The Teaching Game – America’s Culturally Homogenized Educational Workforce
The ink-filled pages rustled with the trees and the wind as a young teacher, Charles Pryor pored over the paper with his notebook and ink-stained fingers. It was May of 1954 and the Brown vs.
Board of Education case was drawing to a close. Public schools would finally be desegregated and integrated with boys and girls of all backgrounds who could finally learn and play together and share the world as they should. Pryor knew it was the first step in a long journey to come, but he couldn’t help but rejoice in the small victories. The true victory would come when the time came for these children to learn together, to laugh, grow, and play together, when white children would not spit in the faces of their black classmates, but extend a hand to help them up. A time when children would accept peace.
Pryor strived to bring this peace into his own classroom as he was beginning his career as a teacher in 1950s Chicago, but he faced many hardships and was often defeated by the world outside his schoolhouse doors. Prejudice was alive and well and he often had to reinstill a lesson of acceptance into his pupils. The rest of the nation was not so black and white. All about him, the world swirled around in its own big whirlwind of life. Little did he know the revolution about to explode over the course of the next half a century in his city, his nation, and his world.
For decades on end, debates have raged across the globe, in an attempt to abolish discrimination and establish equality for people of all backgrounds, races, genders, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. A tremendous amount has been achieved in the last four decades. The civil rights movement has brought an end to segregation, female activists are initiating immense changes in the fair treatment of women, communities across the nation have diversified, cultural stereotypes have been emphatically struck down, and support for the LGBT community has soared. Yet, in the midst of this ongoing revolution for equality, perhaps the most integral of people has been forgotten. They mentor the nation’s children, teach them everything they know, guide them to form their earliest ideas and opinions about the world around them, and they work to mold children into model citizens and extraordinary leaders.
In a world so diversified, in the country named the world’s “melting pot,” and in a place where equality and equal rights have come so far, the professionals forming the future of tomorrow are as culturally unrepresented as the nation was 40 some odd years ago. While revolution was taking place in our ever-changing nation, we somehow forgot about the most important ones – the mentors of tomorrow’s children – that have sat stagnantly, bluntly, obliviously unchanged after all these many years. This nearly nonexistent diversity became increasingly evident in an interview with administration at Jefferson Junior High School in Naperville, IL in early October of this year. Although Naperville has made incredible strides and is a leading force in educational diversity, the community itself is vastly white, it is important to note that their assistant principal is African American, a fact that speaks volumes about Naperville School District 203’s commitment to this diversity. While the topics were broadly discussed and debated, one thing was clear; all are in agreement that our educational system as a whole, is leagues behind where it should be, considering, well… everything. “You want to make sure that it’s kind of like a melting pot of everyone because that’s what America is,” says Assistant Principal Jeremy Christian.
“You don’t have just white or black or Hispanic, you have Indian, you have Asian, you have all different sorts. So I think it [diversity] does affect the student body tremendously especially because you may relate to … someone that looks completely different, or you may relate to someone who looks the same.” Diversity is incredibly important in school faculties but Jeremy Christian and Nancy Voise of Jefferson Junior High School are among the countless professionals in agreement that this diversity isn’t happening nearly as much as it should be. Christian spoke about his own life as an example. Growing up in the Inner City of Chicago, a vastly black community, he was in the reciprocal situation of many minority students of today who are growing up in fully-developed school systems across the nation. “Where I grew up at, I went to an all black high school … with all black teachers, so it didn’t allow me to have much diversity and then when I went to college, I had a different experience.
So, I think you have to look at those types of things.” It is pertinent that diversity in schools should be starting from a very young age in order to correctly equip students for their diverse academic world as well as the global community as a whole. Yet, if this issue is so vital, then why is our educational system still so homogenized? Before resolving the issue; a process riddled with hurdles and obstacles dealing with controversy and misunderstanding, one must first examine this complex and difficult problem, entrenched in decades of revolution and an unwillingness to evolve. Some answers lie in the things not happening that should be, while others are more difficult to understand. By studying reports and profiles, administrators and others will at least be able to locate the areas necessitating immediate change.
