We may be the architects of our own destruction…

Gary Howard (1996) asks, (p. 324) “What does it mean for White people to be responsible and aware in a nation where we have been the dominant cultural and political force?

One of the reasons Howard cites (p.325) for those of European ancestry feeling so ambivalent toward the perceived threat of a multicultural society is that–for many of them– persecution, prejudice, and discrimination are part of their own ancestral past, a history that many feel has not been adequately addressed. Weren’t the Irish and Italian immigrants ostracized and often outright killed, even as they settled into large, industrial cities? Weren’t the Eastern Europeans looked upon with suspicion, having to change their sir names and lose their accents, in favor of more Anglicized forms?

Taking this into account, perhaps white American culture should be more mindful of the high cost their own ancestors paid to become part of this nation. Should we not afford the same chance to other races and cultures, who continue to come to our shores looking for the very same things European immigrants sought so long ago? And once here, should they not be given the opportunity, not to simply assimilate and comply with established White norms, but add to the society that has given all of us a chance at freedom and self-determination?

Every time this nation makes room for new people, new languages, and cultural backgrounds, it enriches us all in ways we do not fully realize. It happens so minutely, that the dominant culture believes that these newcomers must be assimilating, becoming “Good Americans”; And, though on some level they are, they are also “adding their perfection to our own” (sorry, I cannot resist the Borg dictum from Star Trek). Everyday life—from what we eat, to who we choose to provide us with medical attention—is enriched by immigrant contributions.

Even as many whites rail against “foreigners” bringing crime, poverty, and odd belief systems into their communities–these same whites are more than glad to partake of the delicious foods, the social and luxury services, and professional, thoughtful care immigrant people provide to them, each and every day. Not to mention the often demeaning and difficult jobs they are willing to take on, that white workers wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

So, how can white Americans be more responsible? They can own up to the fact that we need immigrant people’s cultural contributions, just as much as they need what a new life in our country offers. We can defend them like our long-lost brothers and sisters. We can throw out common, prejudiced misconceptions (or at the very least, adjust them according to new truths we encounter). We can help to raise their voices, and give them room to contribute, rather than try to keep them down.

What can be our unique contribution, and what are the issues we need to face?

Howard (p.327) suggests that our white, dominant-culture privilege affords those of us who inhabit it to prosper more easily than our multi-racial counterparts. He also acknowledges that, even when whites fail, they never have to worry that it is because of their skin color. So, I think perhaps our unique contribution can come from our position of relative ease: We can use our privilege to make room for those who do not have it so easy. We can advocate for them. We do not speak for them, but provide them room to speak for themselves. We defend their dignity, we honor their tenacity. We level the playing field, not just for the white race, but to include all players—not to assimilate and deny their ethnicity, but to celebrate it. We should call out institutional racism, and fight for equity for all. White people have the power to do good—that is our contribution. But we must be vigilant not to let that make whites feel superior, however. Instead, we should be custodians and mentors, allies and partners. Sometimes even silent partners.

How do we help create a nation where all cultures are accorded dignity and the right to survive?

Howard states (p.328), that underlying both the denial and the hostility (of whites toward other races), is a deep seated fear of diversity. White dominant-cultural “guardians” defend the supremacy of a white, European-based, Christian society, that actually does not really exist. We have actually been a nation of many religions and races for much longer, and continue to go in that direction, even as widespread racism and violence has taken hold again. It is all fear-based.

Immigrants and the multi-racial populations typically become scapegoats, when there is an economic downturn, or increased crime. But when we examine the issues at a deeper level, these events are symptoms of the fear that caused them in the first place. Growth comes in fits and starts, but then we defeat ourselves as a society when fear settles in. Violence begets violence. We take two steps back, even as we step forward. How do we change this paradigm? Own up to our cultural shortcomings, and begin to heal. Facing reality is the beginning of liberation (p. 329). As noted earlier, we as a nation must advocate for the marginalized and oppressed among us. Get educated, open a dialogue, and decry racism, violence, and backward thinking at every opportunity. Lose the fear that grips us as a people, before it really is too late…we will become our own undoing. America was not meant to be exclusive–check the Constitution. At its central core, it is a set of agreements that provide basic rights and freedoms for ALL. That has not changed, nor should it, but we can amend and improve upon it to reflect the times. Those times, bad or good, depend on all of us pulling together. Simple, yet not so much.

Cited:

Banks, J. A. (1996). Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge, and Action: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Gary Howard, Chapter 17-Whites in Multi-cultural education—rethinking our role. Teachers College Press, Columbia University, New York, NY.

 

 

Advertisements

My 5th Year

So here I am, entering my fifth school year as a teacher specializing in English Language Development. I am also midway through my graduate degree in Multicultural Education and ESL. It’s been a tough road here and  there, but I have few if any regrets.

The downside of this vocation remains much the same: Limited financial resources and support from the state government, increased emphasis on mandated testing (the worst is a new Kindergarten ELL test, 30 minutes long), misconceptions by the public and even some colleagues about what I do: “Isn’t teaching ELD curriculum harder, because the kids don’t understand anything?”  (One typical assumption I encounter yearly).  Lots and lots of paperwork, scheduling hassles, and documentation. This is the boring stuff.

The upside? Working with kids from various backgrounds and cultures, of course. Working with refugee and immigrant kids, getting to know their families, and making a connection based on trust, by finding common ground. Knowing that these kids, in particular, are eager to learn, and want to go to school. They do not take education for granted. Another awesome part of my job, is I get to teach ESL in my own way–though I do follow a prescribed curriculum, I can adapt it however I see fit, and tailor it to my various students’ needs. I can be creative, I can be culturally responsive. And best of all, I can be myself.

