Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Culture in the Classroom

By Kimberly Lord - 10.26.2010

Last week, I had the opportunity to share the KMA Hispanic module with my son’s freshman Spanish class at Whitney Young High School in Chicago – as part of a career day where parents described their jobs.

Although I don’t speak much Spanish, I thought introducing his class to some of the social history, values and experiences of Hispanic/Latino culture would make for an interesting discussion.  I used the latest Corporate Tribalism web-based module as a part of our discussion.

Before sharing the module with the class, I did my best to outline some of the key foundation pieces to KMA’s unique approach: defining culture, exploring individual culture through a quiz and describing the scientific process that supports cultural archetypes – especially the importance of framing generalizations (stereotypes vs. archetypes).

I’ve found in past conversations with teenagers that they are often reluctant to talk about how they are different, preferring to talk about how they are the same.  But after a bit of discussion, they embraced the idea that we needed to acknowledge our differences and establish ways that felt good to talk about them, before we could get anywhere.

Next, we started watching the Hispanic/Latino module.  I wasn’t sure if the kids were into it – as it’s designed for an adult workplace audience – but when I asked if they wanted to continue watching to see the second and third sections that followed the main character, Eddie, they whole-heartedly agreed.

They were very engaged in his situation (note: no one but the teacher was Hispanic – not surprising in a mainstream U.S. Spanish class – I guess) but they really wanted to know what happened to Eddie and we had a great conversation about all the different ways the scenario could end, if only people had taken different actions with a better understanding of culture.

One highlight was when a student, Malik, made the connection between Eddie’s discomfort with approaching his boss about a promotion and how some students are afraid to address their teacher if they think an assignment has been mis-graded or a mistake has been made.  It was fun to see them extrapolate between Eddie and situations at school.

After the students were dismissed, I was eager to hear from the teacher about her reaction to the module.  I wanted to know if it felt relevant to her experience or understanding.

I was impressed when she shared with me that the scenarios reminded her of herself and why she had left her last job – because she wasn’t recognized and she didn’t feel comfortable standing up for herself (she’s first generation Mexican).  She felt the administration should have seen her accomplishments without her having to speak up to point out what was obvious.

She added that she still finds it much easier to talk in a group of teachers about a problem or situation – and that although the school’s administrator has said she has an open-door policy, it’s difficult for her to go in and talk to her when she has a concern.  She also pointed out that Hispanic students often are the last to complain about a grade they feel is unfair and that their parents rarely come to see the teachers with a problem.

It was an eye-opening day and it reminded me of the many applications KMA’s cultural training has in my everyday world.  I’d love to see this training offered in the Chicago Public School system.  Does anyone else see applications in their schools?

4 Responses so far

Ms. Lord, It was just by chance that I happened to come across your post this morning. I live in a mid-size city in Mississippi and we started the school year off with a law suit where a Mexican teacher was turned down for a position in the county High School because she was told she could not speak english well enough to be understood by her students.
Now you must understand this woman is from the north and recieved her teachers certificate from Northwestern University in Illinois.
She was born and raised in Chicago and came to live here when her husband was transfered with his job as an auto worker. White collar position.
As I am also from the north born and raised her accent is totally understandable to me and very plesant with just a hint of her ancestreal background to it. Deffinately nothing to be turned down for a teaching position for, I have come to know her fairly well since the hell raising had begun over this mess.
Well to get to the point, the court systym finally decided that it should be left to the students to decide if they indeed could or could not understand her adequately enough for her to be hired so they chose a random lot of 50 students to be tested. She gave them one class and at the end of that class they had a quiz to take and also were asked their personal opinion of the teacher.
All of them passed the test and the opinion of her speaking voice was 100% positive. The students also added an extra opinion of her teaching methods and the praise for this teacher was outstanding! All of the students just raved about what a wonderful teacher they thought she was.
So the school board lost the case and she was given the sum of $25.000.00 plus court cost and lawyers fee. She of course was offered permanant position at our County High School. Silly School Board!
She took her due and turned the job offer down flat! We lost a great teacher due to the ignorance and fear of the unknown. (aka an Hispanic teacher as there are none in the school at this time)
Here in the south, at least in my area, there are not a lot of Hispanic/Latino people. (although the population is growing steadily)
I have always been around a very diverse group of people so I have no predjudice in me.
I find the fear and predjudices of southerners to be fascinating yet at the same time horrifying. It is changing. Slowly but surely with the influx of northerners to the area as babyboomers that once made there living in the north that are coming home to the south. This group of people are the ones that will help change the mindset of the old south.
Having known both sides of things and seeing how times must change in order for progress to be made and peace to come with it we will get the job done.
It is also people like Jean and Tom and you and others like you who will help to make the differance.
It helps to ease ones mind to know it . Theres a “Heart Smile” for the day……..Thanks

