Multicultural education focus of new UOG publication

University classrooms around the world are becoming more like the highly diverse classrooms that prevail at the University of Guam. This trend has led UOG professors Thomas Marler and Seyda Turk-Smith to coauthor a journal article covering some of the unique features of teaching to a group of learners with a range of cultural value systems. “Dr. Marler is a horticulture educator, and learning more about how my psychology research can be put into practice in the horticulture classroom was a sincere motivator for me,” said Turk-Smith.

The article appears in a recent issue of Acta Horticulturae, a respected international journal that has been publishing high quality articles on horticulture research, education, and extension since 1964. Their focus was not to tout the way UOG approaches teaching, but to characterize several factors that are useful for understanding expectations within the context of each learner’s value system. “We felt that was the best way to convey constructive guidance to educators in other universities as they learn to adjust to a greater range of cultures,” said Turk-Smith. “We believe the utilitarian nature of the article is also timeless, and an educator who accesses the publication years from now will be able to glean just as much as an educator who reads it now when it is just off the press.”

The joint project was initiated when Marler was afforded the opportunity to review Turk-Smith’s former research. “Some of her articles really resonated with me, and helped me understand a lot about my own experiences,” said Marler. A white male reared in Korea and Guam as a minority, Marler dealt with a chronic discomfort during the two times he lived in the continental U.S. as an adult. “After returning to Guam both times I was able to look back and see that the values of the cultural majority from each community were forced on me in so many ways,” said Marler. “And that was the source of my discomfort when I was stateside.” According to Marler & Turk-Smith, the approach of using a one-size-fits-all way of interacting in a group setting is disrespectful of the minority members. Educators willing to understand what is different about multicultural groups will maximize the special advantages each culture represented in the classroom might bring to the learning process.

“Until I learned more about multicultural interactions by studying Dr. Turk-Smith’s earlier publications, I would have described Guam’s environment as one where we respect the values of others,” said Marler. “But now I realize it’s really a respect for the need of others to maintain integrity with their own values within the group setting.” According to Marler, those two concepts may seem similar, but in the classroom setting it’s a respect for the person’s learning needs as defined by their values that creates an effective educator.

“It’s always gratifying when synergy among our faculty leads to new accomplishments,” said UOG President Robert Underwood. “In this case it took the academic training and successful research program of Dr. Turk-Smith combined with the life experiences of Dr. Marler for this accomplishment to materialize.” The result is a highly pertinent article on teaching to a group of diverse learners, which is now accessible in a long-standing respected international journal.

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