A future context for understanding diversity in education (the tap on the shoulder)

Let’s set a scene too many of us are familiar with. A group of promising college students sit around a table, assigned to these groups by their college professor, for a group project of some nature. The first big assumption we’ll make is that somewhere along the way, some people will do their part, and […]

Feeling Left Out

Feeling Left Out

Let’s set a scene too many of us are familiar with.

A group of promising college students sit around a table, assigned to these groups by their college professor, for a group project of some nature. The first big assumption we’ll make is that somewhere along the way, some people will do their part, and some won’t. In many of these settings, one or two people are left to do the work while the other 3-4 don’t do jack.

There’s a dynamic, though, that barely gets discussed in these settings, and where I consider our roles in the dynamic too crucial. Oftentimes, a person whose characteristics are different from the others in the group (and in this sense, it’s usually someone of another gender, sex, or even perceived disability) gets his or her opinion ostracized. For many of us who consider ourselves part of the ostracized group, the stages look like the following:

  1. We state an opinion enthusiastically and it’s immediately shut down.
  2. We try to contribute to another’s idea, in compromise, and it’s given a shrug.
  3. We look for an entryway into the conversation, but the frustration with the perceived (or intentional) ostracization has already started to settle in.
  4. We’ll sit there silent and defiant, unwilling now to contribute much of anything, a reverse placement of value (“They don’t deserve what I have to say anyway.”)
  5. We try to discuss this with someone who we think may have a smidgen of objectivity, and either the person tries to play peacemaker, or, as is often the case, patronizes us by saying, “That’s just in your head. Try again.”
  6. He or she may either walk out, or do something abrupt and poignant, even when the group has shifted to another topic.

Here’s where it gets a little strange, but where huge misunderstandings (and sometimes, latent discrimination) occurs. The older our students are, the more we should give them space to resolve issues within themselves without the micromanaging of a powerful moderator. However, we have to develop a barometer for when things go from simple misunderstandings to blatant pushing-out. As a teacher, I have learned to trust my instincts about the group dynamics within the groups I make, continually monitoring the temperature of chemistries, hoping they all work.

And no matter how well the professor/teacher/moderator means, if he or she lets that occur, then he or she is complicit in the lack of chemistry, particularly if the offended party is acting in the appropriate code of conduct.

For instance, let’s a group of mostly conservative male professors is having a conversation about women’s health, and they decide to ignore the woman’s take in it, then they’re being latently discriminatory, especially as it pertains to a woman’s body. If the woman in the group follows those 6 steps outlined above, then the group will most likely treat her as the problem since she is not considered “the norm” in the group.

Now, if there are one or two male professors in that group who would like to hear the woman’s take on the matter see this happening and silent during this, then they are complicit in this perpetuation of ignorance.

That is to say, the future of education depends highly on how we treat all learners, whether adults or children. True diversity comes from having many opinions and many voices included and vested within the discussion. Even if there are disagreements, at least the conversations are had and the opinions are validated.As long as the participants understand the rules of engagement and bring a sense of value to the discussion, then they should be a part of what we’re doing. And if those of us who see value in another opinion don’t speak up, then we in effect agree that they shouldn’t be at the table.

Every person deserves a seat at the table, lest those who we serve get their own table.

We as humans (of any subgroup, educators included) are not a monolith. Why should our discussions be?

Jose, who thought of this while writing a post about Arne Duncan’s lame assertion (and eventual apology) in my regular blog …

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