Putting Diversity on the Map: TC has created a guide to its academic offerings on race, ethnicity and inter-cultural understanding
In 2013, for the first time more babies of color were born in the United States than white, non-Hispanic babies. Another first: In Fall 2014, more students of color enrolled in U.S. public schools than white, non-Hispanic students.
Amid these changes, what should graduate-level education on race, ethnicity and inter-cultural understanding look like? TC has long offered a wealth of courses on these topics, but spread among ten different departments, the whole has been hidden in plain sight – until now.
This fall, the College unveils a new Race, Ethnicity and Inter-Cultural Understanding Curriculum Map, which includes more than 60 regularly-offered courses at the college that center on these themes. In related work, TC has been developing soon-to-be-launched Summer Institute on teaching and learning in diverse schools.
With courses that range from “History of African-American Education” to “Teaching and Learning in the Multicultural Classroom,” TC is “the epicenter of the emergence of new curricula on these timely and important issues,” says project leader Amy Stuart Wells, Professor of Sociology & Education. “But we undertook this project because there was no way to connect the dots of this amazing interdisciplinary curriculum across our departments and programs. We want tell the world we’re preparing current and future students to grapple with issues of race and cultural diversity throughout their careers.”
Backed by a Provost’s Investment Fund grant in January 2014, Wells led a team of students who sifted through the College’s existing course offerings, met with faculty and staff in different departments, and benchmarked other colleges.
“We were able to have candid conversations with students, with faculty, with the administration, about what is there, what isn’t there, what we do know, what we’d like to know more about,” says Daniel Harris, who worked on the project as an M.A. student in Sociology & Education and is now a Ph.D. student in Higher Education & Organizational Change at UCLA. Harris believes the mapping project will ultimately help enable the College become “more intentional” in the way it aligns curricular offerings with its stated mission of promoting diversity and social justice.
The Map includes only courses that focus on race, ethnicity and inter-cultural understanding from start to finish, but also separately links to other courses that intermittently address these themes.
“Race and ethnicity had to be really central to the course, not just in the title, but in terms of the readings, the topics for each week and the assignments,” says Diana Cordova-Cobo, a doctoral student in Sociology & Education who has worked on the project for more than a year.
Doctoral student Lauren Fox, also in Sociology & Education, says assembling the Map confirmed the depth of the College’s offerings.
“We already knew we had great faculty members doing great work in this area,” Fox says. “But we found an incredible range of classes that you can take, whether you’re learning to be a teacher, an administrator, a counselor or something in an entirely different field.”
“We checked out what our peer institutions are doing, and while there’s certainly more work to be done to prepare for our demographic destiny, we really are the go-to place for this type of curriculum in the New York metropolitan area,” adds Wells, who teaches two courses – “Race, Ethnicity, and U.S. Educational Policy” and “Sociology of Urban Education” – on the Map.
From Politics to Linguistics
The Map groups courses into four central and sometimes overlapping themes: Political, Historical, and Social Context; Social Theory, Socio-Cultural Understandings, & Language/Linguistics; Teaching and Learning; and Health and Well-Being. Several courses are cross-listed under more than one theme, and many extend into reaches not typically associated with discussions of race and ethnicity. For example, “Urban and Multicultural Science Education” – a required course for students in Science Education – explores issues of resources in science classrooms, multicultural teaching practices and related issues.
“Students often think there are few equity and diversity issues in science, because science is ‘objective,’” says Felicia Mensah, Professor of Science & Education and the coordinator of the Science Education program, who helped design the course and has taught it in the past. “But that definitely is not true.”
“We take the students on a journey of how science has been a tool to maintain hierarchies, biases and oppression,” adds Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education, who currently teaches “Urban and Multicultural Science Education.” “They get to understand the privileges they hold just by being scientists. We burst their bubble by having them understand how the position of the scientist is socially constructed. We talk about science and its relationship to gender, social class, disability. Every semester, students tell me they’ve never seen science this way before. And that’s my goal.”
