R. Reese, Cal Poly Pomona (Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Education: Summer 2001)




The complexion of society is changing. The constant migration of immigrants to our metropolitan centers has made "Making Diversity Work" one of the most crucial topics on national agendas. How to make diversity work in an increasingly multicultural society is one of the biggest challenges for many nations. The magnitude of the problem is captured by the international media. Headlines of racial polarization, racial bias, racial insensitivity, and hate crimes recur with alarming frequency. Today, educators are groping for strategies to deal with these dire problems. This paper will discuss the proactive-interactive human relations approach as a strategy to mitigate ethnic tension in urban schools. More specifically, it will highlight the Colorful Flags Program as an example of this approach. Today, this Los Angeles-based program has serviced approximately 130,000 K-12 students in seventeen school districts in California. This program has also been implemented in police departments, hospitals, and various other organizations.


In March of 1991, an African-American teenager named Latasha Harlins walked into a South Central Los Angeles convenience store and got into a tense argument over a bottle of orange juice with the Korean-American merchant. The clerk shot Harlins fatally in the back. This tragic incident, which partially involved miscommunication, increased ethnic tension in Los Angeles. In 1993, as a second year doctoral student and Presidential Fellow at the University of Southern California's School of Public Administration, I responded to the Harlins incident and the 1992 Los Angeles Riots by creating theColorful Flags Human Relation Module.

This program uses human relations statements and specific cultural facts to reduce ethnic mistrust and stimulate cultural curiosity. I developed the following cross-cultural training materials for this program: a program guide, phonetic cards in twenty two languages, audio tapes, an eight minute introduction video tape, a twenty seven minute educational video tape, an eighteen minute short film, and a board game. Today, this program has serviced approximately 130,000 K-12 students in seventeen school districts in Southern California. This program has also been implemented in police departments, hospitals, and various other organizations. In 1996, The Los Angeles Human Relations Commission endorsed the Colorful Flags approach as one of its seven recommendations to stem racism and anti-immigrant sentiment in Los Angeles. I developed the Colorful Flags Human Relations Module in August 1993 as an experiment in multicultural education.

In this century, two significant movements were responsible for the development of multicultural education in the United States, the Civil Rights Movement and the Ethnic Studies Movement. The Ethnic Studies Movement grew out of the Civil Rights Movement. Its objective was to teach different groups about how race, class, and gender influence their present society (Grant and Ladson-Billings, 1997, 10). Multicultural education has traditionally revolved around two premises. The first premise is that multicultural education should enhance the self-esteem of those students who represent the nondominant group. The second premise is that students representing the dominant group should be sensitized to cultural differences and varying historical perspectives (Carlson, 1997, p.64).

The multicultural education movement was lead in the 1960's and the 1980's by individuals such as James Banks, Lawrence Stenhouse, Christine Sleeter, and Carl Grant. Their objective in this movement was to reduce prejudice, eliminate sexism, and equalize educational opportunities in the school environment. Proponents of multicultural education argue that schools should play the primary role in promoting cultural pluralism and diversity (Spring, 1995, p.25; Webster, 1997, p.3).

Over the years, multicultural education has been presented in various forms. Each form has invariably given rise to criticisms. The debate revolves around how much multicultural education reform is sufficient. Opponents of multicultural education such as Arthur Schlesinger (1998) insist that this agenda undermines national unity. He states that multicultural dogma “replaces assimilation with fragmentation and integration with separatism...it belittles unum and glorifies pluribus” (p.21).

Contrary to Schlesinger's argument, proponents of multicultural education suggest that schools have not gone far enough in transforming the curriculum. They suggest that schools need more engagement in critical pedagogy—an approach that enables students to understand ethnic differences and intersections (Carlson, 1997, p.64; Spring, 1995). Banks (1993) suggest that schools have done an inadequate job of providing students with valuable multicultural education experiences.

The literature review in this paper will briefly examine a continuum of antiracist education approaches that have been used to build cultural bridges in schools. This continuum, based on the work of James Banks (1993), has been modified to examine levels of proactive participation. I define proactive participation as curricula that encourage students to proactively engage cultural learning. I have placed the human relations approach at the far right side of this continuum because I consider this approach as the most effective at encouraging students to proactively participate in cultural learning. Elements of this approach are necessary to curricula that seek to effectively build cultural bridges in schools. The Colorful Flags program is a model of the proactive-interactive approach. This paper will discuss the philosophy of this program. It will also discuss the results of the evaluation of this program.


The Multicultural Policy Continuum

Mainstream-centric One-Shot Additive Ethnocentric Social Action Human Relations



The Mainstream-centric Approach

In the United States, public schools were originally structured for a homogeneous group of children with a common culture, common values, morals, ambitions, parental expectations, and so forth (Siccone, 1995, p.xiii). This approach to school was in line with the overall approach to socialization that is consistently referred to as the "melting pot." According to Banks (1993), this curriculum that puts emphasis on the experiences of mainstream of society at the expense of emphasizing the cultures and histories of other ethnic, racial, cultural, and religious groups is detrimental to both dominant group and minority students (p.195). As a result, students from the non-dominant culture suffer from overt and covert discrimination. This type of subtle socialization can indeed lead to underachievement, low self-esteem, self-doubt, and self-fulfilling prophecy among minority students (Salend, 1998, p.48).

The One Shot Approach

The one-shot approach to cultural learning in the schools is characterized by giving scanty attention to ethnic heroes and the "exotic" elements unique to a particular culture. Derman-Sparks refers to this approach as the "tourist curriculum." Students who are engaged in the "tourist curriculum,” eat hot tamales and burritos and learn to count in Spanish on Cinco De Mayo (a Mexican-American holiday in May), or they make a field trip to the local "Chinatown" and eat in a Chinese restaurant. Many criticize the "tourist curriculum" as being patronizing because it emphasizes the exotic differences between cultures and trivializes the multiple dimensions of a particular culture (Carlson, 1997, p.65, Derman-Sparks, 1989, p.7).

