Central to the CAPTAIN program is the fact that is voluntary. According to A.S. NeilL (1992) and other respected educators (4), forced learning is an oxymoron. Learning only begins once the student—sooner or later—makes the decision to learn. CAPTAIN, therefore, will be voluntary, held on Saturday mornings, following the pilot project I directed at Career High School for 279 students for eight weeks in Spring 1997. Specifically, CAPTAIN will offer eighteen sections of fifteen students each, with eighteen teachers for its 270 students. Eight of the teachers will also spend time recruiting in various high schools, because some students will need an extra push to attend class on a Saturday.
Similarly, CAPTAIN will build upon the instructional methods that developed during the pilot project. Teachers from that project implemented and began to refine effective team-teaching models. They made frequent use of extended instructional periods (some classes ran for 90 minutes, others for 3 hours), collaborative student activities, rubrics for both assessment and goal setting, and interdisciplinary curricula. During their weekly self-evaluation sessions, teachers began the use of a number of techniques to reflect on their practice (some of which had been introduced into the staff through the Critical Friends Group of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform). All these initiatives will be further developed through CAPTAIN.
Recognizing the importance of communication for students, CAPTAIN will employ John Collins’s process of teaching writing across the curriculum. Students at Career High School who have been engaged in this writing process have shown significantly increased levels of comfort and achievement in the types of written responses called for in the CAPT as well as in-depth classroom discussions. Teachers at Career High School who have been engaged in this writing process feel more comfortable with cross- and inter-disciplinary units.
Recognizing that many inner city students lack the social and networking opportunities their suburban counterparts take for granted, CAPTAIN will expose its students to experiences that are generally outside of their experiences in school, either in content or intention, by featuring regional planning and close contact with the faculty and personnel from area universities as well as parents and members of the respective communities of the students. There will eight field trips during the 24-week session of CAPTAIN and fifteen opportunities for guest presenters
Since a vital important component of the CAPT—and the workplace, according to the latest SCANS Report (1992)—is the ability of students to work together in small groups (“They can work on teams, teach others, serve customers, lead, negotiate, and
work well with people from culturally diverse backgrounds
[italics added] (5), students will receive frequent opportunities to practice that skill, as the curriculum will be designed for that purpose. And since these small groups will be composed of students from different districts, both urban and suburban, including both minority and non-minority, the program will thus combine both cognitive and social development.
Finally, what is the transference value of the program? Since all the curriculum for CAPTAIN will be designed with the collaboration of faculty from the represented districts, and since the project in designed to run for 24 weeks, from October through May, there will be a strong incorporation of many aspects of the Saturday program within the regular school day. The monthly staff development / reflection / student assessment meetings will have as one of their main themes this design of incorporation. It is intended that curricular reform initiatives that have been successfully piloted in CAPTAIN can make their way into the regular school day.
Since students learn as much from how we, as teachers, behave as they do from what we say, and since every student learns to read the hidden curriculum of each class, we must remember teaching that diversity in the classroom involves more than just covering the content. It also means developing a supportive context. We must always be aware of how we treat our students, of how our students treat us, and of how our students treat each other. Here, then, are a dozen teaching tips about upholding a diversity-supportive context in the classroom, adapted from the Fisher College of Business, Ohio State University (6):
If the class includes group work, even if the students choose their own team members, insist that the group composition be as diverse as possible.
Pay attention to how you address different groups of students? Do you address the females differently from the males? Strive for consistency.
Monitor the comments from the class to ensure that one group’s opinions are not over-represented.
Use a random system for asking general questions or soliciting class participation so that every student has the same chance to participate.
When students are speaking to each other, monitor the discussion to ensure that the students show consideration and respect. Make sure that all groups are able to participate.
If a difficult situation arises based on a cultural or diversity issue, ask for a time-out while everyone writes down his thoughts about the incident.
If you use case histories, chose ones which involve diverse populations.
Do not allow students to sit in the same seats all the time. Encourage students to sit next to students they don’t know and allow two or three minutes at the start of each rotation for people to introduce themselves to others.
