Building Better Citizens: How to Foster a Positive Conversation on Culture in the Classroom


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Building Better Citizens: How to Foster a Positive Conversation on Culture in the Classroom

  1. 1. Building Better Citizens:How to Foster a Positive Conversation on Culture in the Classroom Stephen Menendian Attorney and Senior Legal Research Associate, Kirwan Institute September 27 2010
  2. 2. Diversity in the United States 2010 Population Estimates:  40 million Latino  35 million Black or African American  16 million Asian  5 million Muslim  4 million Native American  3 million Arab Americans The United States is richly diverse place.  Melting Pot or Framed Mosaic? 2
  3. 3. Cultural Acceptance? 28% of voters believe that Muslims should be ineligible to sit on the Supreme Court 31% of the country thinks that Muslims should be barred from running for President Mosque Controversy Arizona’s Immigration Bill SB 1070 3
  4. 4. Hesitancy to Talk about Diversity Most people do not know how to talk about cultural diversity in constructive ways. It’s even harder to manage constructive conversations on diversity. Reasons for the hesitancy include:  Fear of offending certain students  Fear that the conversation will spiral out of control  Fear of inter-group conflict  Lack of experience  Not sure what to say Teachers need to feel confidant that they can manage a classroom discussion. There are techniques for doing this. 4
  5. 5. Diversity Talk is Important Now more than ever there is a critical need to talk about diversity. The United States is soon to be a majority- minority nation. Preparing students for economic self-reliance, as well as civic life in 21st century America requires greater racial and cultural fluency accompanied by diverse educational experiences and exposure to diverse perspectives The educational benefits of diversity and exposure to diverse viewpoints in a classroom setting have never been more important 5
  6. 6. Diversity in the Workplace The workforce is becoming increasingly diverse: almost two-thirds of entrants to the civilian workforce in the last thirteen years were women and racial minorities. However, unless students are culturally smart, fluent and comfortable in diverse settings, they will be unprepared for public and private life. 6
  7. 7. Consider The Goals of Education Preparing Students for Citizenship  US Supreme Court: “The objective of public education is the inculcation of fundamental values necessary for the maintenance of a democratic political system.” Employment Building Human Capacity (personal/social) 7
  8. 8. Benefits of Diversity Social: Racial and cultural fluency promotes cross-racial friendships, increases comfort levels, helps break down racial stereotypes, positively impacts attitudes towards students of other racial groups. Educational: Exposure to racially diverse cultural knowledge and social perspectives promotes development of critical and complex thinking skills. Civic: Children with greater cultural fluency live and work in more integrated settings, and have higher levels of civic engagement. Particularly important during a student’s early years, when his or her attitudes about and understanding of race are not yet concretely shaped. 8
  9. 9. Thurgood[U]nless our children begin Marshallto learn together, there islittle hope that our peoplewill ever learn to livetogether. - Milliken v. Bradley (1974) 9
  10. 10. The Logic of Diversity Diversity of Identity, Diverse Better Beliefs, Perspectives Outcomes ExperiencesSource: Scott Page, “A Logic of Diversity II” (available online) 10
  11. 11. Benefits of Viewpoint Diversity Viewpoint diversity encourages better outcomes  More creative and high-quality solutions to problems are generated when groups are comprised of individuals with different vantage points, skills, beliefs, or values.  Heterogeneity promotes more critical strategy analysis, creativity, innovation, and high quality decisions. 11
  12. 12. Toolbox ViewABC ABD ACD AHK FD AEGBCD ADE BCD EZ BCD IL Alpha Group Diverse Group 12
  13. 13. Multidisciplinary ViewEcon Econ Econ Math Hist PolisciEcon Econ Econ Soc Econ Bio Alpha Group Diverse Group 13
  14. 14. Logic of Diversity  “Most of the time the diverse group outperforms the group of the ‘most talented’ individuals by a substantial margin” Whether in a laboratory or a democracy, diversity benefits everyoneSource: Lu Hong and Scott Page, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2002) 14
  15. 15. Talking About Diversity Is Important Diversity Talk is a critical avenue for allowing students to encounter diverse viewpoints. However, numerical diversity is not enough.  Students of diverse backgrounds sitting next to each other does not, by itself, result in the benefits of viewpoint diversity nor result in cultural fluency or break down racial stereotypes. 15
  16. 16. Achieving the Benefits of Viewpoint Diversity That requires moving beyond numbers  Multicultural curricula: Students should be taught a diverse curriculum including the histories, cultures and contributions of all.  Teacher Skill: Teachers must be able to manage classroom discussion on diversity and race.  Administrative Support: Schools should be comprised of culturally competent, racially and linguistically diverse school staff. 16
  17. 17. Techniques for Diversity Talk Explicit Ground Rules. Classrooms need safe, supportive space for discussion. Use Food, Stories, Books or Film as Conversation Starters and other ice breakers. Ice breakers are an easier way to start the conversation. Takes pressure off of the teacher to initiate and students are empowered. Have Students Work together cooperatively. Use mock conversation starters or problems to address in a collaborative way. This will reduce potential inter-group conflict. 17