The Additive Approach

The additive approach espouses the "addition of content, concepts, themes and perspectives to the curriculum without changing its basic structure." It allows educators to "insert" material without tampering with the basic curriculum (Banks, 1993, p.201). This approach favors the isolation of the multicultural perspective over integration of this perspective. This process insulates the multicultural perspective from the rest of the curriculum (Carlson, 1997, p.65). The additive approach shares several limitations with the one-shot approach. Because this approach does not involve restructuring, transforming and reconceptualizing the curriculum, the curriculum is usually presented through one lens. This is the lens of the dominant culture (Reese, 1997, p.19).

The Ethnocentric Approach

Ethnocentric education has been one response to the mainstream-centric curriculum. The ethnocentric approach attempts to diminish the influence of “eurocentric hegemonism” in schools by focusing on the dynamic contributions of a particular ethnic group. This approach embraces the premise that students who are indoctrinated in and exposed to the rich accomplishments of their heritage will be proud, motivated, and self-confident. Proponents of this approach suggest that a nondominant centered perspective will increase the consciousness of students and compel them to look at the world from a different viewpoint. Critics suggest the concept of the “other” is a serious omission in the ethnocentric approach (Spring, 1995, p.9).

The Social Action Approach

The social action approach requires students to analyze, critique, and question. The "social action" approach goes far beyond the dimensions of the one-shot approach and additive approach.. It has a broader multicultural perspective than the ethnocentric approach. The main focus of this approach is to empower students to become more reflective and critical of what is being presented to them. Moreover, this approach empowers students to become active participants of social change questioning existing ideologies, institutions, and practices within the country. This curriculum promotes and understanding of social problems and ways for improving social conditions (Grant, Ladson-Billings, 1997, p.10). According to Paulo Freire (1970), schools should adopt curricula that incorporate critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy heightens students' consciousness and exposes them to the social, political, and economic realities of their environment.


The Colorful Flags program integrates the human relations philosophy into its approach. One of the fundamental goals of this program is to reduce ethnic mistrust. The research of social psychologists Gordon Allport (1954) and Kenneth Clark (1963) have made significant contributions to our understanding of prejudice in individuals. Allport's assumptions are derived from cognitive development theory. Clark's assumptions are derived from theories of social psychology. Nevertheless, these two psychologists reach some of the same conclusions on the impact of prejudice on the "self-concept" of children. In short, a prejudicious society has a devastating impact on children who are objects of this treatment.

As Grambs (1960) states, children do not "just naturally" like each other. They learn a lot about other groups and individuals in the process of growing up, and much of this learning does not necessarily lead to liking and trust. The deliberate education of the child about him/herself and others is one of the primary responsibilities of the educator. "Such learning cannot be left to chance" (p.1). The goals of the human relations approach are to promote self-respect and respect for others in society. Sleeter and Grant (1993), two leading authorities on intergroup education, have identified several human relations approaches.

TheGroup Process can be defined as the "use of the group to educate its members" (Cook and Cook, 1954, p.243). Human Relations educators are proponents of the use of heterogeneous groups (i.e., racially mixed, sexually mixed, or mixtures of both special education and regular students). Group process strategies encourage proactive cultural learning. Students are put side by side with other students who are in some way different. By using this strategy, educators can take advantage of cooperative learning strategies and the positive aspects of the team concepts.

The use of committees and work groups is common in many of the "human relations" approaches (Taba, Brady, and Robinson, 1950). This approach encourages teachers to construct manageable groups of small sizes for the students to feel comfortable. Teachers are also encouraged to be very meticulous and careful about the way they construct these groups.

The Shattering Stereotypes Model (modified by Siccone, 1995, pp. 133, 135) is to help students recognize and analyze the myths of stereotyping, become aware of forces that influence stereotyping, and learn to relate to people free from the limits of stereotypes. A class is divided into small discussion groups (six to eight members). A "Shattering Stereotypes Worksheet" is then distributed. The students are instructed to complete these worksheets and discuss their individual responses with their small group.

In the Team Games model, students are divided into heterogeneous groups (Slavin, 1986). This approach capitalizes on the competitive spirit offered from a team. If these cooperative learning groups are constructed with a careful heterogenous mixture of students, students will be put in a situation in which they are required to help, seek help, encourage, and seek encouragement from people who are ethnically different from them.

The Vicarious Experience and Role Playing model is also an effective human relations approach. Cook and Cook (1954) described vicarious experience as "an experience in orwith, rather than reading about," (p.291). It is the element of "contact with" which makes vicarious learning and role playing powerful methods of cultural learning. Direct, face to face scenarios and contact encourages proactive cultural learning. This learning is not passive; it requires the active engagement and participation of students.

All of the approaches mentioned in this section have been classified by Sleeter and Grant (1993) as human relations approaches. All of these approaches have elements that call on students to be interactive. "Contact" with others and "empathy" for others are the objectives of these approaches. The proactive-interactive approach takes the "interactive" concept of these human relations strategies and builds on it.

The Proactive-Interactive Approach

The proactive-interactive approach builds on the foundation of “contact theory,” which suggests "That contact between people—the mere fact of their interacting—is likely to change their beliefs and feelings toward each other...If only one had the opportunity to communicate with the others and to appreciate their way of life, understanding and consequently a reduction of prejudice would follow"(Amir in Sampson, 1999, p.237).

Perhaps Amir's interpretation of the “contact hypothesis” is too simple and idealistic. According to Allport (1954), several conditions are needed if intergroup contact is to reduce rather than exacerbate prejudice. These conditions include equality of status, institutional support, and a sense of common interests and common humanity.

The proactive-interactive approach shares some of Amir's simplistic assumptions of contact. It assumes that Person A will be receptive to Person B engaging them in their language (see Figure A and B). However, the evaluation of the Colorful Flags program supports this assumption (see evaluation results). The proactive-interactive approach assumes that the neat classroom setting does not represent the reality of the world, especially in an ethnically tense community.

