Students need to learn about different cultures, because they need to learn how to understand people who are not like them. Besides the fact that they will encounter these cultures again, the process of recognizing difference is so important.
I know that an intercultural approach to teaching is most often discussed in the context of learning languages, namely, English. It is often a discussion for ESL teachers, and in fact, I think ESL teachers are some of the few who employ it. But I believe that opening the doors for a multi-cultural perspective in any classroom has more advantages than simply allowing students to absorb a language easier. The intercultural approach to teaching English is similar to the balance of phonics and whole language learning that is done in early childhood reading classes. But let's imagine what could happen if all classrooms started to lean toward a more intercultural approach to teaching...
I think one of the biggest problems in schools today (my experience is in high school, but I suspect this is all over) is that many students feel threatened by the environment, especially as schools grow less and less homogenous. I believe that as the number of discipline problems in schools is on the rise, it points directly to a perception of a lack of safety and security, physically (certainly), but emotionally as well.
As a classroom teacher, I am not ready to tackle a pervasive feeling of threat that may hang in the hallways of my school, but certainly I am doing all I can to eliminate that emotional barrier in my classroom. This means I will do absolutely anything I can do to create an atmosphere of acceptance, tolerance, and open-minded discussion on any subjects where students beliefs and feelings differ.
An intercultural approach to teaching (easily done in literature and history classes) tells students that you, the teacher, are open to teaching and therefore understanding differences and diversity. This is a way to provide emotional security in your classroom and to approach difficult subjects, often the roots of conflict, in a safe and healthy way.
The number of ESL students in NC (and many other states as well) has been growing exponentially, and as different student populations increase in numbers, one of two things is going to happen. Either one, they are going to stick together for security and always feel alienated, or two, they are going to accept the culture of the school because the school is accepting their culture.