On the Road to a Multicultural America

In his essay, “Whites in Multicultural Education: Rethinking our Role,” Gary Howard discusses ways for us to go about participating “in the dance of diversity, a dance in which everyone shares the lead” (Banks, 1996, p. 333). As a White American, a member of the dominant group, Howard discusses how acknowledgement of past oppressions often leads those of “European background to feel a collective sense of complicity, shame, or guilt” (p. 328). While on an emotional level, these feelings are very real, in efforts to break the cycle of guilt, hurt and blame, we must take on new roles and such feelings must be overcome. Facing the reality of privilege should not stop at awareness or even discussion, but should be a catalyst for change, for movement, for action.

Howard suggests ways for White Americans to go about doing this, such as supporting “new historical research aimed at providing a more inclusive and multidimensional view of our nation’s past” (p. 329). This particularly applies to us, as educators. Already, “scholars and educators are searching for the literature, the experiences, the contributions, and the historical perspectives that have been ignored in our Eurocentric schooling” (p. 329). Incorporating these sources and perspectives into the classroom is not only an important part of dismantling cycles of marginalization, but also is key in developing culturally competent individuals who will be active participants in creating a better, more equal America.

An aspect I appreciated about Howard’s writing, was an emphasis on co-responsibility, on balance. White Americans must acknowledge and take responsibility for privilege but at the same time, “our role is not to fall into a kind of morose confessionalism about the sins of our ancestors” (p. 330). In helping students to not be ignorant of their own privilege, we must be clear that while they may not be responsible for the past, they are deeply responsible for the future. And with the future in mind, we as educators must highlight and model both empathy and respect or respeto, which in Spanish means to “acknowledge the full humanness of other people, their right to be who they are, their right to be treated in a good way” (p. 330). These traits must be foundational within our classrooms.

And while facing these realties may feel overwhelming, students should be reminded of this quote from Howard: “racism is not a Black problem or an Indian problem or an Asian problem or a Hispanic problem—or even a White problem. The issue of racism and cultural diversity in the United States is a human problem, a struggle we are all in together. It cannot be solved by any one group” (p. 330). Together, with combined effort and resources we can all work toward the building of a multicultural America.

Banks, J. A. (1996). J.A. Banks (Ed.). Multicultural education, transformative knowledge and action: Historical and contemporary perspectives. New York: Teachers College Press.

Discovery: Facts vs. Concepts

Facts are observable tid-bits of information confirmed to be true whereas a concept is a general idea, more abstract, and requires thought and understanding. According to the educational psychologist Jerome Bruner, there are many routine techniques that require a student to collect and present a “long list of information” or facts. However, in his essay “Some Elements of Discovery,” Bruner states that this laundry list is “no good” because a “child will use it in a single situation and possibly not even effectively…” and then the information will likely be abandoned or forgotten. This is not effective teaching. As future educators, we must guide students in connecting information to larger concepts, making learning relevant and increasing the likelihood of transfer and retention.

Collecting and even memorizing fact-based information does not require comprehension or reflection, necessary elements of the discovery process. As students discover “neighboring elements,” and connect ideas, “the concept that emerges is like a rope in which no single fiber runs all the way through.” Students are able to make personal and compatible connections, enhancing their knowledge base and expanding their perspective and understanding. Guiding students in the proper application of simple facts and information provides them the opportunity not only to test the limits of their concepts, but also to develop “skills related to the use of information and problem-solving.”

In light of this focus on discovery, I wanted to share this poem by Dr. John Edwards. I am quite confident these will be questions and thoughts I will sincerely consider throughout the entirety of my future teaching career.
After returning home from a lecture, Edward’s wife asked him: And what did you steal from your students today?” He was quite thrown off and after thoughtful reflection, he and his wife wrote the following:

If I am always the one to think of where to go next.
If where we go is always the decision of the curriculum or my curiosity and not theirs,
If motivation is mine,
If I always decide on the topic to be studied, the title of the story, the problem to be worked on,
If I am always the one who has reviewed their work and decided what they need,
How will they ever know how to begin?

