Friday, July 21, 2006

Sensitivity, Sensibility, and Scumpunks

Englehart political cartoon depicting teacher looking like an exotic street kid

In today's Courant EngleHart published this cartoon and some commentary.
I pity the white urban teachers of today. They have to be part lawyer, part linguist and part multicultural education professor. The white teacher in Hartford who was charged with cultural insensitivity –– God how I hate that term –– in the first degree must call to mind the adage, "No good deed shall go unpunished."

When I read the comments from the UConn Neag School of Education multicultural professor –– who must be a perfect specimen of a human being –– I almost fell off my chair laughing. "Teachers have to create room for kids to express their own identity in a way that's meaningful" and then he ended his little lecture with a dig about white teachers living in the white suburbs.

I do want to thank him –– or her –– I wouldn't want to be culturally insensitive. Perfesser Perfect's PC gibberish formed today's cartoon in an instant. Word, dawg.

The whole episode sounds to me like another good reason to have uniforms AND STANDARDS of appearance in the public schools.

I have given many classroom talks in Hartford schools and it makes me angry to see so many good kids starved for knowledge being overshadowed by the few scumpunks who steal all the attention. Being a white man, can I say scumpunks, Perfessser Perfect? I made up the word. It's culturally inclusive.

The object of Englehart's is this story called, A Classroom Divide by Rachel Gottlieb. It is loaded with a powderkeg of oh-so-sensitive topics.
The boy, 13-year-old Jose Velez, accused his math teacher in a letter to school officials of using the word "faggot" during a discussion of Velez's appearance. The teacher, 49-year-old Robert Williams, vehemently denies using any slurs.

And of course a UConn sensitivity trainer responds,
This sort of conflict, Irizarry and Coleman said, shows why it is critical for urban districts to train their teachers to be culturally sensitive, even those who have been in classrooms for decades.

"I don't think this is an isolated incident. Things like this happened to me when I was growing up," Irizarry said. "This has to be put in its historical context. You're not just teaching kids, you're teaching kids in a specific context. Teachers have to create room for kids to express their own identity in a way that's meaningful."

Irizarry encourages urban districts to evaluate their history, art, literature and music curriculums to ensure they reflect subjects that are relevant to minority students; increase the recruitment and retention of minority teachers; use students as guides for some professional development in cultural sensitivity; and encourage teachers to attend some church services, walk the streets and shop in the area where they teach.

"If you're going to work in these communities, it's about more than what you need to know, it's about who you want to be. It's a lifestyle choice," Irizarry said. "Teachers have to want to cross these boundaries. You cannot become culturally connected from the cheap seats in the suburbs."
What Irazzary fails to mention is that the New York Times ran an editorial weeks ago by a scholar who asserts that it is precisely the culture of poverty, gangs, and lifestyle that is frustrating the assimilation of the poor into a generally welcoming society.

And students complaining about the insensitivity of teachers conveniently fail to mention that gay bashing, in your face n*g*r speech, and other exotic, inflammatory language are all perfectly acceptable vernaculars in their "own identity".

Forgive me for being verbose but here's a cheap seat suburban "gay" story.

A few years ago, my son returned home with an elementary school assignment and he was flustered, really bent out of shape.

What's the assignment?

I have to write a paper on what 'gay' means and I looked it up on the internet during study hall and found these disgusting pictures. The teacher in study hall wants to discipline me for looking up dirty pictures.

Needless to say my wife and I went ballistic. What the hell are they thinking? We don't want our kids bashing gays however, we don't want them looking up the subject on the internet, and why is this a school project?

It turns out that my son and his friends were wise-cracking in class using the word gay to describe the actions of some other kid in class. The teacher rightfully put a stop to that dialogue and lectured them that gay was a lifestyle choice and that the boys using it as a slur was wrong and furthermore they should know what it really means and so on.

So this teacher naively asked my son to "look it up and write a paper on it" probably expecting my son to come home discuss the incident and write under our supervision.

Instead, to avoid admitting his duplicity, my son dutifully used his studyhall time to "look it up". The internet is unkind for this kind of research. My son was shaken by the porn he found, the study hall teacher shocked, and we were all fuming.

It all got straightened out in the end. There are no educational villans but the lesson for everyone involved was that everything is complex these days and its easy to get it wrong. And those who get it wrong aren't evil, they're just human, like me and you and that teacher and students in Hartford and in the cheap seats.

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