Dear President Obama,
As you look to address the pressing issues in our nation’s educational system like No Child Left Behind, dropout rates, the effectiveness of charter schools, and graduation rates, I wanted to introduce you to some of the educators Tanenbaum has the great opportunity to work with.
On Saturday, February 7, 2009, I had the privilege to train 7 afterschool educators in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, New York. Each of these women had a personal interest for wanting to be trained in how to create multicultural, multireligious learning environments of respect. One woman expressed her discomfort with an exercise where we ask educators to consider any privileges they may experience as a result of religion. Her challenge was how to express the duality of following Christian teachings and also honoring her Afro-Caribbean religious practices. She remarked that her Christian teachings are easily understood by her colleagues, but her Afro-Caribbean practices are sometimes suspect, and she must hide a part of herself. Another woman told the group of the difficulties she has had in her family since she decided many years ago to marry a man of German and Italian heritage, a White man. Her brother no longer speaks to her and she marvels that no one is interested in the fact that she, her husband, and their children are happy and want for nothing.
Beyond these stories, and more of the other educators, these women wanted to know:
If a child doesn’t celebrate Christmas, how can we include him?
What do we tell the children when their classmate comes in dressed in white and can’t talk about why?
How can we support our kids in talking about their families and their backgrounds respectfully? They like it when they talk about themselves.
We talked about Tanenbaum’s 7 Principles for Inclusive Education:
Teaching All Students
Exploring Multiple Identities
Promoting Social Justice
Choosing Appropriate Materials
Teaching and Learning about Cultures and Religions
Adapting and Integrating Lessons Appropriately
As we discussed each principle and how they could practically apply it to their learning environment, each woman become hopeful about what could be achieved with their young charges. And more importantly, that maybe, the children they work with would be able to respond to their religious and cultural differences in a way that the adults who care for them have not evolved to, yet.
President Obama, you spoke so eloquently of the Golden Rule in your address to at the National Prayer Breakfast. As you and Secretary Duncan begin to set the path and policy for the educational priorities for our country, please remember religious diversity. One of the tools for having graduates of our educational system by competitive in the world, is to educate them about the vast expanse of religious and cultural diversity that exists in the world. They will, after all, be interacting with colleagues on a global stage.