Sunday, June 26, 2011

Diverse classroom

My  class last year was only white, middle/upper-middle class American children , but their diversity tested my limits.  What looks homogeneous is not always so.

Multi-culturalism is valued by most liberal educators.  We want our classrooms and curricula to reinforce a global perspective.  With teachers from Poland, Trinidad, Italy...and children from many countries and religions, my new school is diverse in this way.  I'm happy about the diversity because, well, I am a liberal educator. It is, however, interesting to me that when we talk about diversity we are usually talking about ethnicity, race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Rarely do we consider socio economic diversity as important to our community.  Even less common is the acknowledgement that diverse political perspectives can create a valuable learning context.

 When parents contemplate enrolling a child in our school, I am clear about the controversial topics which will be explored during the school year.  Parents may decide that lessons like human evolution or sex education undermine family beliefs, but at least they have clear information with which to make decisions. Once parents know that I will respect family values, they are usually comfortable enrolling their child.

I've had students who have no place for God.  I've had students who have no place for science.
For the last two years I had two students from families with strong Tea Party leanings.   The different opinions that they brought to the table went beyond God vs. Science.  These boys loved Glenn Beck, Fox News, and Ronald Reagan.  I started reading Glenn Beck's blog just to apprise myself of what I consider to be the man's mad irresponsibility. From my point of view, Beck has a few reasonable moments. Overwhelmingly; however, he is a huckster, a rabble rouser trying to cash in on people's lack of critical thinking skills. Sadly, he's playing with just the kind of idiot fire that may burn down our barn. The boys are inspired by Glenn Beck. To them Beck speaks only truth.  I walked by many heated diatribes in the classroom and on the playground.  The kids were not just saying things that I disagreed with.  They were saying things that hit me on a  visceral level. I had nights of soul searching on how to respond to some of the more hateful opinions in class.

Because I had to respond.  When one is a leader--- and a teacher is a leader---and part of your population makes hateful and repeated generalizations about a group (immigrants, Muslims...whatever), how does one not respond?  At the same time, I didn't want to humiliate two children.  I also did not want to undermine the children's parents.  It was a balancing act.

I learned from these boys.  The tension that they brought led to many valuable conversations and lessons.  When we talk about diversity, it is easy to forget to bring political difference to the table.  Different ethnicities, races, religions, genders, sexual orientations may have an important dialog.  But bridging the gap between two conflicting political viewpoints is also valuable, and should not be neglected.

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