Allow students frequent opportunities to provide anonymous feedback about the course.
If a student makes a blatantly sexist, racist, or other comment which is likely to be offensive—whether intentional or not, ask the student to rephrase the comment to express the idea without offending other members of the class. Use the opportunity to inform the class of the inappropriateness of such comments.
Do not talk over a student’s comment. Allow the student to finish before you respond.
If students make group presentations, insist that every member of the team have a speaking part.
Let us return now to the three assumptions: The second was
: A diversified student population is advantageous.
Diversity is natural. Several examples: A diversified portfolio allows an investor to hedge his bets: the very dissimilarity of the investments ensures him protection. This concept is similar to the greens on the Yale Golf Course. Unusually, they are composed of a variety of grasses. Although they do not present the perfect uniform green of an expensive country club, they are nonetheless incredibly hardy—resistant to the diseases that might harm any particular strain. If one strain becomes diseased and bare, the other strains quickly fill in the spot, resulting in a uniform consistency, though not a uniform color.
When I was a child I used to have two recurring visions, both involving music. In one all the peoples of the world, suspended somewhere between heaven and earth, were playing together in a great orchestra, each section in turn making its unique contribution yet all sounding together as one melodious whole. In the other vision, Soviet bombers flying over the United States, ready to drop their nuclear weapons (This was the era of the Cold War.) would hear the strains of
America the Beautiful
wafting up from the people on the ground and be so struck with the beauty and special place of the country they were about to destroy that, permanently transformed, they would turn their planes around and fly home.
Jesse Jackson, in his speech to the Democratic National Convention, July 20, 1988, made diversity his theme:
America’s not a blanket woven from one thread, one color, one cloth. When I was a child growing up in Greenville, S. C., and grandmother could not afford a blanket, she didn’t complain and we did not freeze. Instead, she took pieces of old cloth—patches, wool, silk, gabardine, crockersack on the patches—barely good enough to wipe off your shoes with.
But they didn’t stay that way very long. With sturdy hands and a strong cord, she sewed them together into a quilt, a thing of beauty and power and culture.
Now, Democrats, we must build such a quilt. Farmers, you seek fair prices and you are right, but you cannot stand alone. Your patch is not big enough. Workers, you fight for fair wages. You are right. But your patch is not big enough. Women, you seek comparable worth and equity. You are right. But your patch is not big enough. Women, mothers, who seek Head Start and day care and prenatal care on the front side of life, rather than jail care and welfare on the back side of life, you’re right, but your patch is not big enough.
Students, you seek scholarships. You are right. But your patch is not big enough. Blacks and Hispanics, when we fight for civil rights, we are right, but our patch is not big enough. Gays and lesbians, when you fight against discrimination and a cure for AIDS, you are right, but your patch is not big enough. Conservatives and progressives, when you fight for what you believe, right-wing, left-wing, hawk, dove—you are right, from your point of view, but your point of view is not enough. But don’t despair. Be as wise as my grandmama. Pool the patches and the pieces together, bound by a common thread. When we form a great quilt of unity and common ground we’ll have the power to bring about health care and housing and jobs and education and hope to our nation (7).
Not everyone, however, believes that different groups making music together— or studying together—is desirable. Not everyone listened to Jesse Jackson’s grandmother. Milwaukee public schools, for example, are experimenting with ethnically separate populations. New York City is considering female-only public schools. The University of Pennsylvania publishes a yearbook exclusively for its African-American students. When I visited suburban schools during my promotional campaign this last year I noticed that in most cases the handful of African-American students in these schools sat together in the lunchroom and walked together in the halls. I have noticed that even in my own school, at staff meetings, the faculty tends to cluster together in ethnic/racial pods.
Or take the case of the great ninth grade curriculum debate in Montclair, New Jersey: A decision by then English department chairwoman Bernandette Anana to “detrack” the ninth grade curriculum upset the equilibrium in this model suburban town
to the point of creating permanent fissures within the community. At the center of the debate was indisputable statistical evidence indicating that black students were disproportionately assigned to remedial courses while whites were overwhelmingly placed in advanced placement classes (8).
