Category Archives: Multicultural Studies

Coming of Age Rituals

masai_women2This week we are exploring one final aspect of identity: coming of age rituals.  There’s probably no more important transition in an individuals life that that from childhood to adulthood.  We know this is very true in American culture, as students graduate, go to a prom and then either join the military, go to work, or go to college.  In class, we are going to explore and research some diverse cultural examples of coming of age ceremonies, such as: the Aboriginal (Australia) ˜Walkaboutâ’, Apache Sunrise Ceremony (Naâiiâees), Christian Confirmation, Japanese ˜Seijin no hiâ’, Jewish ˜Bat (Bar) Mitzvahâ, Muslim ˜Khtme Qur’anâ’, Hispanic ˜Quinceaneraâ, Amish ˜Rumspringaâ, Thailand ˜Poy Sang Longâ’, Hindu ˜Upanayanamâ, and American Graduation & Prom.

Assignment: Students will divide into groups of four.  Each student will choose one of the Coming of Age ceremonies listed, research it online and tell five facts related to it. (rotating work) Students working in groups will create their own fictional Coming of Age ritual & ceremony (group work).

Be sure to include one or more of the following:

  • Contact with the natural environment: One or more days spent in nature, experiencing isolation, beauty and grandeur.
  • Ordeal: A test of strength, self-discipline, and endurance: a fast, an all night vigil, a difficult task.
  • Solitude: A complete physical withdrawal from the pressures of life.
  • Public recognition: An “…announcement, ceremony or gathering with family and friends…” to acknowledge the person’s new status.
  • Symbolic representations: Some object that symbolizes the person’s new status: a totem, ring, etc.

Children’s Perspective

Promises is an award winning documentary that explores the issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians – land, history and religion.  It is the story of seven children before their teenage years, who all live within 15-20 minutes from one another – but have completely different perspectives and experiences.  As a reality-based ‘point of view’ documentary, the camera follows the children through their lives – with ups and downs – until some decide that they would like to change the direction of their story – and meet.  That meeting is both emotionally powerful and politically motivating.

Along with the viewing of the video, students will answer questions on their online discussion forum.  In addition, students will begin to explore the issues of conflict in the Middle East.

Here’s the link to the sites for the award-winning documentary we’ll view: 1), 2), 3) from the Office of Jewish Affairs at UMASS Amherst, 4) from Wikipedia, and 5) an interview with Faraj, once he came to the US,

For resources on this issue, please check out the following links:,,

Tell me what you think.

A Class Divided

srx jane elliot

Jane Elliott’s famous blue eye/brown eye experiment with her 3rd grade class in the late 1960’s is one of the most powerful teaching tools in classrooms today.  So much has been written concerning Ms. Elliott’s activity that it has become the model for discussions on diversity, identity, culture and anti-racism education ever since.  Frontline produced ‘Class Divided’ in the 1980’s, highlighting the original ABC episode called ‘Eye of the Storm’, and it gained an even wider audience.  You can watch the whole episode online here:

RAFTS: Diversity & Unity

From time to time in the class, we will use the RAFTS strategy to explore different themes and topics in Multicultural Studies.  RAFTS stands for Role, Audience, Format and Topic.  As a writing tool, it can be a powerful organizer.  RAFTS also help students visualize themselves in the topics they are learning.  For the first unit we are exploring, we will look at the following RAFT assignments to begin discussion on it is we are able to understand others, and ourselves.


1. You are the school class president. Write out an outline of events for ‘Diversity Day’ at your school. Deliver to principal.
2. You are a Native American girl. In a poem, explain to your classmates how you view American expansion in the West.
3. You are Cesar Chaves. In a private letter to Robert Kennedy, explain your position on Hispanic/White relations.
4. You are having your first day at a new school. Visually describe every form of cultural unity and diversity you see.
5. You are US diplomat in a Middle East embassy. In a memo, analyze the similarities and differences between both cultures.
6. You are a youth basketball organizer. In a speech to your supervisor, justify your reasons for including rival gangs in games.
7. You are Langston Hughes. In a poem, laud and criticize American society for its cultural unity and its cultural diversity.
8. You are Nelson Mandela. After being elected president, give a speech to the National Party concerning future race relations.
9. You are a sci-fi author. Outline the plot of your novel which describes how a multi-species world builds respect for diversity.
10. You are an asylum seeker. In a statement to the State Dept., explain your reasons for wanting to come to America.

