Term Paper: Cultural Diversity Interview Narrative

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Cultural Diversity Interview

Interview Narrative

Cultural diversity is an underutilized resource in the classroom setting. The American school system was devised with the Caucasian population in mind. Minorities were not considered "educable" when the educational system first began in the United States. However, since that time, many things have changed, including the cultural mix that inhabits today's school setting. Education is embedded with ethnocentric ideals and issues the serve as a disadvantage to those that are not in the dominant culture. In the past, these issues have led to differences in the quality of education that a child receives. This has a significant influence on their potential as an adult. This research will explore the issue of Cultural Diversity using a case study. It will relate the information contained in the interview and link this information to current theory on cultural diversity in the educational setting.

The researcher conducted an interview with Margaret Carter, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, who moved to upstate New York in the 1970s. Margaret is currently residing in a retirement home. This interview provides an interesting comparison and contrast in terms of cultural diversity in various parts of the United States. Margaret was born in 1929, at the start of the Great Depression. Her father worked in a factory and they lived in the "black" section of the city. She reflected that at that time, whites and blacks did not live together in the same neighborhoods, even if a black person were to attain enough wealth to afford it. However, blacks that could afford to live in a better neighborhood were rare.

Margaret lived in the center of the "Old South" and old southern ideals dictated her world throughout most of her life. She remembers life as hard, but at the same time, the family was very close. They all had to work, doing whatever they could to get by, everyone shared in the hardships and the fortunes. Margaret attributes everything that she learned in life to her family, extended family, and parents. Her parents never attended school or had a formal education. Her father learned to read and write from some of the people that he worked with. Her mother never learned to read and write at all.

When the children reached school age, Margaret's mother stressed the importance of attending school. Her mother made many sacrifices to get the children shoes and clothes so that they could attend. Her mother told them that it was their only way out of where they were. Her father was not as enthusiastic and felt that it was a waste of time. She remembers many arguments between her parents regarding what was more important, school or work. In the end, her mother won and they went to school. The school was all black and they did not have books for the first three years. The lessons were put on the blackboard by the teacher. The school was poor and children of different grades often had to share a single classroom. Reading, writing, and math were the main subjects taught.

Margaret feels that more attention was paid to the male students in the class, because they would eventually have to go out and obtain employment to support a family. It was a "given" that the woman would be stuck at home raising the children. She would not need the skills learned in school, so less emphasis was placed on her success. The drop out rate for women was significant and it was difficult to graduate in this type of circumstance. She felt that children in her neighborhood were at a disadvantage compared to whites that attended schools in other parts of town. She always felt that blacks were looked down upon and considered inferior to their white counterparts. She recalls the Jim Crow laws that reinforced these social attitudes and norms.

Few children actually attended until after World War II. The conditions in the school got better as blacks began serving their country. Margaret feels that World War II helped to place everyone on an equal status. Everyone was involved in helping the war effort, there was not time to think about racial issues any more. The war gave many families the opportunity to make more money due to the availability of better jobs, both civilian and military. Her family was able to buy a house during these years, as her father was able to work in a factory and her brother joined the service.

I asked Margaret about the differences between when she was growing up and today's school setting. Margaret told me that in her day, the differences in educational opportunity based on race were drastic. There were virtually no opportunities for blacks, either educationally, or job wise. She feels that the opportunities that exist today are much more equally weighted. She still thinks that blacks must prove themselves and that black children have to work harder than their white counterparts for similar opportunities. There is still a tendency to favor whites over other ethnic groups in the United States. Even when she moved to upstate New York, those differences remained. Although they were not as prevalent as they are in the South.

Margaret does feel that the amount of money a person's family has will determine, at least in part, how well they will do in school. However, there is not the oppression that she experienced when she was in school. She feels that social factors can be overcome with the right attitude. When she was in school, even the best attitude would not help one to succeed, the opportunities were simply not there. Now, she feels that the opportunity for success lies with the individual more than the "system." asked her about cultural differences in her academic setting. Margaret commented that the activities in the classroom were different depending on the race of the teacher. When the teacher was white, there were no culturally significant activities. White teachers wanted to erase their African culture to make them more acceptable to the white society. They were encouraged to learn to speak and act like "whites." When the teacher was black, the atmosphere was a little more relaxed and they felt that they could "be themselves." There was always pressure to conform. They were made to feel as if being black was wrong. They often had to try to lift themselves up as human beings due to the oppressive attitudes of the white teachers. Margaret states that being black before the 1960s meant a constant struggle to reconcile who you were with what you could be.

Margaret says that it is difficult to say whether her experiences were different than those of kids in white schools. However, everyone knew that when it came to college, they had little chance. Whites were expected to try to better themselves. Blacks were treated as if school did not matter. She always got this feeling from white teachers. Black teachers were often filled with despair themselves. They struggled with their desire for the children to have a better future and their knowledge of what was to be their inevitable future.

Atlanta before the latter part of the 1960s was all about discrimination. Margaret reflects that after the Civil Rights movement and the turmoil that followed, attitudes were slow to change. She still feels that black children today have fewer chances than their white counterparts. There were several instances that she can remember where white teachers made the newspaper for making racially inappropriate remarks in the classroom. She does not remember any direct remarks from white teachers, but she does remember terms that divided such as, "your type, " or "people like you." She remembers that being from "that side of town" meant that you had fewer chances for employment. If the job was physically hard or menial, then you had a chance, but to hope for anything better meant that you had to be from a different part of town. Life was an upward struggle.

Margaret says that her favorite subject in school was reading. Her mother always liked to have her read the Bible to her at night. Her mother told her that reading was the most important thing that she could learn. She took this to heart. She feels that it was her mother's encouragement, rather than anything that happened in the school setting that was responsible for her love of reading. She read everything that she could get her hand on. She read the newspaper to her mother, who listened enthusiastically. Her father used to tease and chastise her for wanting to learn to read. He said that it would never do her any good.

Margaret got good grades in the subjects that she liked, but did poorly in those that she did not like. She had to be self-motivated in order to succeed. If she hated that subject, such as math, she did not have any desire to succeed. She only put effort into the subjects… [END OF PREVIEW]

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