What the hell is “9th-Grade Culture, Identity and Transformation: A Culturally Relevant Viewpoint”?

by David Safier

I think Tim Steller got it right in today's Star when he said the TUSD Board should reject the proposed course: "9th-Grade Culture, Identity and Transformation: A Culturally Relevant Viewpoint." The only reason I'm not sure Steller got it right is that I don't know what the hell the course is. Neither does Steller. Neither, apparently, does the Board. I'm not sure the folks at TUSD do either.

According to an earlier article in the Star, this is supposed to be a one semester course "to teach students to appreciate and value differences among people and the importance of sensitivity to other cultures." See if you can find a semester's curriculum — or even two weeks' curriculum — in any combination of the following words: appreciate; value differences; sensitivity; other cultures; culture; identity; transformation. I can't. There's no there there.

I suspect TUSD is designing this non-class while looking over its shoulders at two
masters — the "special master" who has been assigned by a federal judge to oversee the new
deseg program and those "special bastards" up in Phoenix — Huppenthal and his legislative cronies — who want to make sure nothing at TUSD stirs
up the brown people. Unless TUSD has something very special up its
sleeve, it's designing a course that promises everything and delivers
nothing.

I've seen curriculum-less classes like this before, like those "Study Skills" classes that come and go. It sounds like a good idea at the time. Let's teach students study habits and study tricks so they'll be more successful in their other classes. The school assigns teachers with no special expertise — often they're just random teachers with holes in their schedules — and tells them to go at it. So they "teach" students time management and note taking and reading topic sentences and looking at chapter headings and subheadings and skimming for facts . . . and then they have to figure out how to fill the other 80 days of class.

How many teachers have any kind of understand of the complex, slippery topics of "Culture, Identity and Transformation"? How many teachers have taken any courses that dig into the notion of "culture"? To teach those concepts to a group of high school students with any degree of success, a teacher needs some serious academic background along with a heaping helping of cultural sensitivity. If teachers without the necessary qualifications are assigned to teach the classes, it's going to be high school teachers rushing in where anthropologists fear to tread. I took a lot of anthropology in college. I've tried to educate myself on culture and multiculturalism. I have more than 30 years of high school teaching under my belt. Yet I don't have the foggiest notion how I would teach a course like this.

Will teachers be given "Culture, Identity and Transformation" textbooks? A group of focused reading assignments? Maybe a few set lesson plans to fall back on? Most likely, they'll end up stumbling along, trying to put together some readings, some sensitivity exercises, some films, maybe a guest speaker or two . .  and, of course, a "Multicultural Food Day." (Better not call it a Fiesta. That might tread on the Culture and Identity of the non-Hispanic students.)

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