Use This Moment to Learn From Each Other
Let's Expand Our Conciousness on Race, Culture
By Ernest A. Logan
Remember when President Jimmy Carter called the USA a beautiful mosaic? A few of you weren't born yet. Even so, you probably know it means we are a country of "different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams." The phrase has entered our souls. In spite of recent headlines, we're mostly a people fiercely proud of our diversity. Many NYC educators like to boast about being part of a school system where 176 languages are spoken. It is an honor to be part of this mosaic; it can also be pretty challenging.
Anyone who has worked in our schools knows about the missed cues of cultural diversity. A student gets right up in your face, and you sense danger. Another looks away when being reprimanded and you say, "Look at me when I'm talking." A sobbing student shakes his head when you ask if something is wrong. It takes experience to know that people from certain cultures are used to less personal space or think eye contact is disrespectful or shake their heads to mean yes.
Among students whose families have been here for generations, there also can be differences. I have an Italian American friend who says people often think she's distressed because she talks with her hands. Some African Americans have all kinds of hand gestures, too. Remember the fist bump Barack gave Michelle when he was about to declare victory in the first Democratic primary campaign? Fox News described it as a "terrorist fist jab."
There's so much room for misunderstanding. We can be devaluing our students' identities without having a clue. We can be exhibiting biases we didn't know we had. How do we cross all the cultural divides we encounter every day? If we did the best possible job of diversifying our teaching and administrative staffs, we still wouldn't be able to assign only Latino educators to Latino students, Muslim to Muslim, Albanian to Albanian, and so on. And would we want to? The only solution is for all of us to expand our critical consciousness around race and culture.
As school leaders drowning in responsibilities, we need to work at becoming critically conscious educators in the least time-consuming way. One straightforward training is offered by NYU/Steinhardt School's Center for Strategic Solutions (CSS), in partnership with the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice (CEJ). It covers everything from the meaning of diversity, equity and inclusion to strategies for breaking through barriers to achieve those three goals inside our schools.
A wave of intolerance has been washing over us. Many Blacks, Hispanics and Muslims feel broad-brushed as losers, murderers, rapists or terrorists. Hindus and Jews are among others who have also been swept up in this wave. More than ever, we need to look at the world through each other's eyes. We can't do that if we're uncomfortable discussing race, ethnicity and religion in the first place. And, let's face it: most of us are uncomfortable. The first thing the CSS critical consciousness series tries to do is eliminate those inhibitions. One of its next goals is to get us to listen to how we talk about racial, ethnic and cultural identities and figure out if we're unconsciously perpetuating bias.
The overarching purpose of any good cultural consciousness training for educators is to help us understand where a child comes from and the things that affect their lives every day. We also learn more about where our teachers and staff come from and how their lives are affected, too. The CSS/AQE program isn't the only one offering valuable strategies for fostering equitable and inclusive practices in our schools. Find the right program for you. Even if you've done this kind of thing before, it's probably the moment to do it again. The headlines and nightly news broadcasts are telling us it is time to find out what it's like to walk in each other's shoes.