Curiously, the studies making this kind of progress possible have often been unconsciously pushed aside while school board meetings clamored with far less prominent issues. These profiles that should be at the top of all priorities have somehow made their way to the bottom and momentum for a once prominent issue has suddenly shuttered to a halt. According to a Profile of Teachers in the U.S., conducted in 2011 by the National Center for Education Information, over the course of 25 years, male representation in the teaching field has dropped tremendously – nearly 15% – and despite efforts to recruit more male teachers into K-12 teaching, the field is vastly dominated by females — 84% to be exact.
This is up 15% in the last 25 years, while male teachers have dropped at nearly the same rate. Voise explains this in her interview. “I think it goes back to salary there too, [in] elementary districts. We’re in a unit district which is K-12. We pay better than elementary districts who are K-8. High School Districts which are just high school pay even better.
So for men, as the traditional breadwinners, they would go to the secondary schools – if they enter teaching – because of salary.” Alongside these demographics is teacher age, which is of course, bound to fluctuate over time, and as an influx of young teachers flood the K-12 scene, many older teachers have retired and moved on from teaching. In fact, teachers in their 20’s have increased by 11% in the last 25 years, while the amount of teachers in their 40s has dropped about 6%. While these gender and age statistics are somewhat surprising, the most shocking of these statistics are those gathered about the race of teachers in the past 25 years. As great strides were being made in the movement for racial equality, a fight still raging today, the school environment for teachers of different ethnicities has changed only a scant amount. In the past quarter century, the amount of black teachers in K-12 schools increased by only 1%, Hispanic representation a bit more, with dual-language programs on the rise at 4%, and other races peaking from 0% in 1986 to 4% in 2011.
White representation dipped but 7%. Now, this should say something about the dynamic in the public schools of today. Although plans have been made, laws have been passed, movements have surged, the social climate of teachers in K-12 schools has changed relatively little, compared to changes occurring in the outside world over the past 25 years. Many claim that their children are learning to live in this diverse and changing world, yet white females dominate the teaching industry by a vast margin. When asked about applicant statistics in her district, Voise had little input. “We don’t get a ton of … Hispanic or black candidates.
We get even fewer… what would be considered the Indian or Asian applications. I can only think in my seven years that I’ve ever even interviewed one … Asian at all.” This made it clear that the issue was stemming from the graduates and not from the hiring personnel themselves, demonstrating what a tremendous snowball effect the educational system has begun and nurtured for decades. Not only were applicants not applying, but the majority of schools were doing little to ensure that the next generation would apply. Christian agreed, expounding upon the fact that the achievement gap, begun by the nonexistent diversity in schools is preventing students from receiving the resources and mentoring that is necessary to pursue a career in education.
While there are students receiving abundant resources from their schools and bounding ahead in their education, others lack the basic materials to earn a passing grade. Naperville is extremely fortunate to have such an incredible amount of resources with which to supply their students, as well as a large social capital which aids students and young people in their networking and ability to land positions for which other students lack the connections or opportunities to receive. “So that does make a profound impact on how those students are going to qualify for jobs…
” Christian replied. Once these teachers reach schools – if they do – the administration has an even harder time keeping them employed. “… I think the same thing’s true for staff, I think it’s very difficult if there’s one black person on our staff or one Hispanic person on the staff.
I think that’s difficult for them because there’s gotta be times when they feel like ‘Nobody gets me, nobody understands,'” Voise explained. She then discussed her ideas on support groups for minority staff who need to know that somebody is still there for them in this still-segregated industry, “… because prejudice is still alive and well,” Voise explained, “and unfortunately, they face that in their classrooms,[and] in leadership roles.” Voise claimed that her district, and other like it, struggle to retain minority staff because of this prejudice and that many staff members move away after their first few years because the job is not a “good fit”. “So we need to do some things to really, if we really want to believe in keeping minority candidates, we’ve got to do some things to support them.” When questioned about the success rate in diversified faculties when relating to other levels of education, Voise and Christian merely chuckled.
