Character Education vs Social Justice Pedagogy

The “Six Pillars of Character” identified as trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship (Traub, 2005) are interpreted in a variety of different education programs – some of which also include other “virtues” such as, criticism, creativity, curiosity, concentration, communication, correction and control (The Seven C’s of Thinking Clearly by Integrity Matters). In sum, schools that wish to include moral or human values in education embrace “character education” programs. However, character education programs that service disenfranchised student populations are often adopted as a vehicle to prevent violence, drug abuse, dropouts and other behaviors that have been readily identified as being part of the “achievement gap” problem. Many educators look for programs that will a) keep students in the classroom, (b) teach students how to treat each other and the teacher with respect, (c) improve classroom management and (d) provide a moral or ethical reason behind such behaviors that do not originate from the teacher. Consequently, character education programs are getting much attention when minority students comprise the majority of many public schools today and the high school dropout rate is close to 60% in some districts. Teachers and administrators bellow, “How can I get these kids to stay in school and not kill each other or ME for that matter?” How can I teach them the value of education, cooperation and discipline? Character education programs somehow promise that there is a way to teach children “virtues” that will enable them to produce in the school environment.

All schools are interested in transformation – especially schools that service disenfranchised students historically marginalized in our society. How we approach educating students is particularly critical when we suggest challenging the fundamental inequities that characterize our education system. No one argues that students need to respect themselves, each other and adults. No one argues that if students are not in school then they cannot learn! Student engagement is fundamental to student achievement. However, the growing movement of educators who believe that “teaching is about transforming our students into their true potential, or we must teach these kids the virtues of a good character or citizen” concerns me. Statements like these are dangerously close to the traditional educational paradigm, which suggests that students are empty vessels and teachers are given the task of filling them with worthy knowledge. The alarming drop out rates amongst children of color and from poverty stricken homes, the increase in school violence, the widening of the achievement gap, the growing sense of despair in many “urban,” “minority,” “at-risk,” schools because of discipline issues, uncontrollable and anti-social conduct that prevent students from receiving the “valuable” information teachers are trying to give them – are all factors that make character education programs that promote “conflict resolution” and “democracy” very attractive to educators looking for a values driven fix. However, while teachers are waiting for their unruly students to resolve conflicts peacefully and be able to “walk in another person’s shoes” towards understanding and tolerance; while teachers discuss how “those kids” just don’t value education behind closed doors – I ask: When will teachers begin to look at themselves? Since when has the notion of transforming our schools by transforming our kids into better people become a new and improved concept? Haven’t middle class and mainstream teachers and administrators and politicians always wanted poor children of color to learn middle class and “mainstream” codes of behavior?

Perhaps we ought to be critical of character education proponents that speak of a mutual “yearning to transform kids into their true potential.” An educator that speaks to a child with a yearning to see this kid be something that they are not at the present moment, is not seeing the child for who he or she really is – aside from their choices or behavior. An educator who cannot see the beauty in a child – exactly where he or she is in the present moment – cannot expect to connect with that child in the present moment. That child is, you know, the one who does not take off his hat, who exhibits insurgent behavior, who is angry with an unjust world (that exists), who is bored out of his mind with the tens of thousands of tests that he is required to take, filling in bubble after bubble for yet another standardized exam that will tell him and his school that they are (and will always be) low performing, that child that gets up and says “fuck this shit,” that child that does not play by the rules because rules have never benefited him – you know, THAT child. All of these “other people’s children” are all beautiful children in every sense of the word, right here, right now. They cannot and will not conform, transform to anyone’s set of values. The only way THAT child will consider his or her future potential is if he or she is seen in his or her absolute beauty in the present moment.

Transformational education is not about transforming kids. It is about transforming ourselves, the way we see the world and in this world, these kids, OUR kids are there, waiting, for each and every one of us to look into the mirror first. Ask ourselves, what can this child teach me about me that I do not know, about this world that I can not possibly see by myself, about this space that is ours today? How can I trust that we will give each other a chance long enough to grow together, to explore, to question, to critically challenge the world around US, so that we can work together to make a change for the generation to follow, because as long as one of us is hungry or treated unjustly, or homeless or without love, none of us is safe. None of us is transformed.

