Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Equity in the Classroom

In my second grade classroom at Shawswick Elementary in Bedford, IN, I have noticed an equity issue of gender.  My teacher is a big supporter of a quiet learning environment, and anyone who makes noise during quiet work time gets called out on it.   Second grade boys tend to have a difficult time sitting still, so this expectation the teacher sets is already a challenge for them to meet.  One morning, I get to my classroom and I notice that a few desks have been separated from the normal rows of desks.  I do not think much of it at first, and then I notice that the only desks that were moved away from the group were boys’ desks.  I ask the teacher about it, and the teacher told me they were not able to concentrate on their work because they were moving around too much.  I then pay closer attention to these boys the rest of the day and I notice that they are still moving around and not much has really changed.  My teacher seems to have this set idea that a classroom needs to be a quiet, still environment, but that is not a conducive learning environment for 7-year-old boys.  She was not being equitable between the girls personalities of being quieter and more still to boys more rambunctious personalities.  This affected the boys’ motivation because I could tell that they were embarrassed for being separated from their peers.  They stopped participating and did not seem to be enjoying their work, or at least appeared to enjoy it less than normal.  If a child feels they are not being treated equally, they will most likely not want to participate or not feel comfortable in a classroom that should feel like a community. 

There is a very real problem with equity in schools, and Delpit (1988) and Gay (2002) have given some suggestions to help lesson this very real problem.  Delpit believes that “students must be taught the codes needed to participate fully in the mainstream of American life…within the context of meaningful communicative endeavors” (296).  Delpit also suggests that people in minorities and members of poor communities “must be allowed to participate fully in the discussion of what kind of instruction is in their children’s best interest” (296).  She feels very strongly that people learn differently based on their cultural background and that communication across different cultures can be very difficult for people who are unaware that people from different cultures communicate differently.

Gay suggests that teachers should design culturally relevant curricula in order to give support to children from different cultures.  One thing that Gay suggests is that, as teachers, we should deal “directly with controversy” (108).  Gay talks about how a lot of teachers try to avoid talking about very controversial issues, most of which have everything to do with culturally relevant issues.  If teachers are not afraid of talking about cultural topics, the students should begin to feel comfortable expressing their culture in their classroom. Another way Gay suggests giving support to children from different cultures is through symbolic curriculum and understand the power that it holds “as an instrument of teaching and use it to help convey important information, values, and actions about ethnic and cultural diversity” (108).   Overall, Gay wants teachers to not only teach about the White culture, but to talk about all cultures.  Culture is all around us in the United States, and it is part of the teacher’s role to make sure that their students are aware of the different cultures represented in the immigrant country of the United State of America.  

1 comment:

  1. Sarah,

    How would directly dealing with controversy help the boys in your teachers' classroom? How would you handle that situation? While Gay and Delpit are focused on race issues, could their suggestions be used in other contexts?

    You highlighted an important aspect of Delpit's article where students need to learn the code of American life. I'd argue that it's not just American life but also the classroom. In your teacher's classroom, is it obvious to the boys that quiet time is valued? Do they know why it's valued? Is the teacher communicating that rambunctiousness is a bad value or is it just during certain times? I think making these ideas very obvious in the classroom helps students. Knowing what the rules are for everyone is important - both for the majority and minority.


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