Thursday, August 30, 2012

Adventures In Institute Days

Several years back I was part of a district who elected to commit all of their professional development time with staff to diversity training.  The district was widely diverse and apparently felt that it's teaching staff could both stand to learn to better teach to such diversity, as well acquire some sensitivity to race issues.

While cultural competency and sensitivity are certainly worth while goals, my experience is usually that the trainings fall short of accomplishing what they set out to.  They usually start out with trying to disprove misconceptions about traditional stereotypes of different races and demographic groups.  The problem here is that no one will actually confess to not already having these skills- as such a confession would basically paint you as a racist in your professional behavior.  White people are particularly uncomfortable in this setting as the bulls eye seems squarely aimed on them.  So everyone sits there and fidgets.

Well, almost everyone.  Beth was a white lady who had a long history of dating black guys.  This made her, at least in her mind, both an expert on the topic and certainly immune to any possible suspicion that she might have subconscious stereotypes which affect her teaching.

After going through a number of the usual institute day activities that involve a lot of Post-It notes, chart paper, and bitching (but little learning...) we were ushered back to our seats for a little sharing out.  You know- the time where those two people on the staff that never shut the fuck up get to use the whole group as their personal psychiatry couch (outside training groups love these people and encourage with giant smiles and nods)- that time.

Beth was certainly one these types of people and also lacked any sort of filter.  When it got to her groups turn to share, Beth as the obvious spokesperson, elected to class up the training for the roughly 60 participants.

"Well I explained to my group that I'm black by injection!"

Presenters don't role play that response out in their trainings and were frozen stiff while teaching staff muttered things like "Jesus Christ Beth" and buried their eyes in their palms out of awkward embarrassment.

"What?!  I dated black man for five years! It's not like we weren't have SEX (with added emphasis on the S word for the groups pleasure).

The presenters offered giant dumb grins and head nods (they DO receive training for this...) before telling the room that at this next activity they wanted to hear from other people in the groups so everyone got a turn to share...

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