How is the proactive-interactive approach accomplished? Two methods are used. One is the providing of information, specific facts about another culture. The other is the conversation stimulus, including phrases in another language. These phrases encourage those of different groups to engage one another actively. Once the student engages someone from a different ethnic background, communication barriers are then broken down. Each of the participants is empowered. Perhaps one person is teaching and the other is being taught, but everyone involved in the dialogue is learning.

This approach is not a one-shot introduction of knowledge nor is it merely an additional ethnic unit. It arms students with an instrument to use at school, at home, on the playground, and in the community. The proactive-interactive approach encourages students to incorporate learning about other cultures into their daily lives, in school and out of school. Hence, the language phases and cultural facts learned in the school setting will enable the students to start intelligent conversations and engage others from different ethnic backgrounds. It will also enable students to diffuse potentially hostile situations (Reese, 1997; 1998).

The Conversation Stimulus

For instance, a sixth grader might be sitting at a bus stop in one of our cities next to a gentleman from Russia. The student has learned how to say “Hello. How Are You Doing?” in Russian. The student has also learned that Moscow is the capital of Russia. Now this sixth grader is armed to actively engage the gentleman sitting next to him.

Student: Excuse me Sir, I notice you have a slight accent. May I ask where you are from?

Gentleman: Why sure...I am from Russia.

Student: Zdras vyta. Kak dela? (Hello. How are you? [in Russian])

Gentleman: (With a look of surprise and delight) How did you learn to speak Russian?

Student: I learned it in school.

Student: Are you from the capital city, Moscow?

Gentleman: Why certainly....how do you know about Moscow?

“Being aware of timing can often make the difference between a successful engagement and one that produces ill feelings, antagonism, and misunderstandings” (Samovar, Porter, and Stefani, 1998, p.255). If the timing is right, and if it is done in a nonpatronizing context, this exchange will empower both individuals. It will be a mutually beneficial conversation in which both participants engage each other by continuously asking and answering questions. They penetrate the “Bubble of Mistrust” (see Figure A and B). The more “cultural facts” we know about our neighbors and people in our communities, the better equipped we will be at penetrating the “Bubble of Mistrust.”

I have pleasantly surprised individuals from China, Ethiopia, Russia, Yugoslavia, Japan, The Netherlands, Egypt, Israel, etc. by knowing something about their language and their culture. The fact is, people feel good when you know something about them and their culture. People feel validated and appreciated that you have taken time to learn something about their culture. According to Samovar, Porter, and Stefani, (1998) Positive verbal behavior can encourage feedback. Cross-cultural communication is a continuous feedback loop. Successful communication takes place when each participant is willing to engage in the feedback loop to improve the quality of understanding (p.262).

The Question of Language

Language is extremely important in human interaction because it is how we make contact with our environment. It is impossible to separate language from culture. Language distinguishes one culture from another (Samovar, Porter, and Stefani, 1998, pp.122-125). In the proactive-interactive, language is also used to empower bilingual students. This approach pays attentions and puts emphasis on the original language of bilingual students. The proactive-interactive approach enables bilingual students to shed their inhibitions about speaking their home language. When these bilingual students are encouraged to use their home language, they feel liberated and empowered, as they lose their inhibitions and are prompted to teach their peers their home language.

Indeed, a curriculum coordinator, stated after participating in a Colorful Flags assembly, "when you focus on the human relations statements of the different groups the kids from those groups really come alive...they get excited...it's like they've been let out of a straightjacket." The proactive-interactive approach states to the bilingual students that they should not be ashamed of their home language, but on the contrary, they should be proud of their home language and celebrate and share it with others.

As Darder (1991) states, "giving attention to the home language raises it to a place of dignity and respect, rather than permitting it to become a source of humiliation and shame for bicultural students" (p.102). Schools should therefore create cultures that encourage the use of home languages. Although the focus on languages as an instrument for cultural learning is good, it should not stop there. The discussion of language should be complimented with critical dialogue that explores serious issues of cultural differences and stereotypes.

The proactive--interactive approach enables teachers to learn something very specific and pertinent about the culture of each of his/her students in his/her class. This knowledge will consequently be used as an instrument to empower each ethnically different student. By verbally saying something (or gesturing in ways) relevant to the student's culture, the student becomes comfortable, indeed feeling as if the teacher understands and is a part of him or her. By using the proactive-interactive approach, the teacher personalizes the curriculum. Hence, this approach enables students to develop positive self-esteem. It enables the students to feel good about themselves and their culture.

Validating Students

How do we validate our students? How do we empower our students?

One day when I was first developing the Colorful Flags program, I visited an elementary school in Montebello, California. This school was participating in the program. The teacher introduced me when I walked into the classroom and the students seemed excited that I had come to visit. I walked to the front of the class and asked how many of them knew how to speak English. They all raised their hands. I asked how many of them knew how to speak Spanish and about 80 percent of the class raised their hands. I asked how many of them knew how to speak Armenian and only two students raised their hands. I asked one of the two students to join me in the front of the class. I asked him if he could help me teach his classmates how to say “Hello. How Are You Doing?” in Armenian. I asked him if he could say “Hello. How Are You Doing?” to them in Armenian. He was shy but nodded his head yes and proceeded to say “bah rev, vont –sess?” (Hello. How are you doing? in Armenian). I knew some Armenian and the words “vont-sess” seemed unfamiliar to me. So I attempted to correct him by asking him if he meant to say “vontsz eck?” His response was “I would say `vontsz eck' to you and `vont-sess' to them.” This third grader had just taught me the difference between the formal and the familiar in his language. His peers followed him around for the remainder of the day asking him how to say statements in his home language. They were no longer laughing at his accent and his differences but became curious and intrigued about his culture.