The term social justice in education suggests that working for social justice requires a deliberate intervention that challenges fundamental inequities and works towards better educational and economic outcomes for marginalized children (Furman, 2004). An important component of social justice pedagogy is critical literacy — that is that the students themselves are participants in their education as a vehicle to understand more deeply the conditions of their lives and to acquire the academic skills to ultimately be a part of the solution to injustice (Gutstein, 2003). Research literature over the past thirty years characterizes critical literacy as (1) disrupting the commonplace; (2) interrogating multiple viewpoints; (3) focusing on sociopolitical issues; and (4) taking action and promoting social justice (Lewison, Seely Flint and Van Sluys (2002). As you consider character and education in today’s world, consider the possibility that your role as an educator must not be about what you can do to change your student’s behavior, but rather, what can you do to change your own. Social justice pedagogy is working with students together to create a safe space where challenging and disrupting the “commonplace” is not feared, but strategically channeled towards creating and implementing proactive solutions that change the conditions of our lives. It is about seeing and accepting alternative modes of behavior, conduct and language towards the ultimate goal of reaching a common ground — grounded in humanity. It is about transformation – not of the child, but of the world we live in. In order to do that, we must first, begin the arduous task of transforming ourselves.

Breaking and Entering

So, I’m standing outside in a school parking lot freezing as the snow flurries dance around me to the whirl of the wind home only to Michigan or maybe Chicago in the dead of winter. My hands are red and chapped and I can’t go inside because I am keeping four men company as they bravely try to break into my car to retrieve the car keys that I had carelessly left in the trunk just ten minutes before. Two of the men are teachers, one is the maintenance man, and the fourth is a colleague – like me a teacher educator. We are all committed to our work at an alternative high school that services students that have fallen through the cracks of traditional school environments – acted out often by what our society deems as “criminal” or “anti-social” behaviors. As the wire hanger takes on miraculous shapes — thin enough to strategically slide through the window but turned at the end just enough to hook onto the stubborn door lock – I feel all at once the irony of the situation. It bubbles up inside me like a cross between a muffled cry and a clandestine giggle. Then the elation I feel as the teacher who does not give up after we are all decidedly frozen hooks the knob and bends slowly, slowly and bam! The door is unlocked and I am happy so happy and proud! We had successfully, skillfully, artfully and with great determination – broken into my car! I screamed, I believe. Jumped up and down and I couldn’t stop thinking as I hugged every body, that I had witnessed a miracle and that this triumph, right there on a cold, Friday afternoon, in a high school parking lot — was nothing less than a victory of faith, of teamwork and determination. From the outside, however, that moment could have looked more like a criminal offence, an act of defiance (AAA said it would take them 90 minutes before they could get to my car) and simply – Breaking and Entering. I am an accomplice. I feel, as a matter of fact, joy. We had all shared an authentic learning experience about the facts of life and how at that moment, we all knew in our heart of hearts that the most important skill we needed was “How to Break Into a Car” (circa 2005).

It was not unlike what happened this summer in Spain when a car was stuck in a sand dune right off the beach. For two hours several groups tried to help the stranded couple out of their predicament unsuccessfully. Finally, a group of seemingly “rowdy gangster” types took over the scene saying in rapid Spanish punctuated by slang that nobody had the “street sense” enough to get the car out of the ditch. We all watched amazed while him and his “boys” picked up the car in three steps and solved the sand problem that no one was able to solve in over two hours! They were able to see the situation with critical accuracy and instead of pushing the car out, he simply said to us sarcastically, “it doesn’t take much common sense to know that you have to lift up and out rather than push through that damn mess” or something like that. We all left the scene burnt from the sun thinking how grateful we were at that moment for their existence. It had been only a few hours before when we were indignant that those same beach “gangsters” on motorcycles were disturbing the peace and quiet on what would have otherwise been a perfectly secluded beach.

When we share real lived experiences with each other, something happens. If we listen, really listen to each other, we recognize in one another’s stories that life has a way of breaking boundaries. Whether boundaries be of class or race or language or gender or religion or politics or age or whatever!, we are all inexplicably interconnected, woven together by a wise and knowing hand of fate. We are being reminded that we have something to learn from one another and that learning is sacred.

bell hooks in Teaching to Transgress (1994) speaks of engaged pedagogy as a teaching and learning experience that transgresses traditional classroom boundaries towards a liberatory exchange of ideas grounded both in theory and real lived experiences. In a transcribed dialogue between herself and a colleague, Ron Scapp, bell hooks writes: “One primary difference between education as a practice of freedom and the conservative banking system is the latter encourages professors to believe deep down in the core of their being that they have nothing to learn from their students.” Ron Scapp reminds us that “when one speaks from the perspective of one’s immediate experiences, something’s created in the classroom for students, sometimes for the very first time. Focusing experience allows students to claim knowledge base from which they can speak.” Educators who are suspicious and critical of engaged pedagogy fail to understand that the emphasis on voice is not just the act of telling one’s experience, but that using that telling strategically – to come to voice – allows students to speak freely about other subjects (hooks, 1994, p. 148).

