A cultural lens is the way you perceive the diverse cultures that exist in society. The “melting pot” analogy has been used to describe how diverse cultures in America melt together; using this analogy, our American-ness comes from melting away our unwanted differences to become more like an “American.”
The “tossed salad” analogy highlights our differences. The unique pieces of our culture do not melt away but are tossed up and celebrated. We don’t lose all of our culture but keep the pieces of our culture that we want to keep; from this perspective, our bicultural identities form based on our own terms. This is similar to a mosaic because we can still see all the pieces rather than having them dissolve into a new creation.
The tossed salad analogy is becoming increasingly more popular today. Schools are not asking children to “assimilate” to mainstream perspectives like they did before. When I was in school, I don’t recall teachers acknowledging my culture or trying to find different instructional strategies to accommodate me. I do remember them wanting me to become more like the “norm.” This perspective has also been called the cultural deficit model, in which cultural differences are viewed as deficits that need to be fixed.
I remember being confused when teachers talked about “Indians” because I was an Indian too but I wasn’t part of a tribe. This confusion stayed with me whenever Indians were mentioned in the classroom, in a textbook, or during Thanksgiving. I later learned that I was not the only Indian-American who was confused by topics such as this one.
Today, teachers acknowledge that children have cultural “funds of knowledge” that they bring with them to the classroom. They are moving away from a cultural deficit model to a culturally diverse model. They are actively seeking out the diverse perspectives of their students. They also want to employ culturally relevant teaching practices by using instructional strategies and/or techniques that resonate with children from minority cultures. For example, the research shows that children from collectivistic backgrounds do better when teachers incorporate more cooperative work in class.
A melting pot lens assumes that once individuals are thrown into the pot, they should shed away their unwanted differences to become more American. This is generally based on a fixed set of standards. However, a tossed salad lens, celebrates the diversity and the differences in others. By looking at the world through a tossed salad lens, individuals will ask questions, learn, and make accommodations to best meet the needs of their family members, friends, co-workers, clients or students.