If I am the one who is always monitoring progress.
If I set the pace of all working discussions,
If I always look ahead, foresee problems and endeavour to eliminate them,
If I swoop in and save them from cognitive conflict,
If I never allow them to feel and use the energy from confusion and frustration,
If things are always broken into short working periods,
If myself and others are allowed to break into their concentration,
If bells and I are always in control of the pace and flow of work,
How will they learn to continue their own work?

If all the marking and editing is done by me,
If the selection of which work is to be published or evaluated is made by me,
If what is valued and valuable is always decided by external sources or by me,
If there is no forum to discuss what delights them in their task, what is working,
what is not working, what they plan to do about it,
If they have not learned a language of self-assessment,
If ways of communicating their work are always controlled by me,
If our assessments are mainly summative rather then formative,
If they do not plan their way forward to further action,
How will they find ownership, direction and delight in what they do?

If I speak of individuals but present learning as if they are all the same,
If I am never seen to reflect and reflection time is never provided,
If we never speak together about reflection and thinking and never develop a vocabulary for such discussion,
If we do not take opportunities to think about our thinking,
If I constantly set them exercises that do not intellectually challenge them,
If I set up learning environments that interfere with them learning from their own actions,
If I give them recipes to follow,
If I only expect the one right conclusion,
If I signify that there are always right and wrong answers,
If I never let them persevere with something
really difficult which they cannot master,
If I make all work serious work and discourage playfulness,
If there is no time to explore,
If I lock them into adult time constraints too early,
How will they get to know themselves as a thinker?

If they never get to help anyone else,
If we force them to always work and play with children of the same age,
If I do not teach them the skills of working co-operatively,
If collaboration can be seen as cheating,
If all classroom activities are based on competitiveness,
If everything is seen to be for marks,
How will they learn to work with others?

For if they…
have never experienced being challenged in a safe environment,
have had all of their creative thoughts explained away,
are unaware what catches their interest and how then to have confidence in that interest,
have never followed something they are passionate about to a satisfying conclusion,
have not clarified the way they sabotage their own learning,
are afraid to seek help and do not know who or how to ask,
have not experienced overcoming their own inertia,
are paralysed by the need to know everything before writing or acting,
have never got bogged down,
have never failed,
have always played it safe,
How will they ever know who they are?

Lee S. Shulman and Evan R. Keislar, editors. Learning By Discovery: A Critical Appraisal (1966).
http://motivationalmagic.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/the-things-we-steal-from-   children/

EDU 6133: Transformative Knowledge and Gender Issues

By questioning basic and fundamental assumptions, transformative knowledge challenges mainstream academic knowledge. In order to effect social change both locally and nationally, Bethune challenged the popular knowledge of her time. As a black feminist, she focused on justice and equality for all human beings, not limited to African American women. In this way, she was a contrasting presence of transformative philosophy compared to white suffragettes who focused primarily on winning the vote for white women. Bethune was particularly concerned with educating local black women and was committed to women’s issues especially those of the working-class and poor. Bethune believed it was essential that the thoughts and perspectives of the black community be represented nationally in order to affect policy making and program planning and to that end, she worked to get African Americans hired in federal jobs.

Bethune artfully walked the line between the mainstream culture and the local community. This philosophy was ever present in her school where her curriculum focused on vocational skills that would prepare students to find and maintain jobs, while also educating African American youth to take their place neither in front nor behind, but alongside their white contemporaries. As a feminist, educator and social activist, Bethune’s transformative power stemmed from an understanding of the restrictions and confines placed on her by racial and gender mainstream assumptions, and the ingenuity to use those to her own advantage. And in that spirit, she worked to undermine and unhinge strictures of class, race and gender.