  18. 18. Techniques for Race Talk Facts matter. Not all students will buy the facts, but being armed with the facts helps enormously. Practice Outside the Classroom First. Being comfortable talking about diversity is essential. Bring It Home.Use contexts or issues that students are familiar with. Knowledge of Dominant Frames. Be aware of the primary talking points and frames that people use when thinking about race, ethnicity and culture, and be prepared to respond. 18
  19. 19. Lesson Plan Ideas Ice Breaker for Middle School and High School Students: Have the students each share a situation in which they were a minority and felt different. This creates openness in the classroom For Elementary Students: Divide the students by brown and blue eye color. Suggest that, on average, the students with blue eyes are smarter and more athletic. Then interview the students and ask how they feel about it:  Be sure to get parental approval for this exercise! 19
  20. 20. Discussion Ideas Incidents and Current Events: Most schools have race “incidents.” A discussion of these incidents, when handled well, can be a very constructive way to start a dialogue on race because it directly affects students and they will likely have put some thought into it. Current events can be used as well. Present the facts, such as the details of Arizona’s immigration bill, and then let students discuss immigration.  It would require the police “when practicable” to detain people they reasonably suspected were in the country without authorization.  It would also allow the police to charge immigrants with a state crime for not carrying immigration documents. “Does Arizona’s Immigration Law Encourage Racial Profiling?” 20
  21. 21. Discussion Idea What are areas in our school that can be more integrated? [For example, the cafeteria, playground, etc.] How might our school reflect our values better? Break the students up into groups to think about the problem and come up with a list of ideas. Follow up by asking if there are other areas of the schools, such as particular sports or classes that are diverse to raise awareness to the issue. 21
  22. 22. Discussion Issue: Addressing Prejudice Ask the students to raise their hands if they have heard friends or acquaintances make prejudicial comments in passing.  Almost all should raise their hands if they are being honest. Now ask the class to keep their hands raised if they confronted their friend on the comment. Then open the discussion (in a very non-judgmental way) to ask why they don’t confront friends for making racist comments. Suggest that the class come up with constructive ways to question friends who make inappropriate remarks. 22
  23. 23. Discussion Ideas Use made-up comments that include racist or racial undertones for classroom discussion:  “I don’t know about you, but all Asian kids are good at math and get good grades in math.” Present quote to the classroom and ask if this quote is racist. How would it be interpreted by an Asian or a non-Asian? Ask then students to raise their hand if they would confront the person who said it. Suggest that the myth of the model minority harms other minorities by diminishing support for affirmative action. 23
  24. 24. Be Prepared to Respond and Manage a Conversation Mulsims aren’t real Americans. Islam is not consistent with American values.Aren’t there many Muslims that serve in our military, and havesacrificed for this country?I just wish immigrants would learn our language. If they comehere, they should be able to assimilate.Diversity is one of our greatest strengths. Our nation isa history of immigrants bringing their energy, ideas, andinnovative spirit. 24
  25. 25. Cultural Racism Frame Cultural racism is the culture frame: that blacks don’t value education or that Latinos have too many babies, etc.  No longer biological racism, but lack of ‘hygiene, family disorganization, or lack of morality’ have replaced it. I don’t think, you know, they’re all like that, but, I mean, it’s just that if it wasn’t that way, why would there be so many blacks living in the projects? You know, why would there be so many poor blacks? If they worked hard, they could make it just as high as anyone else you know. You know, I just think that’s just, you know, they’re raised that way and they see what their parents are like. 25
  26. 26. Incorporating Diversity Q: What if I have a homogenous student population? A: There are many creative ways to expose students to diversity Example- multicultural curriculum  Teach social justice issues  Place students and their experiences at the center of the teaching and learning process  Place learning in a context that is familiar to students and that addresses multiple ways of thinking. 26
  27. 27. Discussing Diversity Q: What if I’m not comfortable discussing diversity? A: Now is a great time to recognize this!  Explore your comfort level discussing issues of diversity  Practice talking about these issues with others  Seek help from an advisor, mentor, or supportive organization  Be open to learning from your students-remember no one is an expert  Examine your own assumptions, prejudices and stereotypes 27
  28. 28. Resources Use movies, articles, activities to facilitate discussions around stereotypes and prejudice  Crash  Skin Deep  Tatum, Beverly Daniel. (2003). Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity. New York: Basic Books. 28