Posted by: Magistra | June 3, 2006

Radical Notion

My semester’s been over for a couple weeks now, but I keep thinking about my classes. Partly I think that’s because when you’re studying to become a teacher, you pay more attention to the way your teachers teach and partly because I’m frustrated with the experience so far (as you know if you read the last post – and, by the way, the online class isn’t looking quite as bad – amazing what a difference it makes when people keep in contact and let you know that they know it’s not quite ready yet).

I keep thinking about the Access & Equity class in particular. I think that’s because I really didn’t learn anything. This class is obviously part of how the credential program meets the language and cultural diversity content required by the state. In theory, this makes a lot of sense, probably in any state, but especially in CA. I picked up a few interesting factoids (30% of all ELL’s in the country live in Los Angeles County; almost a quarter of CA public school students are ELL’s; 85% of CA ELL’s are Spanish speaking), but I didn’t really get anything out of this class.

There’s a bumper sticker that I see now and then that reads, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people too.” Well, this class said that “Equity is the radical notion that brown people are people too.” Every discussion came back to treating each student as an individual, to wanting/helping each student to succeed, and to recognizing that students can have very different family and cultural backgrounds than us (the teachers).

I already know that. No, that knowledge doesn’t stop me from assuming that people will react like me and no, it doesn’t prevent me from making cultural gaffes. But this class offered me nothing in terms of how to keep working on those two areas.

To be fair, I don’t know if there is any guide to cultural understanding, besides life. When I was in Perth, I was living in a very international mix of people. I credit that experience with introducing me to a lot of different cultural practices and attitudes. For example, when I shake someone’s hand, I shake their hand. It’s not about crushing their knuckles, but it’s also not a limp, weak touching of fingers. Turns out that in Asia, the person who exerts more pressure is establishing their higher status, so the polite thing to do is not exert pressure. So now when I first meet someone from Asia, I try to remember that. Another example: Indian, Chinese, Malay, ex-pat – if they’re from Singapore, they’re going to have a different understanding of “clean” than I (or most North Americans, Australians, and Europeans) do.

Of course these are both generalities and my Access class was absolutely right that each person is different. I don’t know if I’m really trying to argue against this course, or if I’m just venting some frustration at a course that was designed for people who don’t already identify with that “radical notion.” I don’t really think CA should license teachers who aren’t aware of the incredible diversity in the world, but it’s frustrating to deal with a program that has just one way for you to demonstrate that awareness, and doesn’t allow for the different starting places each candidate comes from.

Reading that last sentence, I think I’ll fit right in with the education world. :-)

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