I (Clive) appreciated Leah McLaren’s column in the Globe & Mail on Friday. She reported that Tatler editor-in-chief Kate Reardon was recently “pilloried in the British press” for “a graduation speech at a private girls’ school…in which she highlighted the importance of manners over good grades.” Among other things, Reardon said that “if you have good manners people will like you. And if they like you they will help you.” McLaren commented that “as both a feminist and a mother” she agrees with Reardon, but noted that “[w]hen it comes to instilling basic values and good behaviour, parents have never been more on their own.” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/parenting/the-importance-of-being-courteous/article19661557/
This should not be. Schools should support parents in this basic work (and they do to some extent). As I stressed in a recent posting, way of life (or values) education should be a major component of schooling, integrated into subject teaching and the life of the classroom and school.
The difficulty, however, is that we haven’t articulated a deep and comprehensive theory of way of life education. Advocacy in this area comes across as moralistic or, in the Reardon case, as old fashioned and conformist.
What could be more important than the quality of our way of life, in itself and in relation to others? It’s current neglect by advocates of “coverage” and testing is weird. “Good grades” as the goal of 12 years of schooling is totally inadequate. People should be pilloried for pushing such a position, yet it is so common.
Any goal can seem superficial when advocated in isolation. As educators, we need to develop for students, parents, and the general public a broad rationale for way of life (or values) education in terms of individual and societal happiness and what is ultimately important in life. We should help everyone – ourselves included – to stop fixating on narrow goals to the neglect of general human well-being.
The many religious celebrations this month remind me that we live a very diverse society. In this blog over the last few months we have discussed some of the challenges of living/working/teaching in a multicultural society. I (Clare) read Leah McLaren’s fascinating article When Multiculturalism Tests Our Moral Relativism in the Globe and Mail. http://v1.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/HTMLTemplate?cf=common/MiniHub.cfg&configFileLoc=config&hub=leahMcLaren&tf=columnists/Summary.html&title=Leah_McLaren
McLaren writes about an incident with her neighbor when her stepson oversteps the best friend’s family’s values. (The incident between the two little boys involves bum bums.) She talks about the problem of “parenting in a multicultural environment” which “tests our moral relativism. It reveals the wildly different ways most of us struggle to make sure our children end up as good people. The question is, good according to whose rules?” McLaren and the neighbor eventually achieve “an uneasy truce over tea and biscuits.” She says “privately, we will each adhere to our own rules. And in public we will try our best to get along.”
Like McLaren I faced the clash of values when I was a classroom teacher. The first time one of my first grade pupils told that he was not going to clean up the paint centre because that was women’s work I became painfully aware of the difference between my values and his family’s values. (I also had a flash of anger!) As a classroom teacher I had my class rules – everyone is responsible for the smooth running of the classroom. What do we do as teachers do when a parent tells us that education is not for girls? Or boys do not need to help with maintaining the classroom. As a new professor a student teacher announced to the class that as teachers we should tell our pupils that homosexuality is a sin and that gays are going to hell. (That was truly one of the most difficult teaching moments in my long career.) Responding to others who hold very different views from my own is not easy. McLaren does a great job of finding a solution but as a society we need to keep exploring “solutions.” Tea and biscuits are a good place to start the discussion but working through the next knotty steps requires imagination, flexibility, openness to others, patience, knowledge, and a sense of humour. (I highly recommend McLaren’s excellent article.)
On Monday I (Clive) shared my previous blog on multicultural education and stereotyping with my social foundations class. This proved to be a great literacy activity on blogging as a writing form that both teachers and students need to master, one that helps us clarify our ideas and make our communication more precise. It also renewed our conversation about how to approach ethnicity in the classroom. We went round the whole class, each person commenting in turn on the blog. No one chose to pass and everyone was interested in what others had to say. A couple were struck by my profile of “Mike”: they had no idea that people of Irish and Scots background might look down on each other. On the whole people liked the blog, but they continued to refine points and add personal stories.
We heard a new story of complex ethnicity from a class member of Indian ancestry who grew up in Madagascar, lived in a French-speaking environment for several years and became fluent in French, spent time in India where she was told she spoke Hindi with an accent, and then moved to Canada where she hopes to teach French as a second language. What is her ethnicity?
Then on Tuesday the wonderful personal essay “Just Call Me Paul” appeared in one of our local newspapers. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/facts-and-arguments/changing-my-name-doesnt-mean-im-betraying-my-identity/article16406166/
G. Paul Sileika’s grandparents migrated to Canada from Lithuania over 50 years ago. In the 1970s when multiculturalism was on the rise his parents decided to give him a name that “reflected their ancestral origins.” They named him Gintaras and called him Gint for short. With rich humor, no self-pity, and trenchant common-sense he talks about the impact of this decision on his life. The whole article is well worth reading.
What struck me especially was how he felt his identity was lost. “Before I can even begin to build rapport with someone or connect on a common interest, my name catches his or her attention. Before I can share my personal story one is already written for me.” Because the name was unfamiliar and difficult to pronounce correctly (the “G” is hard), many called him “you” or simply nothing. Long after finishing university he finally decided to switch to using his middle name – Paul – and hasn’t looked back. He says he believes in multiculturalism and is proud of his heritage, but wants to go by Paul in informal contexts and G. Paul in formal ones; if anyone asks what the G. stands for, he’s “happy to tell them.”
Of course, although you can change your name you can’t change your accent or physical appearance. But Paul’s story illustrates well how we should often move beyond such markers, rather than dwelling on them unduly – as so often happens in multiculturalism classes. While prejudice and discrimination must be studied in depth and actively opposed, there’s so much more to a person than the ethnicity of their parents and grandparents. We must also explore and celebrate their constantly emerging individual identity, of which their complex ethnic identity is just one part. Otherwise, like Paul, much of their identity may be lost.