Sometimes teaching ESL, especially as a “resource” teacher, can be very lonely. I cannot collaborate daily with teaching teams. Most of the time, it is “hit and run”: A few minutes here and there with the classroom teachers with whom I share students. I share ideas and data with them, which they sometimes appreciate, but often ignore.

The administration at my school values what I do, as long as I do not step out of bounds, like advocating for my students without “checking in” first–following protocol, etc.  Often I am censored, and not encouraged to take a leadership role as a teacher. So the research and education I am trying to apply to my work is often thwarted. How can I be an “agent of change” or “dialogic” in my approach, when few are willing to listen?

And so, another school year begins, this being (actually) my tenth as a teacher. For half of those years, I have worked directly with ELLs. Who knows where this next leg of the journey will take me?

I am hoping for some commiseration, some input, and clarity from my readers. Please feel free to comment, no matter where you stand. And if you teach ELs, welcome back to the classroom!

Ms. N.

Inclusive_community

 

 

Activism: Does it Matter?

Everyday my Inbox is full of entreaties to protest for, petition in support of, and donate to a myriad of causes. Most are in response to the continuing assault on the environment, human rights, immigrant rights, education, and to fight the Trump administration’s agenda.

Although I am a supporter of the activist spirit (as I myself have been activist, both passive and active), I wonder sometimes how much of what I sign, write about, or donate to, has any effect whatsoever. Sometimes I feel I would be better occupied by continuing to educate future people– so that these same issues, and the clearly destructive decisions by those in control, can at last be eradicated by a more intelligent, compassionate generation.

Of course, how we engage with current events and social issues is also being watched by those whom we teach. How we deal with them is watched by our own children. If we do nothing, say nothing, then they will think there is nothing to be done. And so, the cycle continues.

So—even if it feels as if we gain no real ground by venting our discontent with the status quo and the wrongs of the world, through our passive and active acts of protest, perhaps we should continue to do so. Diligently, conscientiously, but not randomly. We cannot hope to fix everything, especially by passively signing every petition on social media or in our e-mail. We must make our truth a reality by living it.

Being honest about what we believe in and support, without negligent judgement, or pressure (especially on the younger generation) is an important first step. Showing, instead of telling. Encouraging others’ exploration into issues that concern us all. And then, asking those who read or hear us to decide for themselves.

It is our responsibility, almost a sacred duty, to educate and prepare the next generation. But we need to be prepared to ask and answer the hard questions, always and without fail.

And occasionally, delete some petitions in favor of others. Small but significant steps.

einstein

A BBC Video Explains What Teachers Think About and Deal With Daily

This brilliant video shows teachers, presumably from Britain, discussing what it is like to be a teacher, what questions they’re asked, and why they stay in the profession…and surprise, surprise! It’s almost EXACTLY the same discussions teachers here in the states would have, probably teachers around the world, come to think of it. Watch this funny and touching video, and feel free to comment in this forum, especially if you are a teacher.

Enjoy!

Culturally Relevant Education Workshop with Dr. Love

I recently attended a 3-day workshop and seminar at the U of A, called The Culturally Relevant Education Seminar, sponsored by the Department of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy & Instruction within my district. With the temps hitting upwards of 115 degrees for most of those 3 days, I was happy to be in the air-conditioned kiva, learning with colleagues from across the city. I was also honored to be in the presence of so many awesome educators, community leaders, and speakers of color, as well as artists and performers sharing their cultures and craft.

But I was most affected by this keynote speaker and educator, Dr. Bettina Love. Dr. Love  is an award-winning author and Associate Professor of Educational Theory & Practice at the University of Georgia. I had seen her present before, through a video on TEDx UGA that was required viewing in my Cultural Education Foundations coursework. So I was very surprised and pleased when she was featured on day three of the seminar.

Dr. Love uses hip-hop sensibility and culture to transform urban education, tapping into students’ cultural intelligences, informing the way in which students can learn about their social and cultural identities, while being active in social justice. She uses music, digital technologies, and full-body kinesthetic learning techniques to enhance student engagement, and provide them with a voice. She makes a very eloquent argument for shifting the current paradigm of education to include tools and experiences that relate directly to the lives and academic needs of students of color.

As a teacher of inner-city youth myself, I have tried, with limited success, to bring some of these techniques and methods to bear in the classroom, particularly the inclusion of musical genres that the students share and respond to. I realize, as a white educator in a predominantly WASP culture, my understanding of Hip-Hop culture and what it is like to be African American in our society is limited at best. But what I do know is, my students–African American, Latino, Indigenous, along with many other cultures–want to learn, but most importantly, they want to be accepted and heard. So I will continue to use all the tools and research at my disposal to provide them with a voice, and an alternative way to learn.

I invite my readers to check out Dr. Bettina Love’s website, and view the TEDX video, as this was pretty much a similar presentation to what I experienced at the CRE seminar.

She is launching a website soon that will feature a curriculum, tools and materials to enhance learning in the urban classroom, called Get Free. I believe it is still a work in progress, but if you watch Dr. Love’s website,  I think it will be available soon.

The need for this way of teaching, and a curriculum to deliver it,  is  so important now, more than ever. With the predominance of racial violence, intolerance, and the negation of social and economic resources being made available to multi-racial cultures and the poor in this country, we must begin to inspire the hearts and minds of the next generation, show them that their lives do matter, and be active in the call for social justice.

Education is Power. Knowledge is Freedom.

http://www.bettinalove.com/videos/