David Hernon, a parent and one of the founders of Concerned African American Parents, acknowledged that there was
no real social interaction and only superficial friendships between blacks and whites, or people from different economic backgrounds. The communications consultant remembers his response to a white friend who questioned their relationship after learning of Herron’s position on the ninth grade curriculum issue. “I can’t remember the last time you had me over for tea,” quips Herron, recounting the manner in which he challenged his friend’s indignation (9).
The controversy in Montclair seemed to be about curriculum. But it went deeper. It was about race and class. According to local journalist Steve Adubato, white anxiety was tied to the “delicate balance that suggests that you cannot have a majority black student population and a quality school system.” (10). Beneath the hidden racism and elitism lay a failure in communication:
The failure to engage in a communal soul searching on these issues consigns conflict to those places that provide cover for real feelings. Residents can argue without fear about quality education—while the true issues are race and class. Thus, school children effectively shield parents from any direct hits based upon opinionsÉ (11)
These and other such experiments in informal, unconscious, or sanctioned public separation make powerful statements against the optimism of diversity. Yet, because these statements are caused by people both ignorant of other cultures and not engaged in real contact with them, there is hope—that education
the answer, that if we start with our school children, we just might be able to make progress.
How, then, do our students feel about the issue? One useful exercise to find out involves the
process. First the teacher poses a question that can command completely opposite responses, either of which can be reasonably argued. For example, in the context of our discussion (Assumption No. 2)
“The needs of students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds are better served through a population that is diverse.”
Students are then asked to align themselves physically along a continuum from “strongly agree” at one end to “strongly disagree” at the other. Next, each student is allowed the opportunity to explain his/her position. At any time students are allowed to move their positions and, if desired, are given an opportunity to explain why they moved.
The resulting conversations tend to be both interesting and useful, particularly when student begin to allow themselves to shift their positions. It is also useful for students who never moved from their original positions to reflect on their steadfastness—did they have strong convictions, or were they just stubborn?
process may also be used in opening discussion on quotas (Assumption No. 1). The question might be:
“It is appropriate for the State of Connecticut to fund the new Career High School only with the provision that its student population meet particular racial and geographical percentage quotas.”
or, more broadly,
“The ends justify the means.”
Let us now consider our third assumption:
Race itself is a meaningful concept.
Why do we think the way we think? We
to make distinctions. Science has shown that those who are born blind and given their sight in later years have to learn to distinguish between a square and a triangle, that such apparently obvious differences are actually learned perceptions. Certain peoples in isolated areas of the world have no concept of right angles, either in the abstract or in the materials of their world. As with geometric figures, so with people. According to Barbara Fields, race is not biologically determined, but political.
Much energy has gone to examining the relationship between the black and white races. But is there in fact such a thing as a distinctive and separate
race? This question has been explored by geneticists and physical anthropologists, no less than political scientists, with some of the most notable work being conducted by Kenneth Kidd of Yale:
Kidd and his colleagues have been taking DNA samples from two African Pygmy tribes in Zaire and the Central African Republic and comparing them with DNA samples taken from populations all over the world. What they have been looking for is variants—subtle differences between the DNA of one person and another—and what they found is fascinating. Éin almost any single African population É there is more genetic variation than in all the rest of the world put togetherÉ. In a sample of fifty Pygmies, for example, you might find nine variants in one stretch of DNA. In a sample of hundreds of people from around the rest of the world, you might find only a total of six variants in the same stretch of DNA—and probably every one of those six variants would also be found in the Pygmies. If everyone in the world was wiped out except Africans, in other worlds, almost all the human genetic diversity would be preserved (12).
Responding to a discussion on diversity, an unknown caller to New York’s “Talk of the Nation” on public radio put it similarly when she said: “There is more difference between two African Americans than there is between an African American and a white” (13).