Thank you for sharing your story and your personal background. In turn I’ll tell you a bit more about my experience related to diversity, acceptance and school environments. I grew up in a suburb outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota – it was an especially homogenous community – where even the few people of color shared a similar socio-economic group. I have lived in Chicago for more than 20 years and when I first moved into my northside Chicago neighborhood it was more culturally diverse than it is today. My son attended a Catholic elementary school just blocks from our home – where once they held Mass in Spanish each Sunday – today, the school has become increasingly less diverse both ethnically and economically. As our neighborhood changed, the Supermercados and Hispanic influence have largely moved west and north.
Last year my son was accepted into a high school program in downtown Chicago – Whitney Young. This school draws from all over the city and has an incredibly diverse student population – as well as an administration that reflects this diversity. It has been an eye-opening experience for both my husband and me as we have met parents and their children from different backgrounds, religions and neighborhoods. We’ve joked that some school meetings feel like a meeting of the United Nations – as we are brought together with people from so many different cultures and backgrounds. And most importantly, we think it is a great growth opportunity for our son and ourselves.
The reality is that we often choose to surround ourselves with people who are like us. It is human nature. And yet when we participate in institutions that bring diverse people together – whether it be a workplace or school – it is exciting and it’s a tremendous opportunity to learn. I’m not surprised the students in your County High School found their Hispanic-heritage teacher engaging and wonderful – her different approach is in essence learning and builds on the thrill of experiencing something new and different. I believe my son will be far better prepared for his global world because of his high school experience, and I will have to continue to work hard at expanding my expectations and my experiences.

Ms. Lord,
I lived about 4 blocks from Whitney Young when it was being built. I even attended the open house they had for the opening of the school. It was very impressive indeed.
My children attended the public school systym on the west side of downtown Chicago for a year before took them out. Reason for taking them out was racial harrasment not only by students of color but also by teachers of color as well. I was shocked and amazed by the actions and attitudes of teachers in that school and the principal was the worst offender of them all! My children were forced to participate in Black history classes as well as the straw that broke the camels back which was…they demanded that my children wear black face and participate in a Black History pagent….needless to say they were taken out of the school immediately! It was not that I objected to the black history class or the pagent…rather that they were told if they did not black their faces and hands they would recieve a failing grade for the class and be held back a year as the class was a required corse for all children in that school. I never heard of such a thing in all my life! My children could have passed the class easily as they found the subject very interesting and enjoyed learning about another culture. It was only the demand for blackface that had my blood boiling. Not a request but a demand!
I took my complaint to the principal and was called a racist right off the bat! I tried to explain that the letter that was sent home,only to the few white children in the school, could have been worded a bit more politely by requesting that the children appear in costume for the pagent, without the demand and the threats. His reply was that in the past the white and hispanic students did not comply when asked politely,
thus the need for such a harsh letter.
I only found it more of a reason to reword the letter in a more polite but positive way. The outcome of our final conversation had him calling me everything but a white woman, a Principal of a Middle School mind you, and me taking a trip to the Chicago Board of Education.
The Principal was repremanded and I got a letter of appology and my children did of course pass that school year. But that was the last year they attended that school.
So I understand where you are coming from and what you want for your son. When I left Chicago, 20 odd years ago, Whitney Young was a great School and was very difficult to get into. I used to see all the kids going in and out and it was very culturally diverse then so its nice if they have kept that policy going. Good luck to your son. I hope he finds it to be a wonderful experiance because high school is such an important time in the life of a young man or woman.
I know I learned a lot from my children and their friends, who were always a very culturaly diverse group. It is one of the joys of motherhood to watch and learn from our children.
I was very fortunate as a child I suppose to go to many many schools as a we moved quite a bit when I was growing up. I went to school with American Indians,
Hispanics and Latinos, Asians, and Americans from almost every culture you can name from almost every state in the union lol. The only exception I guess would be African Americans as I graduated before segregation was really in full force so I never associated with many African Americans until I was older. Having associated with so many other nationalities and cultures though I never gave much thought to their color one way or the other I just judged them on the same basis as I would anyother human being.
Oh Gosh I have rambled on! Probably bored you to death and if so please forgive me. It was very nice of you to let me into your life just a bit and in doing so it has been nice talking with you. I find you very interesting and I will be on the lookout for more of your blogs! Thanks for the conversation and have a great week!

Most African Americans would also be outraged by white children in black face. It taps into a long history of white minstrels putting on black face and acting stereotypically.

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