If you want, please tell me what you think about the assignments.  What other ones would you add?  Thanks.

Privilege & the Invisible Knapsack

We begin examining readings in Multicultural Studies by looking at the concepts of culture, race and diversity in the first week of the second semester.  The two readings we examined on Friday, January 29th reflected how institutional racism can confer privilege on some and disadvantages on others.  The first was Constructing Race, Creating White Privilege by Pem Buck and the second was White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh.  Both are very thought-provoking and interesting conversation starters.  I look forward to discussing the answers to the following questions on Monday.


PRI’s Global Hits (World Music)

images-globalhitPRI (Public Radio International) broadcasts a world news program everyday at 7PM.  Towards the end of the show, the hosts take about 5-10 minutes to provide a story on a band or musician from somewhere in the world, and then play their music.  It is definitely worth checking out online, or if you would like to hear it online – go to 89.7 Boston WGBH radio.  It’s an awesome show.  They also have all of their segments on podcasts, if you listen to those.

One of the most engaging aspects of world culture is music – hands down.  It invokes something more primal and emotion in the human spirit.  Music also communicates values, beliefs and ideas in ways we are still learning.

One of my friends is a classical guitarist and went to college and then graduate school to study music – but probably not in the way you would expect.  He studied ethnomusicology.  It is, in short, the study of music and culture.  He went on to get his Ph.D. in the field as well and is now an expert.  This could be you!  Think about the role that music plays in your life.  How does it influence your thoughts, feelings and values?  How does it help you communicate with others?  What do you think about music from around the world?  What can we learn from it, on a deeper level, than just listening to songs, dances and videos?

One of the best places to find out is at PRI: The World’s Global Hit page.  Check it out and let me know what you think.  Thanks.

Multicultural Studies Syllabus

pdf-imageWelcome!  Because I believe in the professionalism of teaching, I have for years given students detailed syllabuses in the beginning of the course to reach a couple of specific objectives.  First, I want to introduce the course.  It’s important to know what you are getting into.  Second, I want to give students an idea of the type and amount of work.  Third, I like to provide a roadmap concerning topics and issues covered in the course.  Finally, I like to provide students with a FAQ concerning thoughts and questions that they might have.

For the last couple of years, I have given students a sample grading rubric to fill out as well.  This is an opportunity for each student to measure their strengths and weaknesses with the requirements of the course.  Students are asked to use choices of 30%, 20% or 10% to balance out their weighted averages. So, here’s a copy of the syllabus and a copy of the student grading rubric.  What do you think about the documents?  Is it a good introduction of the class?  Can it be improved?  Tell me what you think below, and thanks.

Howard Zinn (1922-2010)


Howard Zinn, historian who challenged status quo, dies at 87

By Mark Feeney and Bryan Marquard, Globe Staff

Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and whose books, such as “A People’s History of the United States,” inspired young and old to rethink the way textbooks present the American experience, died today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling. He was 87.

His daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn of Lexington, said he suffered a heart attack.

“He’s made an amazing contribution to American intellectual and moral culture,” Noam Chomsky, the left-wing activist and MIT professor, said tonight. “He’s changed the conscience of America in a highly constructive way. I really can’t think of anyone I can compare him to in this respect.”

Howard Zinn Chomsky added that Dr. Zinn’s writings “simply changed perspective and understanding for a whole generation. He opened up approaches to history that were novel and highly significant. Both by his actions, and his writings for 50 years, he played a powerful role in helping and in many ways inspiring the Civil rights movement and the anti-war movement.”

For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist brand of history he taught. “A People’s History of the United States” (1980), his best-known book, had for its heroes not the Founding Fathers — many of them slaveholders and deeply attached to the status quo, as Dr. Zinn was quick to point out — but rather the farmers of Shays’ Rebellion and union organizers of the 1930s.

