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Why Lack of Diversity in Teaching is a PR Issue
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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The National Education Association (NEA) and the Center for American Progress (CAP) issued a revealing study over the weekend that says so much more than the numbers unveil. The report (noted in AP) focused on the ever-growing "diversity gap" in today's classroom and shined a light on the teachers themselves. In fact, fewer than 1 in 5 teachers are non-white. That's elementary and secondary schools, people. Less than 20 percent of all teachers are not white; yet, when you look at the students, more than half of students are considered minorities

We have always seen in movies, heard on TV, and possibly even exhibited at home, aspirations for our children. They can be anything they want to be. In the 60s during the plight of the Civil Rights Movement, a few brave stalwarts told American children that they could even be president. Some of those children lived to watch that happen when Barack Obama took office. Hispanic mothers have always been helping their children be more than what they believed. They could even be a Supreme Court justice. And then in 2009, Sonia Sotomayor did just that. 

Name a movement — from Women's Suffrage to Civil Rights to the National Farm Workers Association created by Cesar Chavez — and you will see young people trying to live up to the actions and dreams of their forefathers. And why? Because they watched them do it.

Now consider the perception angle to the NEA and CAP report. Why aren't there more people of color teaching our young people in the classroom? Maybe it's because they don't view enough of themselves doing it. Go to college and it's completely different. Some of the most brilliant minds of higher academia or leadership in secondary education are Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Norman Francis, Henry Louis Gates, Jose B. Gonzalez, Ruben Arminana, Jose Huizar, and Hortensia Amaro. What do children of any walk of life watch for inspiration? Sports, musicians, reality TV. If it's entertainment, they want to do it.

Oh sure, there have been the movies about Joe Louis Clark ("Lean on Me") and Jaime Escalante ("Stand and Deliver"), but how many kids can tell you the name of those elementary and secondary school teachers? Instead, they can tell you they saw Morgan Freeman and Edward James Olmos play a teacher on TV. Perhaps the leaders of the classroom aren't as diverse because, as children, they didn't see diversity leading them. As the human psyche evolves, people will continue to emulate what they see and not what they hear.

Is this report a PR problem? Yes it is. Want to change that, leaders of education in America? Play a game of "Show and Tell." You remember what that was like growing up, right?

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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