In all of the political science courses that I teach at Cal Poly Pomona University, I give each student a Colorful Flags phonetic card (see cards, p.20). These classes have “cultural learning” sessions onceper week for about twenty minutes of class time. Each student in my class is responsible for learning something specific about a particular culture and learning human relations phrases in the language of that culture. Their responsibility throughout the quarter is to teach their classmates these human relations phrases and cultural facts. In the first session, students teach each other the greetings in twenty-one languages. During the second session students learn “What is your name?” in the various languages. In the third session, the students learn “Thank You” and “You're Welcome.” In the fourth session students learn “Please” and “Excuse me.” In the final session, students learn “Good-Bye, Have A Nice Day” in the various languages. In each session, students teach each other new cultural facts from the culture they have been assigned.

Moreover, because of the heterogeneous make up of my classes, there will often be students in class who will laugh and correct the pronunciation of their peers. Students that are from a particular background being discussed will elaborate on or clarify the cultural facts. For instance, a Vietnamese student will not only correct the pronunciation of someone chosen to speak his/her language but he will also teach the students what is formal and informal, what should be stated to a child vs. an adult, a friend vs. a stranger. If someone is discussing Vietnamese cuisine, this student will invariably make a comment that adds to the richness of the discussion. In my course evaluations, this exercise is consistently mentioned as a highlight of the course. The students from the different ethnic backgrounds feel validated. Students from the dominant American cultures e.g. Whites and African Americans feel enlightened and enriched by this experience.

The Original State of Ethnic Relations

The original state of ethnic relations in our society is mistrust (Reese, 1996, 1997). Ethnocentrism prevails because individuals see themselves as part of the “in group” or the right group. They see others as the “out group.” Ethnocentrism is in-group favoritism that is the source of cultural identity. When we think of prejudices, we think of negative biases towards individuals or groups. Prejudices are unjustified evaluations (Sampson, 1999, p.4; p.168). Problems regarding prejudices and racial insensitivity in our society will not magically solve themselves. These problems must be aggressively confronted. This is the fundamental philosophy of the proactive-interactive approach.

Let us assume that Person A and Person B (in Figure A). are sitting next to each other at a bus stop. Person A happens to be West Indian and Person B happens to be Chinese. They both live in the same community in a major city. It could be London, Paris, New York, or Los Angeles. They have been sitting at the same bus stop for an entire year and they have never spoken to each other. In fact, they feel quite uncomfortable sitting next to each other. They look different, they dress differently, and their mannerisms are different. They both assume that they have nothing in common and nothing to talk about. Mistrust exists in the space between the two individuals. No one tries to reach out to the other. No one tries to penetrate the space where mistrust exists. Neither individual wants to proactively engage the other.

If these individuals are forced to sit close to each other, the level of discomfort increases. Among other things, each of these individuals is insecure about their knowledge of the other person or the other person's culture. After these two individuals part company, the state of mistrust remains in its original position.

One might say that two people from the same ethnic background might not speak to each other at the bus stop either. I agree with this point. However, it is less likely to be due to mistrust. These two individuals are more likely to acknowledge each other's presence with a greeting, a nod, a smile, a comment about the weather, or maybe even a conversation, than the two individuals in the first scenario. The two individuals in the first scenario do not make eye contact with each other and their body language suggests that they are uncomfortable. This discomfort is derived primarily from each person's mistrust, insecurity, or lack of knowledge of the other person's culture.

In 1996, I wrote a play about the above scenario, “Bus Stop Soliloquy.” In 1999, this play was produced by Emmy-Award winner Saul Landau as the short film “Life Ain't No Crystal Stair.” The play/film is about two young men in college, one is an African American and the other Korean. They have been sitting at the same bus stop for one year. They have never spoken. The audience is exposed to what each of the two individuals is thinking. Rigid stereotypes about each ethnic group are revealed when these two individuals think aloud through soliloquy.

The Korean gentleman begins to intern at a local YMCA. His mentor is a 60 year old African American who has a doctoral degree in civil engineering. He retired as a university professor to make a full time commitment to the community. As the Korean gentleman's supervisor and subsequent mentor, he breaks down many stereotypes that the Korean gentleman has held about African Americans. The African American gentleman experiences a near fatal accident. The person responsible for rehabilitating him is a Korean nurse. She exposes him to Korean culture and ancient Asian therapeutic techniques. Through this experience, he gains a deep appreciation for Asian culture and its contributions to society. Ultimately, the two young men speak to each other and realize that they have more in common than they could ever have imagined.

The objective of the play/film is to stimulate candid dialogue by exploring a wide range of stereotypes and misconceptions about different ethnic groups. Indeed, it is a pedagogical tool used to raise the consciousness of its audience. It was written to highlight the “Bubble of Mistrust” between two ethnically different individuals and strategies to penetrate this bubble.


An incident that happened to me as I was implementing the Colorful Flags program in the schools showed me the value of my new approach to overcoming the original state of ethnic relations. One day in the summer of 1994 I went to pick up my car at a repair shop in South-Central Los Angeles. I asked the mechanic, an elderly Korean-American gentleman, if he had serviced my muffler. “Yes” the mechanic said. I asked him had he serviced my transmission. “Yes” the mechanic said. The next thing I said to this gentleman brought tears to his eyes. I looked him in the eyes, I put my hand out, and said, “Comop sin me dah,” which is “thank you” in Korean. At first his mouth dropped, and then his eyes watered. He had never heard an American, let alone an African America, attempt to speak his language. It was not my perfect pronunciation that bought tears to gentleman's eyes, nor was it my perfect syntax or grammar. It was the attempt. It was the effort of trying to reach out to him, to show him I cared about him and his culture, through the most intimate vehicle we know, which is language.

This experience showed me that being able to speak a few words in someone else's language is a powerful tool. It is a tool that I strongly believe can break down ethnic mistrust. More importantly, this experience infuses the process of self-perpetuating learning (see Figure C). Using my experience as an example, I learned something simple about another person's culture. I use it. I empower someone else while empowering myself. I internalize this positive feeling. This makes me want to learn more. Because of the self-perpetuating learning process, I have learned to speak a little bit of twenty-two different languages in approximately three years.

