How to Lose a Diverse Student in 8 Days
A couple of years ago my daughter tried out for the cheerleading team. As part of the process, the girls were required to wear their hair in a long ponytail with spiral curls plus a bow. Although there is nothing surprising about these expectations, it caused me to pause. My daughter is African American with very thick hair (think lion king). In order to style her hair in a ponytail, there is a lot involved. There is hair washing, drying, and straightening, In addtion, there is holding gel, curling tools, and this is just the beginning! Although with time, sweat, and effort, we could accomplish this ponytail ideal, I began to think about the other African American students that did not have the natural hair length needed in order to create a long pony-tail with spiral curls. Wow. I could not believe that something as simple as a hairstyle could serve to separate students from one another. More importantly, it seemed that something as simple as a hairstyle could seperate the opportunities afforded to particular students.
I do not believe that the coach intended for the cheering requirements to be exlcusive, but I do feel that if we as school leaders are not purposeful, sensitive, and responsibie in our actions, we will fail to reach all of our students.
After reading work by Peggy McIntosh (1988) on how our own background, culutre, or "hidden knapsacks" may impede our ability to interact with one another, I was inspired to reflect on my experiences with diversity in the classroom. I thought of all of the missed opportunities and the "disconnections" suggested by McIntosh. I figured that with out purposeful actions, in a week or so, we could lose the opportunity to connect with a diverse student. After some reflection, I composed a list of how an educator might lose a diverse student in 8 days:
Day One: Acting upon a too narrow definition of diversity (remember that diversity can entail race, culture, sexuality, class, ability/disability etc.).
Day Two: Focusing on our own "knapsack" and fearing to approach, learn about or even build upon the "knapsack" for the range of students in our classroom.
Day Three: We accept stereotypes of our learners with out question (we ignore individuality and negative case samples and in return block learning).
Day Four: We allow stereotypes to guide our teaching (please review the classic study done by Rosenthal and Jacobson on the expectation theory).
Day five: In trying to acknowledge our culturally sensitivity, we do not critically explore our own statements. Think about when we say "my best friends are ________ (insert a specific ethnicity, religion, class, etc.).
Day Six: We utilize a curriculum that is limited to multicultural heroes/concepts for one unit, or one time a year instead of incorporating substantial changes through out the school year.
Day Seven: We show Youtube clips or videos during class that are not representative of all of our students.
Day Eight: We fail to expose our students to living, up-close professional models of diversity within our schools (think about if the individuals holding leadership roles in your school are a mixture of colors and abilities).
Can you think of any other examples to add to the list? As far as the cheerleading try-out, my daughter did not make the team (it had nothing to do with her hair, she simply did not master all those different jumps, kicks, splits etc.). On the upside, the try-out process did give my daughter and I the opportunity to discuss diversity, and the need for the sensitivity of differences within the school community. How do you envision a diversity sensitive or culturally responsive school? Your insight would definitely help to keep the conversation going...