In some ways similar to Bethune, Eleanor Roosevelt’s power as a champion for civil rights stemmed from an artful and intuitive balance between the local and mainstream culture. She recognized her limits and the constraints of the White House and when it came to issues of civil rights, she thoughtfully responded—sometimes as a national symbolic forerunner and other times applying pressure behind the scenes. Both women courageously held to their convictions and worked tirelessly to find the most effective way to implement their commitment to universal equality. In terms of education, using discernment regarding implementation of ideas is key. Understanding one’s current climate and the restrictions one faces provides the necessary context to combat limitations and implement change. So to this end, we must continually seek to understand who we are as educators as well as those we seek to influence.

I can only imagine the insight I will glean regarding gender issues and the gender gap after having spent a few years in a classroom. But according to Hofstede’s Intercultural Dimensions, the United States has a mid-range score when it comes to “Power Distance.” With a score of 40 out of 100, the United States is not a caste system based society such as India. However, that “40” suggests a presence of inequality and limitations in terms of upward mobility. Infrastructures continue to accept and perpetuate inequalities of gender, status, power and wealth. As a future educator, establishing and promoting a classroom in which each student, has equal opportunity to contribute is essential. A collaborative environment not only establishes self worth, but also teaches students the value of their peers.  Understanding and being mindful of how and when male and female students develop socially, mentally, physically and emotionally is a basic and invaluable way to begin understanding and relating to students. For example, research suggests that in elementary school, girls have advantages in social skills which translate to classroom behavior. Creating a variety of activities to suite varying needs between boys and girls at different stages of development is essential. In reading the article Gender Inequalities in Education, it is evident the ways in which popular notions of gender performance affect the ways in which students view their own capabilities. The article suggests that due to conventionalist ideas about men outperforming women on standardized tests, especially in math, women experience heightened anxiety during test taking that interferes with their test performance (p. 324). As educators, we must be sensitive not to reinforce negative gender differences and notions. Although many aspects affect the performance of any individual student, I wonder if gender inequalities will always exist manifesting in different ways.


Reference: https://bbweb-prod.spu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_tab_group_id=_2_1&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Flauncher%3Ftype%3DCourse%26id%3D_62826_1%26url%3D

EDU 6526- Questioning as a Teaching Strategy

Questioning is an effective teaching element used to engage students in the classroom. Proposed questions and inquiries allow students to share conceptual understanding and often what is shared may be useful additions to the other students’ understanding. Providing planned questions and allowing students to answer them, allows for the circulation of new ideas and new information. Students are able to then respond and verbally process the information they are acquiring and the collaborative aspect can lead to deeper understanding for all. Questions allow a teacher to gauge understanding and provide an opportunity for the collection of feedback. In Models of Teaching by Bruce Joyce, Marsha Weil, and Emily Calhoun, research suggests that “inquiry-oriented curriculums appear to stimulate growth in other; apparently unconnected areas” (pg. 88, 2009).

As students consider the answer to questions, they connect important concepts to a larger framework and as active members of the discovering process, they are more likely to remember the information taught and apply critical thinking skills in the future. Additionally, asking students to come prepared to class with questions or inquiries provides a springboard for conversation about specific areas of confusion or interest. Questioning is a constructive teaching strategy for the collaborative collection of feedback. These aspects of questioning as a teaching strategy will be invaluable as a future educator. The link below provides basic but valuable information about how to effectively employ questioning in the classroom:

Questioning Strategies—University of Delaware’s Center for Teaching and Learning: http://cte.udel.edu/publications/handbook-graduate-assistants/questioning-strategies.html

Joyce, B., Weil, M., Calhoun, E. (2009). Models of Teaching. United States of America: Pearson Education, Inc.