Let us remember the fish in water and consider some of those very assumptions that are so ingrained in the culture that we take them for granted. Maybe they are so ingrained because we—and certainly our high school students who are great consumers of the popular media—keep hearing them over and over. By way of illustration, here are two instances of how the media perpetuate this myth:
Black athletes achieve their success through natural ability and whites through effort.
(1) In a recent article
described the white basketball player Steve Kerr, who plays alongside Michael Jordan for the Chicago Bulls as a
“hard-working overachiever” distinguished by his “work ethic and heady play” and by his shooting style “born of a million practice shots.” Bear in mind that Kerr is one of the best shooters in basketball today, and a key player on what is arguably one of the finest basketball teams in history. Bear in mind, too, that there is no evidence that Kerr works any harder than his teammates, least of all Jordan himself, whose work habits are legendary. But you’d never guess that from the article (14).
On the National Public Radio broadcast of “Only a Game” (May 17, 1997) Robert Kahn, author of
The Boys of Summer
, was talking about a recent conversation he had with Willie Mays about his famous catch of Vic Wertz’s 430-foot fly ball in the sixth game of the 1954 World Series against the Cleveland Indians. (I was an Indian fan then and remember the catch vividly.) It was the eighth inning, the score was tied 2-2, one out, and Larry Doby (who broke the color barrier in the American League and suffered through trials as difficult as Jackie Robinson’s in the National League) was on second. After the ball was hit, and in the few seconds he had to race one hundred feet to catch the drive, Willie Mays made the following, careful six-step analysis:
I will definitely catch this ball.
I need to catch it over my shoulder, facing the wall, which is solid brick and quite capable of breaking my face
I need to time my run so that I do not have to leave my feet because . . .
. . . I need to prevent Doby from scoring after I catch the ball by tagging up from second base since he is a smart runner (He’ll stay on base until the catch.) and a fast runner (He’s capable of scoring from second since I am 460 feet from home plate.).
Therefore, I need to catch the ball in such a way that I can throw it home immediately after I catch it.
Furthermore, I need to catch the ball at a place in my body so that I can spin and throw in one motion, be facing the intended target, and have my body positioned so that I can get sufficient force behind the throw to carry 330’ on the fly
Kahn, who was at that game, pointed out that the next day the New York papers completely ignored the complicated analysis May performed while running full speed towards a brick wall (There were no padded fences in 1954.). Instead, they all raved about Mays’ “instinctual” catch. Mays told Kahn he was quite annoyed at that characterization, as he later would about similar references to Jimmy Brown’s “raw physical ability” on the football field. (Brown was a careful student of the game.) and Mohammed Ali’s (who invented “scientific boxing”) in the ring (15).
Is Fields right? Was/is race itself a deliberate creation. We may draw our students’ attention to four incidents from American history.
Two 325-pound black men continually pound each other for money, one to protect a smaller white man, the other to slam him to the ground.
Rich whites (3%) fear the poor whites (52%) will identify, and align themselves with, the poor blacks (45%). Fearing the consequences of the identification along economic lines (If the 52% and 45% actually united, they would discover that the 3% had sufficient resources for all 100%.), the rich whites deliberately foster identification along racial lines through a campaign of misinformation.
White landowners employ Native Americans to capture runaway black slaves.
One hundred years after (3), the white government employs newly freed black slaves to capture and kill Native Americans.
Item (1) refers, of course, to the National Football League, where, statistically, the above scenario is most likely to be repeated hundreds of time each Sunday in the fall. It seems innocuous enough, almost not worth mentioning. But, from the perspective of history, how related is it to Items 2 and 3?
Item (2) refers to the strategy of the early Southern planters to engage in their campaign of racial bias (a early form of media manipulation) to preserve their economic clout and drive a wedge between the two large groups of poor peoples., who, if they ever united, could easily overthrow them. Item (3) refers to the strategy of these same planters to drive a wedge between two large groups of potentially threatening forces. Item (4)—the “Buffalo” soldiers during the Indian Wars—is a reversal of Item (3), but with similar intent.
What is central in this discussion is the notion that racial bias is a deliberate, learned behavior. And if it learned, it can be unlearned. That is the hope of the interdistrict grant.