I am reading a new book. Yes, I am reading a book--a real book, one that was written for adults. Even more importantly, I am reading this book on my own. I am reading it because I want to--not because someone has told me to. I realized on the way back from spring break that it was inexcusable to give up reading because school was starting. The educator in me cringes at the thought of not having time to independently read and learn through books because of a prescribed curriculum. The truth is, I have learned more in 86 pages on this book than I have learned in 3 weeks of class thus far. So I am reading instead of homework. I will get to homework (and Relay, cleaning, laundry, pre-institute work, packing, cooking) eventually, but for now I am reading and learning.
I am about 1/3 of the way into Letters to a Young Teacher by Jonathan Kozol. Kozol uses a letter format to give his views and commentary on teaching. His letters are a correspondence (integrated with personal experience) that show a mentoring relationship he has with a young teacher in an urban Boston school district. The book is filled with advice, anecdotes, and commentary. I LOVE it. While I do not agree with every word he writes, I share his basic perspective and feel that his letters and wisdom will be invaluable as I begin teaching.
Chapter 8: The Uses of "Diversity" brought up a poignant point about education. An ugly truth that we all know, but it is easier to ignore. He argues that most schools are not any more diverse than they were when Dr. King was protesting segregation. Personally, I was lucky enough to be placed in a school that was very diverse, but looking at some of my other placements, this was not the norm. In my preschool placement in a suburb of Cincinnati, all of my students were white. In my work-study preschool in Avondale near OTR, my students were all black. Less than 15 miles apart, my students lived and had vastly different lives and school experiences. Seperate and unequal by geography, but still only 15 miles apart. It really is devastating to look at how far away fifteen miles really is. How can we teach diversity authentically when our children really have not experienced it? Is the "message" of diversity really enough? As a teacher, I likely cannot change the school composition and boundaries for my students, but my hope is that I can explore diversity with them beyond a surface level understanding. My students at Fairview showed me how capable children are of understanding social issues and accepting and celebrating children from other backgrounds. My only hope is that I can do the same in a different setting with my own classroom of students.
In Kozol's words teachers have a choice on how to teach diversity:
"Education, no matter what the rulebooks say, is never absolutely neutral. We either teach our children it's okay to write and talk about the things they think to be the truth or else we teach them that it's more acceptable to silence their beliefs, or even not to have beliefs but to settle for official truths that someone else has carefully prepared for them." (p 86).