I once heard Greg Alan-Williams speak to a group of students at a Park District event at the South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago. Williams, a former Baywatch ‘water safety professional’, was in town to play Martin Luther King in The Meeting, a play directed by Chuck Smith about a mythical meeting between Dr. King and Malcom X. Williams was speaking to students about overcoming obstacles to achieve dreams. He was sharing a story about discrimination he had faced building his career as an African-American actor, and a teen said, “That’s not fair. They should do something about that.” Williams answered “Who’s they? You are they? You have the power to act and make change.”
I’m faced with a “they should do something about that” of my own right now as I look at what feels like a very ethnocentric curriculum at my child’s school. As “they” I’m working to set up an Intercultural Advisory Committee to help provide resources for teachers to weave multiple perspectives into class lessons…So that books to teach reading are written by authors of different cultural backgrounds. So that spring art projects move beyond bunnies and leprechauns for inspiration to perhaps draw on fantastic Spring festivals from around the world, or so that fall Thanksgiving lessons highlight the universality of the harvest and giving thanks.
While I also will be happy to set up an International Day as one parent suggested, or provide ideas for Black History Month or Hispanic Heritage Month, as others might expect from this kind of committee, I’d like to see a new paradigm that that moves beyond a day or month that is separate, but rather one that automatically blends multiple perspectives into core learning, so that Neil Armstrong and Mae Jemison and Ellen Ochoa would all automatically be included in a lesson on space travel, or a lesson on American Poetry would seamlessly include Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Frost, and Khalil Gibran.