Background of Rod Clarken

My Background

As a youngster, I was of the five percent of American society in the fifties and sixties who lived on a farm. We were what they called tenant farmers in the North, and sharecroppers in the South. My simple rural background and values linked me to the majority of the earth’s population who shared similar backgrounds and values. Although my rural upbringing is considered by many to be deprived, I have found it to have been a great asset in my life. The knowledge, attitudes and abilities I develop in those years have served me well in many different cultures I have lived in since then.

Even though I grew up poor, I was not aware of this until a college professor explained how poor a family was in a story we had read for literature class. I realized I had grown up in greater poverty than that family in the story.

I learned to read using the famous reader that featured Dick, Jane, and Sally. I can remember the differences between their world and my world. Because their reality was presented as the standard (in my mind anyway) in my first-grade reading book, I perceived my world as inferior–that something was wrong with my family because we were not like Dick and Jane’s family.

The television was a window to other realities. My first encounter with people of color was watching the TV when they were being beaten for peacefully demonstrating for their civil rights. I not only learned that there were people who looked differently from me, but they were treated differently from me because of the way they looked. This is where I first became stirred to do something about the injustice I saw.

I was a youth at the time that the civil rights movement was gaining national attention. Injustices, based upon race, touched me deeply and stirred my conscience at an early age. While in high school, I spoke out on the injustices of racial segregation in an all-white, homogeneous, rural culture. I chose to attend the University of Southern Mississippi so that I could become socially involved and active with people of another race. My interest in and commitment to multicultural unity and education have continued from that time until today. The so-called cultural, economic, and other limitations of my youth have aided me to develop an empathy, an understanding and appreciation, and identity with those of other cultures.

I have spent most of my adult life living in communities that are different from the one in which I grew up. I lived in Africa for three years, the Caribbean for five years, in an urban black setting for four years, and on an Indian reservation for two years. In each of these environments I developed an awareness of and adapted to the culture of which I was a part.

I grew up in a family that had suspicion and some contempt for organized religion. In spite of this, I was actively involved in the Quaker church as a child and as a youth I explored many different faiths. As I read their various teachings, I was impressed with their beauty and the value of their messages. I found it hard to understand the religious prejudices that had kept them hating one another for so many centuries. At the age of 16, I came across the teachings of Baha’u’llah and have found them a strong source of guidance since then.

All of this is very interesting, especially when one realizes that until the age of 17 I grew up in a community that was extremely homogeneous and was largely unaware of cultural differences. Because my immediate community was so homogeneous, it allowed me the luxury of not being exposed to the virulent racial/ethnic prejudices that existed in many other communities.

Why make connections between multicultural and global education?

Much of the multicultural influence in America is the result of peoples from many different nations coming here to settle. It has been a strength to America and developing a closer connection with the other nations of the world will further strengthen it. I believe that the world is really just one country and we are all citizens of that country. The same principles of the value of unity and diversity apply to both multicultural and global education. Increasingly, those who are able to develop unity in diversity will prosper, and those who do not will be left behind in the development of a new world order.

Examples from my work

In the classes I teach, papers I write, decisions I make about the preservice teachers I work with, and the committees on which I serve, I try to develop an appreciation for unity in diversity. I teach my students to work together and draw upon each others knowledge and strengths. I teach them to teach their classes so that their students are unified and appreciate each other’s differences. I write about the benefits and need for multicultural and global education. I see that different voices are heard in decision making and that diversity is represented as much as possible. I utilize full and frank consultation in solving problems and increasing awareness.

Illustrations on how I develop an appreciation of unity in diversity in preservice teachers

I lead a seminar for student teachers in which we discuss our biases toward different students. We list all of the bias that teachers can have and discuss how we might eliminate these biases. I present the Teacher Expectations and Student Achievement (TESA) interaction model as a practical and measurable way of creating more equity in the classroom. The students think about and share their own experiences in which they were unfairly treated because of a teacher’s bias or injustice. Then they reflect upon and share how they might be more equitable in the response opportunities, feedback and personal regard they give their students. These student teachers are taught how they might monitor themselves to be fairer in their treatment of their students. In the graduate multicultural education and educational psychology courses I teach, I have the students do more in depth reflection and study of the influence of expectations and the formations of prejudices.

The most important thing I do in all my affairs is to try to live a life that manifests my beliefs. I try to demonstrate and live the virtues and values that I teach. I believe my example is one of the most important things that I give my students and work very hard to live a life that my students might choose to emulate. One of the many virtues that I think is important is humility. I also try to be truthful, kind, loving, just, sincere, trustworthy, patient, selfless, detached, respectful and forebearing.

Recommendations

The dominate groups must begin to deal with their inherent, and at times unconscious, sense of superiority. They must eliminate the tendency to paternalize oppressed people and to ignore the injustices that permeate our world. On the other hand, the oppressed people need to make an effort to overcome the limitations that have held them back from assuming their rightful place in the affairs of humankind. Part of the problem is a lack or paralysis of will. Action is needed if we are to advance this civilization from its present deficient stage to a higher stage that is characterized by the unification of the planet into a harmonious healthy whole, like the human body, with each part contributing to the well being of the entire organism. I believe such a change will require a spiritual transformation on the part of many different peoples throughout the planet.

Recommended experiences or readings

I believe the best teacher is experience. People need to be in intimate and friendly contact with people different from themselves. Such experience is often rather difficult as it requires some growing and change. Most people are afraid of those who are different from themselves and avoid contact with them. They find comfort in being with people who are like themselves because these people support their ways of seeing things and doing things. Such behavior is counterproductive to learning. Those nations and individuals who have been open to new ideas and other ways of looking at reality have progressed, and those that have not have not developed. People must make a sincere effort to associate with those who are different from themselves and to understand and appreciate the way they see, feel about and do things.

I personally have been greatly enriched through living on Native American reservations and in urban and southern black communities in the United States. I have been more enriched by living in Africa and the Caribbean. I am continuing to be further enriched by currently living in China. Each of these experiences has been hard for me in many ways, but as I look back on my life, I count them as the most beneficial experiences in my personal development. In addition to living in different cultures, I have made special efforts to befriend those of different religions, races and ethnic groups wherever I have lived. As much as possible I have tried to look at all people as members of my own family. I recommend the above practices to anyone who would like to become more multicultural and global as well as be better adjusted and happier.

Much understanding and insight can also be obtained through reading. It is important to try to understand the world and others if we are to effectively interact with them. There are many good books that explore different points of view and any sincere person should avail themselves of these valuable resources. The book that has most influenced my multicultural and global perspective is Baha’u’llah and the New Era by J. E. Esselmont. I have gone back to this book innumerable times over twenty-five years to gain insight on the principles and ideals of creating and living in a multicultural and global society. The document that has been most influential in my connecting multicultural and global education is The Promise of World Peace by the Universal House of Justice. In the eighties I was quite interested in promoting peace education. The Promise of World Peace helped me to link peace to unity, justice and education and made it clear to me that peace was only possible if there was some justice and unity in the world. I see multicultural and global education as the most effective way to bring about that unity and justice and have since dedicated myself increasingly to eliminating the prejudices that lead to injustices.

I find the arts especially effective in communicating the ideals and principles needed to change both understanding and move people to action. Good literature, drama, music and other arts can convey the vision, which is sorely needed at our present stage in human history, and motive force, which is generally lacking in people and governments, for real change to occur. We have the choice to either make these needed changes voluntarily and avert the painful consequences of our inaction, or we can be rolled up with the old world and rolled over by the unfolding of this new world civilization, a civilization that will be both multicultural and global.

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About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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