I consider myself a fairly open-minded person. It doesn’t matter that much to me what race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, social class, or political party you belong to. I’m not perfectly nonjudgmental though, of course. It’s natural to have some prejudices and biases. I’m just saying that I think it’s only fair to examine each person as an individual, and not assume they are like others in whatever “group” they belong to or identify with. I’ll give you an example.
Once, when I was still teaching high school, the district had all teachers participate in a diversity workshop. One of the activities we did was to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in a line in the middle of the room. Then the presenter asked questions and we each had to take a step forward if our answer was “yes” and a step back if our answer was “no.” Since this involved personal information, we each had the option to bow out if we chose to. I decided, “What the heck?” and jumped in line, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with others.
“Are you Caucasian?” the presenter asked. I’m Hmong-American, so my answer was “no.” I took a step back.
“Are you male?” I took another step back.
“As a child, was your family considered middle class or higher?” Nope, we were poor as dirt and lived paycheck to paycheck. Another step back.
“Do you have a college education?” Yes. A step forward, finally.
“Does at least one of your parents have a college education?” Darn, neither of my parents had even a high school degree. Another step back.
The presenter continued in this manner, asking a series of questions related to our background and personal life. At the end of the activity, guess what? I was all the way in the back of the room, the very last person. It meant that out of everyone there, I was the person with the most disadvantages in society. Well, that wasn’t news to me. I had experienced a lot of hurdles in my life, so I didn’t need a workshop activity to tell me just how disadvantaged I was.
But I did understand the purpose of the activity. It was meant to show the varying degrees of differences we had in the room. We were all teachers, all relatively intelligent, all making somewhat of a decent living, and yet there was a wide spectrum of life experiences between all of us.
The students we see daily in our classrooms would be no different. Some of us teachers taught at schools that were better off and were predominantly white—the presumably “preppy” schools. Some of us taught at schools with a high poverty rate and high number of ethnic minorities—the so called “ghetto” schools. At the time of this workshop, I taught English at the “ghetto” school, but would later be transferred to a more “preppy” school.
In my experiences at both kinds of schools, it’s true that no matter where you teach and no matter what the demographics suggest, differences exist. They will always exist. This is true, not just in schools, but in all aspects of life.
- your life experiences
- the race, gender, or other innate qualities you were born with
- your job
- the neighborhood you live in
- the kind of car you drive
...the truth is everybody deserves a chance to fulfill their dreams and goals. We all need to look pass differences and allow each other the chance to find happiness in his or her own life. Sometimes, we need to give each other a helping hand once in awhile too. Where would I be if I were never afforded some great opportunities and never had the help of some great people along the way?