Professional Development Day

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School improvement happened today, complete with free coffee and doughnuts. I enjoyed my breakout session on cultural sensitivity. I’m sort of cultural senstitivitied to death by now, as any recent teacher with a bilingual certification might be. We do a lot of coursework that revolves around that topic. But the discussion was invigorating.

What did I learn? America needs more boxes for one thing. The multiracial often feel lost when they have to check the box on all those official forms. The melting pot’s contents are pretty liquid by now. We are often unclear on the difference between race and ethnicity, too, as demonstrated by the very pale fellow from Spain who was told when he first entered the U.S. that checking the “Hispanic” box had been a mistake, he should check caucasian instead. The next time, though, another customs agent told him firmly that caucasian was the wrong box to check since people from Spain are Hispanic. Other teachers talked about the identity struggles of their own children, students with Hispanic mothers and Polish fathers. One teacher pointed out that many of those statistics used to show that certain racial groups are outperforming others are probably flawed by the number of participants picking “white” instead of other options that might also fit.

A musing I never discussed: Another possibility is that America needs fewer boxes. I’m not sure we need our racial boxes. We are using them to provide social remediation for groups that have historically struggled, but we might be better off with educational boxes. The fact that a student’s parents never finished high school is far more important that the ethnicity of those parents. My children are likely to have much more in common with an African-American financial analyst’s kids than they do with a white fast food worker’s kids.

(That last sentence makes me uncomfortable. I am getting sick of all the digs against people who did not enter or finish college. We need to respect the people who fix the sink and deliver our packages. Not everyone belongs in college and some people prefer physical work.)

I understand why we want those boxes. The information’s not useless. But I wonder if the boxes perpetuate the idea that race somehow matters. After all, why would we keep asking people to check the box if race was unimportant? If we ever hope to be a truly racially colorblind society, I believe the boxes will have to go.