Mensah also teaches a course for doctoral students called “Critical Voices in Teacher Education,” which explores issues of race in teacher education. In that class, Mensah asks students to write an essay on “Teaching and Learning Race as a Teacher and Student,” reflecting on their own identities both as students and teachers in terms of race.
“That’s often a big ‘aha’ moment,” Mensah says. “They pull back themes from their own childhood, retold through the lens of race in science education and teacher education. They’ll say, ‘I never realized until now that there were issues of race in the way my teacher was thinking about me as a learner.’ It helps them now preparing to become future teacher educators to ask, ‘How do you think about who the learner is as a person of race and yourself as an instructor of race? There is a great deal of personal reflection involved.”
Among the new Map’s many courses from the Curriculum & Teaching department is one taught by Michael Wilson, Assistant Professor of Inclusive Education and Director of TC’s School to Prison Pipeline Project. Titled “Education, Discipline, & Punishment: Criminalizing Difference in American Society,” it includes readings such as Michelle Alexander’s award-winning The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Students collaborate on multimedia projects “on the intersection between education and a selected social dimension related to mass incarceration.”
“The course introduces history and theory about criminology and how the criminal justice system, particularly the juvenile justice system, developed,” says Wilson. “Many of the students are planning to teach, and when they go into a classroom in an urban setting, they are going to be faced with the products of that history in their everyday work. They will see all those impacts – the metal detectors, the disproportionate suspensions of black students, particularly males – and they will have to make decisions about how they want to deal with it, and how they want to deal with students who are disruptive or different in any way. They realize that even what seem at the time like small decisions can sometimes lead to the increased likelihood that students will be arrested down the road, not have access to the educational resources they should have, not have a job, become re-offenders, and, ultimately, add to this whole problem of mass incarceration. They understand that it’s a problem we all have some part in – it’s not separate, it’s not somebody else’s problem.”
Responding to Diverse Needs
In “Latinos in Urban Schools,” Professor of Education Regina Cortina helps students “explore theories and research explaining why Latinos are the least likely of all major U.S. social groups to be enrolled in school and, as adults, are most likely to lack a high school diploma and have limited access to postsecondary education.”
“Approximately 40 percent of students in the New York City public school system are Latino,” says Cortina, whose list of required readings includes The Latino Education Crisis: The Consequences of Failed Social Policies, by Patricia Gándara and Frances Contreras. “Yet, relatively few graduate. In this class, we look at why. What is going on? How can we respond better to them?”
Given the central role of race in the history of education in the United States, the Map includes a two-semester sequence taught by Ansley Erickson, Assistant Professor of History & Education, called “Harlem Stories,” which offers a collaborative inquiry into the history of education in Harlem, emphasizing the use of digital archives in the fall semester and oral history in the spring.
The courses focus specifically on Wadleigh High School and Wadleigh Junior High School, which were located near TC. As Erickson notes in an article that will appear in the History of Education Quarterly in February, Wadleigh, opened in Harlem in 1902, “offers a microcosm of the community’s educational history.”
Erickson says the course provides a “focused historical investigation of the individual stories in all their complexity and all their contradictions.”
“Taking a community seriously beyond stereotype and generalization, reckoning with what a community has said about itself and its schools, pushes future teachers and historians to conceive of their work in terms broader than filling in historiographical gaps or crafting lesson plans,” she writes. “Those experiences serve as reminders to listen. They push students not to complacently accept the categorizations and labels so easily, and often falsely, applied to urban and black communities, but instead to listen to those communities and their representations of their own stories.”
The Race, Ethnicity and Inter-Cultural Understanding Curriculum Map is impressive, but those who worked on it regard the Map as only one outcome of their efforts.
“The biggest thing I wanted to come out of the project was having these critical conversations that take people out of their silos and meet them where they really are,” Daniel Harris says. “Just to have the conversation builds awareness, and helps create a more reflective process that allows for real transformation. If you see some gaps you can fill them in – but you can’t fill the gaps if you don’t see them.” —Ellen Livingston
Published Wednesday, Dec 9, 2015