It was an exhilarating experience for me to rejoin a community of like-minded peers. It has been years since I have been immersed in a multicultural education-focused community. I was excited to join this discussion. The first event was a panel discussion with a diverse set of guests, representing the different areas that our parent organization, the National Association for Multicultural Education, encompasses.
The panel members were
- Isabelle Leger, who is a Media Specialist and coordinator for the Cambridge International Program with the City of Pembroke Pines Charter, Broward County
- Jeannett Manzanero, Ph.D., who is the Director of the Global Education Center at Palm Beach State College
- Sr. Rachel Sena, O.P., M.Ed., who is a Dominican Sister of Peace
- Faith Smith, Ph.D., who is an Associate Professor of African and African American Studies at Brandeis University and a Visiting Scholar at FAU
- David L. Watkins, Ed.S., who serves as the Director of Equity & Academic Attainment for Broward County Public Schools
For me, this was the most valuable part of the event. While the entire panel and Q & A discussion was riveting, I took the following notes:
- "Lack of education is as serious as lack of food." - Pope Paul VI
- Dignity is a perception of worth - concept attributed to Nelson Mandela
- How do you words address the failures?
- Identify acts of exclusion
- Sometimes when I am silent, it's not because I don't care. I'm silent because I am showing respect and waiting to be invited to respond.
- Dignity is so important because some people feel hurt and decide not to participate.
- We are called to heal and we are called to work with others.
- Consider multicultural education as an instrument of peace.
- We should cultivate programs where we allow children to speak. She mentions a spoken word program at her organization.
I spent the majority of the presentation vacillating between the following two places.
In one, I deeply related to her discussion when it came to applied knowledge - in other words, the theory in action. For example, she shared several examples of *fabulous* multicultural curricula that validated the students, were culturally relevant, and reinforced the learning outcomes and goals. In one example, a teacher used the lives of her students who were mainly the children of migrant farm workers to teach the math concepts of graphing and greater than/less than.
In the other, I found myself transported back to my undergrad and grad school days, because on some level she was speaking to (as I later found out) an audience of mostly students, grad students, and education professors. The speaker was providing information that the audience could use to advocate for multicultural education in schools, districts, or universities.
There was a discussion of ethnic studies and their relevance. During this time, Dr. Sleeter referenced her research review paper on the topic, The Academic and Social Value of Ethnic Studies. Importantly, She provided compelling, longitudinal data that support that culturally relevant teaching closes the achievement gap. If anything, the experience showed me that I could benefit from auditing some grad classes and delving back into the research.
Sometimes working for multicultural education, for change, for peace, can feel like an insurmountable battle. It can be uncomfortable. It is very real because it touches the core of who we are as human beings. In this lecture I learned (or was reminded) that sometimes difficult encounters can actually shift the needle. Dr. Sleeter shared a time when during one of her college-level classes, a bisexual woman and a conservative, religious woman got into a very heated discussion while working in a small group. Dr. Sleeter described the process she used to diffuse the situation - she started with one woman and asked what she wanted to say. She then listened and asked the other woman what she wanted to say, and so on. This was a situation where it was clear that neither one nor the other was going to drastically change, but years later one of the women told Dr. Sleeter that her process - the fact that Dr. Sleeter modeled respectful listening to the opposite woman actually made her want to listen. That's change. That's progress.
She then described some "Democracy Outcomes" that can be gleaned from multicultural education. I am now remembering that the context was protecting diversity on college campuses. I noted - valuing racial and ethnic diversity, the willingness to engage in cross-cultural learning, and not competing but working together. Honestly, my pen was moving pretty quickly at this point, so that's all I wrote about that, but a search of Pat Gurin of the Harvard Ed Review led me to this article, Diversity and Higher Education: Theory and Impact on Educational Outcomes. The abstract states, "In this article, Patricia Gurin, Eric Dey, Sylvia Hurtado, and Gerald Gurin explore the relationship between students’ experiences with diverse peers in the college or university setting and their educational outcomes."
Sleeter further explored the income distribution amongst U.S. Americans - what we think it is, what we think it should be, and what it actually is. The graphics she presented were staggering.
In closing remarks, Carlos Diaz spoke about the dangers of compliance mentality, and underscored the importance of addressing not only the achievement gap, but the opportunity gap. Rose Gatens reinforced that practical idealism works. We should not be afraid to be the first ones to try to make that change.
These are some key concepts and resources that Dr. Sleeter touched upon, and topics that merit further investigation.
- The economic concept of neoliberalism
- A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey
- Venture philanthropy and its affect on education
- Brown is the New White, a book by Steve Philips, The New Press, 2016.
- Math in a Cultural Context website http://uaf.edu/mcc/