Changing students' perspectives is not going to be easy. It's going to take more than changing the test questions to include "ethnic-sounding" names. Literature needs to be multi-cultural. As a Jewish person, I feel comfortable saying I would rather, if time is a factor, that more time be spent on African American history and multi-cultural literature than the Holocaust. Less than 2% of the American population is Jewish, yet this heart-wrenching topic comes up again and again from elementary school throughout high school. I understand the emphasis; the theme of genocide is relevant, especially recently, today. But, it is more important for students to recognize themselves in literature and in history for them to be interested in learning anything. Science needs to do more to recognize the work of African American inventors and scientists. Does History curriculum really need to spend so much time in Mesopotamia? Why not go further south and look at the Nubians in Kush, for example? Math? Making math culturally relevant sounds very difficult. But, let's try making it more physical. Incorporate music and dance. Use origami when studying geometry. Refer to ancient Arabs and their use of algebra. Use manipulatives and incorporate more social activities.
A handful or even dozens of teachers who are empathetic to the needs of all of their students is not enough. Change has to permeate throughout the entire building, from the top down and bottom up. State curricula needs to be more representative of the groups of young people who are currently unsuccessful. Until this happens, we will not be able to reach all of our students. It seems that some kids cannot differentiate between adults who care and those who don't; we just get lumped together. They also do not realize that there were hundreds of thousands of white people involved in civil rights, some of whom even died for the cause. These are lesson to be taught, as well, that we are in this together.
Upon hearing of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s death, Robert Kennedy broke the news to a large group of African Americans who had gathered to see him speak at a campaign rally. Unscripted, he told them, "We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization - black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love." We are still tasked with this today, and as educators, it is our responsibility to see King's (and Kennedy's) vision realized.
Please visit Part One and Part Two.
I intend this blog to be a reflection journal of sorts, on topics such as teaching, leadership, pedagogy, and tacos.