As a teacher educator, I work with many teachers who find it difficult and in some cases impossible to “relate” to the students they work with. The divide that they feel between themselves and their students is sometimes so wide due to social “boundaries” labeled race, class, language, shared histories of domination or oppression, criminality, conduct, gender, age – and so on, that there is no real connection between what they intend to do in the classroom and the students themselves. How can we work with teachers who believe deep down in the core of their being that they have nothing to learn from their students?

Breaking and entering into my car on a Friday afternoon so that I could get back home to my family was a moment of triumph for me and a group of responsible and respected educators who teach every day students the difference between right and wrong and how to be a responsible citizen in society. We all silently wished that there was a student among us with the “street smarts” to make the break in swift and with promise of assured success. And yet, I wonder, if that hypothetical student who could have broken in my car, would have been recognized and valued in our school community or if we would have honored his “skill” as much as we honored the teacher who magically got the door open? I wonder if that hypothetical student would ever have the opportunity and encouragement to tell a similar human-interest story of “triumph” in front of a teacher without the fear that he or she might be judged. Judged not for the act of criminality, but for an act of triumph. The latter being the connection, the transgression, the missing link that unites us all as human beings.

Students Walk Out

dedicated to Mrs. Swanson

As I marched the two miles amongst thousands of protesters with a green and black poster in my hands and a sore throat from chanting, I felt all at once the thrill of humanity reminiscent of a time when I was encouraged to reach out and touch history. Next to me, a life long friend who I met in high school leans over and asks if this was the first time I had joined a protest march. When I responded that I had marched in Washington almost twenty years ago – I remembered the high school teacher that had inspired me at sixteen to get on a bus at Washington Square Park and ride to Washington DC to exercise my right to voice my opinion and protest. My friend asked what I had protested against at that time and I responded ironically that I didn’t even remember.

What I began to remember though as the past and the present collided somewhere between 34th Street and 38th Street was that my high school Canadian born science teacher had made an announcement in all of her classes in the year of 1986. It was an invitation to any student who wanted to join her – and now that I am writing, I believe it was about Pro-Choice, and we were high school students attending an all girls Catholic high school in Yonkers. I was the only one who ended up joining her that weekend. Sitting on the steps of the NYU student center waiting for a bus to pick us up, I did not know that I would within the next few years, walk up those same steps as a NYU student and later on, as a graduate from the School of Education.

Thousands marched on November 2nd in NYC and in other major cities across the nation and amongst us, hundreds of students who had walked out of their schools – many of which reported having to accept a suspension for up to three days. Amongst us, a group from Walton High School in the Bronx – the notorious school that Kozol refers to in his book, where lunchtime rounds begin at 9:30am. Many of Walton High School youth told us that they had lost a few who had been picked up by the cops before making it down to Union Square. “We made it!” they screamed to my right. I turned around to look at my Black and Latino brothers and sisters, smiling and alive and so alive they were that I couldn’t help but get choked up. Looking away and back to the podium where the members of the The World Can’t Wait Coalition spoke emphatically about our need to mobilize and dismantle the Bush administration, I felt elated and humbled. It was a realization that we are all one, even my past and present self-merged at that moment. I was part of an eclectic and diverse community of conscientious citizens. Those high school students reminded me of where I come from, where I am going and the power of voice. I want to express gratitude to all of those who came out on November 2nd to exercise voice, especially the students who dared to make a difference and finally to my teacher, who twenty years ago still makes a difference in me.

The Rainbow Fish

How humble am I? How much do I give? How can I help others while all the while realizing the potential of my gifts? How should I honor my position of privilege, knowing that by luck, by fate, by birth I have more shining scales than others? Standing inside, in front of, behind the abandoned Detroit city, ruins left behind for tourists like me tell the story of how race riots imploded a city left behind to rot by the whites, left behind to rot by the middle class and bourgeoisie, white flight to a suburb or white picket fence dream – away from the black faces that are so angry another mob another white cop beatin’ up young black men, crackin down, interrogation.

Kozol talks, talks, talks about guilt and revolution from behind a pulpit, another ode to Pineapple but I can’t help wonder how much of his book tour money he will invest into the 60 Black and Latino schools he visited, investigated and explored for this book. I can’t help wonder why he speaks of guilt and wonder how he can share coffee with his wealthy friends, knowing what he knows and if that makes him any less conscientious than me?

