Commentary, Education, News

Must-read: What we can learn from a canceled Wake County class on diversity

Chances are, most everyone knows someone who teaches in a classroom.

It’s an enormous job, putting it mildly. But it’s also a much more complicated job than it was decades ago.

Questions about pay aside, and they are major questions, the modern classroom isn’t the same place it was when the lion’s share of North Carolina’s lawmakers enrolled in K-12. It is more diverse; it is more globally connected; and it is under enormous pressure from a school choice movement that’s squeezed traditional public schools for resources and pupils.

But a report Monday from Carolina Public Press highlights another challenge for educators: teaching about diversity. As the report notes, Wake County officials nixed a class recently when parents raised privacy concerns about the forward-thinking course.

Surely a valuable subject, North Carolina educators need to find a way to make such a course work. The report explains those looming difficulties in detail.

Here’s an excerpt, although check out Carolina Public Press for the full piece:

When a Wake County teacher had her students use a “diversity inventory,” concerns about privacy led the principal to cancel the classroom lesson in late August.

But the question that education leaders in that school district and others across North Carolina are still dealing with is how to teach about identity in the classroom without violating student privacy.

The issue is multifaceted. First, the checklist used in that lesson didn’t quite fit the lesson plan the Heritage High School class was supposed to be using, Wake County Public School System spokesperson Lisa Lutin said. The lesson was intended to teach about identity, not diversity.

The lesson also required students to ask their family, neighbors, peers and others to contribute information. With fields such as “sexuality,” “ability” and “socio-economic status” on the list, some parents felt uncomfortable and contacted the school.

Principal Scott Lyons reviewed the material and canceled the lesson.

Identity and diversity

Identity and diversity are distinctly separate, according to Dana Griffin, associate professor and faculty chair at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Education.

Griffin, a former school counselor as well as a marriage and family counselor, now instructs school counselors at the undergraduate and graduate levels on how to teach about identity.

Griffin does think that teaching about diversity is important.

“I can’t speak for the school or the person who was doing the activity in class,” Griffin told Carolina Public Press.

“When I talk about diversity or cultural identity, I say that I use ‘diversity’ broadly, like as the adjective: ‘We are a diverse population.’ What makes us diverse are our cultural identities. What are our identities? And then, here’s the list: The identity is age, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or lack of, disability, military, education, right? Work, family, even our family makeup. What I try to do is normalize it, that no matter what or how we identify, or what our experiences are, it doesn’t mean that we are better than or less than.”

It’s important for students to understand that individuals will have various life experiences according to their identities, Griffin said.

Many people tend to think of race or gender as an identity, but Griffin pointed out that identities have many factors. Two people of the same race and religion but in separate social classes would likely have different experiences that would shape their unique identities.

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