In Forced Diversity « The Elementary Educator Third Grade Teacher considers that attempts at diversity and diversity trainings are a waste of time. I, politely disagree.
First, I have discussed this in a prior blog post, Things I’ve learned while teaching black children… The Blog of Ms. Mercer. Here is an excerpt from that, but don’t worry, I have more to add…
Okay last post to reflect on comes from Doug Noon at Borderland. He posts about teaching about justice in the classroom, and how this is under attack from folks who consider it “frivolous” (”they need to learn to write, not complain” –maybe they could learn to write their complaints?) Here is my anecdote on this…Back when I first met my husband (who is African-American) at San Francisco State, he related this story to me. He was an older student (26 when we met), slowly working his way through school while working. He had grown up in the 60s the foster child of much older parents (his dad had lied about his age at 16, and went off to fight in WWI–no, I didn’t leave off an “i”). His parents had grown up in the segregated South of East Texas, and shared some of that experience. Terry ran into a young white man (younger than him) from suburban San Diego. The subject of Rosa Parks had come up, and the young man couldn’t understand what the conflict was. Terry explained that she didn’t want to sit on the back of the bus. The young gentleman from San Diego didn’t understand, sit on the back of the bus? What did that mean? Terry then explained about Black Codes and Jim Crow laws. The young man didn’t believe they existed, why would people put up with that, it couldn’t happen! You could say that this story does not have anything to say about teaching a justice curriculum, the gentleman had made an error of fact, BUT…he is also not willing to conceive that a situation like segregation could even have existed. This shows poor critical thinking, because he can’t conceive that such conditions could exist. Without social justice education, students will have difficulty in seeing other points of view, and seeing others as they are, instead of how they are perceived through a prejudiced lens.
That’s more about history, what do we need to know about each other now? Well, I teach in an area with a large number of Hmong refugees. I could share family stories of fleeing to Thailand that young students share with me (they know, even though they were not yet born when these event took place). Ignorance about this is leads to ugly assumptions. Many people have NO idea why these refugees are here–they supported the CIA’s efforts against the communist government in Laos during the Vietnam War. “Why don’t they know English, they should learn English before they get here.” I like to say, they’re over here, cause we were over there and they did our dirty work.
At a diversity training I attend last year a really ugly story was shared that shows the awful consequences ignorance can lead to. Most Hmong are animists and perform shamanistic rituals to rid members of evil spirits, etc. that can be manifest by nightmares, headaches, lingering low-level illness, etc. One of those rituals is the “string ceremony”. I saw a string around a students neck a few years ago, and asked her about it. She explained that it had been placed there to get rid of nightmares caused by evil spirits. During the training, the speaker relayed a story about a P.E. teacher who upon seeing a student wearing an old string on his wrist, cut it off (thinking, I’m sure, why’s he wearing that ratty looking thing?). This was a big deal because the ceremony involves a lot of time, effort, and some expense on the part of a family.
So I ask, is ignorance bliss? Maybe for that P.E. teacher, but I think not for the student.
Juan Williams on KXJZ about MLK hits on the issue of diversity in schools (not just training), where he points out that schools are becoming more and more segregated with these figures,
~80% of white children go to school 2/3rds of black and brown students go to minority majority schools and 10-20% go to hyper-segregated schools (+90% minority).
I have taught at some of these schools where there were literally NO white students in the entire elementary school. Laying aside the second class education issues (separate has never been equal), there are other concerns. White students will not learn about minority students in a situation like that, and minority students will not gain experience with dominant cultural norms (or feel comfortable there) if this persists.