Dr. Urso earned her Ph.D. in Special Education at the University of Arizona, her M.S. Ed. in Reading from the State University of New York at Oneonta and her B.S. in Special Education from the College of St. Rose. She has over 20 years’ experience teaching students in K-12 and adult populations in New York State. Dr. Urso has also worked extensively in the southwest training teachers and para-educators to work with students who have learning disabilities on Native American Indian Reservations. She has presented her research at national and international conferences. Dr. Urso believes we need to prepare teachers who are culturally competent and committed to social justice. She also believes our teachers must be highly skilled in effective, culturally responsive assessment, intervention and instructional techniques for children with disabilities. She is actively involved in supporting local school districts in their efforts to support students with learning differences. Currently, Dr. Urso is an Assistant Professor in the Ella Cline Shear School of Education at the State University of New York at Geneseo.
As a parent, a long-time teacher in K-12 schools, and now as a teacher educator, I have taught about diversity, acceptance, and tolerance. I have supported the messages of our civil rights leaders, and highlighted the laws that provide equal access to education and constitutional rights for all our citizens. I have encouraged my children and students, through example and education, that we are all members of one human race entitled to respect and equal rights. I realize that I have fallen short in my responsibility because I have neglected to teach my children and students how to stand up against intolerance and bigotry when they see it. I have neglected to provide the time and attention to fully respond to my pre-service teachers’ confrontations with institutional racism and bias in the schools they work in. I would suggest we all have fallen short in our responsibility to help shape an inclusive philosophy in our future generations. Several recent events have brought this matter to my attention that I wish to share with you. Last fall over the course of one month, five young people took their lives after being cyber-bullied or harassed for issues of sexuality, ethnicity, or gender. Early this year, a student at a public Utah high school attended a pep rally in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe; subsequent investigation into this racist incident revealed it was not an isolated occurrence in the district. Last month, a high school in Birmingham, Alabama held meetings with parents after racist comments were found written on a bathroom wall, a racist note was found in the mailbox of a teacher, and another note was found in a student’s locker.
These are not isolated incidents.Early in March of this year, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) issued a memo regarding poor sportsmanship displayed in the February 26, 2011 Boys Basketball Section 3A Final Championship Game between Fountain Hills High School and Holbrook High School . The images of male fans from the predominantly White student body of Fountain Hills High School, in Fountain Hills, Maricopa County, making obscene gestures toward fans, including young children, from the predominantly Native American community of Holbrook High School in Holbrook, AZ, Navajo County, is beyond unsportsmanlike conduct, it is racist behavior. The ensuing verbal confrontation resulted in the ejection of a fan from Holbrook High School. The AIA is investigating the incident. The still on-going tensions between Anglo and Native American peoples are not going unnoted in mainstream media as demonstrated in a recent op-ed on the Huffington Post entitled, The Last Acceptable Racism: Native Americans by David Kimelberg Mr. Kimelberg’s piece is written from his cultural lens as a Native American (Seneca Tribe, Bear Clan), Jewish male who calls attention to the tolerance our society holds for racism against Native American population and his theory on why.
“The world is too dangerous to live in, not because of the people
who do evil, but because of the people who sit and let it happen.”
While all these incidents fuel the outrage of citizens who promote inclusion of all cultural diversities (e.g., religion, sex, gender, ability, language, ethnicity, and race), there has been minimal national discourse on how parents, families, teachers, and community members can do more than instill a disdain for intolerance. Until recently that is.
A national movement called ThinkB4YouSpeak sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and the National Ad Council is hitting the airwaves, network TV, and internet with Public Service Announcements (PSAs) regarding acts of intolerance and bigotry. The PSAs feature mainstream pop culture figures speaking out and educating against bias toward the gay community. Additionally, the organization provides resources for parents and teachers on how we can extend student learning from developing awareness of bigotry and prejudice to developing skills for addressing them and promoting social action. An additional resource for bringing awareness and developing skills to address intolerant behavior of all kinds is Speak Up! from the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. The center published Speak Up! in November 2009, which explores real examples of intolerance and bigotry in everyday life and how we can respond. Stand Up! and Speak Up! civic training programs are popping up throughout the country in response to incidents like those discussed above.
Another project of the Law Center that is a wonderful source for the education community and parents is Teaching Tolerance , a free magazine that takes an in-depth look at issues of social justice and equity. Additionally, the website is a repository for classroom activities, teaching kits, professional development, and resources. Similarly, the Equity Alliance at ASU is a leading organization in promoting equity, access, participation, and positive outcomes for all students. Their Learning Carousel provides a wealth of resources through collaboration with like-minded organizations including the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt), the National Center for Urban School Improvement (NIUSI), and NIUSI-LeadScape. These resources are all linked at the bottom of this blog.
There is no place for bias and bigotry in an inclusive society. How can we, as a global community, ever address the vast inequities in education that surround issues of poverty, educational outcomes for minority students, funding, educating English Language Learners, and inclusion of students with differing abilities if we don’t promote an inclusive society in our classrooms, schools, and communities?
Many schools have spent years inculcating Civic Education into their curriculum. Through Character Education, a concerted program of teaching and modeling civic virtue and moral character in our youth for a more compassionate and responsible society. Now, new programs in Civic Education are available to teach students how to identify discrimination and respond to intolerance. These programs are designed to providing training in recognizing and reacting to injustice in all areas of cultural diversity, in a safe and a meaningful way. While there are many programs available that address this content, the procedures are similar and the underlying goals are the same. The programs use informed discussion and role-plays to have students examine various scenarios involving intolerance and bullying behavior and explore alternate choices that could have been made by the various characters involved. By participating in this training, the hope is that students further their understanding regarding the seriousness of intolerant behavior and reflect on the responsibility of the community to respond to the injustice.
Like many educators, I have not personally experienced the depth of bigotry and bias depicted in the incidents above. However, I have seen bias, I have heard bigotry, and I have seen violence against individuals of cultural diversity both first hand and in the media. I have witnessed the impact of poverty, institutional racism, and social injustice; and I have felt sadness and anger in response. I am disheartened and fearful for our future if we don’t stand up and take action against intolerance and teach others to do so as well. I will be incorporating informed discussions and role-playing into my coursework for pre-service educators. Through awareness and training, we all can react to intolerance and a real difference can be made.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
If an elephant has his foot on the tail of a mouse and you say you are neutral,
the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” ~ Desmond Tutu