What is the New Human?
Joseph Ugoretz | May 1, 2011 | 5:01 pm | Homo Novo | No comments

What should we be teaching for? What kind of mensch should schools be trying to create?

Two choices for reflections this time:

  1. Define your idea of the nature of a human being. If you can, tell us the essential qualities of a human, and what makes a human different from a non-human. What kind of alien (or animal?) could have an honorary human status? What would it have to do or think or feel?Then tell us what schools can do for these beings. What would the best school do for the kind of person you’re defining? What qualities (if any) would be enhanced and how? And what qualities (if any) would be controlled or removed or destroyed and how?
  2. How can schools help us to relate better to our fellow humans–especially different kinds of humans? Or is this even a job schools should be doing at all? In kindergarten, we were taught to play nicely and not hit. Is that enough? Has your schooling given you an appreciation of and acceptance of difference? How has that happened?
Whose Job Is It?
Frieda Benun | April 28, 2011 | 8:24 pm | Homo Novo | 1 Comment

Schools have the unique opportunity to mold young minds and bring up a generation that with values much to their liking. When kids are younger, they are quick to absorb everything in their surroundings. So it is important especially at this young, malleable age that children are introduced to tolerance. I think that kindergarten teachers should take any chance they have to incorporate open-mindedness and acceptance into their curriculums. During story time, the teacher can read books that present foreign cultures in a positive light. An “around the world” unit could be taught so that any seeds for xenophobia or discrimination are wiped from the children’s minds before they can take root. As children get older, if the right values are promoted year after year, the values have a much better chance of sinking in. By assigning reading material having interactive units (like a cultural festival), students can see other peoples in a more favorable manner.

Until mid-high school, I attended Jewish private school where Israel and Zionism were heavily advocated. The Muslims I had heard of were all anti-Semitic and involved in terrorism (please excuse the ignorance). My school didn’t necessarily lie; it just presented its students with a very one-sided view of Muslims. This left me with the impression that all Muslims were bad. In my junior year of high school though, I attended a different school that was a bit more open-minded. That year, the school’s English department decided to assign an autobiography to the entire student body written by a Muslim who rejected her fundamentalist upbringing and chose to embrace Western ideals. The school also set up “Book Day,” where they brought in the author to speak and afterwards allowed the students to fill the day with workshops, activities, and lectures related to the book. This was really my first experience in seeing that Muslims were not so different. As ignorant as it sounds, I had always thought of them as being the “other;” I didn’t think we shared anything in common. Thanks to my high school, this outlook remedied. It took a lot more than Book Day to erase all of my biases, but it was definitely a good start. This just goes to show how much of an effect schools can have on their students. While elementary school imbued within me a strong xenophobic and to a certain extent racist attitude, high school was able to open my eyes and expose me to new, more truthful ideas.

While the school certainly carries some of the responsibility of raising unprejudiced citizens, it cannot complete the task alone. Parents also share in this role as well. A child sitting at her dinner table might excitedly repeat something she learned in class. But if her father dismissively waves it away as nonsense, the child may very likely lose enthusiasm in class. Not only should parents teach their children about justice and equality, but they should also ensure that the children are not exposed to sources that may suggest the contrary. Even if a child is bombarded with talk of loving thy neighbor all day long, if a cool television show biased toward a particular group of people, all of the lessons from teachers and parents will fall on deaf ears. Therefore, parents should monitor the youtube videos their kids watch, the books they read and the music they listen to. Various forms of entertainment can have a strong impact on children, perhaps because the entertainment is not primarily serving as a pedagogical tool.  These mediums of entertainment can serve as a blessing as much as a curse. Should children see/listen/read something that promotes positive values, they may absorb the content as readily as they might for a negative program. I think it boils down to who the children admire and respect most. If a child looks up to his father, he will take his fathers views and opinions very seriously. And if child’s hero is a character on TV, then anything the character says has the potential (and likelihood) to impact the child. As long as children are surrounded by positive role models, they have a good chance of growing up as open-minded and tolerant adults.

Diversity and Language Learning
Kaitlyn O'Hagan | April 27, 2011 | 11:00 pm | Homo Novo | 1 Comment

From the moment of our birth, people who are similar to ourselves surround us. At first, it is our family, and then, once we are school-aged, it is people who live in the same city, if not the same neighborhood as we do. In most places across the globe, this means we are surrounded by people who speak the same language as us, identify with the same race or ethnicity as us, and perhaps even go to the same church or other religious institution as we do. One of the most unreported stories in recent years is that our schools are actually more segregated now than they were before Brown v. Board of Education.

If helping us relate better to our fellow humans – especially different kinds of humans – is a job the schools should be doing, schools are failing. Telling a child in elementary school to play nicely is not enough. I am lucky that I grew up in New York City, one of the most diverse places in the world, and that I go to Hunter, one of the most diverse colleges. Simply by interacting with a diverse student body, I have gained an appreciation and acceptance of difference. But even this is lacking in certain kinds of diversity: for example, everyone I go to school with is living in New York City at the time I’m interacting with them.