The sparkling fish in The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister, is beautiful and perfect and complete – unique, a gift, a reminder of God, the miraculous, the extraordinary the absolute the one of a kind, the dream. She has much to offer, just in her presence, it is this piece of art that replenishes the soul in the mist of mediocrity. This is what we all aspire to be? Yet she is told that she must give away her scales, one by one, minimize her outward beauty in order to maximize her inner beauty – which in the end is defined by her friendships and company. Does giving away each of her scales mean that she is no longer special, unique and brilliant in the sea of souls? Does giving parts of yourself, connecting with others and bridging the souls across race, class and difference mean that you are dismantling yourself? Are we asked not to shine? Are we asked to join the ordinary in order to find company? Do we have to be all the same in order to find solidarity? Why can’t we pride in someone else’s sparkle, love them for their greatness, uniqueness and beauty? Why do we have to diminish ourselves in order to find acceptance? Shouldn’t it be that every time the Rainbow Fish gives away a scale, a new one appears in its place?

A teacher I know, shines in what she does, the strength and conviction and confidence of her stance. Respect flows with learning and teaching is passion and there is in the end, fear and insecurity. Wanting so badly to be recognized for this miracle that happens every day, this pride in knowing and breathing and feeling that she is doing exactly the right thing – she becomes fearful and lonely. Others do not see her. She becomes arrogant and aloof. Is this in response to her rejection or is arrogance the root? Why can’t she recognize herself in one of them and vice versa? Is she alone in her excellence? I see her in me and I see reflections that have come and gone and I ask myself again, remind myself again: Am I humble enough? Do I give enough? Do I share my gifts? Do I honor my position of privilege?

Invitations to Resistance… On Kozol’s The Shame of the Nation

On an airplane ride across the country, I wiped the tears as I read, highlighted and marked significant pages in Kozol’s new book, The Shame of the Nation. Often, I had to stop, grab my mouth, cover my nose in an attempt to hold back a more noticeable emotional response – I was, of course, sitting amongst strangers. On one occasion, I stopped, thinking that I was acting like a child, what is wrong with me, I asked? Why are you so emotional? It is not like anything that you are reading is a surprise… Why after all of these years as an educator and activist for social justice education are you breaking down? Well, my dear readers, I just don’t know what is happening, but the more that I talk to colleagues, friends, educators and just plain old human beings in general – I believe that the winds are changing. Something has been brewing for a long time and it just is not going away. In fact, it is getting worse. I think Kozol started playing me, string by string like an old violin that aside from some fine-tuning was desperate to sing.

After reading over two hundred pages in just one sitting, I was calm again – well at least, I wasn’t emotionally wrecked. How will I ever be effective in my work if I can’t get past the pain and the anger and the sadness about the condition of education in America – for the poor, for the Blacks, for the Latinos, for the “minoritized” populations? Crying doesn’t mean a thing. And yet, for me, a stoic educator often coined as a ‘serious professional’ crying felt like the first step into a new chapter I have yet to title in my own journey. I was more convinced of this “new chapter” as I stood for half an hour waiting for my luggage at JFK airport, horrified as I watched the videotaped scene of Davis, a retired elementary school teacher, being repeatedly kicked and beat by white police officers in New Orleans for “stumbling into a horse.”

Kozol describes our current education system to be one of “apartheid.” Any present day educator working in schools in cities across America will agree that America’s schools are definitely segregated and that our communities are perhaps similar to or even worse in some cases to the 1950’s. Kozol’s urgent cry for us to confront the present day reality of separate and definitely unequal is a comprehensive snapshot of what many of us live every day – whether it be in the school, over our own dinner tables or behind a desk. However, the purpose of this commentary is not to repeat a description of the condition of our school system, but to discuss Kozol’s urgent call for action. He writes, “At every opportunity I have to talk with advocates and educators who share any part of my beliefs about these matters nowadays, I ask the same repeated questions: Where should teachers, superintendents, principals, and others who are troubled by the silence of our nation’s leaders on this issue look for recourse and for reinforcement of their discontent? What body of political objectives is sufficiently within the realm of realistic hope to be worth striving for? Where, within the limits of the possible, should we direct whatever time and energy we have?” He quotes Gary Orfield who responds, “A political movement is a necessary answer…we need to reach out to a broader sector of the nation to initiate a struggle.” Kozol ends his book with powerful statements made by Congressman Lewis: “ A segregated education in America is unacceptable… Integration is, still remains, the goal worth fighting for. You should fight for it. We should be fighting for it. It is something that is good unto itself apart from all the other arguments that can be made. This nation needs to be a family, and a family sits down for its dinner at a table and we all deserve a place at that table. And our children deserve to have a place together in their schools and classrooms, and they need to have that opportunity while they’re still children, while they’re in those years of innocence.”

