Sunday, April 5, 2015

E for Easter in Education

Take a moment to consider how many of the students in your class were born in the same city or country. How many of the students that were born here, have parents that were born in another city? How many of the students in your class have no religion? How many of the students in your class are very religious? How many of the students in your class are deeply connected to their cultural heritage? How many of the students in your class are not particularly connected to their cultural heritage and might be searching for cultural or other roots? How many of the students in your class have particular traditions that are of special value to them? And then consider the cultural capital possibly hidden within your students. The parts of their identities that 'appear' to have no place in their maths, reading, writing... Yet, Shakespeare, Pythagoras, Pol Pot does.

E for easter has me thinking of the cultural, religious and other factors that contribute to student and teacher's identities that are simply ignored in schools. My own family have many cultural traditions related to easter and christmas. These traditions form a key part of my identity. Although we might never say your religion or your culture is not important whilst we are in a school context, we unfortunately do send negative messages about these critical contributors to identity when we do not acknowledge and integrate them. I worry that by removing the cultural and religious aspects from our academic curriculum, we are suggesting that it has no part to play in the preparation for our futures, the skills needed to gain jobs, pass exams and succeed.

In schools, we often tend to spend more, if not all of our time on academic, intellectual pursuits. As a result, we implicitly send the message that academic, intellectual pursuits are valued above all. You can see this attitude in the performing arts (think Ken Robinson's argument about schools killing creativity), but also in the Education Review Office's recent report around student well being that highlights explicitly how assessment and curriculum are valued over student well being. I have talked about this in a previous post, asking "What type of students our schools and the systems therein will be turning out? If we only teach and emphasise achievement, NCEA and national standards, then what are we teaching kids to value?" I wonder whether the similar messages are being sent implicitly around diversity?

And when we do set out to 'prove' that we value diversity, what does this look like? A map put up in class to show where different students come from? How does this teach students to value diversity and cultural capital? It may serve as a starting point but what long term impact could this possibly have? What about cultural interest groups at schools? Are they open to only students that identify with that culture, or are they open, and are advertised to be so, for any students who wants to learn about and with that cultural group?

Personally, it puts a great smile on my face seeing Asian, South African, Maori and other students performing side by side in Kapa Haka groups. It sees these groups side by side, valuing cultural capital enough to invest time and effort into understanding and empathising with its ideas. Key Competencies for the Future highlighted this idea for me again, when one of the authors talked about how she had always acknowledged diversity in her class, but she had not yet taught in such a way that valuing and utilising diversity became critical to the success of a project. Wouldn't you send a very different message about valuing diversity if this was your approach?

Consider the enormous amounts of immigrants world wide, and consider the ethnic groups that makeup schools in New Zealand (see Education counts for this data). I think it is safe to say that future success for our students requires them to celebrate and utilise the diversity of the teams in which they will work. Not only that, but responding effectively to diversity forms part of your Registered Teacher Criteria.

Given the above, I wonder... How might we embrace and utilise diversity in our schools more effectively?

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