Monday, February 4, 2008

history and the present

In reading through the time-lines of educational events this week, I was struck by my lack of historical knowledge. Not just about education, but about everything. I have a very loose historical framework in my mind, and the events on the time-lines reminded me of things I had once learned. I realized (or remembered, reaffirmed) how important it is to know where we have been in order to decide where we want to go. How can I (or anyone) try to make changes in the field of education (or any field) without knowing what changes have been tried in the past? I was really surprised by how long ago seemingly modern developments occurred, such as Carnegie units in high school and female superintendents (both in 1909), and how recently ridiculous things continue to happen, like segregation, discrimination, and arguments over evolution and school prayer. I was also struck by the different interpretations that can be made of history, even something as simple as the French and Indian War. I'm sure the French and the variety of Native American tribes involved did not call the war by this name. I'm now motivated to deepen my knowledge of history, especially in the field of education. Since my primary goal as an educator is to address social inequalities within the school system, I think it is very important for me to become familiar with the numerous court cases and laws passed regarding segregation, bilingual education, intelligence testing, and the like.

Which leads me to the Villegas article. I whole-heartedly agree with the assertion that teacher education needs to move beyond a superficial treatment of diversity. Teachers need to be adequately prepared to teach in a way that is multicultural and culturally responsive. In my undergraduate teacher education program, I was very happy with the emphasis that issues of diversity were given in the curriculum. But the fact is, it WAS superficial. My knowledge of diversity (especially in the context of teaching) was incredibly limited, so I did not recognize the superficiality until...well, now. We had to include in every lesson plan we created some element that could be counted as "multicultural." Most of the time, this was as simple as providing students with the opportunity to talk about their cultural backgrounds, or using literature written by an ethnic minority. And while these are both nice ideas, they in no way meet the criteria for a multicultural education.

The crazy thing is, I wrote my honors thesis on multicultural education. I surveyed literature on the topic and interviewed local teachers to find out their views and find out what was actually being taught. And yet even after writing 50+ pages on the topic, I didn't come away with an adequate understand of how to actually IMPLEMENT multicultural education. I've heard many times that teachers often teach the way they were taught, and I think this is true. If teachers are not taught in a way that is multicultural and culturally responsive, how will they be able to teach this way? How can I teach this way? That's what I want to know. I know why it's important -- crucial, really. I know what it is now, finally, in all its forms. But what does multicultural education look like? What do I actually DO in the classroom? What do I actually WRITE in my curriculum? This is what I need to know.

In the Villegas article, it stated that, "social inequalities are produced and perpetuated through systemic discrimination and justified through a societal ideology of merit, social mobility, and individual responsibility." I think this statement really addresses why it is so hard for teachers especially to recognize the discrimination within the school system. We get these "bad" kids who don't try, act up in class, and fail or barely pass, and it's natural to think that it's their fault. This child is in control of his own actions. He decides whether he will behave or not. He decides whether he will study or not. So if he gets detention, if he fails a test or fails a class, it's his fault for not trying, or maybe he just doesn't have what it takes. Because ANYONE can succeed if they just TRY! These are the biggest lies that teachers believe, and the easiest to believe because individual responsibility and social mobility make sense, fit in with our world view. But even if I recognize these inequalities, how do I circumvent them? How do I get through to these kids who have spent 9 years or more facing these inequalities? What do I do with the bad kid who doesn't try?

This is turning into too much of a rant, so I think I'll stop now!

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