Of course, we want to introduce students to the wider world. But I’ve seen teachers unwittingly introduce other groups and cultures as if those groups were the exotic others.Human zoo

For example, I’ve seen schools hold International Festivals that have the flavor of “look at these unusual foreign people.” When groups of people are seen as exotic or patronizingly precious that are no longer “real” people.

Plus, the people of the world are not only international. They are here. They are Americans, Americans with a wide array of viewpoints and desires. They are people to recognize, appreciate, respectfully disagree with, live with, love with, work with and study with on a day-to-day basis, not just once a year.

Without intending to, we can keep a group of people at arm’s length while, at the same time, giving ourselves the false feeling that we are being inclusive.

We want to remember that as recent as the 1950s, people from other parts of the world as well as African and Native Americans were displayed in the U.S. as if animals in a zoo. The displays were often part of a continuum that ranked groups from apes to real people i.e. Europeans. Without meaning to, our study of other cultures can have a tinge of the same feeling.

It takes more time, thought and true connections with people with whom we’ve had less experience to be able to honor the complexity and variety within other cultures as well as understand our own cultural backgrounds with their unique histories, oddities and perspectives.



We think of “culture” pretty easily when we think of people’s ethnic backgrounds. No matter how disguised, ignored or blended through marriage and time, the fact remains our ethnic backgrounds can give us a great deal of strength, pride and identity. classroom

But, as teachers, we want to expand the definition of culture beyond ethnic backgrounds to include other dimensions of diversity such as geography, gender, language, physical abilities, religious and educational background and so on.

Some of you may have experienced these other categories of culture if, for example, your family changed from living a military life to a civilian life. That’s a real culture shock for many. Or, perhaps, some of you moved to go to school from one part of this country to another. If you moved from rural Omaha to New York City, for example, your whole relationship to time and space could change.

In New York City everything moves faster. You find yourself looking up more rather than looking out onto wide-open spaces. Each region of the country has a distinct feel and set of expectations and, therefore, could be thought of as a “culture”.

So each one of us, no matter the colors of skin before us, are teaching in multicultural classrooms. Some of the challenges our students face are actually problems in cultural interpretation. Our way of teaching – visually, kinetically, aurally, lecture-style and so on – and our references and examples, for instance, just don’t translate for some of our students.

Cultural competence demands that each of us be aware of our own cultural conditioning so that we can evaluate if our classroom is heavily weighted in one cultural style or another. Being an inclusive classroom takes openness plus a lot of thought and flexibility to try different teaching strategies until every child is reached.



One way to identify your prejudices is to think of any group with which you identify – city dweller, country, suburbanite, athlete, theater or certain type of music lover, ethnic group, Republican, Democrat and so on. Then, identify any groups viewed as different from or in actual opposition to your group.

teacher at front of class with students raising there hands

School is a great laboratory for this. The cliques even have names: The jocks, the theater kids, the dropouts, the brainiacs, the popular kids,

Trust me, if any group is seen as opposite or very different from your group, you will have been given some misinformation about them. Catholics have been given misinformation about Protestants and Protestants misinformation about Catholics. Young misunderstand old and old misunderstand young. Smokers think nasty thoughts about non-smokers and non-smokers say negative things about smokers.

What jokes do people tell about a neighboring state to yours? If you live in Minnesota, you know the Wisconsin jokes, but you don’t necessarily know what they say in Montana about people who live in Idaho. It’s almost like sibling rivalry. When you were growing up, you might have mocked your brother or sister because they were in close proximity and you’re were defining yourself against them.

Groups define themselves in part by who they are not. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just when we start to rank who’s cool (us) and who’s not (them) that we get in trouble.

Our prejudices can be endless and take consistent awareness to weed them out.



Because teachers are such thoughtful people who have chosen a profession precisely because they do care, it’s easy to believe we don’t have any prejudices.

Elementary StudentsPrejudice and discrimination are diseases of the mind and heart. When our thinking becomes faulty, it’s easy to draw assumptions about others that simply aren’t true. When you are not feeling good about yourself, when your own heart is troubled, you can project your negative feelings on other individuals or groups of people.

What happens in your mind and your feelings can make your and other people’s lives easier or harder.

It’s summer break. Finally, we’re away from the daily demands of our students. It’s a great time to reflect: what groups am I the most uncomfortable with or know the least about? What assumptions did I receive from my family, my ethnic and income group and this society that label others as “less than”? How can I dispute these stereotypes and learn more about and experience the complexity of other individuals and cultures?

What happens in your mind and your feelings can make your classroom, and this world, a kinder place.





A New 4th of July?

I never gave it a thought. The Pledge of Allegiance was just how we started each day in our grammar school classrooms. First we faced the crucifix at the front of the room and said our prayers, then we quarter-turned to the flag. The whole room filled with the smell of our newly-sharpened pencils laid to rest in long grooves at the top of our desks. That was how everyday started.

StudentsFold_FlagWe had our ritual beginning – pencil sharpening, prayers and the Pledge of Allegiance.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized the Pledge of Allegiance wasn’t a mindless activity for many. Americans of color: Japanese-Americans, Latino Americans, African Americans, members of First Nations and others have told me that when the Pledge of Allegiance was recited in their classrooms they stood, but never put their hands to their hearts or said the words. Another colleague described how he crossed his fingers behind his back and mouthed his own words, “And to the Republic for which it lies.”

