Valencia Professor: Learn to Appreciate and Embrace Diversity

What does a diverse student body mean to teachers and to colleges?

Professor John Scolaro, who has taught humanities at Valencia for 22 years, answers that question in an essay published in The Orlando Sentinel. Well done, professor!

My Word: Teachers must appreciate diversity

 By John Scolaro, September 27, 2011

 After teaching 22 years at Valencia College’s West Campus, I am more excited now than I have ever been about the prospects of the students I teach and see every day.

 Students deserve the utmost respect from their teachers. They are, as the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber once said, developing beings. By this he meant that every student is an untapped reservoir. The teacher’s task, then, is to invite his or her students to share their experiences based on genuine interaction. As Buber said: “It means that the teacher shall face his pupils not as developed brain before unfinished ones, but as being before beings, as mature being before developing beings. He must really face them, that means not in a direction working from above to below, from the teacher’s chair to the pupils’ benches, but in genuine interaction.”

 Teaching, in other words, is a lot more than simply dispensing information from above; it is more often the result of genuine dialogue. In fact, without dialogue between teachers and their students or between students and their peers, the transfer of ideas is dead. The root meaning of the Latin word for education, educare, is to “draw forth.” Students must be invited to speak.

 Finally, the diversity among students these days is obvious. College-wide, we now have an enrollment of close to 60,000 students. Our students represent diverse cultures, languages, and religious and economic traditions. This constitutes a formidable challenge of the highest order.

 As teachers, we need to appreciate diversity. Its absence leads to what a former student called unidimensional thinking, or the idea that everything should be filtered through the prism of our own world view in order to gain credibility.

 If teachers and students maintain this closed view of others, we will continue to perpetuate the intolerance, racism, and disrespect for others so common in American culture today. The better route is to accept the world as a human kaleidoscope infused with mystery. We must learn to appreciate diversity.

 Since students are imbued with unlimited potential, we teachers must find a way to inspire and honor them. To honor the uniqueness of our students today is more necessary now than ever before.

 John Scolaro of Orlando is a professor of humanities at Valencia College.