My concern is, of course, if we continue to allow for segregated schools, segregated neighborhoods and segregated policies — what type of world will the future generations inherit?

I wonder: Can we provide the best education to our children without integration?

Kozol speaks a lot about money and class and how the wealthy continue to spend large sums of money on education. I ask: If we continue to support the notion that money does not make a difference in quality education – as in the Bush administration insisting that not money but higher accountability standards will improve our schools — then why do the communities that can afford it continue to invest so much in the education of their children? And what does that mean for the families who cannot afford to supplement the public fare?

Finally, I wonder: How should we initiate a struggle to revisit segregation in our schools?

Hurricane Katrina in the Classroom

Ira Katznelson, professor of political science and history at Columbia University writes in response to what he describes as the “racial pattern of poverty” witnessed graphically during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: “A full generation of federal policy, lasting until the civil rights legislation and affirmative action of the 1960s, boosted whites into homes, suburbs, universities and skilled employement while denying the same or comparable benefits to black citizens.”( Washington Post October 3-9, 2005 Weekly Edition). He suggests that “we would do better in present circumstances to return to the ambitious plans Johnson announced but never realized to close massive gaps between black and whites, and between more and less prosperous blacks.”

Many educators suggest that one way to “close the achievement gap” is to critically discuss current events such as Hurricane Katrina in the classroom. The theory is that education content for marginalized students should include topics on “real world” social injustices in order to empower and prepare students to take on critical and activist roles in society. However, talking about these issues can create controversial and emotional responses between students and educators.

Considering these challenges, I ask: Do you think educators should bring Hurricane Katrina into the classroom even if it brings up feelings of discomfort and emotions that students and teachers might not be able to predict? Do you think there is a tendency to shy away from “real” dialogues in classrooms because the inequalities are so severe and because teachers and students rarely claim to share the same points of view? Do you think that there is a political tide that censors critical thinking in the classroom?

I am also curious about how we can make each other more comfortable discussing the “raw deal” that has historically affected our education system, our students, and our communities?

Adrienne Palacios, Human Resources Officer for the United Nations, says that these critical conversations should also take place in predominantly “white” schools and organizations because they are the ones who might be more affected by the media that distorts the role of black and poor people in society.

So, I ask, is there a difference between how we present Hurricane Katrina to a predominantly black or minoritized audience as compared to a predominantly white audience? Is there a difference if the students are wealthy or poor? What about the educator? Is the educators’ ability to address these issues affected by their own race or class?

Educational Leadership for the 21 Century

Looking at current research in educational leadership, we begin to understand what types of leadership models are currently taking center stage as leaders face the challenges of the 21st century. Although the 21st century is laden with complex forces that are seemingly impossible to unpack, there is agreement in the global community as to the key underlining elements that drastically affect all fields of scholarship and performance. Globalization, technology and the unequal distribution of resources across the globe are pushing the global community to rethink how we need to educate future generations. Educational leaders are presently responding to challenges that are implicitly connected to these factors and are consequently paving the way for increasing dialogue on educational leadership research and practice for the 21st century. Part of this dialogue is the urgent need to document, research and proactively take on the changes that are needed in order to better serve children who need the skills to interact with a very different world – a world that is already on the horizon. What are some of these challenges that educational leaders face today and how are they addressing them?

In the 47th annual Federal Reserve Bank of Boston conference entitled: Education in the 21st Century, Meeting the Challenges of a Changing World, educators expressed little confidence in the system’s ability to meet broad economic and social objectives adequately. This uncertainty stems from the shifting global economy and the evolving nature of employment. These doubts reflect the legacy of widening income inequality over the past quarter century (Kodrzycki, 2002). Educational leaders recognize that the existing educational system and the existing “school” paradigm can not meet the needs of our children facing the 21st century reality. This doubt and concern for the void in our current educational panorama can both be motivation for educational leaders to proactively work towards defining and redefining the foundation of education practice. However, it also can have a paralyzing effect on educational leaders who must address the day to day concerns of their organizations and find little or no time or energy to take on the broader concern of systemic change. Nevertheless, as with this conference staged by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and other numerous conferences that are taking over the field of education here and abroad – educational leaders are talking about these issues and are documenting, debating and prioritizing these concerns.

