Is Access to Quality STEM Education a Key to Narrowing Our Great Cultural Divide?

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of sending the White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis back to their quietly seething fringe-world where they can do less harm. And I don’t think it would be possible to overestimate the impact of hate-inspired murder and violence. Of course, terrorism is not only devastating for those who are victimized; but as we have seen in our own history and throughout the world, terrorists can devastate an entire culture with permeating fear if they are not immediately condemned and stopped.

But just sending race and religion-baiting terrorists back home, unfortunately doesn’t solve the problem.

The past presidential election has simply brought an ugly boil to the surface that reflects a centuries-deep and widely festering wound — A wound that will require much more than a surface solution to finally heal.

I would like to suggest a dramatically new take on the Three R’s: Respect, Role Models and Relevant Resources, with a particular emphasis on access to quality STEM education for not only underserved minorities, but also our rural white population which has been profoundly underserved as well.

Respect

As a New York Jew who attended Quaker boarding school and Swarthmore- and then went on to a career in communications, I may embody the textbook definition of “liberal elite”. I live, however, upstate. One of the most striking things I learned in asking many of my neighbors about their preferences in the most recent election, was just how annoying it was for them to feel condescended to and talked at by the Democrats, and just how refreshing it felt for them to have a Republican presidential candidate who spoke to them not only candidly, but with a sense of personal respect. Widening our own circles of implicit respect to include not only underserved minorities, but actually the full spectrum of our culture including those from entrenched privilege, as well as newly affluent and under-employed whites may go a long way toward healing on both sides of the divide.

Role Models

When I was working corporately, it was fascinating to me that although many of my co-associates came from dramatically different socio-economic backgrounds, those of us on the executive team looked and sounded remarkably alike. We universally embraced simple, “tastefully” expensive wardrobes, modestly elegant grooming, and we used carefully modulated voices and accents. With no introspection whatsoever, I reflexively tamed my unwieldy “Jewfro” into a blonde bob and traded in my expletive laden vocabulary for expressions such as “Jeez”.

Although there may now be a somewhat broader range of tolerance in appearance and demeanor, I think that there is great strength in encouraging all associates in every type of organization be true to ourselves: true to our personal styles of expression and true to our native cultures.

Of course Affirmative Action and role models of all races, ethnicities, sexual preferences and identities must be represented at all echelons, so that each of us can envision a path to success. I think, however, that it may be critical to harnessing the power of our diversity to broaden our sense of Affirmative Action to include acceptance of the full spectrum of our cultural nuances. Great swaths of America may now be drawn to Fox News, not only because it reflects their anger as a disrespected under-class, but also because it is the only channel where one can find overt southern drawls…

Relevant Resources

My understanding is that genuine equality is based on genuinely equal access to resources such as quality education and career preparation. Equal access not only for those of all races and religions, but also for white children from under-employed families throughout our country’s underserved rural regions. Throughout our country, education is the great equalizer. It took my family from early immigrant poverty to a comfortable life in the upper middle class in literally one generation. And there are millions and millions of similar stories throughout the United States.

I humbly suggest that we all take a look at our wide range of entrenched bigotries and devote our public resources toward ensuring more equal opportunity for all.

I am lucky to work for a nonprofit organization, the New Jersey Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) that demonstrates that this new take on the Three R’s can have real impact. In a nutshell, the organization trains teachers of every academic background in STEM subjects and provides a game-changing, inclusive pedagogy for them to use in teaching STEM to their students.

The teachers serve as personal role models to their students and the respectful pedagogy accurately assumes that all students can master STEM subjects. CTL has already become the # 1 producer of physics teachers in the country, and a much broader representation of ethnically diverse and female teachers from a full spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds are serving as role models and providing quality STEM education to students who previously didn’t have access. The results speak for themselves in driving successful outcomes: (The Progressive Science Initiative (PSI) and Progressive Mathematics Initiatives (PMI), are achieving powerful results, particularly for girls and underserved minorities.)

True change will come not only from our leaders making the right declarations about hatred and violence; but also from conscious personal evolution and powerful initiatives that effectively address the long-term underpinnings of inequality for all underserved people.

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