The Colorful Flags program is a proactive-interactive approach to bridging cultural differences in schools. It is a human relations module that involves multilingual workshops geared to children, teenagers, and adults. The program has been shown to make a significant difference in reducing ethnic mistrust and increasing

Today, diversity is said to be valued; however, what is diversity if an individual cannot even cordially say “Hello” in another's language? Language is at the core of who we are as individuals. The Colorful Flags program states that it is not good enough to be just bilingual in a multilingual setting. Rather, it teaches students the following five human relations statements in the five most spoken languages in their school's community.

Human Relations Statements

1) Hello. How are you doing?

2) What is your name?

3) Thank you/You are welcome.

4) Please/Excuse me.

5) Good-bye/Have a nice day.

Along with the statements, the Colorful Flags program teaches secondary school students cultural facts about various countries, such as capital cities, geography, foods that are eaten, and positive historical facts. The countries discussed in this module are identified as the five most prevalent cultures/languages in each school's community.

Click Here to See Phonetic Cards

The specific objectives of this program are to:

While this may seem simplistic on the surface, the consequences of knowing how to communicate such basic social etiquette can be tremendous. The death of Latasha Harlins was, in part, because of miscommunication. Hundreds of thousands of simple social transactions occur each day, whether on the bus, in the market or shopping mall, at a restaurant or in any of a variety of other settings. People who have good intentions but lack the language to express that intent can easily find their actions misconstrue, with tension, suspicion and even tragedy as the result. The minimal amount of time it would take to learn these phrases in languages common in a particular community is well worth the gains in possible understanding (Reese, 1996, p.76).

The Colorful Flags program uses language as a passionate and intimate instrument to reduce mistrust and stimulate cultural curiosity. The program suggests that language is a powerful instrument to show people we respect them and their culture. What matters is not perfect grammar or syntax; instead, it is the genuine effort to learn something about other cultures and the sincere attempt to use what we have learned.

Hence, in an effort to say “Hello” to a Japanese person, one may say “Konnipsiwa” when the proper word is “Konnichi-wa.” If the Japanese individual stops to correct the speaker's pronunciation, then that is the “hook;” in other words, dialogue has taken place. Lack of dialogue is a universal problem. This problem persists in every corner of the world. The philosophy of the Colorful Flags program is that if individuals can start to dialogue, they will have a far better chance at understanding each other.

This approach allows students to learn in a manner that is fun and exciting. It builds upon the natural curiosity of people young and old. Students start to listen actively to the sounds and intonations of different speakers to try and identify the language they are speaking. Students observe the dress of different groups and become conscious of the origins of last names such as Kim, Yamaguchi, and Chen.

Furthermore, this process represents positive discrimination. It allows students to become sensitive to the particular nuances of each culture. Hence, if a student identifies a neighborhood grocer to be of Korean heritage, the student can greet the grocer in Korean. The student will also be conscious of the cultural dynamics of Koreans. He/she will be aware of the public distance, social distance, and the intimate distance when interacting with Korean individual. He/she will be aware if hand to hand contact in the exchanging of money is appropriate. By being knowledgeable and sensitive to the cultural nuances of each group, the student can better understand different individuals before condemning them as “weird,” “mean,” or “crazy.”

Once students become intrigued with learning about different cultures, they gain a great deal of respect for those differences. Hence, when an American student hears Chinese cohorts speaking Mandarin, the student is not mad, offended, intimidated, or annoyed, but rather, curious about what they are saying, and wonders if they will teach him/her.


In an effort to reduce "ethnic mistrust" and to increase "cultural curiosity," 1,500 first to fourth grade elementary school children in the Montebello Unified School District and the Los Angeles Unified School District were introduced to the Colorful Flags Human Relations Module. Six elementary schools from the Montebello Unified School District (Greater Los Angeles region) and one elementary school from the Los Angeles Unified School District participated in the Colorful Flags program, housed at the Center for Multiethnic and Transnational Studies, at the University of Southern California.

I met with the Superintendent of the Montebello Unified School District. In this brief meeting, I presented the Colorful Flags program to her. I stated that I would like to use schools in her school district for a "pilot study." I contacted this Superintendent because she was an alumnus of the University of Southern California, hence, potentially making her more amenable to a program developed at this university.

She sent a memo to approximately twenty of her elementary school principals. Six of these principals responded by saying they would like to have me come out and present the program to them and their faculty. I presented the program at each of the six elementary schools for these teachers. The responses to the program ranged from excitement to skepticism. Each of the six principals made this program voluntary for their teachers. Fifty-eight teachers from these six elementary schools in the Montebello School District voluntarily signed up to participate in this program.

There was one elementary school that participated in the program from the Los Angeles Unified School District. I chose to include this elementary school in the pilot study because of the proximity of this school to the University of Southern California (across the street). I presented this program to the principal of this school. She invited me to come to a faculty meeting in which I presented the program to the elementary grade teachers of this school. The principal did not make this program mandatory for her teachers. Indeed, she confided in me that the program would not work if she made it mandatory to her teachers. Six teachers from this school signed up to participate in the program.

In all, sixty-four elementary school teachers were given Colorful Flags curriculum packages. These packages included a curriculum guide, Colorful Flags audio tapes containing "human relations" statements, phonetic cards containing "cultural facts" on the back, and access to a twenty-seven minute Colorful Flags video tape. Out of the sixty teachers and 1,500 students who were initially introduced to the program, twenty- four teachers and 665 students completed the five month module.

The strength of this evaluation is also its fundamental weakness. Because teachers volunteered to participate in the program I encountered the methodological problem of "self-selection." Maybe the teachers who chose to participate in this phase were teachers who were already motivated to reduce "ethnic mistrust" and increase "cultural curiosity." Those interpreting the results of this evaluation need to be sensitive to this limitation.

The questionnaires (see Appendix A) given to the teachers and parents were on a Likert-type scale with "strongly agree" on the left hand side of the continuum and "strongly disagree" on the right hand side of the continuum. Because of the large population of Latino students participating in the program, the parent questionnaires were written in English and in Spanish.