Current research suggest that some of the major concerns regarding our current system and the encroaching demands of the 21st century are: closing the achievement gap between the rich and the poor and between Blacks and Hispanics and Whites; the role of cultural diversity, pluralism and a common identity in schools and society; nationalism vs. patriotism and the emergence of a global citizenry and the resolution of conflicts peacefully and equitably. Although there are many reasons to believe that Americans are by the nature of our history familiar with and competent facing “diversity,” it is clear that U.S. K-12 students still remain too isolated from people who are different from themselves and are not developing respect for differences or the comparative skills they need to contribute effectively to a sustainable local and global society (Quezada & Romo, 2004). Therefore, many of the current concerns regarding our ability to prepare children for a “global society” can be attributed to our country’s historical inability to embrace and capitalize on our inherent diversity.

Research focused on cultural diversity in organizations illustrates that stifling or not acknowledging difference leads to inefficiency, lack of productivity, reduced quality, and the inability to meet organizational goals (Cox, 1993). However, educational leaders who do try to cope with socio-cultural complexity, often lack the means for developing intercultural and interclass dialogue. As often, they are without the culturally precise insights needed to make well-informed decisions (Corson, 2000, p. 114). Research suggests that leaders are very aware of what multicultural/diversity aims are all about and have been for years. They know that the basic principals of multicultural education in the US are: the theory of cultural pluralism; ideals of social justice and the end of racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice and discrimination; affirmations of culture in the teaching and learning process; and visions of educational equity and excellence leading to high levels of academic learning for all children and youth (Bennett, 2002). However, in a recent national poll conducted by the Washington Post, the Henry Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University, researchers found that white Americans misperceive the socioeconomic realities of African Americans, tending to hold unrealistically positive views of their progress. Moreover, these distorted views are linked to an unwillingness to support social policies and programs that create opportunities and provide support to minorities (Morin, R. (2001). A scrutiny of the most recent journals in educational administration, management and leadership reveals an alarming ethnocentricity (Dimmock & Walker, 1998a, 1998b). Especially in the case in the UK and USA, where researchers seem preoccupied with homespun issues (Walker & Dimmock, 2000, p. 227). It appears that even though our country has been talking about the importance of diversity, intercultural competence, equity and social justice, educational leaders are still struggling with the same issues. However, now, in the 21st century, the need to finally succeed at changing practice is imperative.

What, then, are some of the obstacles that educational leaders face when struggling with issues of diversity in their schools? Educators and other leaders must continue to counter the persistence of racial, religious, class, gender, language based, social, regional and ethnic discrimination in our society. (Quezada & Rommo, 2004). Leaders know that since its inception, the United States has been concerned with the problem of building a national identity among a culturally diverse population (Shujaa, 2003), and that the links between this problem and our urgent challenge facing the 21st century is apparent. Leaders also know that cultural groups, sometimes within states and at other times cutting across state boundaries, are bound together by a common history, ethnicity, and a set of religious beliefs. Common to those groups is a sense of victimhood and humiliation stemming from unacknowledged and un-reconciled historic losses that have generated a desire for revenge against their perceived oppressors (Montville, 1990). This un-reconciled history can create conflicts, violence and failure in school. Educational leaders recognize how the nature of these conflicts can escalate to mass violence in schools and in society, similar to Columbine and September 11th. Findings from a study that examined the emotional and perceptional changes of American people that had experienced 10 – 12 months after Sept. 11th terrorist attacks indicate that the traumatic events on Sept. 11th had long term effects on the mental and emotional health of US adults and brought about perceptional changes to their lives.(Seo, 2004). The increase of conflicts rooted in 21st century challenges educators to rethink the foundation of education practice for the security of future generations.

There has to be something more profound that underlines our inability to take what we know about teaching and learning to create schools that successfully educates all children. If we look at higher education, we might be able to tap into the enormous challenge that is required of educational leaders. The inability of higher education institutions to promote diversity successfully can be attributed to the observation that diversity in higher education has “become an end in itself, rather than a means to a greater education end,” and because “universities have failed to establish the fundamental link between diversity and their educational missions. (Alger, 1997). The fact that diversity, multicultural education, bilingual education, international studies, etc., has always existed as an “add on” or an “initiative” is crucial to the understanding of the failure of our initiatives. It also clues us in on the necessity for systemic change. If initiatives that focus on inter-cultural competence, collaboration amongst diverse participants, equity and justice, continue to remain on the sidelines of vision, mission and consequently policy – it is destined to fail. Global education initiatives, which can very well be the new “tag” word to encompass the change that educators need to make towards whole school reform, must reside at the very heart of the mission of the organization and of the vision of the leader.

