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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Multicultural/Intercultural/Nonsexist Education

I am a big believer in the absolute necessity of constantly teaching with a multicultural perspective on everything. It is always important, regardless of the demographics of the school I am working at. If the school is comprised of upper-middle-class monolingual English-speaking white kids, their home cultures need to be valued and other perspectives need to be introduced so as to build a basis for understanding and acceptance of differences. If the school is comprised of Latino kids who speak Spanish at home and live in poverty, their home cultures need to be valued and other perspectives need to be introduced so as to build a basis for understanding and acceptance of differences. It does not matter who I am working with, what the students’ home lives are like, what their previous experiences are, who they live with, what language they speak; they should know that their lived experiences are valuable and important and so are experiences they are less familiar with. I believe that all children have the capability, and quite frankly, the desire, to learn about other people, other cultures, other ways of living.

This is a belief of mine which has most certainly been nurtured and developed in conjunction with my education courses throughout college and the specific professors with whom I have worked. I always forget though that not everyone has those same beliefs. And that is where we get into the murky distinction between “doing” multicultural education and incorporating it wholeheartedly into every aspect of the classroom.

My CT likely believes in multicultural education in theory. I’m sure if I had asked her if she taught with a multicultural perspective she would have said ‘yes.’ After all, the school is 75% Latino, to her that certainly means that the school is one which values multiculturalism. But, it’s not. At least her classroom doesn’t teach what I consider to be a value of multiple cultures and an understanding of gender equality.

There were several times throughout my student teaching when I wanted to do activities directly related to the cultures that are not the dominant white middle-class. Because despite the fact that the school has linguistic and cultural diversity, it always felt to me that the school was more acultural than anything else. It seemed to me to be lacking culture, as if my CT figured that by being a school with inherent diversities in the students, nothing else had to be done to “do” multicultural education.

I proposed several topics to her, for lessons that I wanted to teach. One lesson was related to Día de los Muertos. I wanted to incorporate Day of the Dead into the lessons I was teaching on other topics. I felt that the discussion of Mexico in the picture book I had checked out of the library would help maintain the students’ interest. I had several neat activities we could do involving Day of the Dead and the other specific activities I was supposed to be teaching. When I first started talking about this with her, I wasn’t asking her if I could teach this lesson – I was just informing her what my plans were. I didn’t think there would be any problem with it. She told me that she didn’t know if we were allowed to talk about Day of the Dead, and that I should email the principal to ask if I could teach my lesson. So, I emailed the principal, explained my rational and proposed activities, and asked if I was allowed to talk about Day of the Dead. A few days later, the principal saw me in the hallway and told me that he/she was going to email me a response the next morning. She/he never ended up responding to my request. My CT, a few days later, decided to tell me that I couldn’t teach that lesson.

“You can’t just teach something because you think it sounds like fun,” she said to me condescendingly. “Besides, I don’t think they need to learn about that cultural stuff yet. They’ll have time in the upper grades.”

I think my only response was a timid, “okay.” There wasn’t any arguing with her. I was confused though. Why did the principal never respond to my email? If my CT didn’t want me teaching the lesson in the first place, why didn’t she just say so? Why did she tell me to email the principal? Had they talked about this together and decided that I shouldn’t teach that lesson? (My CT is on very comfortable terms with the principal.)

So, I didn’t teach about Day of the Dead. Since then, there have been a few other times when I proposed a lesson with a multicultural or nonsexist theme and was basically shot down.

I’m actually afraid I may have offended her one time. Though I don’t think I am sorry about it. She suggested to me a graphing activity where each student would get a piece of paper to add to the class graph to chart their preferences of something. She got out a baggie of di-cut shapes that I could use that were very much gendered (one shape was clearly meant for the boys and one was clearly meant for the girls). I looked at the papers, looked up at her, and confusedly said, “I’m sorry. I can’t use those. I can’t give the boys [paper A] and the girls [paper B]. I’ll make my own cut-outs.”

She said just said, “okay” in an ‘fine, do what you want you crazy girl’ tone of voice and put the papers back where she had found them. We never spoke of it again. However, looking back on the incident, I think that may have been the start of the second phase of our relationship (read: the beginning of the intense passive aggressiveness on her part and the beginning of me asking fewer questions.)

Recently I asked her a question about something mentioned in the grade-level topics-to-be-taught schedule. It said that during the winter season the students are supposed to learn about ‘multicultural winter holidays.’ I asked what exactly that meant. She responded that the previous year she hadn’t actually done anything on that topic, but that some of the other teachers had done lessons on how Christmas is celebrated in other places. I asked about other holidays, like Kwanzaa and Chanukah, since when one thinks of ‘multicultural winter holidays’ Kwanzaa and Chanukah usually complete the list of three holidays talked about. Again I got the response of “oh, the kids don’t need to learn about that. The cultural things are too much for them, they shouldn’t learn about that yet.”

And really, that just killed me. It hurt me to hear her say that. I’ve been going back and forth in my mind for days, mulling over her response. Her total and complete dismissal of the idea of talking about non-Christmas holidays. Are the kids too young? Would they understand? Would that be valuable to them, learning about holidays that they don’t celebrate? Would they just be confused? I’ve been doubting myself, my own beliefs.