The questionnaires (see Appendix A) for the students were dichotomized into "Yes--No" responses. A third response "I Don't Know" represented a neutral response. Along with the structured questionnaire, the teachers were also given a sheet, which simply had the following label: "Suggestions, Personal Notes, Anecdotes." This form gave the teachers an opportunity to reflect on her/his classes' participation in the program and to express their thoughts regarding this program. The questionnaires presented in "Appendix A" of this text are the exact questionnaires that were given to the teachers, students, and the parents of these students.

Program Guidelines

The teachers were instructed to create an environment of excitement. They agreed that the elementary school students would be initially excited about the chance to learn different languages. However, the teachers were instructed to try to sustain this excitement by creatively teaching the five basic "human relations" statements.

Because the alphabet was different in a few of the languages represented in the different school districts, the project was based solely on oral exercises. Hopefully, this would encourage students to learn how to write the different characters of Korean, Farsi, etc. This was encouraged to be done independently of this project. Although the correct pronunciation of a phrase was not the most important component of this program, the teachers were asked to concentrate only on the phonetics of each statement.

Teachers were advised to designate a particular phrase for a specific month. For example if November was their "Greetings Month," then "Hello," "How are you doing?" should have been taught all month long in the five languages. Teachers were not advised to dedicate a month to one particular language because the mere order of the languages taught might inadvertently connote that one language was superior to another.

Although teachers did not have to coordinate on what was to be taught on a specific day, it was important that teachers collaborated on what was being taught because if students were learning the different statements at the same pace, they could communicate and practice with one another outside of their respective classrooms.

The teachers had one month to teach the Colorful Flags statement of the month. Since there were five statements, this project lasted for five months.

Implementation Strategies

The students that spoke the different languages were the teacher's best resources. It was suggested to the teachers that they let these students assist them in teaching the class. It was suggested to the teachers that they let the students listen to the audio tape or the twenty-seven minute video tape that was available to the teachers or let the students listen to radio stations that were broadcast in different languages.

Furthermore, the teachers were encouraged to pronounce a phrase and let the students collectively and independently repeat after them. They were also encouraged to target the students who had the best pronunciation and let them tutor their peers.

It was suggested that the teachers give the students some background information on the countries in which that particular language was spoken (geography, culture, folkways, traditions). They were encouraged to use folksongs as an easy way to introduce students to other languages.

Finally, these teachers were informed that children stories that described a particular culture being represented were effective strategies of cultural learning. It was also suggested that the teachers put in a video tape that told a little about a particular culture that was represented. At the end of the week (Friday), it was suggested that the principal of the school allow a student or students to recite on the public announcement system the phrases they had learned for that particular week.

Implementation of the Program

Step 1: A faculty meeting to discuss the curriculum was given to the teachers of the schools interested in participating in this program. The program was made voluntary for the teachers.

Step 2: The teachers who signed up for the program were given all of the Colorful Flags material described above.

Step 3: A kick-off assembly was given for the students to get them excited about the concept.

Step 4: I went to observe each class participating in this program twice during the five-month period; these visits were eight weeks apart.

Step 5: After five months, upon the completion of the program, teachers, students, and the parents of the students were given questionnaires to measure whether the Colorful Flags program reduced ethnic mistrust or stimulated cultural curiosity.

Figure 1

From the Evaluation for Teachers

Statement: The Colorful Flag module stimulated my children to become more interested in learning about other cultures.

Value Label Value Frequency Percent Valid % Cum. %


1.0 14 58.3 58.3 58.3
Agree 2.0 4 16.7 16.7 75.0
Disagree 4.0 5 20.8 20.8 95.8


5.0 1 4.2 4.2 100.0
  Total 24 100.0 100.0  

Valid cases 24 Missing cases 0

I hypothesized that the Colorful Flags program would stimulate cultural curiosity. Some 75 percent of the teachers in this sample either strongly agreed or agreed that this program did so.

Figure 2

From the Evaluation for Teachers

Statement: The Colorful Flags module helped to break down racial mistrust among my students.

Value Label Value Frequency Percent Valid % Cum. %


1.0 7 29.2 29.2 29.2
Agree 2.0 5 20.8 20.8 50.0
Disagree 3.0 9 37.5 37.5 87.5


4.0 3 12.5 12.5 100.0
  Total 24 100.0 100.0  

Valid cases 24 Missing cases 0

Some 50 percent of teachers strongly agreed or agreed that the program reduced racial mistrust. These teachers suggested five months (the length of the program) is a relatively short period of time to monitor racial mistrust. Hence, approximately 38 percent of the teachers surveyed were undecided on this response.

Figure 3

From the Evaluation for Teachers

Statement: The Colorful Flags module empowered the students whose language and ethnic background was represented in the module.

Value Label Value Frequency Percent Valid % Cum. %


1.0 14 58.3 66.7 66.7
Agree 2.0 1 4.2 4.8 71.4
Undecided 3.0 3 12.5 14.3 85.7
Disagree 4.0 3 12.5 14.3 100.0
Missing N/A 3 12.5 N/A  
  Total 24 100.0 100.0  

Valid cases 21 Missing cases 3

This statement addresses whether the Colorful Flags program empowered language and ethnic minority students; 71.4 percent of the teachers in this sample strongly agreed or agreed that it did.

Figure 4

From the Evaluation for Students

Statement: Did you have fun participating in the Colorful Flags program?

Value Label Value Frequency Percent Valid % Cum. %
Yes 1.0 616 92.6 93.1 93.1
No 2.0 19 2.9 2.9 95.9
Don't Know 3.0 27 4.1 4.1 100.0
Missing N/A 3 .5 N/A  
  Total 665 100.0 100.0  

Valid cases 662 Missing cases 3

Some 93 percent of students stated that they had fun participating in the Colorful Flags program. These results support my concept of self-perpetuating learning. If students enjoy learning, they will choose to learn more on their own.

Figure 5

From the Evaluation for Students

Statement: Did you use the Colorful Flags statements with your friends?

