28 January 2008

Potpourri of Diversity

  • When I started my M.Ed. in '93, part of the requirements included a class on multiculturalism. It was taught by Felipe de Ortega y Gasca, an expert in Hispanic studies. At the time, the concept of "multiculturalism" seemed new, so much so that the focus of the course was more about the nature and purpose of education in general---rather than looking at how to understand the needs of diverse learners in order to help them achieve the educational goals.
  • There was a recent outcry by Jay Greene that schools of education were requiring more hours of coursework in diversity than mathematics for teachers in training. Nancy over at Teacher in a Strange Land has an excellent commentary on this, and her point is well-taken. Without the ability to build relationships in the classroom with students of varied backgrounds, there's not much of a chance to help kids learn math. It's one piece of differentiating in the classroom. The ultimate goal for every child is the same (meeting the standards), but without understanding the point each child must start from, teachers cannot construct the necessary scaffolding to move kids forward.
  • And then there's this article published in the Washington Post last week about studies that show that most diversity training is ineffective. In fact, in the business world, places of work end up becoming even less diverse after training has been implemented. The article does not reference ed schools or the working world of education, but there may be some lessons from it. Voluntary training does yield positive results; forced training does not. "Marc Bendick, an economist who researches diversity at Bendick and Egan Economic Consultants in the District, said his surveys suggest there is a role for conventional sensitivity training. But he agreed that the training is likely to be effective only in the context of an organization genuinely interested in cultural and structural change. 'If you ask what is the impact of diversity training today, you have to say 75 percent is junk and will have little impact or no impact or negative impact,' Bendick said."

  • There are a few people pushing a diversity agenda in my school district. Two work in my building, and one in particular is likely part of the 75% junk training. While he has bullied other staff members into participating in lit circles around diversity issues (teachers are genuinely afraid of this man, therefore they feel that they have to participate), he also managed to work his way into a training for admins and counselors. I think my favourite comment that resulted from that was the presentation set the school district back at least three years because he alienated so many people with his program that people shut down and don't want to talk now. Great. There is a new "diversity specialist" with the district, as well---and while the district is giving this person some high visibility at the beginning, there are already rumblings that she, too, is a terrible presenter and has no skills for working with staff. Chalk up another trainer to the 75%.
  • We also have a "diversity question" that must be asked in every interview. It is something along the lines of defining diversity and explaining how it affects you in the workplace. While there is not a specific right answer for the definition part, the second piece of the question is looking to see if people understand that diversity is something to be aware of in daily interactions. I like that better than people trying to explain how color-blind they are. Let's face it: we're all different. And while those differences should never be used as excuses or reasons for underperformance or special consideration, they are points to respect. I think that the reason so many diversity training opportunities fail to make a difference is that the underlying message is the reverse of this. People are overwhelmed with all of the things they are now supposed to remember and do (which causes the backlash..."Screw it. I'm not adjusting to everyone else. They can accommodate me."), rather than being helped to see that we just need to recognize that everyone has needs.
  • I received Managing Diverse Classrooms as a perk of my ASCD membership this week. I haven't had a chance to look at it much, but I found the timing of its arrival interesting considering all of the other sources of discussion at the moment. It looks like a very practical resource, something I like. I would love to be able to provide a better learning environment for all my students...just tell me what to do. I don't have the time or headspace to figure it all out on my own. This book looks like it might actually have the kind of support that I want. I'll let you know more after I have a chance to do some reading.

1 comment:

Nancy Flanagan said...

Hey, S-Goddess.

Thanks for linking to my what-was-Jay-Greene-thinking post. With that said, I fully agree with you that about 3/4 of all "diversity" training (and in that, I include "cultural competence" and even some "multiculturalism" stuff) is junk.

Still--if it is junk, why aren't teachers pushing back? Our time is worth more. Diversity is a real issue in American classrooms. Real, growing and very...touchy. Fact is, all human beings have cultural, societal and personal biases; they're part of our intellectual heritage and personalities. We can't get rid of them entirely, but we can uncover them and acknowledge them. And we can work from that basis.

My (admittedly limited) experience with novice teachers and courses in multiculturalism is that a whole lot of well-meaning folks are hugely taken aback when exposed to the breadth of differences between their personal HS and the one they're student teaching in. Courses, at the very least, begin the conversations they need to stop judging and holding out for a job in their hometown.