Francisco Rios


Francisco Rios, PhD from the University of Wisconsin, associate professor in the college of education at the University of Wyoming.

I’ve worked um in two separate contexts uh one working with pre-service teachers. One is uh the California State University in San Marcos which is in the San Diego County and now of course working at the University of Wyoming and the predisposition’s uh that um pre-service teachers bring to the profession have be different in both of those um contexts. I was very impressed with the kind of um multicultural experiences that people in San Diego County had tended to have not everybody but the bulk of them had had lots of experiences dealing with people differentl--- different from themselves. In Wyoming um it’s a little bit different. People are from small towns, they’ve frequently have not had very much contact with diversity issues and as a result um that what they bring in is um uh a little bit more difficult to um work with because uh they haven’t had experiences in multi-cultural classrooms um with teachers who really dealt with multi-cultural issues and haven’t had contact with people from diverse backgrounds and so in in those uh two setting you start at a different place because of where they’re at. Um in uh San Diego we where much more um uh had to deal much more with just dealing with bias and prejudice and discrimination but moving it forward and you always had a large number of people who um really understood the experiences of crossing cultural boarders and as a result um you almost were working from that um starting with dealing with prejudice and racism discrimination and then moving forward towards um really understanding the impact that culture has on peoples lives and diversity and the possibilities of multicultural education. In Wyoming I find myself really almost taking uh being a couple of steps back and really having to really just to begin to understand um that that diversity exists and that this is an issue and that um it’s something that they have to address and that it’s an important thing that they have to address. So in both of those two situations I’ve found myself um in a little bit of a different place in terms of those predisposition’s.

Well I’m still learning um how to deal with diversity issues and um context where people don’t have very much exposure to diversity and so these are really just some initial thoughts that I have. Um one of the things that I’ve really be working on is really getting people to understand that multicultural education is not about who you are as a teacher or who your students are but really about what you do in the classroom. How you look at curriculum how you look at instruction how you look at classroom organization the way that you uh look at the way the school is structured and the relationships the school has with the community and the broader society and getting them to understand that idea that multicultural education is not for those kids or for those parents or for those teachers but really it’s for everyone is really the first thing that I really found myself um really helping them to address. The second thing that I’ve really been working on is really um calling forth their um maybe their own internal uh commitment to democracy. Their own internal commitments to a justice and their own internal commitments to fairness. And in that I’ve been really trying to help them to see that the world that they came from which may have been fair and just and equitable for them in their context is not the world that lots of other people inhabit and so I’ve really been working really hard to try to get them to um see things to read about life in other parts of the United States uh other peoples perspectives, others peoples experiences and then really hope that I can call forth that sense of democracy and equity and justice that I’m certain lies uh very you know very much as a part of who they are and seeing if there is some way that I can call that for it and that has led me to working really with one of the things that I’ve been working with is autobiography(?) and autoethnography(?) to really try to get them to step outside of their own shoes and really to step inside those of some one else.

Um this is kind of just some of my my newest work is focused on. Autoethnobiography and um social prospective taking. I guess I’ve always done it to some degree but I’m very much more purposeful about it now. Um there are two things that I’ve been working on one is um having people hear about and read the experiences of uh others. People who are different from themselves and then asking them to do something with that um that uh perspective that they would take so for example in one instance I will show a video of a couple of people who are talking about their experience in schools and they weren’t particularly positive experiences and then asking them to write a letter to their teacher as as if they were one of those two individuals explaining how they were feeling, explaining what they were experiencing. Um I’ve really been trying to also then move beyond that sense of empathy but really also to the sense of advocacy that I think pre-service teachers need to begin to develop and so one of the things I’ve done I to then give them um the letters that they’ve generated from each other, mix them around and give them and then ask them to respond to the letter as if a teacher would have gotten really gotten this letter and really starting to ask them to really think about how would you advocate for a student who sent you this. Um one of the things that um we’ve also be doing for a long time is having uh people write their um kind of their autobiography of schooling experiences. We think it’s important obviously that people are aware of how school impacted them both the things that worked and the things that didn’t work. And so um my concern has always been that that kind of creates um and further accentuates a kind of egocentrism. So what I’ve been trying to do is to have them juxtapose their autobiography with the autoethnography of someone else. Um it might be Wilma Mankeller or it might be um Mia Angeloo, but it’s some one who’s going to be different from them and then they in those autoethnographies where they also describe their experiences in schooling when pe-- when students write their um autobiographies they juxtapose their experiences with this experience of another person and in both of those instances what I’m trying to move is from a focus on the individual and the personal to a focus on the social and the other and that’s essentially what I’ve been trying to do in seeing how that works as an op--- as a way to get people to kind of really understand an ethnic-American experience.

