Multicultural Education

January 26, 2001

Office: 210 Harry Griffith Hall
Office hours: M W F 2:30-4:00 or by appointment

Required Texts:
715 Reading Packet
Kozol, Jonathan. (1991). Savage Inequalities. New York: Harper Perennial.

There are far too many institutional and social constraints within schools blocking equitable educational opportunities for some students. There is far too little skepticism and questioning concerning groups of students who fail to learn much in our schools and fail to graduate. We (society, teachers, researchers, politicians, administrators, you, me) hold tight to our conception of what schools and learning are supposed to look like despite overwhelming evidence, especially in urban schools, that schools are failing many students.

When we do question failure, we usually begin by looking at the student or the particular group of students failing. We ask the question, "Why is this student or group failing?" We have a host of answers ready to justify or explain students' failure, especially if the students are members of a racial or ethnic minority or from an impoverished home: it's the parents, it's because of language difficulties, the students are unmotivated etc. But maybe our answers are in response to the wrong question because the questions tend to focus solely on the student or group. Anthropologist, Ray McDermott, thinks we need to change our question:

"Instead of asking why half the individuals in a culture do less well than the others, we can ask why a culture would acquire so many individuals in failing positions. Instead of asking why so many individuals do not learn what they need to get around in the culture, we can ask why a culture would organize opportunities for individuals to behave in ways that would make them look like failures."

McDermott points out that when we ask questions that focus on the students, we vacillate between two types of explanations of failure: cultural deprivation and cultural difference. In the first case we see students as "broken" because of the "impoverished" environment in which they live. In the second case, students are not seen as broken but "different". Their failure is a result of cultural and linguistic differences which cause miscommunication which distances students from learning. The weakness McDermott sees with these explanations is that both involve labeling, evaluating, and judging those who fail.

I agree with McDermott's analysis because it reveals that in a society that expects failure and is preoccupied with identifying it publicly (tests, labels of all sorts, grades, tracking) school success often depends on who is in a position to label others as different or disadvantaged and to have their opinions count. McDermott argues that the way out of this mess is to begin to see that everyone is a part of situations in which students fail. To challenge failure is to challenge our well worn assumptions that keep certain students failing without asking how we may be playing a part, and how the situation might be different.

Some of the issues and questions that we will be discussing will seem overwhelming, make you feel powerless, and make you angry. It is difficult to imagine what to do today about the fact that schools with the greatest needs (clean classrooms, materials, enough classrooms, qualified teachers, substitute teachers) usually lack the funds to meet these basics and have very high failure rates. The weak and uninviting curriculum in these schools is often resistant to change. The fierce debate over bilingual goes on as Spanish-speaking students continue to drop out of school in unconscionable numbers.

Other issues that lead to inequity in schools can easily be addressed by individual teachers. There are far too many classrooms were teachers allow students to call each other "fag", as if there were no gay or lesbian students in the same room. There are far too few serious discussions about the difficulties, accomplishments, and courageous stands of gays and lesbians in our society. Women can be given more attention in the curriculum. Bob Davis in "Teaching Streamed Students" shows us that a rich and powerful curriculum that addresses issues of social class can engage students in low-tracked classrooms in serious historical analysis. We can notice if class discussions tend to be dominated by males and take steps to change this. If we want students to act upon a world perspective, a perspective that allows one to create new and lasting moral communities based upon diverse perspectives, then we can have students examine the role of diverse perspectives within society and within our disciplines.

Course Purposes:
1. To reflect on your own beliefs concerning race, ethnicity, gender, sexual-orientation, language, social class, and ethnicity in a manner that allows you to develop your understanding of these issues and develop a greater capacity to address dilemmas and problems in your classrooms and schools related to these issues.
2. To develop understandings and skills that allow you to create classroom environments that respect students' race, home language, gender, class, religion, and sexual orientation and allow all students to display their intelligence.
3. To develop understandings and skills that allow you to recognize diversity in the classroom as a point of departure for serious learning and not as an explanation for failure.
4. To create classroom environments that allow students to "acquire the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to function effectively in a pluralistic democratic society and interact, negotiate, and communicate with people from diverse groups in order to create a civic and moral community that works for the common good".
5. To continue to learn about issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual-orientation, language, and social class in schools by noticing and trying to change situations that work against students' learning and success in school.