As he wrote in his autobiography, “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train” (1994), “From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than ‘objectivity’; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.”

Certainly, it was a recipe for rancor between Dr. Zinn and John Silber, former president of Boston University. Dr. Zinn, a leading critic of Silber, twice helped lead faculty votes to oust the BU president, who in turn once accused Dr. Zinn of arson (a charge he quickly retracted) and cited him as a prime example of teachers “who poison the well of academe.”

Dr. Zinn was a cochairman of the strike committee when BU professors walked out in 1979. After the strike was settled, he and four colleagues were charged with violating their contract when they refused to cross a picket line of striking secretaries. The charges against “the BU Five” were soon dropped.

In 1997, Dr. Zinn slipped into popular culture when his writing made a cameo appearance in the film “Good Will Hunting.” The title character, played by Matt Damon, lauds “A People’s History” and urges Robin Williams’s character to read it. Damon, who co-wrote the script, was a neighbor of the Zinns growing up.

“Howard had a great mind and was one of the great voices in the American political life,” Ben Affleck, also a family friend growing up and Damon’s co-star in “Good Will Hunting,” said in a statement. “He taught me how valuable — how necessary — dissent was to democracy and to America itself. He taught that history was made by the everyman, not the elites. I was lucky enough to know him personally and I will carry with me what I learned from him — and try to impart it to my own children — in his memory.”

Damon was later involved in a television version of the book, “The People Speak,” which ran on the History Channel in 2009, and he narrated a 2004 biographical documentary, “Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.”

“Howard had a genius for the shape of public morality and for articulating the great alternative vision of peace as more than a dream,” said James Carroll a columnist for the Globe’s opinion pages whose friendship with Dr. Zinn dates to when Carroll was a Catholic chaplain at BU. “But above all, he had a genius for the practical meaning of love. That is what drew legions of the young to him and what made the wide circle of his friends so constantly amazed and grateful.”

Dr. Zinn was born in New York City on Aug. 24, 1922, the son of Jewish immigrants, Edward Zinn, a waiter, and Jennie (Rabinowitz) Zinn, a housewife. He attended New York public schools and was working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard when he met Roslyn Shechter.

“She was working as a secretary,” Dr. Zinn said in an interview with the Globe nearly two years ago. “We were both working in the same neighborhood, but we didn’t know each other. A mutual friend asked me to deliver something to her. She opened the door, I saw her, and that was it.”

He joined the Army Air Corps, and they courted through the mail before marrying in October 1944 while he was on his first furlough. She died in 2008.

During World War II, he served as a bombardier, was awarded the Air Medal, and attained the rank of second lieutenant.

After the war, Dr. Zinn worked at a series of menial jobs until entering New York University on the GI Bill as a 27-year-old freshman. He worked nights in a warehouse loading trucks to support his studies. He received his bachelor’s degree from NYU, followed by master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Columbia University.

Dr. Zinn was an instructor at Upsala College and lecturer at Brooklyn College before joining the faculty of Spelman College in Atlanta, in 1956. He served at the historically black women’s institution as chairman of the history department. Among his students were novelist Alice Walker, who called him “the best teacher I ever had,” and Marian Wright Edelman, future head of the Children’s Defense Fund.

During this time, Dr. Zinn became active in the civil rights movement. He served on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the most aggressive civil rights organization of the time, and participated in numerous demonstrations.

Dr. Zinn became an associate professor of political science at BU in 1964 and was named full professor in 1966.

The focus of his activism became the Vietnam War. Dr. Zinn spoke at many rallies and teach-ins and drew national attention when he and the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, another leading antiwar activist, went to Hanoi in 1968 to receive three prisoners released by the North Vietnamese.

Dr. Zinn’s involvement in the antiwar movement led to his publishing two books: “Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal” (1967) and “Disobedience and Democracy” (1968). He had previously published “LaGuardia in Congress” (1959), which had won the American Historical Association’s Albert J. Beveridge Prize; “SNCC: The New Abolitionists” (1964); “The Southern Mystique” (1964); and “New Deal Thought” (1966).

