On Tuesday, March 3rd, staff, faculty and students gathered in the Weyerhauser Boardroom to hear the Macalester Students for Educational Equity’s (Mac S.E.E.) inaugural “Ed Talks.”
“We were brainstorming, as an organization, how we wanted to mirror our fall Ed Week,” Mac S.E.E. Chair Lizzie Hutchins ’16 said about the planning stages for the event. “In general, usually it’s reversed — we have some other event in the fall and Ed Week happens in the spring, but it was switched this year.”
After a format similar to a TED talk was suggested, Mac S.E.E. began to look for representatives both from Macalester and the surrounding community to speak on the themes of education and social change.
“We started brainstorming about who on campus, and even off campus, would be good voices to include in talking about the very broad and far-reaching topic of education and social change,” Hutchins said.
“We hope that this engages the campus in talking a little bit more about this issues,” Hutchins said of the overall goal of the event.
Six speakers (five students and one faculty member) gave their perspectives on this theme in 10-minute talks or presentations. The topics ranged from personal experiences in the classroom as a student, to discussing language used in the classroom that privileges specific groups of students. In keeping with the theme of education, a “traditional school lunch” was also provided for the duration of the talks, which included bagel-bite pizzas and baby carrots.
Richard Raya ’15 spoke on having seemingly oppositional identities to contend with throughout academia, even as early as elementary school, largely because of the way discipline and achievement were handled in his elementary school experience.
“I’m Chicano, Mexican-American, and that comes with a lot of identity complexities that are not easy to navigate,” Raya said. “As early as kindergarten, I built up in myself a dichotomy of ‘You can either be a good friend and a good Mexican,’ or ‘You can care about yourself and your own intellectual growth.’ And that has real effects.”
Suzette Martinez ’18 also looked at educational equity by giving an example of a friend of hers, who is an undocumented immigrant who came up against difficulties as he progressed in his academic career.
“I just want you to think about what it is that we can do in order to be a lot more inclusive,” Martinez said. “How, as a campus, we can be a lot more inclusive to these other kinds of students who face different challenges.”
Three other students, Danny Ross ’15, Emma Ensign-Church ’15 and Christian Smith ’15, gave presentations that they all developed as part of their Educational Studies capstones.
Smith, using the Pythagorean Theorem as an example, talked about the “Language of Power” that benefits certain groups of students. The written, official definition of the theorem is prefered in mathematics, while alternate definitions, such as drawings or differently-worded definitions, are looked down on or excluded completely from lessons.
“In math classrooms, systemically, the language of power benefits students who are native English speakers, students who are white and students who are upperc lass,” Smith said.
Educational studies professor Ann Hite, who teaches “Race, Culture and Ethnicity in Education” and has 28 years of experience in public education, also identified many systemic problems in education, such as “the sorting of people” into such limiting categories as race and gender, and techniques of memorizing information, while suggesting things that need to change.
“[We need to think] of students and teachers as partners,” Hite said, as one example of a change that could be enacted.
While there was a general consensus across all six speakers that there are many flaws within the public school system, a belief that change was possible also permeated the event.
“I think that if we have more faith in our educators, that they could be trusted with the sometimes difficult knowledge about dealing with differences across cultures in the classroom,” Raya said.
While Ed Talks was a one-time event for this semester, Mac S.E.E. hopes to reinstate the event next semester and into the future after the success of Tuesday’s event.
“We’ll get the chance to evaluate, as an organization, the reception of this one and maybe, in the future, [Ed Talks] would be every semester,” Hutchins said.
“I think it went well. I was really ecstatic about the people who responded and said they wanted to participate,” Hutchins said on the success of the inaugural Ed Talks. “I think we covered a broader range and hopefully we’re getting different voices.”