IN THIS ISSUE...
Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction
Sharing Identities, Providing Access, and Creating Compassionate Human Communities
As long as we inhabit a universe made homogeneous by our refusal to admit otherness, we can maintain the illusion that we possess the truth about ourselves and the world... (Palmer, Parker. The Courage to Teach, p. 38).
During our January 1999 annual Faculty Convocation, Parker Palmer asked us to consider two major ideas. First, he suggested that great teaching comes from the identity and integrity found in the teacher's self. Secondly, he stated that good teachers must "possess a capacity for connectedness." Connectedness, he maintained, allows teachers to "weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves" (Palmer, The Courage to Teach, p. 11).
We as educators in the Maricopa Community College District daily face numerous challenges to connectedness. These challenges come not only from our classes and students, but also they come from potential barriers to equality in student education-- clearly a significant obstacle to "connectedness."
The focus of this issue's Labyrinth/Forum explores the complex questions of providing an equal education in our democratic society. Since we cannot minimize the impact of the sheer number of students we serve, our size as the nation's largest system of its kind, and the age, interests, and racial/ethnic diversity of our student population, we as professional educators need to give careful thought to Palmer's ideas of connectedness and its relationship to the exigent issue of diversity.
Authors in this issue of the Labyrinth/Forum certainly demonstrate their own "courage to teach." They are providing both the leadership and commitment necessary to, as Palmer says, "admit otherness," and they are diligently striving to provide equality for Maricopa's diverse groups. Hopefully, after reading several or all of the articles in this edition, you may ask yourself the question: "Is reading about these ideas enough, or should I consider making my own contributions?"
Whether it is you, the reader, or one of our authors, in order for anyone to incorporate change in this area, a self-awareness is required. As indicated by Linda Treloar, one of the main problems in serving a diverse population is simply the willingness to acknowledge one's own personal biases and preconceptions. In her article, Linda challenges us to question our perceptions of the disabled's images given in the popular media and even in our language. She notes, "Our response to someone who moves, speaks, hears, sees, thinks or learns differently from the expected has powerful ramifications for that student's relationships with us... "
Acknowledging that barriers to equal education can and do exist is another part of self-awareness. Karen Schwalm urges us to answer the question: "Are there any statistically significant differences in age, ethnicity and gender that appear in conjunction with access to and general use of our computing facilities?" Although we would like to believe that the answer is "no," Karen cautions us that ". . . it is dangerous to make that assumption without corroborating data."
After considering our own awareness, we must be willing to listen to the variety of voices in our community. Kathy Farrish, our student author, relates the manner in which her humanities class offers opportunities to share her story and listen to the stories of her classmates; she pleads for more instructors to willingly provide an atmosphere where students' voices can be heard. Similar to Kathy's plea for listening and providing a place for understanding, Cori Wright echoes the need for "positive awareness of diverse cultures" in order to appreciate other groups. She further adds that these groups must also take responsibility and find their identity, set goals, and strive for peace.
Self-awareness and listening are essential to the process of making connections for any group, but they are not enough. Effective teaching and use of technology in serving a diverse population requires a commitment to action! Certainly, commitment is the main object our authors have pointedly demonstrated. Our Labyrinth/Forum authors' articles tackle the problems of classroom settings, enhanced facilities, equal access, and they convey the multitude of efforts which are being implemented to insure equality. Ken Roberts, Jack Clevenger, Jackie Jaap, Mary Jane Onnen, Angela Ambrosia, Jane McGrath and, again, Karen Schwalm have given us carefully detailed accounts of their continuing programs to provide opportunities for student success.
I began my introductory passage by reminding you of Palmer's theory of teachers helping students discover connections. Although I would not use his rather idealistic metaphor to affirm that our students now "weave a world of their own," I see educators who are making a difference. They are making a difference through their self-awareness and willingness to listen as well as their commitment to the process of providing an equal education in our democratic society.
Most importantly, these are leaders who, as Jon Lea Fimbres-Hetzel so eloquently states, are "finding respectful ways to maintain our human communities through compassion and integrity." Jack Clevenger of MCC nicely concludes these thoughts by his confident assertion that we are doing this ". . . because it is the right thing to do."