Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Only Color that Matters is the Gray Stuff Between Your Ears 

My several careers as a teacher have covered every level, from primary grades through undergraduates, graduate school, and specialized seminars for adults in the business world, at locations from coast to coast. My current classes tend to have a substantial proportion of foreign-born immigrants from all over the planet, Asia, Africa, Europe and South America. They have included just about every shade of skin and sexual preference there is, along with a huge sampling of the world�s tribes, clans, nationalities, religions and ideologies. They come from an enormous range of socioeconomic backgrounds, with varying personalities, styles of thinking, and methods for interacting with others. They all bring their various biases from past experiences into the classroom. Of course I do, too.

One statement I make to my students in the very first class of each semester is that "The only color that matters is the gray stuff between your ears." This simple line negates so many prejudices it is unreal.

I treat this statement very seriously, and apply it in a variety of ways throughout the semester. For example, I assign group mini-projects for work to be completed in class, while scrambling the composition of every group for each new assignment. The students have to adapt to each new small-group dynamic. They learn to focus on getting the best possible contribution from every member of the group. Some use their gray matter better than others, which affects the results for which they are all responsible.

Because my expectations and standards are clearly set out in the detailed syllabus I present in the first class meeting, my students learn very quickly that outward appearances have little to do with the value of the contributions they get from their fellow students.

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