He also was the author of “The Politics of History” (1970); “Postwar America” (1973); “Justice in Everyday Life” (1974); and “Declarations of Independence” (1990).

In 1988, Dr. Zinn took early retirement to concentrate on speaking and writing. The latter activity included writing for the stage. Dr. Zinn had two plays produced: “Emma,” about the anarchist leader Emma Goldman, and “Daughter of Venus.”

On his last day at BU, Dr. Zinn ended class 30 minutes early so he could join a picket line and urged the 500 students attending his lecture to come along. A hundred did.

“Howard was an old and very close friend,” Chomsky said. “He was a person of real courage and integrity, warmth and humor. He was just a remarkable person.”

Carroll called Dr. Zinn “simply one of the greatest Americans of our time. He will not be replaced — or soon forgotten. How we loved him back.”

In addition to his daughter, Dr. Zinn leaves a son, Jeff of Wellfleet; three granddaughters; and two grandsons.

Funeral plans were not available.

Other articles: Howard Zinn Dies at 87, How Zinn Made Our Lives Better,, A Memory of Howard Zinn, Historian Howard Zinn Dead

Race: The Power of an Illusion

Power_of_an_IllusionWhat is ‘race’? What is ‘culture’?  These are basic questions central to the identity of many Americans and citizens of the world.  This powerful PBS documentary examines the scientific reality concerning race – that there is no genetic basis for race.  It also explores the development of the concept of race in America.  Finally, it explores how institutions and policies gives advantages and privileges to some and not others.

For my new students, what are some of your thoughts on what we’ve learned here in class so far?  Please feel free to post below your thoughts, and thanks.

Welcome to Multicultural Studies

diversity02_transparentThis course offers students the opportunity to examine important themes in America’s pluralistic democracy, question and analyze the relationship between these issues and diverse cultural groups, and to make decisions and take action on multicultural issues affecting themselves and others. This course does not offer simply a history of dominant or minority cultural groups. It engages students directly by introducing questions on topics such as political power, cultural identity, civil rights and gender equality. The course’s objectives specifically are to:

* Reflect the cultural context in which students live as well as the diverse learning styles of students in the classroom.
* Incorporate many interdisciplinary and differentiated instruction lesson strategies into class projects and activities.
* Give students the opportunity to explore and define their own cultural identities and ethnic heritages as well as those of the communities in which they live.
* Explore the stories and experiences of diverse ethnic and cultural groups in American history, tracing their multicultural roots back to their nations of origin and examining their struggles with racism, prejudice, inequality and oppression as well as their successes in creativeexpression, political empowerment and economic improvement.
* Examine the conflict between ideals and realities concerning social justice, economic equality and political freedom.
* Expose students to identifying and questioning ethical values and choices in a multicultural context.
* Support cultural diversity and pluralism in the values, attitudes and behaviors of a multicultural society and help students build decision making and problem solving skills that will help them become active and effective citizens.
* Challenge students to question their own values, attitudes and behaviors by examining the social construction of knowledge as related to multicultural issues.
* Help students learn to interact and coexist in a multicultural society by developing awareness of tolerance, justice, respect and activism.
* Use comparative models of continually changing diverse racial, ethnic and cultural groups to examine and question important political, economic and social issues from many different perspectives.
* Examine issues of class, gender and sexual identity and demonstrate to students the relationships, patterns and lessons to be learned from each by examining history and current events.
* Encourage students to compare political, economic and social relationships of power and authority to those of non-violence and peace.
* Build in students skills of thoughtful inquiry, discussion, critical thinking and problem-solving.

So, this week, we are exploring the origin of ‘race’ and ‘culture’ and their meaning in our lives today. We’ve been drawing a lot of resources from the PBS documentary, Race: The Power of an Illusion. Here’s it’s companion website: There’s a lot of good information and interactive stuff there. Check it out and let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to our class being engaging and educational. See you in class!