Value Label Value Frequency Percent Valid % Cum. %
Yes 1.0 429 64.5 65.8 65.8
No 2.0 176 26.5 27.0 92.8
Don't Know 3.0 47 7.1 7.2 100.0
Missing N/A 13 2.5 N/A  
  Total 665 100.0 100.0  

Valid cases 652 Missing cases 13

Some 64.5 percent of this sample responded that they used these statements with friends.

Figure 6

From the Evaluation for Students

Statement: Does the Colorful Flags program cause you to want to learn more about other cultures?

Value Label Value Frequency Percent Valid % Cum. %
Yes 1.0 558 83.9 84.9 84.9
No 2.0 58 8.7 8.8 93.8
Don't Know 3.0 41 6.2 6.2 100.0
Missing N/A 8 1.2 N/A  
  Total 665 100.0 100.0  

Valid cases 657 Missing cases 8

The question asks whether the Colorful Flags program prompted students to learn more about other cultures. This is a key aspect of self-perpetuating learning. Some 83.9 percent of students responded “Yes” to this question. Only 8.9 percent of the sample responded “No.”

Figure 7

From the Evaluation for Students

Statement: Did you gain new friends because you learned the Colorful Flags phrases?

Value Label Value Frequency Percent Valid % Cum. %
Yes 1.0 291 43.8 45.0 45.0
No 2.0 279 42.0 43.2 88.2
Don't Know 3.0 76 11.4 11.8 100.0
Missing N/A 19 2.9 N/A  
  Total 665 100.0 100.0  

Valid cases 646 Missing cases 19

Some 43.8 percent of the students in this sample responded that they had gained new friends because they learned the phrases. Some 42 percent of the students responded that they did not gain new friends while 11.4 percent of this sample responded that they “do not know.” This item shows that almost half of the children made friends with someone with whom they would not have made friends otherwise as a result of the program. This is a key element in breaking down ethnic mistrust among different backgrounds.

Figure 8

From the Evaluation for Parents

Statement: My child is excited about learning phrases in different languages.

Value Label Value Frequency Percent Valid % Cum. %


1.0 168 48.7 51.5 51.5
Agree 2.0 60 17.4 18.4 69.9
Undecided 3.0 36 10.4 11.0 81.0
Disagree 4.0 26 7.5 8.0 89.0


5.0 36 10.4 11.0 100.0
Missing N/A 19 5.5 N/A  
  Total 345 100.0 100.0  

Valid cases 326 Missing cases 19

Some 69.9 percent of the parents strongly agreed or disagreed that their child was excited to learn Colorful Flags statements. These results support the concept of self-perpetuating learning.

Figure 9

From the Evaluation for Parents

Statement: After learning phrases in different languages, my child wants to learn more about other cultures.

Value Label Value Frequency Percent Valid % Cum. %


1.0 189 54.8 58.0 58.0
Agree 2.0 50 14.5 15.3 73.3
Undecided 3.0 54 15.7 16.6 89.9
Disagree 4.0 14 4.1 4.3 94.2


5.0 19 5.5 5.8 100.0
Missing N/A 19 5.5 N/A  
  Total 345 100.0 100.0  

Valid cases 326 Missing cases 19

I hypothesized that the Colorful Flags program would reduce ethnic mistrust and stimulate cultural curiosity. This statement regarding cultural awareness broadly encompasses these two hypotheses. Some 73.3 percent of parents in this sample strongly agreed or agreed with this statement.

Figure 10

From the Evaluation for Parents

Statement: The Colorful Flags program is beneficial to my child's cultural awareness.

Value Label Value Frequency Percent Valid % Cum. %


1.0 207 60.0 62.7 62.7
Agree 2.0 46 13.3 13.9 76.7
Undecided 3.0 40 11.6 12.1 88.8
Disagree 4.0 18 5.2 5.5 94.2


5.0 19 5.5 5.8 100.0
Missing N/A 15 4.3 N/A  
  Total 345 100.0 100.0  

Valid cases 330 Missing cases 15

I hypothesized that the Colorful Flags program would stimulate cultural curiosity. Some 69.3 percent of the parents in this sample agreed or strongly agreed with this statement. Only 9.6 percent of these parents disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement.


Over the years, schools have adopted a myriad of approaches to build cultural bridges in schools. Today, however, it is necessary for policy makers and educators to transform educational policy so that it will match the social, political, and economic realities that the students of today will face tomorrow. Hawley (1995) states:

"We can acknowledge that communication and effective interpersonal behavior across racial and ethnic lines require knowledge and skills that many of us do not have. In short, most of us need to learn to behave more productively in intergroup situations (xvi). "

Educational policies that do not engage these realities will undermine the foundation of most societies e.g. Rwanda, Somalia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and the former Yugoslavia. The problems of ethnocentrism and racial insensitivity in our society will not magically solve themselves. These are problems, which must be aggressively confronted. The incidence of racism, stereotyping and ethnocentrism is too serious for a simple “one-shot” response or a passing tribute to cultural understanding. The alarming problems of racial insensitivity within countries suggest that there is a need for stronger and more immediate intervention in schools.

The major limitation of many multicultural education approaches is their failure to address the seriousness of intergroup relations. Schools play an integral role in defining citizenship and determining the direction of a society. Educators must accept the responsibility of this role. Recent history has proven that it is too costly to wait for crises to occur and then begin to teach about intergroup relations and cultural understanding. Instead, teachers should be in an ongoing process of teaching about human relations and positive interactions. The common denominator in the various meanings of the human relations approach revolve around respect. Whether it is self-respect, respect for other individuals, or respect for other groups. The proactive-interactive human relations approach attempts to create an environment that focuses on issues of respect on different levels. Increased self-respect means a better self-concept and increased self-esteem. Increased respect for others will, undoubtedly, lead to less stereotyping and less mistrust. For a democratic society to flourish, teaching, training, and conditioning individuals to deal with the different dimensions of respect is imperative. Educators who have moved beyond the mainstream-centric, the one shot, and additive multicultural education approaches must realize the potential of new approaches to building cultural bridges in our schools and in our society.



