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Sociology of Law teacher speaks on how diversity impacts the community

By Pauline Velazquez

Staff Writer 

Lissa Thiele is the Sociology of Law Expeditions teacher. She works at Summit Public Schools and is very close to her students. She bases her curriculum off current political events.

1. Would you consider the history curriculum at Summit to be diverse?

“From the Holocaust perspective, there have been some things that are great and some things that can be improved.”

2. How do you think a lack of diversity impacts students at Summit? How do you think the lack of diversity impacts students of color differently at Summit?

“What I think is that history has been written like his story, so whoever is in the culture of power at the time when the history books are written is who will be the most represented inside of the subject matter. The reason that for a long time we learned about how amazing Columbus was or how he should be celebrated … I think it does terrible damage to students to not understand what the missing voices are and history books do not explain it through that lens. When you’re a little kid starting to learn how to read … you’re reading about people who are not like you and so the damage that this does is you start adopting somebody else’s story, and if you’re adopting a white story and you are not white you are not going to know how to get through this life here. You will know somebody else’s story and you will think it’s your own until that community tells  you are not part of that community … so little kids are reading these (white written stories) and thinking that that is normal and it isn’t about them, so how do we expect them to get through life if they’re reading about somebody who they won’t ever be allowed into the community?”

3. On social media, when the issue has been brought up, there’s always a group of people who say, “This isn’t about America so it doesn’t matter.” Do you think students would benefit learning about different cultures apart from their own?

“We have to … this is not optional, I don’t believe it’s an option of either/or. They have to, we have to. We better start teaching like that too, if we are going to meet the students where the students are at the year 2042, white will be the minority.”

4. How do you think, in the long run, teaching children early on in their history courses about the different cultures in the world around them impact their outlook on themselves as they grow up?

“Basically, in order to prepare the youth for the tumultuous time … If we are preparing our students for life then we have to be making sure they are learning multiple perspectives because in the end … in order to help, instead of being part of the problem we need to be part of the solution. And the solution is to teach other people’s story and to look at it as if yes, it’s other but humanity is at the core of it. … You’re a unique contributor, every single person is, so if they are influenced by their peers … and if their peers reflect a diverse community, then they need to be able to reflect that as well.”

5. Why do you think, despite diversity in ethnicity rising, that multiculturalism in curriculum has not been implemented still to this day?

“Cause if you’re not living it then you’re not putting it up as a high priority, so if the teachers don’t reflect … the compositions of the students – some of it is not their fault it’s a career thing. Usually, people who have been teachers are usually white, middle-class women historically, and so it’s not Summit’s fault that that’s been the historic norm.”

6. What social impact do you think implementing diversity in education would cause?

“Well, I think there’s going to be a group that’s going to be resistant to it because it’s going to be the group that’s in the culture of power … there’s going to be a group who gets scared, and fear often times then makes people do bad things … they fight even harder for something before they’re able to let it go, but also I think that the benefits outweigh the cost of it.”

7. Many people might see changing the curriculum as “pushing” something onto them – how do you think this subject should be approached? Do you think this should be something optional or something that should be applied to all students?

“Nope, it must apply to all students, every student has the right to have an equal opportunity to education, and if a teacher is not at that place then they need to get to that place. It is not optional it is a requirement … part of the problem (is that) we were making it optional, and the people who opt in are those who are in the culture of power because they have nothing to lose … So no, it cannot be optional; it is mandatory and, not only that, but we need to demand it as a student body and as an educational institution.”

8. How do you think the idea of a culturally diverse curriculum being optional would impact the objective of education being more diverse and impact schools and students?

“I think even though I feel like it should be non-optional I think the first implementation level is through Expeditions … that is one excellent place to start.”

9. With the current events in mind, such as the removal of DACA and the proposed Muslim ban, do you think if there was an addition of cultural diversity in the history curriculum that there would be an increase in empathy and understanding in those who support the issues?

“Absolutely, I fully believe that … once you guys have heard other people say this affects me and this is how this affects me … then you will change your behavior to stop … at least we’re trying to get to this commonplace. I think personal stories have the ability to completely change our world. Listen to other stories and respect and appreciate that.”

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