Friday, August 1, 2014

Diversity Sensitivity Training in our Public Schools?

Monday, April 1, 2013, 0:00
This news item was posted in Education category.
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American public education has shifted in the past fifty or so years from being based in a major way to the general support of Christian values in the primary and secondary schools to the new faith of our day in diversity. This is a commitment to the affirmation of the rights of any minority group, whether the division is in respect to religion, moral values, race, sexual orientation, etc., but which we can observe is now seeking to subdue the Christian values, once basic in American education.

If you have your faith centered in diversity as much of the educational establishment does, ultimately you have nothing but a blending of conflicts which in the end results in confusion.  And this is what is very much taking place in the American public schools.

“Diversity” is a key word in public education. This is seen in the curriculums  in the administration of the schools, and in the overall tone of public schooling. When even teachers don’t tow the line and might seem to violate the code of diversity, there is to be expected appropriate condemnation on those in higher positions.

The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning says states that:  “Teaching to the wide range of diversities we find in our classrooms is one of the hardest and most important aspects of our job as instructors.  Diversity comes in many forms: personality, race, gender, class, ethnic background, sexual orientation, religion, class, natural aptitude for and previous training in the subject matter, the range and types of previous experience are among them.  Students come to our material with many perspectives; tapping into these can enrich everyone’s understanding of the subject at hand and, as well, prepare students for a 21st century in which the ability to talk with people of other groups is requisite. Making learning possible for everyone is the goal, and is often a challenge.  At the very least, it is our professional responsibility to make learning equally possible for all students.”  This is fine, but what is the learning being taught?

Learning to discriminate properly in respect to diversity is the call to wisdom, and is part of it. This is a call to avoid prejudice, but prejudice and the ability to discriminate generally between different groups is not prejudice.  Education is not to just know the facts, but it as well to acquire the wisdom to know how to interpret the facts and to cultivate positive behavior, learning, and motivation in the students.   Proverbs 4:5 & 7 speak to this, as it says, ‘Get wisdom, get understanding, forget it not…Wisdom is the principal thing: therefore get wisdom: and with it get understanding.”  When God is realized in the classroom, it makes a great difference!

How does or does not diversity sensitivity training relate wisely to education? It is good to be sensitive to each culture.  There are situations all over our land where one group or individual is crying that they are suffering discrimination.  Yet, the Christians of all groups it could be argued are suffering the most adverse discrimination.   Many, particularly the media, look for chances to discount Christians or Christianity.

One case against a black Christian teacher stands out.   In Broward County the Miami Herald (3-19-13) wrote about a Blanche Ely High School teacher, Leslie Rainer, who was suspended at first for ten days to later have it reduced to five days without pay for what the administration felt was being insensitive to the diversity in her classroom, as she called a black student who was misbehaving in the class a “little chocolate boy.”  From this she was forced to attend a class on diversity sensitivity training, although Rainer, argued that it was all just “merely friendly banter.”   However, the School Board determined otherwise and punished the teacher!

It seems that Rainer called the student “chocolate” a number of times, as she sought to have him behave in class, and the student felt very much offended.  The student, nevertheless had actually first called the teacher “fat chocolate” after he noticed a chocolate bar on her desk. In response, she was in her mind just jiving back with friendly banter with the student, whereas the School Board felt it was a racial slur, even if she herself was black.   Note the student was not suspended for calling the teacher, “fat chocolate,” where the teacher was for calling him “little chocolate boy”!

Sharing friendly banter is something present in the white community, but even more much part of the black culture.  Blacks tend to often seek to excel in it.  I’ve heard many who were very good at it.

I personally have had very close relationships with blacks over the years, and I’ve found the black culture often plays with friendly banter.  In Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia I coached the first integrated “Gray Y” team at the school where Martin Luther King’s children attended school from1965-68, and I had the honor of speaking in his church the night he was killed.  As a coach I found the kids often did the friendly bantering.

I taught school in Milledgeville, Georgia in 1973, where two thirds of the student body were black, and have a soul chip they carved out and presented to me as being a soul brother, and this was a school that the next year had the National Guard have to come.  Here the students delighted in sharing this friendly banter.

When I turned sixty-four in 2004, I played in Lavonia, Georgia with a softball team made up greatly of former students in which I was the only soda cracker, and they were still very much sharing the friendly banter.   I’ve observed this banter in many contexts as more a characteristic of the black community than the white. Often in all these contexts I witnessed blacks doing this with one another—something in which to laugh.   Recall, the Bible says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.”

The black community applauds this banter, and I see no way condemning a teacher as being insensitive to cultural diversity for so doing in what she called just “friendly banter.”  It is entertaining to many, and in the black culture in general those who jive best are held in high esteem.   Yes, this is a type of communication that is largely based in the black communities and is really an art.  It is a way to politely put others down like a friendly wrestling match, often in a comical way!   The word, “jive,” could be used here, but it has varied meanings and is often frowned upon, while the term, “banter” as well means the same, to tease or lie to someone; and many blacks in particular and others in varying degrees do banter, so why condemn one black even if in a superior position for doing it with another black?

But there might have been other reasons, however, for the attack on Rainer.  It seems evidently, Rainer may well have been an outspoken Christian, for this was not Rainer’s first high-profile disciplinary case. In 2010, she and another Ely teacher made headlines after they were accused of dousing holy water on a fellow teacher at the school who was an avowed atheist. Though initially removed from the classroom in that case, Rainer was later cleared of any wrongdoing and returned to teaching.  I say, “Praise God for Rainer.”

The racial area is one domain where diversity might exist in varying ways, but so are personality, gender, class, ethnic background, sexual orientation, religion, class, natural aptitude for and previous training in the subject matter, the range and types of previous experience, among many others. We must not confuse “discrimination”, which is a good term with “prejudice” which bad.  If we try to cater to each group, and to the fact that most everyone fits into multiple groups, it becomes a can of worms.  But the biblically-based guideline to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the best guide we can find.

When we look to cultural diversity for our ethical guidance instead of God, is there any wonder that we have so many growing educational problems?

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by Joe Renfro, Ed.D., Educational Columnist, Radio Evangelist, Retired Teacher and Pastor, 5931 West Avenue, Lavonia, Georgia 30553,  706-356-4173, joerenfro@windstream.net

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