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For this program to be evaluated properly, it is necessary that there are guidelines, structure, and uniformity. This program is not to be a hurry up and get it over with experience, nor is it to be a long, boring tedious one.

It is not the objective of Colorful Flags to replace or to compete with the existing curriculum. This program should be used as a complement to other multicultural programs. It is designed to be a painless to the teachers as possible.

1) This project will last for five months.

2) One month will be dedicated to each statement. Example: If January is your “Colorful Flags Greetings Month,” then “Hello. How are you doing?” shall be taught all month long in the different languages.

3) Each statement in a given language will be given four days to complete. Example: In the “Greetings Month,” the teacher will have four days to teach “Hola, Como estas?” to his/her students. After four days, a greetings statement in another language is to be started. This will ensure that all five greetings statements in all five languages will be taught during the month.

4) The teacher should dedicate no less that five minutes and no more than ten minutes on each exercise. There should be a total of 40 minutes per four days spent on a statement.

On the first day of each exercise there will be a 15-minute introduction and discussion of the culture and language represented (introduction time is included in the total 40 minutes per four days).

The exercises are limited to five to ten minuets per day for two reasons: 1) to make it painless for the teachers and 2) to prevent the program from competing with the existing curriculum.

5) Each month will represent a different statement. Hence, the program will proceed from the “Greetings Month” in January to the “What is Your Name Month?” in February.

6) The statements should be taught in the following order:

A) Hello. How are you doing? Month

B) What is your name? Month

C) Thank You. You are Welcome Month

D) Please. Excuse Me Month

E) Good-bye. Have a Nice Day Month



1) The students who speak the different languages are your best resources. Let them assist you in teaching the class.

2) Let the students greet each other and the teacher in one of the Colorful Flags phrases of the month as they enter the classroom each day.

3) Let the students listen to the Colorful Flags audio tape and view the videotape that is available to teachers.

4) Let the students listen to radio stations that broadcast in different languages.

5) Pronounce the phrase and let the students collectively and independently repeat after you.

6) Target the students who have the best pronunciation and let them tutor their peers.

7) Give the students some background information on the countries in which that particular language is spoken (geography, culture, folkways, traditions).

8) Folk songs are an easy way to introduce students to other languages.

9) Put in a video tape that tells a little about a particular culture.


At the beginning of the week (Monday) allow a student of students (perhaps native speakers) to recite the Colorful Flags phrase of the week on the public address system.

At the end of the week (Friday) allow a student or students to recite on the public address system the phrases they have learned for that particular week.

Allow the Student Council at your school to make signs and posters to pin up in the halls, offices, and rooms with the Colorful Flags phrases of that particular month.


teach students to proactively engage cultural learning

teach students to learn something culturally tangible about their peers and the people in their immediate community

use students in class to assist in teaching others bout their culture

teach students how to tactfully start conversations with ethnically diverse individuals

teach students how to diffuse potentially hostile situations between ethnically diverse individuals

provide students with role-playing experiences that involve #4 and #5

introduce students to the self-perpetuation learning process

learn something cultural tangible about every student in his/her classroom

should use language as a human relation tool among other approaches

take students on field trips to actively use what they have learned


Remember: The Colorful Flags Human Relations Module is meant to be a fun and serious at the same time. People are passionate about their language.

Remember: The Colorful Flags statements are general statements. They will not apply to all situations. Language is far too complex to encompass all situations.

Remember: Never use a Colorful Flags statement with someone without knowing their ethnic background. It might be very offensive if you said “Hello” to someone who is Korean in Japanese and vice versa.

Remember: Never assume that just because a person is of a certain ethnic background that he/she speaks that language. For example, a third-generation Japanese American might not speak Japanese at all. This person might be offended if you speak Japanese to them.

Remember: Always use judgement and discretion when using the Colorful Flags statements. Just because you are around people who are speaking a different language does not mean you should automatically use the statements. Make sure the timing is right and the situation is appropriate.

Remember: It is appropriate to speak Chinese in a Chinese restaurant, Korean in a Korean restaurant, etc. Feel free to use the Colorful Flags statement in these settings.

Remember: In reality, not everyone will be excited that you are trying to reach out to them by using their language. In this case, brush it off and realize that this is the exception rather than the rule.

Remember: You should add relevant statements in the different languages to the “Colorful Flags” statements. For instance, you could ask “Where are you from?” “How old are you?” etc. as your sixth or seventh statement in the different languages.


Q: How do I use Colorful Flags statements without knowing what a person's ethnic identity is?

A: This is a fundamental and serious question. Do not guess. Come right out and ask the person where they are from or ask if they speak another language besides English. If you notice an accent then use that as a beginning.

For example: Excuse me ma'am, I noticed you have a slight accent. Would you mind telling me where are you from? RESPONSE: Oh, I am from Japan. I have been in the U.S. for two years. YOUR REPLY: Konnichi-wa. lkaga desuka? (Hello. How are you doing? in Japanese)

Q: What should I do when I say “Hello. How are you doing?” in someone's language and they think I speak the language fluently?

A: Good question. This situation will come up quite a bit. After you use a “CF” statement, be quick to tell that person that you only speak a little of the language. Allow them to teach you more.

Q: What if I am not using the statements in the right context?

A: Some people will correct and educate you on the proper situational use of a statement. This is good. Allow them to teach you the situational uses of the “CF” statements.

For example: In some languages you would address children differently than you would your co-workers. You would address a stranger differently than a close friend. Be open to learn the situational uses of the phrases.

Q: What should I do if someone gets angry at me when I speak their language incorrectly?

A: If someone gets offended because you are “butchering” their language, apologize and ask the person to help you speak the language correctly.

Q: What if I am terrible at speaking different languages?

A: Work as hard as you can on trying to pronounce the phrases correctly. Don't be scared or embarrassed to mispronounce a word or a phrase (Remember: Trying means everything!)