A place for educators to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools
As a young white woman from the suburbs, I knew I was going to experience some culture shock as I began my teaching career in one of the more violent low-income areas of Oakland. The town I grew up in was different from where I went to college, but they had important qualities in common. Both were strongly middle class, had a clear agricultural focus, a vast white majority and a significant but well-hidden Spanish-speaking minority. I hadn’t realized how comfortable I was in those environments until I was faced with the reality of inner-city Oakland.
So I had a lot to learn.
“Ms. Craven, we can put ‘nigga?’”
I pause. Images of earnest sitting-in-a-circle chats in college flash through my brain:
- A classmate from Kentucky explaining how she will never say that word, even in academic circles, because, being white, she will never be able to fully grasp its implications;
- Another black classmate asserting that the word has been reclaimed, and that when black people use it, the poison of the original use gets diluted.
In January 2010, two Somali men and one Oromo man were killed in a market in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood. Their shooters were two Somali-born teenagers, trying to commit an unsuccessful robbery at the corner store.
The news hit my school hard. Somali women cried, both for the victims and for the young perpetrators who had so clearly gone astray. An Oromo man pulled me aside and said, “I do not feel safe in this school. Some Somali guy shoots an Oromo guy, and I have to sit here? No.”
New evidence of the bullying crisis in our schools appears daily in news reports and blogs. For some students, verbal harassment, cyber-ostracism and physical abuse are as routine as turning in homework. That’s particularly true for students who are—or simply perceived to be—gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
Teaching Tolerance has named 52 schools from across the country as Mix It Up Model Schools. They were chosen for their exemplary efforts to foster respect and understanding among their students and throughout their campuses during the 2010-11 school year.
Michael needed help.
He was in the dress-up center trying, with little luck, to shimmy a shiny turquoise mermaid dress over his head. Clearly he had no clue what he was doing. But the look on his face told me he really wanted to wear the frock. I walked over and helped.
Zach was one of those kids that the fifth-grade teachers warn the sixth-grade teachers about at middle school orientation. He was a bully who had been shook up, written up, worked up and written off and he showed up for school every single day. His reputation arrived in my classroom three months before he did, and I was surprised when I first met him. He was a scrawny, short, African-American kid who was dressed to the nines and armed with a killer smile and a street-smart attitude.