On a more positive note, educational leaders are responding to the needs of the 21st century even though they might not have yet labeled these efforts as part of the two decade old global education movement. In response to September 11th, many educators are both aggressively and covertly bringing their concerns to the forefront on what it means to live in a democracy. In a country where the word democracy has always flown high next to the patriotic red, white and blue banner – recent events surrounding Sept. 11th and the current war on terrorism is clearly bringing to a head the paradox the word democracy creates for us. The “war on terror” that US President George W. Bush has declared is a context in which conformist thought is given sanction under the banner of patriotism. (Shujaa, 2003). In the post 9/11 era, teachers in public and private institutions from kindergarten to graduate school are subject to censure for encouraging their students to consider ideas that differ from those of the nation-state’s administration and its benefactors and supporters (Shujaa, 2003). We are facing at the present moment contradictions in our behavior as a country as it relates to the freedoms we hold so dearly. So, even though the constitution was written on the back of slavery, much of our “public” ideal about our country has been based on democratic ideals. We have always said, “freedom and justice for ALL” even though, we haven’t always reflected that in practice. Similar to our understanding of diversity – we have always said that best practice is about embracing, validating, recognizing, (etc, etc, etc) diverse peoples, cultures, sexual orientation, religions (etc., etc., etc.) – but we still have not made it a reality in our schools through action and policy. Current events continue to mirror our history.

From an international perspective, schools in the United States already go to the extreme in pressing national identity instead of knowledge of the rest of the world (Perkins-Gough, Lindfors & Ernst, 2002). The United States has a long history and reputation for not really putting their “global” aims forward. For example, the United States withdrew from UNESCO in 1984. This is significant. Some scholars ascertain that capitalism (and our economy base) is at the heart of our inability (or refusal) to really set the stage for real dialogues amongst the diverse classes, culture and constituents that make up our schools. They suggest that despite appearances to the contrary, capitalism has become one of the most assimilationary cultural forces the world has every seen. And it is prospering even more under the new freedoms and open message systems that are spreading in today’s world. Paradoxically, any variation in provisions that all the many new voices of diversity are winning is quickly lost by the pressure towards assimilation that unrestrained capitalism creates. “One size fits all’ is becoming the rule rather than the exception. (Corson, 2000, p. 102)

In spite of the various reasons for why we have yet to be successful in addressing the root of our country’s “diversity problem”, educational leaders are making strides in changing the way we talk about it. Here, is where we begin to see alternative perspectives taking shape and making a difference.

Educational leaders are considering curriculums and school designs that are geared to the development of world citizens (Parker, Ninomiya, and Cogan, 1999). Now with the focus being “the 21st century,” educational leaders are free to say that we need to incorporate intercultural competence, collaboration, peaceful conflict resolution, social equity and activism, shared leadership and ongoing dialogues that foster team building and community because of our responsibility to the GLOBAL VILLAGE! Efforts to restructure schools by emphasizing school based management, devolution and increased accountability to the central bureaucracy, have become the keystones of reform in many countries. Likewise, curriculum trends in different continents have targeted outcomes-based education and social constructivist approaches to teaching and learning. These similarities are neither fortuitous nor coincidental. They are the result of many complex forces shaping the globalized world: they include the electronic and print media, jet transport, international conferences, international agencies, multinational corporations, and overseas education. (Walker and Dimmock, 2000, p.228)

Now the conversation is being had under a different premise. Schools urgently need to address these persistent issues because now we are being isolated from the rest of the world! – not just because of the achievement gap or the rise in violence in schools! We are broadening our perspective and increasing the stakes! We understand now that the causes of conflict around the world can be found at individual, nation-state, and international systemic levels. (Rossi, 2003, p.2). What we are avoiding doing at the local level is having global affects and will continue to do so.

Educational leaders are getting ready to really make some fundamental changes and some are already doing so. Ministers of education around the world are putting more focus on learning to live together and less emphasis on straight student performance. (Perkins-Gough, Lindors, & Ernst, 2002). Changes, such as cost containment, accountability to the public, globalization, integrating technology, and measuring student outcomes, require more participatory forms of leadership than have existed in the past (Rosener, 1990). To move their “vision” forward, school leaders are bringing collaborative leadership styles, a high level of conflict resolution skills, and recognition that there is a need to strengthen and model these skills in order to be an effective role model (Patti & Tobin, 2001, p. 6). One of the most important roles of educational leaders today is to improve the eyesight of educators, parents, students, and community members, so they can see the vision of their district and school (Peel, 1997). Educational leaders are beginning to talk a great deal about vision and the vision includes some very important “global” qualities.

