Category Archives: diversity

What is an Acceptable Graduation Rate?

Since the 1970s some aspects of students and their lives are relatively unchanged according to a study by the Foundation for Child Development.

Reading abilities, graduation rates, and suicide rates have basically remained the same for teenagers since the 1970s. Also, math rates have risen despite the bad press math and science teachers continually receive.

To me, this speaks quite highly of the work teachers do since the social make-up of the classroom has altered dramatically. More special education students and ELL students are being taught in America’s classrooms meaning that challenges have increased without a reduction in achievement. Additionally, the internet and video games have increasingly competed with schools for time requiring teachers to change their methods. Continue reading

Creating Relevance in the Classroom

One aspect of teaching, which can be quite difficult, is how to make what we teach relevant to students today. Kids seem to think they cannot possibly connect the writings of yesteryear with the hectic, technological, global lives led today; however, creating relevance need not be too difficult.

I teach English and one of my favorite pieces to read (an excerpt anyway) with the kids is Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Not only do the students love the ideas of independence and questioning authority, but they also can quickly apply the principles to their daily lives or to pop culture.

One example right now which fits in quite nicely with Emerson’s teachings is the sports story centering on Brett Favre. I might give a quick rundown about how Brett Favre has decided he does not now want to remain retired and how he would like to return to the NFL as a starting quarterback. I could give a short article from a sports page as well, which wouldn’t be a bad idea, and then give the students this question: “How would Ralph Waldo Emerson feel about Brett Favre’s decision? Use lines from Self-Reliance to support your answer.” Continue reading

Two Novels of Race Relations

Two novels I taught this year were To Kill A Mockingbird and A Gathering of Old Men. Prior to and during reading these novels, I had the kids look at some songs, poems, and historical context. Here are a few of my favorite things concerning the race relations in the novels. Continue reading

Tolerance Wins!

Thousands of high schools around the country participate in the Day of Silence each year, which includes my own high school. However, in my state the bulk of the media’s attention centered on Mt. Si High School because Rev. Ken Hutcherson, pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, called for 1,000 “prayer warriors” to protest Day of Silence. He reasoned that “We’re against giving an entire school day to one club to push an agenda that is not about education.”

Only 80 protesters showed up. Tolerance wins that battle.

I would counter that he is wrong on two counts: Day of Silence is not about a club (i.e. GSA clubs) pushing a non-education agenda, and Day of Silence is all about education. It centers on tolerance, tells students everyone deserves a voice, opposes harassment, and challenges bullying and name-calling. Are these not aspects of a typical civics class? Also, contrary to common beliefs, it does not promote a lifestyle; it’s about equality and tolerance.

One note of sadness for me is that 1/3 of the students were absent, including 85 athletes (a group often the source of homophobic bullying).

Still, I would say that the Day of Silence is gaining acceptance and more students are seeing that it is a day of tacitly shouting out a resounding “no” to abusive behaviors. Their silence becomes a loud call to all to understand that everyone deserves a voice.

While a few students in my high school wrote homophobic remarks on t-shirts to protest, overall my school was quite supportive. We did not have an unusual number of absences, and no major incidents were reported. I am proud of the participants and those who, even if they disagreed, respected others’ beliefs and supported the participants’ First Amendment rights to speak and be heard. Even if they must be heard in silence.

They Need Support and Respect

I read this article about a teenager killed basically for being gay, and I continue to be amazed at the lack of support within schools for gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual students.

My school recently started a group to support all students of diversity, and I admire the leaders of this group and the students involved because my community does not readily accept people who may be different or outside the “normal” social groups.

From the article activists say:

many schools do not have programs that promote tolerance among students, provide training for educators, or include policies that specifically prohibit harassment and bullying based on sexual orientation.

I sincerely hope that schools begin to create more organizations to support all students. And, tolerance is not enough; we need to teach respect, respect for all people.

The Changing Face

When I was a kid I remember being told that one day, far, far in the future everyone will be tan skinned, a dark shade of tan. Because of the races mixing and having children, soon everyone will be a blend of everyone else. I’m not sure if this will happen, but America’s face is not what it once was.

A recent article in the Seattle Times states that the face of America is changing. Now one in ten U.S. counties have a population where non-Hispanic Whites are not the majority. Primarily, these counties are in the southwest, the Bible belt, Alaska, and Hawaii; however, there are a few counties in my neck of the woods included in this demographic measurement.

Some of the more experienced teachers with whom I work told me that the current 35% Hispanic population we have at the high school is a new development. In the 1970s and 1980s they said we had a Hispanic population of 5% and under. Our valley’s agricultural boom and construction needs have created an influx of seasonal migrant workers and a newly transplanted population from Central America. We are one of the faces changing in America.

I firmly believe in the power and desirability of diversity. I have always known a diverse community, being in the minority for much of my life and always made a better man because of diversity’s power.

A new study is now out countering the benefits of diversity on civic life. This study conducted by Harvard’s Robert Putnam indicates that almost all “civic measures” decline as diversity increases. Some findings in diverse communities are:

a) “fewer people vote,”
b) “they volunteer less often,”
c) “less is given to charity,”
d) “fewer people work on community projects,” and
e) “neighbors trust one another about half as much as they do in the most homogenous settings.”

While I can’t directly dispute any of the findings or data, I believe the problem at the center of this isn’t really diversity. The problems are prejudice and fear. Humans fear what is different or strange. People tend to shy away from what they don’t understand.

I see the results of this study, not as a negative, but a positive. We can change if we so desire. Is that not what we teach our children? To be inclusive, accepting, tolerant, and respectful of one another. Adults are not always the best models for the qualities we try to instill in our youth, but we’re doing better. We’re doing better all the time. Our country is changing and changing for the better. I will continue to lift our lamps beside the golden door.