Strength Through Teaching Diversity

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As a teacher, I don´t get my excitement from preparing students for exams, or discussing grades. I know they are part of my job,  but they are not part of the reason I became an educator. When people find out I am a teacher, they usually want to know what I teach and to which age group. If I tell you that I teach English, do you really know what I teach? Or do you just figure that I teach Shakespeare and all my students are sleeping from boredom? I teach about life because literature is life. While some might say it is a teacher´s job to teach students WHAT to think, I believe it is my job to teach them HOW to think.

Now, that may sound silly, but take a minute and think about it. I get to help the future leaders of the world learn how to think about they big issues and where they stand in relation to those issues. I get to help them work through understanding WHY they think one way and why other people think another way. It is not as simple as I am right and you are wrong.

Today we had a wonderful workshop with Steven de Baerdemaeker. He is the Belgian expert on diversity in schools (Google him, especially if you understand Flemish). The session today was really about helping to lead difficult discussions so that there is tolerance and respect for opinions and ideas that are different than one´s own. Steven talks about how to facilitate a dialogue that both respects student´s roots, or background and opinion, while challenging them to also consider why other people might think differently. He talks about explaining how normals and values evolve and change and that even today things are very different than they were just a few decades ago.

It is not possible to say that someone does or believes something just because of their religion. There are more factors at  play, such as their age, gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, and experiences (to name just a few). Once you start to consider these diverse differences within what we would normally classify as one group (such as a religion), you can start to see why people think differently.

The key part of Steven´s talk was not about teaching students what is right or wrong, but to make them feel that you recognize that their opinions are important to them, but also to help them realize why someone else might have opinions that are different from theirs. How can we better respect each other and have tolerance for people who are different from ourselves? We must first understand that we are all individuals.

Just as we can never read all the books in the world, we can never know what everyone in the world thinks or feels. But we must try our best to recognize that it is our diversity that gives us strength.

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