Thursday, 5 June 2014

Social & Emotional Intelligence and Intercultural Diversity

Buzz words, re-introduced ideas, and new discussions continue to permeate the world of education on a consistent basis.  Social and Emotional Intelligence (#SEL) is something that has risen to the forefront in the District that I work in.  It is important that students learn to recognize and exhibit appropriate behaviors in the appropriate settings.  Actions that were seen as socially acceptable in one era may have not been passed down or perpetuated in subsequent years.  With the bombardment of images of violence, sexism, poverty, hunger, racism, economic inequality, and environmental eradication, students are coming to school with less skills to self regulate.   Playgrounds and social learning environments of the past are no longer rites of passages for students of the future as they are learning difficult lessons on a more grand and public stage: Social Media.  Where you may have learned a life lesson at the mall, or local community recreational center, many students are learning these lessons publicly on the internet and with a bigger audience who can comment, ridicule, and shame the person learning the lesson.  

Now, even though Canada prides itself as being multicultural and tolerant there has been a shift to covert or closet racism that has taken place.  Educational stakeholders and community leaders may argue that it is not as bad as the U.S. and that we are a lot better than before.  Nonetheless, the truth is that within many of our schools in the lower mainland, segregation exists!  Whether it is overtly or covertly implemented, many children in our diverse classrooms choose to be with people of their own socio-cultural ethnic background.  At the elementary school level, it may not be as prominent, but in my high-school experience, many of my friends who were inclusive during their elementary years became more prescriptive with who they considered to be their friends when they entered high-school.  The same situation exists in my current school where kids are segregating themselves based on race.

Donald Sterling made headlines for his rant about black people coming to basketball games! With the internet, more and more younger societal members are sharing their beliefs and stereotypes about race. Student athletes of all socio-cultural ethnic backgrounds are losing scholarships for using racist language in their tweets and posts on Social Media.  The other day in the hallway, two kids who define themselves as "Best Friends" were pulled aside by myself and another teacher for their choice of nicknames for each other which were "Nigger" and "Terrorist".  Many students listen to hip hop music and follow the culture and believe because their favorite artists use these terms on a consistent basis, that they are allowed to as well.  Many hardcore rappers use the N-Word in their lyrics, but Justin Bieber was busted a couple days ago for using derogatory terms to describe black people.  Rapper Joe Budden had to apologize on Twitter for calling an elderly Sikh man a terrorist and posting a picture on twitter.  Now on a brilliant side note, people are holding young members of society responsible for their inappropriate actions, but it still does not address the big picture that Intercultural Diversity needs to be a mainstay in discussing social and emotional intelligence.

As more and more people from diverse cultural backgrounds enter our communities and our schools, we must be able to share their culture in our classrooms with our students.  This will allow two things to happen: a) It will lead to a feeling of inclusion for students in the class which will lead a larger sense of the community, and b) It will allow students to learn about each others socio-cultural ethnic backgrounds leading to a better understanding of the student.  I remember sitting in an elementary school class just after the Holidays (as a student teacher) and observing a teacher asking the students what they got for Christmas, and many of the students answering that they did not celebrate Christmas, much to the dismay and embarrassment of the teacher.  What a humbling time for that teacher, but also an amazing paradoxical teaching moment to challenge their assumptions in their classroom interactions and practice.

If more and more students are seeing racist, sexist, and other societal inequalities in the media and from their supposed role models, then it is up to parents and teachers to challenge their ideas and to help develop their Social and Emotional intelligence on how to learn about different cultures and peoples without offending those people.  Hopefully, as students get to learn more about each others socio-cultural backgrounds then maybe they will become truly more understanding of these differences and in retrospect more accepting than some of  our current societal members in the present Canadian climate.


  1. Growing up in a small town as the only "brown" kid, my parents and I did everything we could to strip away our "cultural identity". It was best to try to fit in as much as possible... To detract any attention. Before students learn more about each other's socio-cultural backgrounds, we need to give permission for them to learn about themselves first. Do you feel that this is an issue for your students? Heck, I feel like it's an issue for me and I've been grappling with it for almost 40 years!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Hey Iram, I completely agree! Even when I grew up in Surrey I was the only 'black' kid in my classes and that was not too long! I think it is extremely important that students learn about themselves first. They need to be able to figure who they are through the rough waters of social interaction and social media, Like you I wanted to detract any attention from myself and wanted so badly to fit in the mould. I am hoping that if more teachers are culturally aware and allow students to share their differences we will be more accepting. My high school though cordial, the student body is separated by race lines and groups won't intermix and learn from each other because in their minds "they don't need to" or what is even more scary "they don't want to". Like you I have been grappling with over my lifetime as well. I hope students learn about themselves by learning about different cultures.