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Carol-Anne Lucero

November 20 , 2014
th

Inquiry Project

Introduction
The two individuals I interviewed shared similar ideas concerning the purpose of

education but otherwise possessed very different perspectives on other aspects of education in
the United States such as experiences in school, how schools are currently addressing the needs
of diverse learners and their concerns for the future of education. I interviewed Duan Ruff, a
black man in his late thirties working as the assistant director of the African American Cultural
Center at CSU with an M.B.A. and Donna Widhalm, a white woman in her early fifties who
teaches Anatomy and AP Biology classes at Fossil Ridge High School with an M.S.
Compare & Contrast

The Purpose of Schooling


Answering what the purpose of education is no easy task. The question itself is loaded
and carries with it no simple answers. While it may not be an easy question to determine, to
improve our education system it is essential to be able to answer what the purpose of schooling
in the United States is. After interviewing both individuals, I was surprised that despite cultural,
racial, age, gender and career differences both Ruff and Widhalm agreed that the purpose of
schooling was to provide a strong base of knowledge in order to continue a functioning society.

This basic education the interviewees agrees on not only serves our society and students
but it is also responsible for protecting the existing cultural, economic, social, political, and
environmental order because all of the epistemologies currently legitimated in education arise
exclusively out of the social history of the dominant White race [Young]. Hence, providing an
essential knowledge base does more than simply create a society of educated individuals, it may
be in fact responsible for creating a civilization of inherently racist individuals.
However the main difference in the interviewees answers to this question was what the
purpose beyond providing an essential education that protects the existing order. Widhalm stated
that once a student gets to the high school level they have the tools to be a part of US society and
the main purpose of high school becomes the opportunity to explore interests while deepening
the previously acquired base of knowledge. On the other hand, Ruff stated that the basic
education every students receive is necessary to create a population that creates, invents, operates
and takes care of one another. I appreciate how Ruff thought beyond self and mentioned how
schools should have a role in compassion especially when We modern day Americans have a
spiritual problem and unhappiness in this, the richest of all societies [Kessler].
Experience in Schooling
Duan Ruffs response to the purpose of schooling was reflective of his experiences in
school in the United States. When asked about his experience in education, Ruff stated that what
didnt work in education was a one size fits all approach. This is when a teacher will give a
singular lesson given in the same way which creates a very confining box for a student to work
inside. Often he said, that he would simply shut down and not try in those classes because he was
so unsatisfied with the teachers approach. Conversely, when teachers possessed a personal
touch, reached out and spoke with students on a personal level was when Ruffs education was

truly impacted in a positive light meaning, effective schooling relies almost entirely on creative
and passionate teachers [Nieto and Bode]. Oftentimes this personal touch that Ruff stated was
so effective in his education is lost in the policies of No Child Left Behind. Schools have been
forced into adopting the equal, one size fits all approach of the act and it has spawned a new era
of separate but equal and inequality of cultures and languages [Spring]. Surely, if the key
education provided in the United States is equal, it should provide all students with the same
amount of resources and opportunities. However, the sad truth is that equal education is not the
same as equitable education.
Are Schools Meeting the Needs of All Diverse Learners?
Knowing that providing an equal education is not equitable does not mean that schools
cannot meet the needs of diverse learners. When asked if schools meet the needs of diverse
learners, Widhalm insisted that Fossil Ridge did a good job, praising their ELL program and
otherwise did not identify problems with handling students of varying socioeconomic status,
ethnic groups, races, gender, sexual identity, religions, languages and individual learning styles.
However because Ruff stated that in general education in the US is centered and designed with
solely the Euro American group in mind the needs of all students cannot be and are not currently
met. This leads me to believe Widhalm has taken a colorblind approach in her classroom, a
perspective that fails to function as a practical strategy to improve race relations or mitigate
discrimination through our public schools [Burkholder]. Widhalms commentary on this
question and colorblind perception reflects her rationale behind using a very specific and narrow
method of instruction in the classroom.

Observation: Time spent on 3 types of activities


Relationship Building; 11%

Management; 20%

Instruction; 69%

Instruction

Management

Relationship Building

Observations
After once being a student in Widhalms class, I decided it would make for an interesting
perspective to view her classes as a pre service educator and critically analyze how she taught.
The pie chart titled Observation: Time spent on 3 types of activities denotes how much time
was delegated in the classroom to three forms of activities. While management and relationship
building seem small in comparison, it was difficult to distinguish management from normal
instruction because Widhalm was effectively managing her students while teaching through
small comments or even nonverbal cues. The same goes for relationship building, often when
students were working independently, she would go around the room and chat with them,
meaning there was probably more time accounted to relationship building and management than
is reflected on the pie chart. See also, Figure 1: Observation Log for more detailed notes on
classroom activities.
Still, instruction was the main focus of Widhalms classes and her specific form of
instruction was interesting to observe from an outside perspective. Widhalms instructional style
was the same for all three of the classes I observed. She had students fill out printed notes as she

lectured and occasionally referenced the book for diagrams and pictures. Students were expected
to adhere to this style of learning. This one size fits all approach was used and was exactly what
Ruff considered to be ineffective instruction. Only a pedagogy that offers full, equitable access
to education for students from all cultures [Brown] will benefit all students, not just the select
few that could adapt to Widhalms methods of teaching. While not racist on the surface level, the
singular method of instruction is discriminatory to the different socioeconomic statuses, ethnic
groups, races, genders, sexual identities, religions, languages and individual learning styles of