I don’t think they’re too young. I think that the seed for tolerance should be planted young. If students aren’t exposed to the ideas of traditions different than their own at a young age, these differences will be shocking to them later in life. It will be harder for them to accept the “other” if it is completely foreign. Besides, I have worked with preschoolers who have had lessons on ‘multicultural winter holidays.’ They can most certainly handle it. Yes, you have to make sure the lesson is at the students’ level. You have to make sure it is accessible to them. But you have to do that for any lesson you are going to teach them – a lesson on holidays/traditions is no different.

I feel that my desire to incorporate multicultural content into my lessons was at times discourage by my CT, and at other times outright forbidden. That makes me feel sad and frustrated. In a way, I was prevented from incorporating some of my core beliefs into my lessons, and that may have played in to the feelings I had of monotony and just going-through-the-motions. I wasn’t allowed to teach in the ways I feel to be most important. I continually had to be who my CT wanted me to be. I hope that when I have my own classroom I am able to let the true Me show through in creating my lessons. I hope to demonstrate my belief in the importance of a curriculum valuing multiple cultures and gender equality.

Additionally, I feel that if I had incorporated more cultural aspects into my lessons, made it so that my students could relate better to what we were doing, I may have had a different time with classroom management than I did. I know that nothing is a fix-all. However, the few times when I was able to incorporate aspects of the students’ home cultures into my lessons, they absolutely loved it – they were much more focused and attentive. Had I been able to create lessons they could relate to more than I did, I think they would have responded by maintaining attention.

I guess these are all things I will be able to explore more once I have my own classroom. I will have the control to implement the classroom practices that I find most valuable.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I'm either delusional or creative.

My lesson today was mediocre to poor. I was observed today, and the person observing me wouldn't admit to my lesson being bad. All I wanted her to do was agree with me. Or better yet, engage me in a thought provoking conversation, which she didn't do. So instead, I wrote the dialogue to the conversation I wish I had had. In doing so, I kind of ended up having the conversation. In my head. (Hopefully this doesn't make me seem too crazy.)

Me: My lesson today basically sucked, I feel really bad about it.
Imaginary Professor: What makes you say that?
Me: Because it was really bad - I didn't teach the kids anything.
Imaginary Professor: What makes you think that you didn't teach the kids anything.
Me: Because while I was up there, I thought two things. 1) I am doing way too much talking. I'm just talk-talk-talking at the kids. And 2) What I was talking about wasn't really closely related to what my assessment was. The two just weren't connected in the way they were supposed to be.
Imaginary Professor: Why was that?
Me: Because, maybe...I don't know. Because I kind of had two objectives I guess. Talking about international [somethings], and talking about how [something] comes from [a crop]. The first objective was kind of blah - it was interesting because it was cultural, but it didn't really have any content aside from that. I didn't go far with it - just mentioned surface level things. The second objective was more important - it had some facts and some knowledge that the kids were supposed to gain, but I didn't teach it well. I didn't really teach it at all.
Imaginary Professor: Why do you think you didn't teach it at all?
Me: For two reasons. One of them is that I realized that I didn't know how talk about what I wanted to talk about - how to talk about how we get from the [crop] stage to the [something] stage. I have [crop], then [crop] being combined, but then after that it's all fuzzy, it just kind of POOF turns into [something]. And also, they couldn't demonstrate that they had understood. My worksheet, which required them to put in order the different stages of [something] making, had a couple problems with it. One was that I never thoroughly or clearly or really at all explained to them the concepts being evaluated on the worksheet. And also, one of the pictures, the most confusing picture of all, wasn't clear.
Imaginary Professor: Okay.
Me: And it just sucked. It was a bad lesson. Nothing meshed up well.
Imaginary Professor: What do you mean by "nothing meshed up well"?
Me: Well, I don't think my objectives really matched up with my assessment.
Imaginary Professor: How could you have made them match up better?
Me: Um, well...I could have just, made sure they matched up better. I guess I didn't really do that.
Imaginary Professor:
Me: Next time, or in general, I guess I have to really make sure that I have an objective (or two or three) and that those objectives can be evaluated by my assessment, either formally or informally.
Imaginary Professor: Yes, that does sound important.
Me: Yeah, I always know that is important, and that is how it should be done, but I tend to just...forget. I get an objective, and an assessment, and I forget to make sure the two are connected. Which leads to a very disconnected lesson in which not much gets accomplished.
Imaginary Professor: And you are always talking about how you don't have enough time for everything.
Me: Yeah. I need to make sure to use the time I do have wisely, responsibly, so that the kids get to take advantage of their time at school.
Imaginary Professor: Mm-hmm.
Me: Yeah. Thanks for talking through this with me. I mean, I know how to write a lesson in theory, I just tend to get distracted or mentally caught up in other things, and then the lesson ends up being a bit disconnected. I need to always ask myself how my objectives connect to my assessment. Always, always.
Imaginary Professor: Yes. That sounds good.
Me: Okay. Thank you.