EDU 6133-Diversity and Me

I took a poetry class during my last year of undergraduate school and as part of our weekly assignments, we examined different stylistic aspects of speeches, articles and poems and then wrote original pieces employing those same stylistic devices. As an introduction to my reflection, I thought I would share my piece modeled after Barack Obama’s Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention:

–I am the daughter of a white real estate agent from Massachusetts and a white stay-at-home mom from Washington State. I grew up with the love of a white grandfather who flew bombers in the US Airforce to ensure my freedom and a white grandmother who raised my father and uncle while papa was overseas. I attended both private elementary school and private university and lived in an affluent suburb. I was offered multiples jobs after graduation despite a lack of experience—a supposed testament to my commitment to hard work.

I have a brother, sister, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins of Caucasian race and upper-middle class, scattered across the country, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that ours is not the only Country in which my skin color has significantly aided in making my story possible–

I belong to a homogenously white, traditional, middle-class American family.  I have a pretty large extended family as well, and for most of my life, all of us: aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and great grandparents have lived within 10ish minutes of each other. I do not celebrate much of my cultural heritage other than making lefse (Norwegian potato bread) with my family every Christmas. I am predominantly Norwegian and Swedish with a milky mixture of English, German, Scottish and Irish… so it takes me quite awhile to build a base tan. One of my best friends from college is Jamaican and I distinctly remember the first time I realized she didn’t have to buy sunscreen because her skin just never burned. And as an aside, I will say that I envied her skin; during the summertime, the goal of me and many of my friends was to add color to our pale skin. As a senior at SPU, one of my dearest friends was Vietnamese and she hated having a tan; she felt lighter skin was more beautiful. Personal and cultural definitions of beauty are a fascinating aspect of diversity.

I attended a predominantly Caucasian private elementary school and probably was unaware that I belonged to the majority until I transferred to public junior high and high school and was lost in a sea of faces that no longer looked like mine. It was a beautifully uncomfortable new reality. Then as a freshman at SPU, I was one of four tutors hired for a new program Professor Greg Fritzberg was putting together. I tutored for three years in two different low-income middle schools where as a white female, I was in the minority. More than 80 countries represented in what they called their “global village.” I had never been in a school with such a diverse body of students. I fell in love with the atmosphere and really enjoyed my mentoring role as a tutor.

I became particularly close with one student in particular. As a sixth grader, she had been in a gang for years, and she felt trapped. Her mother worked all the time to support her and her sister and the grandfather who was supposed to care for them in the meantime abused them. She had experience with drugs and carried worries and fears not meant for a child’s shoulders. I came face to face with my own privilege and although she really valued our time together, I struggled to help her understand the value of her schooling. The latest math concept didn’t seem important when she didn’t feel safe at home and her basic needs were far from met.

As a future educator, this experience was invaluable in opening my eyes to the ways in which diverse experiences shape our perspective on education. I know it is hardly a revolutionary thought, but growing up, I never encountered someone with such a contrasted childhood. It was overwhelming to decipher what my role was and how to navigate the issues this young girl was facing with sensitivity. As an upper-middle class white woman of privilege, I worry about being relevant and attentive to the needs of my future students. I want to be intuitive to the personal needs of my students without being presumptuous.  My hope is to create a classroom of reciprocal respect, where my students feel like they are part of a larger family, comfortable enough to be unabashedly themselves. I know the struggles of my students will way heavily on my heart whether those are issues in the classroom or at home and I worry I will not be able to be enough for them.

My initial understanding of “Diversity,” “Multiculturalism,” and “Cultural Competence”

My understanding of the definitions of these words:

Diversity: mixture, variety, implies the existence of multiple elements (e.g. experiences, perspectives, races, etc.), the recognition of individual differences, the absence of uniformity

Multiculturalism: the presence, inclusion, preservation of more than one culture in a community or society, includes ideas and discussion about proper ways in which to respond to such diversity

Cultural Competence: having the capability to properly and effectively respond, communicate, and interact with people of different cultures. Relates to sensitivity and awareness of one’s own cultural identity (perspectives, attitudes, behaviors)