School, cultural diversity, multiculturalism, and contact

Pagani, Camilla, Robustelli, Francesco and Martinelli, Cristina (2011) School, cultural diversity, multiculturalism, and contact. Intercultural Education, 22(4), pp. 337-349. ISSN (print) 1467-5986


The basic assumption of this paper is that school’s potential to improve cross-cultural relations, as well as interpersonal relations in general, is enormous. This assumption is supported by a number of theoretical considerations and by the analysis of data we obtained from a study we conducted on the attitudes toward diversity and multiculturalism of pupils attending Italian schools. Our research findings indicate that both teachers and pupils seldom perceive school as a place that can provide this positive and significant opportunity. Many of the difficulties in pupils’ relationships with culturally diverse peers at school coincide with, or are very similar to, the difficulties in their relationships with peers in general, thus supporting the assumption that there are some common basic motivations underlying the acceptance or the rejection of ‘the other,’ be ‘the other’ culturally diverse or not. Depending on the cases, cross-cultural relations among pupils at school can be characterized by empathy, curiosity, failed attempts or a dearth of attempts to get to know each other, indifference, resentment, envy, and rejection. Our results are analyzed within a theoretical framework which includes the concept of diversity, contact theory, multicultural ideology, and competitive lifestyles. Teachers’ roles in fostering pupils’ cross-cultural relations are discussed and several educational interventions aiming to develop acceptance of and interest in diversity, as well as empathy toward outgroup members, are suggested.

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