Um I’ve been trying to move people away from thinking simply and and empathizing with the other that that’s absolutely important and it’s obviously a first step that you want to get people to um be able to do is really step outside their own shoes and really to understand what it might be like for someone who’s different from themselves. Um but I also want to move them from just being able to understand another persons perspective to really want them to do something about it. In other words it’s one thing to say I understand how some one’s feeling it’s another thing to say you know I’m going to really help you. I want to find a way to make this better. I want to make sure that what happened to you doesn’t happen to a students that I um might have in my future classes. Um that advocacy orientation might focus on uh at maybe one level just doing something differently in your classes. If might focus on um reconstructing the curriculum, it might focus on looking at alternative instructional models, it might look, it might focus on really bringing in uh cultural experts to come in and help you in your classroom. Really find a way to uh better uh better instruct and better teach the kids who are in that particular classroom. It might focus at a at a at a different level on the school wide kinds of things. It might be going to the um faculty meeting and saying look at this is a problem I have help me with it or this is a problem that many of us have how are we going to address these issues we’re struggling with these issues these are the kinds of things that I know students are experiencing and how can we do what kinds of school wide activities functions, what kind of school wide practices might we engage in that will really help us to um uh deal with these issues that these kids are experiencing. And finally it might be even a broader sense which is really focusing on what do we need to do in society and what do we need to do in the broader um context our own community um that will help these kids. For example, um if we’re reading uh savage inequalities or we’re reading our America and hearing the story of kids in very very difficult context. Um how do we look outside of the school what is our responsibility and how do we advocate for kids who are living in poverty who who are surrounded by drugs or who are surrounded by gangs. That’s the kind of advocacy that I was really hoping that we might begin having people get and understanding of that these are the kinds of possibilities available to you.

Um the work that I’ve been doing in in teacher cognition is really focused on and and really came from a concern that I had that a lot of the work and the cognitive sciences um was really focused on the process of thinking and not really focused very much on the what of thinking. Um likewise because it was focusing so much on the uh internal dynamics of what was going on inside of a persons brain it wasn’t focusing on the larger social context in terms of where that thinking is is um going on. Um what I’ve been trying to do is to focus my work in that particular regard on the what of teacher thinking and obviously a lot of people have finally come around to realizing that the discipline and the subject that you’re thinking about matters in terms of how you think about it and the processes that you use and um I mean they’ve found that in in academic areas like chemistry and physics and math and social sciences and so forth. Um and so I’ve been trying to look at how does how does peoples thinking about diversity change um what developmental differences can you notice for example between novices and experts. Um how do people think about diversity differently and Rollins, Wyoming vs. um San Diego, California as an example or Sell(?) Chicago and so I’ve really been looking at that sense of how do how do peoples thinking change as a as a result of the context the cultural context in which uh in which they put themselves. And all of that is part of this um connections that I’ve been trying to make to really understand the predisposition’s and the thinking that people bring around diversity issues and then how do we move up to more sophisticated levels of of of understanding.

Um well first of all obviously um the opportunity to have lots of uh people or people from a variety of ethnic and cultural and linguistic groups in your community really does have a powerful impact on how you think. Uh that impact can be both very positive and it can also be very and it can also be very negative. Um people may um have more um st—have stereo types about people for example in Rollins you might have stereo types about people because you but because you’ve never really made connection with them those stereo types are probably a little bit easier to shake. Um I think in sometimes in San Diego uh county where I was working before um people had uh stereo types and then they could turn to specific experiences that they’ve had and said and this is why I have this belief or this is why I’ve had that and it’s hard to shake stereo types that are connected to these very visceral kinds of experiences these very gut level kinds of hey I’ve been there I know I’ve talked with people I’ve met with people. It still doesn’t it still means there’s stereo types and it still means that they’re damaging but it just makes it sometimes more difficult. On the opposite end of course sometimes they’ve had lots of experiences they realize those stereo types are false they’ve made positive constructive relationships with people different from themselves and they’ve learned that stereo types hurt they learn that prejudice hurts and the real and they learn that a lot of what those stereo types and prejudices are are illogical and in correct.

Um there’s obviously a long history of of very uh negative experiences with American public schools that the Latino community has had. Um this deals a lot with um historical practices of simply denying people opportunity to get schooling. Segregating schooling practices and then um practices that is would say still persist in many America public schools today which deal with a curriculum that does not reflect them or that negatively reflects them um with uh instruction that’s um not compatible with their learning styles and with their um approaches to coming to know and um with a school that it it often times doesn’t make kinds of connections to the community that would really call forth um I think a more um constructive experience for for Latino kids in schools. There are language issues obviously that this is um difficult for Latino kids as well. Um either not being proficient in English or not being proficient in their native language sometimes can be problematic. People have the sense of loss it comes with um not being able to speak the the language of their mother or their native tongue. Um Latino kids have really struggled with American public schools and one of the things that I try to get people to understand is that while we’ve struggled with schools it does not mean that we are we value less education and we’ve tried to help people make the distinction between not valuing how we do schooling but yet still valuing learning and education and so forth. Um and so uh while schooling has not been a particularly positive experience for them there is great value in learning and education and great respect for teachers and teaching that comes from the Latino community and I think there’s a way to harness those that kind of respect and that kind of really value of education and some how turning around the ways that we do schooling so that way it’s more a positive and productive experience. Um my mother didn’t finish school she in asking her how come for example she never uh would really come out and uh come to the school events and activities that we were involved with as as kids um she har-- she would go back to her own experiences being punished for speaking Spanish on the playground being fined for speaking Spanish and so it was understandable why she would not want to come to school and not value schooling. But she always cared deeply about how we were doing in school in other words she cared deeply about how we were learning whether we were behaving respectfully which is ver--- an important part of being edugado(Spanish) educated in Latino culture um and very um very proud of the kinds of accomplishments that we had as uh as learners. And so um we have to figure out how we move beyond this kind of his—his—historical legacy and to some degree contemporary practices that continue to alienate the Latino community from the schools. Obviously propositions against bilingual education propositions against affirmative action and propositions targeting um uh children of immigrants don’t help to create that kind of um relationship that I think schools need to create.

