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Race in the Classroom: Valuing Diversity

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Dear Dr. Levister: The sound of back-to-school bells stresses me. As a seasoned educator, I'm simply overwhelmed by the hostile intolerant classroom environment, especially as diversity increases in the student population. What can I do to ensure that students and others learn to value diversity in the classroom? M.R.

Dear M.R. The best medicine I can give you is, A MIRROR! At school, the buck starts with you.

This self-test can get you on the right path to creating a healthy, tolerant classroom. How sensitive are you to your own views of those who are different? Do you view other cultures as equally valuable to yours? Is your cultural group superior to another? Are you culturally sensitive to your own heritage and the possibility that you were taught (perhaps unconsciously) to be prejudiced as a part of your upbringing? Do you value and respect difference? Are you aware of your own values and biases and how they affect those who are culturally different?

Do you avoid stereotyping and labeling? Do you monitor your own assumptions about those different from you? Are you willing to accept someone of a different race into your family, professional organization, or prayer group? It is important that each of us examine ourselves concerning these questions if we hope to embrace the value of diversity.

W.E.B. Du Bois, the great scholar, writer and political activist and founder of the NAACP, reminded us “Each person’s map of the world is as unique as the person’s thumbprint. There are no two people alike.

No two people understand the same sentence the same way. So in dealing with people, you try not to fit them to your concept of what they should be.”

Author and educator Amanda E. Lewis, in her best selling book, “Race in the Schoolyard: Negotiating the Color Line in Classrooms and Communities,” suggests this Valuing Diversity Model: ASK as a way to help teachers, counselors, students and others learn how to value diversity. The “A” in ASK stands for Awareness of self and others.

Self and other awareness is a must if cultural diversity is to be appreciated in our school and elsewhere. The “S” in ASK refers to both Sensitivity and Skills. Sensitivity to others helps us to talk with one another, to reach mutual understanding, and to realize that in diversity there is strength.

Skills are essential if students and others are to learn to value diversity and improve intercultural communication. The “K” stands for Knowledge of cultures different from our own. Cultural influences feelings, thoughts, non-verbal behaviors, ideas, perceptions and knowledge of one another’s cultural is needed to improve intercultural relationships.”

The author argues that schools and their personnel serve as role models in affirming and challenging previous racial attitudes and understanding. The book emphasizes that schools have a duty to implement and enforce rules on tolerance and respect.

By fostering positive faculty/student interactions, instructors and students can create classrooms that facilitate positive discussions on race and diversity. Not only will this create a healthier classroom environment, it ensures that students and instructors learn new skills which will ultimately lead to a better understanding of others and to the value of diversity in school and elsewhere.

Dr. Levister welcomes reader mail concerning their body but regrets that he is not able to answer individual letters. Your letters will be incorporated into the column as space permits. You may direct your letters to Dr. Levister in care of Black Voice News, P.O. Box 1581, Riverside, CA 92502. For more information about your Black health visit African American Health Network at www.aahn.com.

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