These friends’ and colleagues’ ancestors had been rounded up and herded onto slave ships or behind barbed wire “camps” or onto “reservations.” The heroes I celebrated without a thought – George Washington, Andrew Jackson or FDR – had kidnapped, tortured, massacred or imprisoned tens of thousands of my friends’ ancestors. When they were growing up, they knew first hand of the discrimination in housing, religion, sports, entertainment and education to name just that their parents faced. Of course, the Pledge of Allegiance meant something different to them. “It’s not that we didn’t love our country,” one storyteller friend told me, “but we were just a whole lot more realistic about how much the U.S. was living up to its promise of ‘freedom and justice for all’.”

It troubled me when I heard my friends’ young protests or awareness had to be hushed and hidden. Is it time that we can admit that this country has and does work better for some than others? Is there room in our American classrooms now for these alternative experiences and, therefore, expressions of anger and frustration?

When I was growing up in the 1950s, we were never taught the full American story and, because of that, our ignorance left us ill equipped to do our part to shape American ideals into American realities. This 4th of July, can we celebrate freedom from our ignorance of the full American story and freedom of expression for all our students?



This is not light summer reading but if you want to understand the injustice people of color still receive today and why some groups are still angry and locked out of the American dream, I strongly suggest two books about the criminal justice system:book recommendation

 The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander and Cornel West

On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City (Fieldwork Encounters and Discoveries) by Alice Goffman


JUNETEENTH: A Celebration For Today

Did you know that in some states the news of emancipation from slavery didn’t reach people until much later – in the case of Texas not until two and a half years later? The Emancipation Proclamation was made official on January 1, 1863 and, yet, Major General Gordon Granger of the Union


Army was not able to read the news of freedom in Texas until June 19, 1865.

Some say it was because a messenger was killed on the way to deliver the news. Others state that President Lincoln’s

authority over the southern states was precarious and so a deal was struck to allow one last cotton harvest in Texas. Others say it was pure greed and cruelty: the slaveholders weren’t about to give up their free labor source without resistance.

The “Juneteenth” order read:

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States,


 all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

 For the formerly enslaved and those who supported them, initial shock evolved into jubilation which quickly turned into the reality of navigating a way forward in a country in which African Americans had had no legal status or rights. Currently, this day is celebrated to commemorate all that has been accomplished and to give a model of hope and persistence for all that lies ahead.







Moving from PC (Politically Correct) to PC (Personally Caring) Language

Language is never neutral. I’m not talking about choosing our words to be “politically correct,” but to become more aware of what we arefor language communicating – intentionally and unintentionally. This debate over language isn’t arbitrary or frivolous. One group has had the power to name things, has had the power for so long that we are blind to the biases and put downs associated with so many “common” words. The greatest sign of respect is to call people what they want to be called.

To make it simple: ask the people you are involved with what they prefer to be called. Not in a manner that puts them under a microscope or asks them to speak for their group such as: “What do “you all” want to be called?” (“Well, all twelve million of us have taken a vote and…”) Instead, ask people as individuals what they prefer and be ready to share your preferences as well. This means we need to make connections; this means we need to talk to each other.

Instead of feeling put out by the need to consider language, we could rejoice in the fact that we’re finally becoming a multi-voiced nation. People are beginning to name themselves and no one group of anything wants to be called any one thing.

Language is a living, breathing, ever changing art form. We could take the attitude that it’s interesting and even fun to play with words so that our descriptions are more clear, more accurate and more sensitive. We could take the time to learn other people’s preferences not to be “right” but because we care not to hurt each other. When we choose different words we help people see a different reality. A different shared reality is the foundation upon which we can build a transformed society that works for everyone.




There was a Rabbi who saw the same woman sitting in the same seat for services year after year after year. Then, suddenly, one winter’s day, she wasn’t there. The Rabbi went to the woman’s home to check on her.

The woman told the Rabbi that she was fine. She said, “I like everything you say during the services, but I’ve realized that I do just as well at home on my own. But thank you for checking.”

It was cold outside. The woman added, “You’ve come a long way. Come sit by the fire and have a cup of tea.”

The fire was roaring. As they sat and talked, the Rabbi took the poker and picked off one single sliver of wood from a burning log. He set the sliver off to the side. While the rest of the fire blazed, this one little ember of wood flickered, steamed and finally died out.

The woman looked up at the Rabbi and said, “I’ll be there next week.” The woman realized that she was just not as strong on her own.

Make sure you get support for yourself this summer. To continue your commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive classroom find inspirational and enlightening articles and videos online. Come back here for weekly blog posts, check the daily entries at and be inspired by videos and articles at and



We already know that Columbus did not “discover” America as there were people hairalready living here. But what if some of the first to settle in the northern hemisphere weren’t even First Nations but Asians?

A team of Danish scientists have uncovered a tuft of dark brown hair in Greenland that has led them to theorize that 4000 years ago there was a tribe of humans that trekked from North Asian to settle into what is now called Greenland. The DNA collected from the hair traces back to Asians, not Native Americans or the Inuit people who live there now.

This suggests that the first humans to colonize the American Arctic were Asians/Siberians, distinct from the first people who arrived in America more than 14,000 years ago.

Of course, the research goes on but the theory suggests that the travels of early Asian groups may have been wider than previously considered and that perhaps there were multiple migrations from the Bering region into the American Arctic


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