Course Goals:
From participating in this course you will be able to:

    * Discuss your personal beliefs concerning issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual-orientation, language, and social class and identify ways your understanding has changed as a result of the course readings, service learning component, and discussions.
    * Understand culture, language, racism/discrimination/prejudice, and the structure of learning environment by using these categories to focus your observations at your service learning site and use observations as the basis of discussions.
    * Understand how the terms listed above influence students' success in school.
    * Use your understanding of the terms listed above to 1) develop lessons and interact with your students in a way that supports all students' learning and 2) take leadership roles in your schools to address issues of equity.
    * Understand and use service learning as a method of instruction.


1. Initial questionnaire
Before the class begins you will tape record your response to a list of questions and turn in the tape to me. I will not listen to the tape. At the end of the course I will return that tape. You will listen to the tape again and discuss your initial responses in light of your experiences in the course.

2. Readings
The readings in the class provide you with a knowledge base related to:

    A. the categories you will use to focus your observations and thinking about your experience in your service learning site (see #4 below).
    B. your own beliefs concerning race, ethnicity, gender, sexual-orientation, language, and social class.
    C. the connection between these issues and school failure.
    D. actions that can be taken to create more equitable schools and classrooms.

3. Reading Journals
For the readings each week, write a two page response that includes a discussion/response/critique of at least one idea of each author or connections between an idea in each reading and your experiences in your service learning site.
I will collect your journals mid-way though the course and then at the end of the course.

4. Service and learning in an educational setting serving diverse students
(Note: the last reading in your packet for SED 712 discusses service learning)
You will spend 12 hours assisting in an education setting serving students who likely see you as different given your race, ethnicity, economic class, linguistic background or gender.

The service you perform in the setting will depend on how the teacher in the setting feels you might be most helpful. If you are already working in the setting, you must provide 12 hours of service beyond your normal involvement. Finally, your work must benefit students.

The learning component of the service experience involves:

    A. an initial service learning agreement and a final evaluation of your experience
    B. the hands on work you do in the setting (preparing lessons, working with students individually and in groups, teaching students)
    C. keeping an observation log (described below)
    D. discussing your experiences in small groups (see #5 below)
    E. making connections between ideas in the readings and your service learning experience (see #3 above).

Service Learning Observation Log:
Your service learning observation log is a place for you to record observations organized under four categories: culture, language, racism/ prejudice/stereotypes and discrimination, and structure of the learning environment. Below I have provided aspects of each category to consider. After each day's work in your setting you should record all the things you observed or heard that pertain to each of the four categories. You should date each entry in your log. If you notice three different things one day that pertain to eye contact, one aspect of culture, two things on a third day and, one for the next three days your log will have nine dated entries about eye contact under culture. If in the end if there are aspects of each category that you have not addressed, you should explain why that aspect of the category was not relevant in your setting.

As much as possible try to incorporate information from your observation log into your reading journals. Also, you should discuss information from your observation log in the three, one-hour reflection sessions during the month of November.
I will collect a copy of your observation log in early December. My two concerns are that you have addressed all aspects of the categories by 1) recording information over time and 2) explaining why you think some aspects of each category did not apply.

What are some aspects of the students' culture that you notice (Think of culture as the values, traditions, social and political views, and world views within the students' home and community environment that are reflected in their cognitive, affective and behavioral responses in different situations).
In what ways is your culture different than that of students in the setting?
What do you notice about the students' communication style, including body language and social aspects of language use? Consider the following:

    * physical space
    * eye contact
    * gestures
    * code-switching (changing from one language or form to another)
    * directness
    * politeness
    * humor
    * anger
    * approval
    * degree of formality
    * competitiveness
    * cooperativeness

If the students' language is different than yours (or their version of English), what is your reaction to being a language minority? What barriers does it pose? What are common social perceptions of the students' language.
Describe your experiences communicating with students. Record some examples of students' speech. What modifications did you make to communicate effectively with students? (Consider all modalities: listening, speaking, reading, writing).
Describe what you did to support the development of students' communication skills.
Describe what you noticed about how the setting in general helped develop communication skills. What materials were available? What was the quality of the material? What type of feedback was given?
In what ways was the students' language respected?

