race

Starting school in America? Time to pick a race!

Posted on March 23, 2009. Filed under: American culture, diversity, education, race | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

For decades, students entering the American school system have been identified by race. Tracking of students by race was meant to identify trends, measure successes and allot funds. Children could belong to one and only one of 5 categories:  

  1. American Indian or Alaska native
  2. Asian or Pacific Islander
  3. Hispanic
  4. non-Hispanic black
  5. non-Hispanic white

Since America is known as the great melting pot, this seems quite arbitrary. So many children, especially in newer generations, are of mixed heritage, and don’t fit neatly into only one category.

When I registered my son for kindergarten I didn’t check off a race on his paperwork, because mixed race wasn’t an option. The principal went ballistic. “If you don’t choose a race, the kindergarten teacher will assign him a race.”  I will never, ever forget hearing that from an educator. 

Starting 2010, new, more inclusive categories will be included on school intake forms for mixed race children. However, these only apply to new students entering the system, not to kids already in school. Also, using these expanded categories it is not mandatory, but the government is encouraging all schools to use this new system.

I find this desire to assign people one and only one race as ironic, given our love of the hyphenated American, when we proudly declare ourselves to be Italian-American, Irish-American, etc. Many hyphenated Americans have never visited their “homeland” and don’t even speak the language. Still, most Americans can proudly tell you their roots, and where their ancestors came from.

By continually slicing and dicing our student body into ever expanding categories of races, we start to miss the obvious. At this point in American history, it seems to me that class trumps race in terms of educational opportunities and successes.  I am guessing that middle class and wealthy students will have greater educational oportunities and successes than poor students, regardless of race.

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An extended First Family in the White House

Posted on February 4, 2009. Filed under: American culture, diversity, family, race, women | Tags: , , , , |

How cool is it that President Obama brought his mother-in-law to live in the White House, making our First Family an extended one. The First Grandma has played a key role in raising Malia and Sasha, and was vital to family stability during the primaries, when both parents were often on the road.

Extended families are the norm outside of Western culture, and even in the US, African-, Hispanic-, and Asian-American families very often have an extended family structure.

The Western model of the nuclear family as the ideal  is an outgrowth of a number of factors, including the Industrial Revolution,  emphasis on individualism, and the growth of government services  to replace those traditionally provided by the family.

Extended families lessen the workload for the mother and make child and elder care much easier. It offers children various adult role models and sources of love, and can lessen the tension often found in the overworked parents in today’s nuclear family structure.

How empowering for extended families in the US to see themselves in the First Family. They are no longer the other type of family–the ones who aren’t Ozzie and Harriet.

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