In an attempt to engage students, teachers in New York City, home of the nation’s largest school district, are being urged to make their instruction more culturally sensitive (“New York City Teachers Get ‘Culturally Responsive’ Training,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 14). The rational is that as schools become increasingly diverse, doing so has the potential to increase learning.
But I wonder if the move will not lead to victimization. California is poised to make ethnic studies a graduation requirement in high school and at Cal State universities. The high school requirement, which will be the first in the nation, has already drawn criticism as a way of detracting attention away from the failure of schools to graduate students with basic skills.
When I was teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the board of education made all teachers take a brief course in cultural sensitivity, in the belief that doing so would make students feel more welcome in integrated classrooms. The hours spent in the class turned out to be a waste of time because it became a venue for complaints about racial suffering.
Yes, teachers need to be aware of their students’ backgrounds. But sound pedagogy has always been characterized that way.
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