Fantasy Publishing. 

Sadker, M., & Sadker, D. (1978). The teacher educator’s role. Implementing Title IX and attaining sex equality: A workshop package for postsecondary educators. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 222 466). 

U.S. Children and Their Families: Current Conditions and Recent Trends. (1989). A Report of the Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, U.S. House of Representatives. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 314 158).