I attended a talk last week sponsored by the Washington Teachers Union. The invited speaker was Enid Lee, who was also an editor of Beyond Heroes and Holidays. At some point during the conversation, I was inspired to comment on social media:
Teachers ceded professional ground when they favored soft multiculturalism in lieu of justice
— Dr. J (@thechalkface) July 22, 2016
A few conservative folks “favorited” this tweet, thinking I had a problem with multiculturalism. That’s not what I meant, and I was encouraged to explain my thinking. Over the years, there’s been some criticism of an inadequate approach to multicultural education. That is, teaching diversity as an additive approach with themed months or weeks, emphasizing individuals, heroes, and special holidays, which is what Enid Lee’s book counters.
Teachers across the country still ascribe to this “soft” approach to multiculturalism. Many of those same teachers feel just fine with this, that it’s totally adequate. That’s where teachers end the conversation about diversity and equality: on or around MLK Day or during Black History Month. As a result of years and years of this very noble, albeit very limited, approach, I don’t think teachers on the whole are viewed as a group of professionals that can be counted on to stand up and speak out. I say on the whole because there are some positive examples in some areas. Teachers, however, have been very complacent over many years and have not been major figures in justice movements.
When I say that teachers have ceded professional ground, I guess I meant that many teaches have comforted themselves with the soft, additive approach to teaching about social justice, and stopped well short of engaging in real action.
Again, as a whole. Can we really count on teachers to stand up for what is right? I don’t think so.