Sunday, December 04, 2005

Diversifiying my classroom

Usually, I am the only "diverse" element in my classroom. As a white person, it is interesting to be seen as just that - and to be called upon to explain the various silly or sinister predispositions of all those who share my comparative lack of skin color. I have never been called upon so often to explain "white folks," and the experience is like catching a glimpse of yourself reflected in a window - seeing yourself through strange eyes.

But yesterday, at Saturday School, which yes, I also teach, my white principal sent his 7th grade daughter and her friend to my Kaplan class to get some extra test-prep (like we don't all get enough of this during the week.)

So now there appeared in my normally monochromatic classroom two little white girls swinging their legs and scribbling away in their workbooks - but sitting at their own table.

"Miss, did they come with you?" a girl at the back of the class asked in a whisper. And, once one of them shared her extremely well written short response answer, as well as the fact that she was a vegan - a predeliction incomprehensible to most of my students - one particularly observant child (named after a major fashion designer) called me over to ask, "Are you sure that they're in seventh grade too? They seem more like eighth grade to me."

Our next unit in eighth grade Social Studies is on Immigration, and we are forcing diversity upon ourselves. So now, instead of African Americans with a few black Guyanese or Dominican immigrants plus White me, we will be Irish, Italian, Chinese, Russian, Latin American - all coming to America - the Great Melting Pot that somehow left Brownsville out of its recipe.

It will be interesting to discuss the view of America as a land of opportunity to students who seem to see so little of it. I wonder especially about my kids who are immigrants - the ones who do provide what little diversity we have. Is this what their parents came to America to find?

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