The topic of my sophomore class today was an introduction to diversity in education. The students read several different chapters for homework that covered different aspects of diversity such as gender issues, English language learners, school choice issues and special education. The author of one of the chapters raised the issue of "celebrating diversity" in the context of students new to American classrooms; students who have come from different countries.
This is something we work with extensively in our teacher education programs at St. Mike's because many of the local schools in Winooski and Burlington where our students complete their classroom experiences have large numbers of students resettled from other parts if the world such as Sudan, Vietnam and Eastern Europe. It is also the topic of my professional research; at least the math education component is.
One of the issues the author of the chapter raised is that if we celebrate diversity in our classrooms where do children learn what it means to be American. The discussion was a lively one with one student saying that the American culture has always been in a state of change as people have arrived from different countries and cultures at different times in history. We also discussed how many other countries are approaching similar levels of diversity even in Europe where countries like France and Germany are questioning their national identity. Yet another point discussed was the role of families in the transmission of culture. We even wondered if the American culture was still typified by apple pies and Chevies!
As an immigrant myself, the issue of preserving and celebrating one's "own" cultural heritage as well as embracing the American culture is an interesting one. Over the past thirty years I have felt myself become a little more American and a little less British but never completely letting go of my cultural origins.
On Thursday we'll explore the other major part of diversity, the inclusion of students with special needs in public school classrooms.