Diversity Adversity

Jaime O'Neill, who teaches remedial writing at a community college in the boonies, takes on the phony diversity popular in education circles.

On Sept. 12, 2001, O'Neill worried that a student named Khalid would be harassed by white students -- especially after he said, "Perhaps this will teach the U.S. a lesson."

There were young men in class who fit the stereotypical profiles of intolerance -- poor, white and poorly educated; or middle class, white, jocks and frat boys.

But nothing bad happened.

My students, the ones I'd profiled, treated Khalid with either indifference or respect that day and throughout the semester.

Why had I assumed the worst about the white, male students in my class? Perhaps it was the easy, dismissive racism of the phrase "dead white males," used so casually these days in academic circles. Maybe it was the effect of mindless sloganeering on campuses. ("Hey, ho, Western Civ has got to go!") Maybe it was the pendulum swing of teaching, arcing from sanitization and glorification of our past to a jaded and jaundiced view focusing largely on the crimes and transgressions of our heritage.

Maybe it was "multiculturalism," a movement that made guilt-tripping Western cultures a regular classroom activity, but held even the most barbaric practices of other cultures off limits to criticism.

Or maybe it was the diversity catechism.

Diversity. More than motherhood, it is the one unassailable concept these days. Open any teaching publication, and you will find testimonials to diversity. Flip through any recent social sciences or humanities textbook and diversity pops up with predictable frequency. Follow a politician to a school photo-op, and you'll get diversity in the speech by the politician, in the one by the principal who welcomes him and in the one by the teacher trying to impress both of them.

Mean Mr. Mustard was shocked to see O'Neill's column in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Monster Books

Teacher Robert Wright's new SUV-sized textbook includes a Rod Serling teleplay called "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" that's been a staple of seventh grade anthologies for more than 30 years. He looked for suggested homework questions and found instead a photograph of a black woman in a wheelchair talking on a cell phone.

Female, minority, disabled. OK, what does that have to do with anything? Fortunately, this textbook adoption is full of notes underneath little graphics of the California State Bear that tell you what state standard is being addressed. This one was Reading Standard 2.1--"Understand and analyze the differences in structure and purpose of informational materials." I still didn't get it.

At the bottom of the page is an Asian male talking on a cell phone. Maybe he's talking to the disabled, black female. There might be an interracial relationship going on here. Or he might be gay. . .

On the next page is a cellular Telephone Owner's Manual. It tells you how to remove and replace the battery. That's the "informational material" which I think will really be helpful for all my students who own that model cell phone. But what about the teleplay? With all the graphics splashed on one page to the next, it's not clear where one lesson stops and the other one starts.

Flipping back through the pages I see that there are some questions inserted between Act One and Act Two. It looks like a vocabulary assignment, but I'm not sure. There are only five words and instead of saying, "Look up the words in a dictionary and write the definitions," it says "to explore each word's meaning in a cluster diagram."

. . . Even though they show an example of a cluster diagram, I don't know what it is and I don't want to know what it is. Thanks to a note at the bottom of the page next to a little California State Bear, I know that it's Reading Standard 1.3--"Clarify word meanings through the use of definition."

I think the black woman and the Asian man are talking about why a teleplay is different than an instruction manual. Or perhaps one is telling the other about cluster diagrams.


Michael McKeown e-mailed the weekly teaser for the featured article in TC Record, published by the Teachers College at Columbia University.

"We argue that productive and lasting educational reform requires not only attention to standards, but resources and structures to establish critical relationships which enable educators to learn about themselves as they learn with others, thereby creating the opportunity for the understanding and development of different perspectives. We will suggest that it is the fluid knowledge gained through relationships between educators and students across and outside of educational cultures that determines whether reform will occur or not. In other words, to change a culture requires more than new laws, it requires new insights."

Margaret A. Gallego, Sandra Hollingsworth and David A. Whitnack consider this and other perspectives on school reform in Relational Knowing in the Reform of Educational Cultures.

I get TC Record too, and this is not the worst I've seen. Suggested translation: School reform grants should include money for teachers and a few selected students to go on retreats to pleasant places where they can lead each other around blindfolded and talk about what tree they'd be if were trees.

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at JoanneJacobs.com while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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