Hang the cost if the money is being directed toward a worthwhile cause. And what could be more worthwhile than cultural sensitivity training that will help educators recognize the way in which public schools promote “white culture” and “white privilege” to the detriment of minority students?
That is what Portland (Ore.) Public Schools is attempting to do, according to EAGnews.
For the past six years, the district has contracted with Pacific Educational Group (PEG) to conduct workshops for its teachers. PEG’s website explains that the organization’s mission “is to transform educational systems into racially conscious and socially just environments that nurture the spirit and infinite potential of all learners, especially black children and their families.”
Since first contracting with PEG, the district has shelled out a total of $2.4 million, according to the Portland Tribune — $1.2 for PEG’s services, another $1.2 million for “costs.” Portland Schools recently re-upped for the 2013-14 school year, agreeing to pay out $132,000. It may sound like a lot of money, but the benefits more than outweigh the high tariff.
For example, Portland school personnel have been made aware of how even seemingly innocent daily conversations foster racism. One example that made headlines last year and is apt to become a perennial is the parable of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Well, technically, it’s not a parable … or much of anything else for that matter. Rather, it is the simple-minded notion that because some students might not eat sandwiches, much less PB and J, mentioning this staple of the American school lunch might lead to feelings of isolation.
Now that the school district is so heavily invested in these training exercises, the question has emerged as to whether this is a sound use of school tax money. Not all employees of the district are equally persuaded that it is. Outgoing Principal Vivian Orlen told the Tribune:
For me, there’s no connection between the investment PPS has brought in with this training and the work I’ve done here.
She added that the implementation of the program had been “a bit overzealous” and said she would have preferred to see those resources go into “tools teachers need to succeed.”
But, defenders of the training would argue, you can’t have both. Either you give teachers tools to make them effective at the expense of honing their cultural sensitivity, or vice versa. It’s not as though the kinds of training that PEG commands big bucks for grows on trees, right?
Don’t be too sure. Consider the following:
Educate and Sensitize Yourself to Cultural Diversity (Monday)
Define for yourself how you feel about the diversity in your classroom. Do your feelings affect the way you teach in positive or negative ways? What can you do to overcome deeply held biases that you may have? Being aware of your own behaviors and motivations is the first step in successfully managing a culturally diverse classroom. While we recognize that most people hold biases at some level, teachers who can replace these biases with an appreciation and a tolerance for culturally different students will greatly increase the likelihood for student success. They also provide a model for acceptance to other teachers and students.
Celebrate Cultural Differences in the Classroom (Tuesday)
Do not expect students to adopt mainstream cultural behaviors overnight or, possibly, at all. Instead, teachers should recognize that when a student’s culture is valued, it can have a positive affect on performance. Students who are willing to share their culture should be encouraged to do so in ways that contribute to the curriculum. This can help create a community of learners in your classroom, where differences become strengths.
The above suggestions represent two of five days’ worth of in-service training on managing a culturally diverse classroom. They come from the website of Glencoe publishers, a division of McGraw-Hill. They are offered there along with reams of other touchy-feely topics, at no cost whatsoever. Similar pages can be found at the website of every major and minor educational publishing company in creation.
There is still a question of whether teachers need this sensitization in the first place. An argument could be made that modern education has already swung over to the left edge of the pendulum. Suffice it to say that if the training is needed, it can be had for far less than the Portland Public Schools are paying.
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