Sunday, November 14, 2010

Laying on the 3rd rail

Unless you are brand new to my blog, you know that I think that multi-cultural focus in education is pretty much one of the biggest wastes of time I’ve ever seen.  Since Day One of the credential program in 2000, I’ve been told that the primary focus of instruction needs to be how to deal with Latino students, especially English Language Learners.  To better connect with these students, I’ve been shown techniques that are focused around Spanish speaking students, bludgeoned with the paramount importance of cultural sensitivity, and forced into spending thousands of dollars getting an addition to my credential called the CLAD,  with stands for “Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development”.   In fact, all teachers were required to get the CLAD or face the possibility of losing their jobs.  You know what all this multi-cultural focus has gained us?  Very little.

The problem is that it is wildly unpopular to disagree with putting culture ahead of academics, as I found out two weeks ago.  So while our school held a “Dia de los Muertos” celebration at the school, grumbling started to take place about the benefit of the event.  Everything from academic distraction to cultural overload to First Amendment issues were being discussed all over campus.  I was actually ambivalent.  My own feeling was that we focus on culture too much and that it should have been an after school event, but I’d been saying this for awhile.  An e-mail was then sent out by one of the events organizers apologizing for some items that may had caused offense to some people.  In return came a dozen e-mails supporting the event, including a majority that said that if people didn’t support the “Day of the Dead” celebration, they were “ethnocentric, culturally insensitive, and racist”. 

I was fed up with hypocritical nature of the argument that disagreeing with educational philosophy equated to racism, so I sent back an e-mail, which said the following:

-Not agreeing to the celebration does not make one culturally insensitive, ethnocentric, or racist.

-I would like a discussion on the value of cultural assimilation.

-Our Latino students have chronically low test scores.

-The ratio of support classes to student population heavily favors Latinos.    

-There are a variety of cultural events including celebrations, BBQ’s, college visits, ethnic retreats, field trips, and clubs, that pull students out of class during the day, including low performing students.

-We as an institution seem to have a lower expectation from our Latino students.

-We need to accurately analyze the real cost/benefit of how involved we are with cultural issues while neglecting academic progress.

-We might be unintentionally creating a culturally decisive atmosphere.

You might have thought I advocated Nazism and the return of slavery with the reaction I got.  Scathing e-mails called me a racist, a colonial oppressor, and generally ignored any suggestions that I made toward rational discussion.  A couple of teachers went so far as to tell their students I was a racist, and one even lobbied that I be disciplined for my insensitive remarks. 

But this story has a happy second chapter, because the discussion has started in a meaningful way around the campus, even with the heads of many remaining in the sand.  Ten years and consistently high standards have made the argument that race comes into my teaching a totally dead issue with the kids.  A couple of students came to me and told me that teachers were acting in a highly unprofessional manner, and those that wanted to know about the race issue were happy when I answered “I will always have higher expectations of you.  I will always care for you.  But I think the best way for you to succeed in my class is for you to be in it.  I have no apologies for wanting to keep you here”.  I have yet to meet a student that is not satisfied with that answer.  Most know me enough to think the race card is crap anyway.

Even better are the teachers that came to my classroom to have a legitimate discussion about what I wrote.  Some told me that most of the concern was around generalizations.  The population is English Language Learners, not Latino, that I should be talking about according to some people.  Fair enough, except that when we talk about supporting certain populations we generalize all the time.  Most came out of our conversation acknowledging that a school wide discussion should take place about communication, priorities, and plenty of other issues that boil underneath because people are concerned about perception. 

This isn’t an issue of lacking work ethic.  I think teachers get offended when someone asks them to rethink how they do things that might not be efficient, even if they do work hard.  I know I would.  But we are doing Latino students a serious injustice by refusing to have a conversation about how we do things as an institution, hell, as a society!  Cutting out dialogue and playing the race card does nothing but leave education in a state of mediocrity where we talk about the same results over and over again. 

blog comments powered by Disqus