Other cultures add spice to classes Schools work to integrate curriculum CARROLL COUNTY EDUCATION


Amy Tan and James Baldwin are beginning to pop up alongside Dickens and Shakespeare on the reading lists at Carroll high schools.

They aren't replacing all the "dead white Anglo-Saxon males" that students will need to be familiar with by the time they're in college, said Barry Gelsinger, supervisor of English and foreign languages for county schools.

But students will also read prominent writers who are Asian-American, like Ms. Tan, or African-American, like Mr. Baldwin.

The county's Community Relations Commission last week invited Mr. Gelsinger and Donald Vetter, supervisor of social studies, to detail how schools are working to integrate other cultures into the curriculum -- and not just during Black History Month.

Mr. Gelsinger became a supervisor two years ago and immediately embarked on a mission to include other voices in the English courses.

This year, half the writers studied in "Modern American Literature," a course all juniors take, are non-white, he said. Students spend one-fourth of the course on "A Raisin in the Sun" by Lorraine Hansberry, an African-American writer.

When they read Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," he said, they address head-on the issues of slavery and racism.

Mr. Gelsinger also integrated the senior English course and will develop an elective for next year called "Multicultural Studies in English."

Next year, the mythology course will include more American Indian mythology in addition to Greek and Roman stories.

"You don't need to have separate units, you don't need to have separate courses," Mr. Vetter said. "You need to have it infused in the whole curriculum."

When the schools began integrating black history into the social studies curriculum 20 years ago, the reaction was sometimes hostile, said Mr. Vetter, who was new to the system then.

"We had teachers who were threatened by students in subtle and not-so-subtle ways," he said, citing Ku Klux Klan graffiti and threatening calls at home.

"That was rather shocking to me," he said. "We're not getting the kind of resistance overall now that we did years ago."

Most important for Carroll schools is to have a mandate for making students "involved citizens," Mr. Vetter said. That is one of the "exit outcomes," a list of seven standards drafted by school officials and community volunteers, that students will be expected to meet by the time they graduate.

"The concern for multicultural education will be embedded in the exit outcomes," Mr. Vetter said.

He said it already is embedded in the social studies curriculum. For example, all elementary social studies classes are expected to discuss the multicultural aspect of whatever topic they are studying, along with history, geography and other aspects.

The fourth-grade unit on slavery, for example, directs the teacher to ask students to describe what they would do if they were slaves in 19th-century America.

Afterward, they read the biographies of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, to see what two real people did in that situation.

"Developing empathy [in children] is not an easy thing to do," Mr. Vetter said. Role-playing exercises help students to understand another culture, and not to judge using their own cultures as measuring sticks, he said.

In United States history, taught in the 10th grade, teachers are to spend one-fourth of the school year discussing social and cultural themes, such as struggles of racial, ethnic and religious minorities to achieve equality, Mr. Vetter said.

Teachers also discuss the struggles of people who are disabled, said.

Multicultural education, he said, "is nothing new. It's simply something that is being revisited."

Twenty years ago, Mr. Vetter said, school systems in the state were required to submit their plans to address other cultures in their curricula. He wrote and submitted a lengthy report.

"I have yet to get any feedback from the state on that report," he said. "It really was never enforced."

The talk by Mr. Vetter and Mr. Gelsinger was open to the public and was part of Community Relations Week. But the only people to attend were three members of the commission.

They said they were impressed with the efforts.

Virginia Harrison, chairwoman of the commission, said she was pleasantly surprised as she thumbed through one of the textbooks Mr. Gelsinger is considering for local use.

It had essays and stories by several African-American writers, as well as by writers of other ethnic backgrounds.

"As a child, when I looked at a book, I didn't see this," said Ms. Harrison, who is African-American and grew up in Baltimore. She now has a dressmaking business in her home in Eldersburg.

She said she was disappointed, though, that Carroll schools don't offer foreign language until the ninth grade. Some middle schools offer language courses in eighth grade.

Her daughter, who attends a Catholic school in Baltimore County, has studied foreign languages since fourth grade, she said.

Mr. Gelsinger said his goal is to get all middle schools offering a foreign language in seventh or eighth grade and then begin to introduce it in earlier grades.

"It's a matter of dollars," Mr. Gelsinger said.

In foreign language study, teachers are emphasizing culture as well as grammar, he said. Students practice phrases using different situations that might occur in the culture they're studying.

With the increasing population of Hispanic-Americans, he said, proficiency in Spanish will be important to students.

"America is the third-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world," he said.

Mr. Gelsinger and Mr. Vetter said they and the teachers are embracing the multicultural perspective.

"This issue is something very important to me," Mr. Gelsinger said. "The teachers see it as an important part of their mission."

Mrs. Harrison said she appreciated the attempts to integrate the curriculum and textbooks.

But with a minority population of 4 percent for students and 3 percent for teachers in Carroll schools, most county students won't get to know many people of other races.

"I'd like to see us bring into the classroom people of other cultures," Mr. Gelsinger said.

William Rooney, personnel director for Carroll schools, said his office has recruited the help of minority teachers to recruit more minority applicants.

Those teachers have volunteered to go back to their colleges as "ambassadors" to find potential applicants, he said.

"White kids are never ever going to know what it means to be black, but I think we can do much to raise their level of awareness, to raise that level of empathy," Mr. Gelsinger said.

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