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.

 

 

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The Backlash: Attitudes overseas about Refugee Kids attending public school reflect what we may be facing here in the US

It is not new news that many countries in Europe, and more recently Canada, have been taking refugees from Syria and other war-torn regions for months, and that the “honeymoon” period of goodwill and charity is starting to wear thin–and the backlash is growing. See this article:

https://a.msn.com/r/2/BBwCEjU?m=en-us

As an educator here in the US, particularly in Arizona, a state not known for particularly liberal views or  an “open-armed” policy toward immigrants,  I am concerned that these children and their families, who will be coming from various war zones around the world–Syria and Iraq most notably–will be facing just such resistance and unwelcome attitudes in our own community.

I found out just a few weeks ago, that we could expect an undisclosed but possibly large group of immigrant students, due to enroll in our school as early as mid-October. An apartment complex nearby likely took a contract to house as many families as they could accommodate, with some families having up to 8 members in a household. This is a bit of a stressful situation, mainly in how our classrooms may need to grow in size, which may possibly even create a need for combination classes—mainly ESL combo classes, which means my current position as a resource “pull-out” teacher may become a thing of the past. Although I am an experienced classroom teacher, even combo-grades, I like my current position. On the other hand, I look forward to the challenges and the joys of working with refugee students again.

This doesn’t mean I do not acknowledge the concerns about our school “climate” changing drastically (a big concern for my principal), or that there is likely to be health and mental/emotional issues among these children–I do, and there will be issues on a scale this school is not likely to have faced in some time. But this is what I have prepared for most of my professional life, and all of my training and schooling is going to be put to the test.

But the real issue here are the rights of the refugee students–they have a right to safe haven, to be able to go to school, to feel accepted. And with the current public climate, that terrorism is somehow following these children into our country, I am doubly concerned. I am going to need to advocate like never before. Will our community be up to the task?

Will I?

I truly hope so, for theirs—and all of our sake.

eduucation-can-end-terrorism

Alicia Keys short film: Let Me In

This is a very poignant and beautiful example of what it might be like if the tables were turned, and we in the West were the refugees. I believe Alicia Keys is a great activist spirit, sent from heaven (with a voice to match), and I wanted to share her vision with you here…As another human being who loves and respects all lives, most especially the thousands of refugee lives across the globe, who need our love and compassion, and shelter from the storm. Please watch! Via Upworthy on Facebook.

I #shOwup for Education

Recently, I read that Global Citizen was starting a movement called #shOwup to give voice to those of us working, in our own small way, to make changes to the world that will hopefully raise awareness and bring an end to poverty in our lifetime. Part of this movement is to educate others, but most especially girls and women. Few experiences in my life mean more to me then the opportunities I’ve had to impact the lives of children from other countries, whose families came to America to save their children from war, economic crises, even genocide.

I have been able to work in the classroom, and as a volunteer, teaching mainly English Language, but also general life skills, like swimming. Last year, each Saturday over 6 months, I worked with a local refugee resource and network organization Iskashitaa.org, teaching English language mainly to adult refugees, mostly women, from countries like Birundi, the Sudan, Tanzania, Mexico, and Bhutan. Along with these lessons, I taught basic math skills involving money, time, and reading a western calendar. I taught them about local resources available to them, and spoken phrases to get the help and assistance they deserve. Often, they would bring their children, and the lessons would include them as well!

This summer, I  volunteered for a week of swimming lessons at the same community residences, teaching refugee kids how to avoid drowning, but also how to have fun in the water. I worked with two other awesome and dedicated volunteers, again through Iskashitaa. I made a commitment to come back after the school year begins, and volunteer a day of homework help per week to the kids of a Somali family. I have come full-circle in this, as I began my service to refugees through Iskashitaa when I was still a novice teacher, back in 2007.

Over the years, I have volunteered when I could, and also made sure to stay educated myself. I have taken many hours of professional development, mostly online and for free when I could. The local University of Arizona Center for English as a Second Language (CESL) department offers many free classes, to teachers as well as students. Currently though, I have taken the big step of going back to college for a Master’s degree in Multicultural Education and ESL (at NAU). I am taking two courses per semester, and incurring more loan debt as I go…but I am hoping it is a means to an end. I’ve decided to dedicate my life to Education, so I felt it was time to increase my knowledge and skills, and hopefully to reach a broader audience.

My eventual plan is to go to another country, perhaps through the Peace Corps, and teach English in a community far from my home. I feel this to be my ultimate mission as a teacher, one I aim to complete before I have to retire (I am already 50 years old, so I need to get on it!). Then I will truly be a Global Citizen.

Teachers

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/