Racism, Discrimination, Stereotypes, and Prejudice:
What evidence is there that the life chances of the students with whom you worked have been narrowed because of racism ("a system of advantage based on race") or ethnocentrism, sexism, classism, or other perceived differences (discrimination)?

At an early age, we all learned the prejudices (judgments based on incomplete information) and stereotypes that are embedded in our environment. What are the common prejudices and stereotypes applied to the students with whom you worked? Was there any evidence that they were aware of these? Which stereotypes and prejudices might have been on your mind when you entered the setting? What common prejudices and stereotypes might the students have had at their disposal to "explain" you?

Structure of the Learning Environment:
Discuss how the structure of the learning environment affected learning. Would students have had the same opportunities for learning in a more traditional, majority-oriented classroom setting? Think about the following list of elements of a learning environment with regard to what you saw the teacher do and with regard to what you did:

    * The physical environment – Where was the class? Describe the condition of the facilities.
    * The purpose of the setting – Why were the students there? Who established the setting? What need did it intend to fill?
    * The curriculum – in what ways did the curriculum (materials, classroom activities, content, homework) reflect the needs, backgrounds, and interests of the students?
    * Pedagogy – What did the teacher do to motivate engagement and learning? How would you describe her/his style? How did she/he relate to students interpersonally?
    * The community – Describe any parent or community involvement. Was there a sense of connection between the program/class/students and their community?
    * In what ways did the learning environment serve to empower the students?

5. Class participation
Because of the limited number of hours we meet together, class participation is extremely important. Anyone who misses a class will have to make up the time by attending a make up-class. I will offer one make-up class in early November and one in early December.
Also, you will meet independently for one hour a week in permanent small groups during the three week period that you are involved in your service learning sites. The purpose of these three, one-hour meetings is to reflect upon your experiences.

6. Final paper
Your final paper will be a five page reflective paper (2500 words minimum) based on your taped questionnaire answers. You will listen to the tape and discuss it in light of your experiences in the course.

To receive a grade in this course you must attend class, participate, and complete all the activities described above.
You will lose a letter grade in the course for every class missed, except in the case of extenuating circumstances. You will have two opportunities to make up missed class time. If you miss a class on one day you may make it up by attending a different section.
Your grade on your work depends on the degree to which you have met the requirements for that activity:
0= unattempted
1= you did not engage the activity deeply enough to meet all the written requirements
2= you engaged the activity to meet all the requirements but some were met only minimally
3= you met all the requirements but your ideas were not clear and understandable throughout or needed to be supported with examples
4= you met all the requirements, and your ideas were clear and understandable throughout.
You have the option of resubmitting any piece of work for a higher grade if it was initially submitted on time. Your course grade will be the average of your grades on each assignment.

Student Evaluation of Service-learning Experience

Student Name:
School/Service Organization Name:
Supervisor's Name:
Date(s) of Volunteering –
Beginning Date:
Ending Date:
No. of Hours:

1. What were the duties you performed?
2. What have you enjoyed the most? Why?
3. What were the most frustrating aspects of your volunteer experience?
4. What skills, training, and knowledge did you learn to prepare you for your service-learning experience?
5. How did it make you feel to give your time and energy to others?
6. Did/how did your service-learning activities help the school?
7. Has your service-learning experience changed your thinking, attitudes, and actions about others or yourself? If so, in what ways?
8. What further skills, training, and knowledge would have been useful to prepare you for this experience?
9. What insights did the experience give you about multicultural issues in education?
10. Did the staff you worked with:

Give clear instructions and answer your questions?
Always Usually Seldom Never
Express appreciation to you for what you do as a volunteer?
Always Usually Seldom Never

11. Do you feel that you made a worthwhile contribution to the school or organization? If yes, in what ways? If no, explain the barriers you faced.
12. How would you rate the quality of your volunteer experience? Excellent Good Fair Poor
13. Would you recommend this school or organization to the other volunteers? Explain:
14. Should service-learning remain a component of SED 715? Why or why not?
Thank you for completing this evaluation.

School: Humboldt State University
Professor: Keri Gelenian
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