The good news for both myself and students who live in much less diverse places than New York City is that technology provides a amazing opportunity for schools to provide interaction between their students and different kinds of students – different kinds of humans. You no longer have to sign up with a pen-pal program to get to know someone who lives across the world. Schools can include students from across the country and globe in classes, as they did in one of the short stories we read earlier in class. I honestly believe schools don’t need to do much to facilitate learning how to interact with humans who are different from us – simply by providing regular interaction with a diverse population, these skills are acquired, at least in my experience.

The one area that I feel schools in the United States are really lacking is education in the language and culture of other people. While students who attend schools in Europe or Asia graduate from High School fluent in their native language, English and perhaps even another language, American students often graduate high school with only rudimentary Spanish that quickly fades. While many people think that the advent of technology means that we no longer need to learn other languages, since we have computers and software that can translate for us, there is a human element to translation that (at least right now) cannot be replicated. Not to mention that learning about the language and culture of different kinds of humans can be one of the best ways to learn how to relate better to other kinds of humans!

The Perils of Private Schooling
Moses Sutton | April 27, 2011 | 2:58 pm | Homo Novo | 1 Comment

More often, or rather by standard convention, private schools are considered to provide a better education than public schools. Why else would people pay money when they could tap into their civic benefit? What often develops though, is that private schools become homogenous. Families that desire private school education for their children – whether for social, religious, or both reason – usually reside in neighborhoods with like people; class, religion, demography. Of course this can be true in public schools. But for bureaucratic reasons public schools are more likely to be mixed. By virtue of who goes to which school and by statistics of geography and sociology, public schools create an environment that supports appreciation of difference. Private schools often fall short in that area.

I went to yeshiva for twelve years. I can’t say that all students and staff are closed-minded. Such generalization would only result in religious, gender, and/or class bigotry. However, what I’ve observed regarding the yeshiva schools I’ve attended is that students tend to live in a bubble. There isn’t enough integration and interaction with people that are different. Often when kids graduate they hit college and spend a long time adjusting to a culture shock.

It’s not only something that pertains to my history. I remember in a discussion on urban planning in a Macaulay seminar a classmate of mine from Levittown attended an all-white school. He said that they once had a field trip to a predominantly black school in the Bronx to “observe” their school. This classmate is not a racist and cushioned the story to diminish the overt racist overtones. But the class reacted with nervous laughter. People were shocked at the anthropological “field trip.”

What’s the difference between this Levittown school and my alma mater? In yeshiva diversity is often ignored. There is no attempt at orienting students to other cultures, religions, and races. Ignorance is bliss until “appreciating difference” coincides with college life. In Levittown there was an attempt to open up students to another culture but it was innately obvious and bigoted.

Unfortunately this is a natural issue in many private schools. I think the only way to respond to the question “how can schools help us to relate better to our fellow humans – especially different kinds of humans” for private schools is the age-old solution of integration. The overturning of Plessy vs. Ferguson in Brown vs. Board of Education and its effect on subsequent generations’ acceptance of difference had more drastic an outcome in the long run than any contrived policy (even a policy that’s subtle, unlike the Levittown observation trip). Schools – from the affirmative action clauses in higher education to kindergarten quotas – should promote cultural integration.

Protected: Humans 2.0
Shelly Darden | May 26, 2011 | 7:04 pm | Homo Novo | Enter your password to view comments.

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Never Enough: Creating Acceptance in School Environments
December Lange | April 26, 2011 | 6:58 pm | Homo Novo | 1 Comment

Beginning with the earliest forms of formal education, schools should strive to foster an environment that allows for students to relate with each other. It should be a main goal of a school to teach students how to relate with one another in reference to different backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures. Schools should take this initiative because with rapidly expanding immigration, diversity, and expansion of globalization, students must be prepared to live and work with others. Since the majority of homes only encapsulate one or two cultures, relating with different humans is not a skill that is easily acquired in the household. Children are only exposed to what their parents decide to teach them so they might not ever gain this ability without the help of schools.

To do this task, schools should have curriculums that involve global cultures. Schoolwork should provide students with a point of identification in their own culture (i.e. ensuring that American schoolchildren know about US history, culture, politics, ect.), but also with respect for others. It should at least be an option that students be allowed to take courses with focus on other cultures through world history, languages, foreign literature, and other classes that might enhance the understanding of the way other humans live.

Being taught to play nicely and not hit is not enough. This is a tactic that can only work for a short period of time. Eventually, kids start to see rules as being flexible and ones that they can create. They can start rationalizing hitting or not being nice by saying that someone is different than them. So instead, schools (and other authority figures in children’s lives) should stress the equality of all people. They should teach children how to accept and appreciate other cultures. It is not enough to not hit people because students are told not to do so. Children need to understand how to effectively work with other humans and the potential repercussions types of discrimination whether it is physical or verbal.

My pre-college schooling gave me an appreciation and acceptance of differences, but probably not for the right reasons. Since I grew up in a small town, I wanted to be able to learn about others, as I was never exposed to those of different cultures. But because there were little resources for this in the classroom, I found myself doing outside research to find out more about other religions and cultures. I had taken initiative to research things independently so I wanted to be exposed to them more. This influenced my decision to move to New York. Since starting college in a diverse community, my appreciation of differences among humans has only grown. It has been very insightful to see different cultures interact. With a diverse population, it is easy to see how each group makes unique contributions and works together to create one environment. This should be the goal of all schools, not just post-secondary institutions.