Gender Acknowledgement in the Classroom


30
25
20
15
10
5
0

Male

her
education for her students.

Female

students and is not an equitable

Male and Female Students in Classrooms


50
40
30
20
10
0

Male

Female

Discrimination in the classroom


continued to be observed when considering the graph titled, Gender Acknowledgement in the
Classroom. Overall, Widhalm addressed her female students more than male students, but that is
because she had more female students overall. Please also reference, the graph titled, Male and
Female Students in Classrooms.
While neither blatant nor excessive, Widhalm did call on more male students than was
equal when comparing the ratios of students in the classroom and the number of times each
gender was acknowledged. This displays a slight but significant bias toward the male gender in
the classroom. This observation is similar to a research experiment conducted by Myra and
David Sadker's research that found that teachers will acknowledge boys more than girls. This
inequity, however insignificant it may seem actually contributes to the socialization of gender
within our schools assures that girls are made aware that they are unequal to boys [Chapman].
By being acknowledged in the classroom less often, girls are being unconsciously conditioned to
think that they are not equivalent to their male peers.
Conclusion

Becoming aware of the problems in education is the first step to both addressing the
concerns and hopes for the US educational system that Ruff and Widhalm both shared during
their interview. Widhalm hoped that we raise our expectations for students because oftentimes
she feels like they are capable for so much more than we give them credit for. This was coupled
with her concern that at current, we are not allowing students to have enough personal
accountability for learning. She criticized the systems use of testing as a failed attempt at
accountability for education because there is too much and it is not always appropriated for the
students. Our education system does not allow students to commonly express and practice
independent thinking because we have not considered how capable students can be and students
are not given opportunities to think analytically because of the influence standardized tests.
Because of the one size fits all curriculum that does not allow for creative critical thinking,
students are often ill equipped when they enter higher education or the workforce postgraduation.
Not being able to become a lifelong learner and relate school to situations outside of the
classroom was Ruffs concern with the current state of our education system. His concern
mirrored his hopes as he also stated that he wanted our education system to be more fluid and
open minded concerning standards and how they are met. It was his belief that if education could
transform into a more holistic learning experience, and lessons learned in the classroom could be
more applicable to the everyday lives of students that students would likely be much more
interested in class and happier to go to school every day. Ruff also felt that in order to create a
more compassionate society, he hoped that schools would expand their Euro American focus to
broader ranges and incorporate histories of different cultures to teach respect for others. He was
disappointed that all too often, college is a students first preview into the outside world.

From the hopes and concerns of both interviewees it is clear that there is much to be done
to create a more inclusive and well-rounded education for students. Teachers are lifelong
learners, and as a pre service educator I want to learn as much as I can. Current educators can
provide valuable lessons when what they do well and how they may fail students, such as the
case with Widhalms one size fits all classroom environment, is recognized and analyzed.
Additionally, community members such as Ruff provide valuable outside insight into how our
education system can be improved while providing reassurance about what methods are
effective.
This is only the beginning of a long journey of discovery but I am glad to have gleaned so
many valuable ideas from these two people and their thoughts concerning education in the
United States. By investigating the thoughts of both a teacher and a community member, what I
have previously learned about multicultural education has been reaffirmed. These two
individuals have taught me that every person I meet is unique. Everyone is going to have varying
opinions, values and beliefs so as an educator it will be my job to be thoughtful of differing
attitudes of my students and cater to their both spoken and unspoken needs. While this is a
daunting task, the easier path is often the less worthwhile.

Bibliography

Brown. (2007). Teaching Diverse Leaners Culturally Responsive Teaching. The Education
Alliance.
Burkholder, Z. (2007). Because Race Can't Be Ignored. Education Week.
Chapman, A. (2005) Gender Bias in Education.

