Horace Mann, the founding father of American public education pitched his premise that public schools should be formed and controlled by the people, non sectarian and embrace children of all religious, social and ethnic backgrounds – in short, I interpret this to mean schools were to be community centered, diverse and culturally responsive. Though those words were not the words to describe the need at that time the concept could be easily translated.
See when Mr. Mann espoused his humanitarian principles American society did not yet reflect some of the basic needs to make this happen and perhaps some considerations for what was required for this was counteracted. For example, there were human beings still considered property and even with abolition movements, I would venture to say that there was no real plan for those of African descent, certainly not for Native Indians, whom were consistently shipped off to schools to be retaught – away from their culture – to be integrated in meaningful ways.
Let us also consider that teacher training was a central part of Mann’s plan. While clearly this would be an integral need for a growing school system we must ask the critical questions as to who was taught to train whom? Even teachers trained to teach Native Americans on reservations were taught to teach AGAINST them not for their integration, training and uplift.
We know so much about happened to Native Indians as their fight for their recognition persists. We also know the reality of busing and other “integration” methods to educate groups systematically pushed out of the education system. What we do not know is how teacher training has or has not caught up with the needs of students who were not fully considered part of the education system and how it effects students currently. Our information centers on knowing how NOT to refer students to special education due to behavioral issues. Other educators discuss and achieve culturally responsive models and multicultural education. I’m concerned with the deep seated reality of whether or not we can even reteach children who’ve been systematically removed from thought in a systems creation acceptance the curriculum – without us first acknowledging and accepting our own miseducation. I am concerned with what we are constantly recreating inside the classroom and spirits of our students. An idea is just that unless it is integrated on every level.
I feel that the composition teachers of today needs significant education in counseling and compassion methods in order to reach the students on a human level while teaching important information. In fact, their understanding of who they teach are critical for creation of activities that are effective for the needs of our diverse population. Of course this is only a part of the issue, but a critical piece. Teachers must be able to confront their miseducation and re-educate themselves in order to teach for social justice – to teach to those who were not even considered in the making of the American education system. This can not be done within a silo, instead this needs to be a critical piece of teacher education.
REFLECTION: I recall teaching Multiculturalism in the Social Studies Curriculum at The College of NJ for a semester. One of the readings was Teaching and Practice: Elementary School Curricula for Urban transformation by Paul Skilton Sylvester. Students first reaction from reading this was that it was not doable. Well, my premise is that until we as teachers feel it is doable, social justice will be at a distance.
Cecile Edwards earned her Master’s of Elementary Education from Grand Canyon University in 2010. She is available for consultation in infusing multiculturalism into curriculum and classroom activities and interaction also known as Diversity and Inclusion training, but for education and human services professionals.
Cecile can be reached at email@example.com or if you’d like a copy of the above mentioned article.