The challenge of educating a committed global citizenry is to change the societal and university paradigm from a strategy of competitiveness to one of collaboration, from a perspective of scarcity to one of sufficiency and inclusion, and from a stance that looks for expedient solutions to one that engages and commits to a series of values and a way of life (Gabelnick, 1997). Students need skills in leadership and multicultural awareness and ongoing involvement in “real world” community projects; faculty need certain skills to promote these competencies throughout the curriculum; their institutions in turn must support faculty development, cross-departmental collaboration, special programming, and external support (Gabelnick, 1997). Assessment needs to reflect these activities at the individual level and at the school level.

Here is a promising example. After extensive discussions, the Learning and Teaching program faculty at the School of Education at the University of San Diego organized the credentialing program around six principles that are infused through courses and field experiences and which are derived from and connected to a social constructivist perspective. These are 1) Inquiry and Reflection, (2) Values, (3) Service, (4) Technology, (5) Social Justice, (6) Diversity and Inclusiveness (Quezada & Romo, 2004, p. 6).

Another positive trend is to define the school as a learning community. Learning communities are grounded on three foundations (1) a culture based on human values; (2) a set of practices for generative conversation; and (3) a capacity to see and work with the flow of life as a system (Kofman and Senge, 1993). In a study designed to examine how institutions contribute to the moral and ethical development of high school students, findings indicate that in teaching children and adolescents, it is important to emphasis the necessity of group attachments – the value of community – across the human life span and to create communities that cultivate individual attachment and responsibility to the community (McHenry, 2000). Data revealed that principal’s efforts were critical in creating conditions necessary to build a learning community…the principal has to relinquish top-down control and give the green light to teachers to move forward in their own learning-by creating and crafting new ways to achieve growth and renewal (Zepeda, 2004).

Included in these “new” visions of the 21st century education paradigm is the recognition that it is imperative that we combat ethnocentric attitudes and the behaviors that emerge from them if our students are to function harmoniously in an increasingly interdependent world. (Scott, 1998). The fundamental reason we are urgently being called to address (and succeed at transforming) how we view “diversity” is that we can learn to work together peacefully. Every educational leader’s vision needs to be to increase the capacity for collaboration, peaceful conflict resolution and the betterment of the world. Educational leadership today must foster the development and implementation of global education, social justice and peace curriculums. Recognizing this need — a multinational research team from nine nations has developed a curriculum geared to the development of world citizens (Parker, Ninomiya, and Cogan 1999). Curriculums for peace, social justice and conflict resolution are need to be put on the table for serious discussion, dialogue and hopeful integration.

Educators need to make a committment to participate in a sustained dialogue, systematic and prolonged, among small groups of representative citizens committed to ending conflict and building peace in our schools. The dialogue should be about what is on people’s minds, to identify concerns, and interests, to accept the enemy as human with feelings, pain, hopes, and interests comparable to others (Saunders, 1999). The dialogue needs to be about empowering each other to take action to adopt, validate and promote the use of socio-culturally responsible curriculums and school designs. Socio-culturally responsible teaching serves to empower students to the point where they will be able to critically examine educational content (curriculum) and process (instruction) and ask what its role is in creating a truly democratic and multicultural society (fair, just and inclusive). (Quezada & Romo, p. 4). Students must begin to examine cause-and-effect relationships, make plausible predictions about the future directions global issues will take, and be able to analyze those issues in a holistic manner. (Scott, 1998).

There is much to say about educational leadership for the 21st century, but more importantly there is much to do. What we identify as “21st century” competencies have long since been labeled a variety of other things. Unfortunately, the political, social and economic global situation here and in the rest of the world has tainted our understanding of these very dire issues of human survival. There is some evidence that suggests that slowly but surely educators are making head way through the grime and the gravel towards recognizing the undeniable interdepence each of us faces when we work with each other, both locally and globally – we have to believe that we are headed in the right direction and at a sure pace. Globalization, technology and the unequal distribution of resources here and the rest of the world are bringing much of our work to a head.

In recognition of the consistent lack of value and respect we have for people of color, people of limited economic means, people of diverse linguistic backgrounds, people of alternative sexual orientation, and other rich and varied human experiences – it is difficult to find optimism and faith that educational leaders are taking their power and responsibility seriously. In a time when people are increasingly patriotic, where fundamental (and sometimes fanatical) religious groups are taking center stage in politics and policy, when families are still being judged by the color of their skin and where people are overwhelmed with fears that fester in their homes through television and “public opinion,” it is now more than ever an urgent, urgent cry for educational leaders to stay on the path towards teaching our children to “walk in another’s shoes.” For was it Mahatma Ghandi who once said, “if we are to reach peace in the world, we have to begin with the children.” And that is exactly what educational leadership ought to be about. It is a transformational practice these days and research suggests that perhaps – and hopefully so – we are very close to our collective vision.