Encouraging Diversity and Multicultural Discussions in the Classroom

“Vision is the bifocal ability to see what lies ahead (farsightedness), as well as the various impediments in the present (nearsightedness), and how to avoid them in order to arrive at the future” (Rosado, para. 6).
My vision for a diverse classroom, both in regards to one that meets all students’ needs when it comes to learning styles, and when considering their cultural, language and socio-economic backgrounds, is a place where everyone feels comfortable and supported to speak up and participate in class. My vision for the classroom is for it to be a small community. Ideally, this would mean that all students could work and learn together without any distractions or hang-ups, and each person could contribute, allowing all of the students to learn from and interact with one another.
I see my classes starting to mirror this ideal, although we have not fully arrived at the perfect classroom yet.
Through awareness of my students’ special needs, encouragement, and the ability on my part to be flexible and inclusive and able to adapt, I hope that each semester my classroom gets even closer to the ideal model.
As Caleb Rosado says in his essay, “Restructuring Education for the 21st Century,” the change is not effective if it is focused merely on the individual, but the must be a focus on changing paradigms.

For one of the essay assignments that I assigned in my English 102, College Writing class this semester, I called on the class to write a persuasive essay. I told them that no topic was off-limits, but that in writing their essay, they should aways consider who their audience was; myself and their classmates. I instructed my class to write using appropriate language and terminology, explaining or defining any words that might fall into the category of jargon, and tempering their language so that it would not be construed as hostile or offensive.
Part of the persuasive essay assignment was, each student was required to present a short, informal talk explaining what their subject was, what side of the debate or issue they choose to take, and why. Some students did not pick “hot button” issues with clear pros and cons, instead they chose issues that they saw as current local, national or global problems or crises, and they came up with solutions which they presented in a persuasive manner.
When we began to share the presentations in class, again I reminded students to be polite and respectful in the choice of language they used to talk about their topics. We had all sorts of topics, ranging from whether the claim that the world may end in the year 2012 was real, to how to address overpopulation in some parts of the world, to the best ways to end animal abuse. But one student’s presentation stood out in my mind, and that was the student who was fully in support of SB 1070. This student railed against the “illegals” complaining of the damage to our country’s economy that she believed these people were doing by coming into America illegally and stealing and using up public resources. She took a stand against opponents of the new state bill that criticized some of its caveats as encouraging racial profiling. Her reasoning was that “the law is blind,” and it is the fault of racist enforcers when racism is employed for harassing individuals and unfair profiling occurs. When she was done with her presentation, she took some questions from her classmates. What I saw and heard was a classroom divided on this issue, and our class served as a microcosmic reflection on whether or not the bill and the mentality behind it echoed a deeper seed of racism in our state, our nation, and within our school.
Prior to this student’s passionate presentation, I had prepared to spend an entire day on this issue, assigning a packet of writings and two videos with approached the issue from different viewpoints. On the last day of class, as a Rhetorical Analysis review and Works Cited review exercise, I had the class read a packet of three articles and create a mock works cited page, then select one article from the packet for a short rhetorical analysis. While they worked on writing this out, I screened in class the videos “Border Wars, Episode 1,” produced by National Geographic, followed by a film my colleague from The New School Roy Germano produced and directed, “The Other Side of Immigration.” For extra credit, I asked my class to write a response paper telling me what their reaction to the material was, and if they took a side. As always, I reminded the class that I don’t grade them for their opinions, only for the strength of their writing.
The resulting mass of essays was very impressive. For the most part, those who took the challenge and chose to write a critical response to the SB 1070 issue, and the issue of immigration to America from Mexico, in general, wrote clearly argued, well-informed, intelligent issues, yet still reflected a fairly even split on whether or not they supported SB 1070. What I found, which was rather refreshing, is that my students used logical approaches to the issue, and did not resort to name-calling, hateful language or other racist tones. The students who said that they did support SB 1070 explained that they felt America’s borders were not secure enough. And in lieu of terrorist threats from abroad, and the current conditions of an on-going drug war, there should be better protections in our state from people getting in un-monitored. These same students voiced empathy for those who attempt to migrate to the United States searching for work, and after reading the articles and watching the films, they said that they could imagine having a more inclusive, more benevolent “guest worker” program or VISA, as advocated by former president George Bush, would be mutually beneficial for the U.S. and Mexico (Germano). On the other hand, many students felt very compassionate about allowing people from the Mexican countryside in to the U.S. to work. Many quoted from the articles about the estimated counts of undocumented laborers currently employed in the U.S. and showed how these people did contribute to the country through paying taxes and helping to support agriculture and other industries with their labor.
I was glad to see that not one student who responded wrote in a reactionary way, spouting hate or complaining that it was unfair or unjust that I present this issue in an English class (I was a little afraid of that, especially since the second film presented, “The Other Side of Immigration,” has a great deal of interviews conducted in Spanish which require English subtitles for a U.S. audience).
What was my greatest triumph in this day’s presentation was that I was able to present this issue in a balanced way, without a negative reaction and was also able to effectively synthesize the use of these texts into my course objectives for the students to practice required competencies (Rhetorical Analysis, MLA Citation, Persuasive Argumentation).

Works Cited
Border Wars. National Geographic. 2009. DVD.

Burkhart, Ford. “The Future of the Immigration-Reform Debate.” The University of 
 Arizona Alumnus Magazine. 2010. Print. 10 Dec 2010.

Pullen, Randy. “Leftist Froth at Mouth Over Immigration Bill.” Human Events. Academic 
 Search Premier. 5 Oct 2010. p.11. Print. 4 Nov. 2010.

Richey, Warren. “Arizona brief: Judge made ‘serious error’ in blocking SB 1070. 
 Christian Science Monitor. 5 May 2010. Print. 4 Nov. 2010.

The Other Side of Immigration. Dir. Roy Germano. RG Films. 2010. DVD.

Rosado, Caleb. “Restructuring Education for the 21st Century.” Eastern University. 
 Philadelphia, PA. 10 Dec. 1996. EdChange Project, by Paul C. Gorski. . Web. 15 
Dec. 2010.