This idealist faculty diversity that the world had once been dreaming about just wasn’t happening and anyone could see that. “There are some colleges that attract that,” says Voise when asked about her experience with collegiate faculties and their diversity, “but that can be a huge culture shock.” Voise then recounted her daughter’s experience at UIC, where she experienced this culture shock firsthand with her professors there. Growing up in a vastly white and undiversified school system, she had no previous experience with this type of diversity and had difficulty adapting to her professors who had heavy accents and backgrounds with which Voise’s daughter had had little experience “So I think there’s a little bit [of diversity] there but with their faculty overall, I think we’re way behind the times,” Voise explained. This kind of culture shock is not uncommon.
With the educational system today as it is, high school graduates often meet unexpected barriers and setbacks for no reason other than the laziness of the educational system. In a report written by Daryl G. Smith, Caroline S. Turner, Nana Osei-Kofi, and Sandra Richards, the four discussed hundreds of major universities across the U.S.
, and their efforts to diversify faculty to “prepare all students for a diverse society,” which is perhaps the goal of all educational organizations here in our country, during the 21st century, where global communications and relations are more important than ever. These plans, while skillfully laid out, seem to have sputtered out, possibly even decades ago. The authors of this report, titled “Interrupting the Usual: Successful Strategies to Hiring Diverse Faculty,” state that “perhaps the least successful of all the many diversity initiatives on campuses are those in the area of faculty diversity.” Not following through with plans to diversify and allowing this immense snowball effect to not only begin, but continue for decades, with not a single attempt to slow or alter its path has led to this. Allowing students to grow up taught vastly by a single race, a single gender, a single background, a single type of person has led to this.
This oblivious ignorance has led to the breeding of a generation – or several -cocooned eternally in their little bubble of comfort… until they’re not. Although many find it shocking, children do grow up, and will one day have to fly the nest – or be pushed out, upon graduation and the beginning of adulthood, to go out into the world and begin lives, careers, and families of their own. However, when finally thrown into this culturally diversified, globally connected, commerce-driven whirlwind of a world, these young people are forced to take a step back. They are forced to evolve over the timespan it would take an adjusted student to land a career and begin a life. Unlike the adjusted students, these culturally homogenized students are out of their element.
They are unprepared to begin because their global life has only just started, whereas the adjusted student would have begun from perhaps four or five years of age. Evidently, our country is not the only one behind the times, nor is the staff or faculties of today, but the graduates of tomorrow- they’re behind too. They are the ones responsible for the future but they continually repeat the past. An endless cycle. A snowball effect.
Merely a game. A mind game that we have been playing for decades. We’re good. But we’re breaking the world – and our future – in the process. As Jeremy Christian recounted of his collegiate experiences, he went to college after a completely culturally homogenized primary and secondary school background and had to make it through college “all along knowing that they didn’t represent – a lot of the teachers that I had did not represent what I was,” Christian recalled.
Though society could let a few more decades pass before making changes to the education system in our country, it would be unwise. Preparing today’s children for a diversified world tomorrow means surrounding them with mentors from all different backgrounds so that they are prepared to live in the ever-changing world outside of the school environment. However, if all their lives have been spent being mentored and taught by one race and gender of adults, diversity is lost. The leaders of tomorrow are not being prepared for the diverse and ever-changing world around them and it is the responsibility of today’s leaders to pave the way for the children of tomorrow. Therefore, it is crucial that children grow up surrounded by all cultures, genders, races, and languages of the world, for in the end, the results that the world will reap will be more than anything ever imagined.
Children are capable of achieving great things. What if they were educated at an even younger age about the cultures of the world? Not necessarily about how different they are, but what they have in common. What if they understood unity? Peace? Diversifying schools will bring about benefits for communities of today and tomorrow, but truly incredible things will come if we are able to teach our children how to live in a world of peace. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.”