Research Room Edchange Multicultural

Pavillion
Kessler, R. (2000). The Soul of Education. Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development.
Nieto, S. and Bode, P. (2012). Affirming Diversity, the Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural
Education (6th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill Higher Education.
Spring, J. (2010). Deculturalization and the struggle for equality: A brief history of the
education of dominated cultures in the United States (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson
Education.
Young, M. (1997). Coloring Epistemologies: Are Our Research Epistemologies Racially Biased?
Educational Researcher

Figure 1: Observation Log


Time
7:30a

Minutes
3

7:33a

7:42a

7:49a

7:51a

31

8:22a
8:27a

5
3

8:30a

8:38a

8:43a

8:45a

34

9:19a
9:24a

5
15

9:39a

Description of the Activity


Collects a lab report and passes back the previous lab report, discusses
possible improvements. CS.
Give students time to work on warm up questions, giving reminders about
upcoming assignments (including notebook check, tutoring, etc) and
chatting about the upcoming break (intrapersonal questions). AR/AS.
Calls on a student to share answers to questions and leads a discussion
concerning the warm up questions (linguistic, interpersonal). References the
textbook during discussion (logical). Passes out note sheets at this time. CR.
Has students write down homework in their planners and answers questions
they have concerning the upcoming test. CS.
Explains the learning targets of the day and then starts lecture on
photosynthesis. Occasionally asks students to reference the text (logical,
visual when referring to diagrams). Also takes a few minutes and asks
students to explain processes to each other (interpersonal, linguistic,
logical). Continually answers questions to clarify the material and material
for the upcoming test. Ends class and lecture by asking students to grade
themselves on their learning targets (intrapersonal). AS/CS.
Passing period talks to students as they file in. AR.
This is a second section of an AP Bio class, she does the same exact thing
with small timing discrepancies Collects a lab report and passes back the
previous lab report, discusses possible improvements. CS.
Give students time to work on warm up questions, giving reminders about
upcoming assignments (intrapersonal warm up). AR/AS.
Calls on a student to share answers to questions and leads a discussion
concerning the warm up questions (linguistic, interpersonal). References the
textbook during discussion (logical and occasionally visual). Also passes
out note sheets at this time.CR.
Has students write down homework in their planners and answers questions
they have concerning the upcoming test. CS.
Explains the learning targets of the day and then starts lecture on
photosynthesis. Occasionally asks students to reference the text (logical and
visual). Also takes a few minutes and asks students to explain processes to
each other (interpersonal). Continually answers questions to clarify the
material and material for the upcoming test. She uses sound effects in her
lesson power point to keep the students focused (auditory). Ends class and
lecture by asking students to grade themselves on their learning targets
(intrapersonal). AS/CS.
Passing period again chats with students as they come in. AR.
Starts anatomy class with warm up questions while she collects an
assignment due that morning. There are quite a few more questions than AP
Bio so she gives them a few more minutes to complete the questions on
their own before she starts a discussion (intrapersonal). CS/AS.
Calls on students and reviews answers to warm up questions (interpersonal,

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linguistic). AR/AS.
Starts lecturing for anatomy. Her style is very much the same as it is for AP
Bio. Occasional book referencing (visual or logical), observing students and
making sure they are complete with their notes. Uses a lot of pictures and
instead talks about the slides instead of reading off of them (visual). Asks
students to move the muscles she refers to (kinesthetic). Many of the
questions she is asked about are concerning the upcoming test i.e. what
will I have to know for the test? CS/AS.
10:12a 3
Uses photos from a previous foot surgery as a real life example of the
muscle groups she is teaching and how the surgery affected the muscles in
the foot (visual, interpersonal). AS/AR.
10:15a 1
Asks students to check their notebooks and make sure they have homework
written down for the upcoming week. CS.
Day 2
7:25a
5
Talks with student about concerns with an upcoming assignment and talks
with another student about a late assignment before class even starts. CR.
7:30a
14
Again starts class with a warm up question, this time it is over material the
students should have read the previous night for homework. Because none
of the students did the assigned reading she extended the time she had them
work on the question so they could read the section pertinent to the
questions (logical, intrapersonal). AS/CS.
7:44a
3
Tells students about an upcoming pre lab activity and spends a few minutes
walking them through the assignment and what they will have to do
(logical, visual). CS.
7:47a
6
Leads a short discussion about the warm up questions, calling on students to
answer the questions for the whole class and filling in missing information
herself (linguistic). AS.
7:53a
63
Begins lecture. This is much the same as the last few classes. She is very
consistent, and there are no surprises. Her lessons consist of lecture, a few
book references and lots of pictures (visual). The kids know whats coming
and know what to do in accordance with her instruction. She implies sounds
again in her lecture (auditory) and at the end she asks for a volunteer to
come up to the front and teach his peers by explaining a photosynthesis
flow chart and create a discussion between the ten students (interpersonal,
linguisitic, visual/spatial). CS/AS.
8:55
9
With a few minutes left in class and the lesson complete, she returns tests
and scantrons to the students to review and ask questions about
(intrapersonal, logical). AS/CS.
**Please note that as I observed the classrooms, I identified the Gregorc Learning Styles
and Multiple Intelligences.
9:44a

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