Um one of the things that I really think is important is that people understand the difference between equity and equality and obviously there are many people who’ve written about um understanding this distinction. Um generally equality’s kind of understood as uh treating everyone the same and equity’s um kind of focused on and usually defined as getting people what ever they need to get to the same place at the end. Um recognizing difference recognizing people are at different places along the path and recognizing that you have to do things differently for people if you’re really going to be effective and do well by them and get them to the goal which is academic achievement, social success, etc. So one of the first things I think people need to do, pre-service and in-service teachers, is to understand that idea that there is a difference between treating everyone the same and getting everyone to the same place and what that means. A second idea I think that’s important um is that we also need to really help people to understand that culture and language are powerful forces in peoples lives. These are just trivial things it’s not about what kinds of clothes you wear what kind of food you eat but they’re powerful in it’s their impact on how people learn how people learn and show what they know um what they value is knowledge. Um it’s a powerful powerful uh impact on how we communicate how we behave what we value how we look at the world and these are not trivial things but these are really powerful things that tr- tremendously impact peoples lives and how they learn. The third thing is understanding that idea that multicultural education’s for everyone. Um that this is not just for uh minority students and minority teachers but it’s for everyone in that they have a responsibility to that as well. And the last thing that I’ve been really working on is really that getting calling forth that issue of democracy and justice and having them to see that this is not just something that that’s a the a good thing to do or will help their students to learn but that is really harks to a larger purpose which is how do we promote a sense of justice and equity and democracy that is stated in our constitution that really provides the vision of where we want to go. We’ve got a lot of wait ways to go but if people really understood that this about democracy and it’s about equity and it’s about justice. It’s not about just doing right by kids. It is but it’s had a larger purpose for that. Then I think people would realize that this is a long term effort that there’s a lot of energy that needs to go into it and that um it but it serves a larger moral purpose.

Um certainly the kinds of decisions that people make have both moral uh and immoral consequences. I’m going to first talk about the immoral. I think it’s immoral for us to tell people that if they want to be successful academically that they must somehow shed their cultural skin and lose their linguistic assets. Uh I think that there’s an implicit message that if you’d just stopped speaking the language that you speak. If you somehow um cast off your cultural roots and cultural ethnic world view of values and so forth that you will be successful in America. And I think that’s immoral. I think it’s immoral to ask people or to somehow suggest to people that to be successful in America you have to um become something you’re not. Um I think it’s immoral for us not to uh value in the most powerful and positive way the language skills that people bring to the classroom. I think um whenever we provide instruction in only one language and do not facilitate that acquisition and development in strengthening of a home language a language which you use to communicate with grandparents with, with mothers and fathers with, with uncles and aunt and distant cousins with. When we do that I think that’s an immoral activity. I mean we’re creating in a sense um linguicide and linguisism as kind of this way of looking at and both to me both of those two are immoral. Um morally I think the opposite would be true. Morally I think we need to focus on ways that we help people communicate more effectively with the people in their communities and with their own family and and validate it and affirm who they are does not have to take a back seat to being successful in America. Um schooling is a moral activity. We make decisions everyday about who to call on we make decisions everyday about what to teach we make decisions everyday about how we’re going to frame that curriculum and how we’re going to teach it. And so we’re constantly involved with moral decisions and all go back to thinking that we can focus this on individual morality but to me there is a broader moral focus which is back to the democracy and equity and justice that I think really should guide this country and should guide our moral um uh should be the moral found--- the foundation of our moral um focus.

Um educational policy really does profoundly impact um uh the practices that people engage in in schools. Probably today I think uh we’re more aware of that then ever before. Obviously we’re beginning to but um a lot of decisions about how we do schooling in the hand of the electrit. The electirt may not always be very informed about the impact of those particular policies and so teachers need to be really aware of the kinds of political decisions that are being made about um schooling. Obviously decisions about who’s on school boards um state boards of educations, superattendants of schools are very political. Um the political orientation those people bring impact in very powerful ways what you can and cannot do in your classroom. Um I’ll give two specific examples and I’m thinking of one right now. One is the kind of the current movement towards standards and standardized um and and that whole focus on standards. And one of the things that I see is that a lot of the standards that are being developed around social studies and math and what ever are um dismissing the importance of culture in understanding those who are developing in the development of those standards. So in a way we’re uh finding a way to get around dealing with diversity issues in the classroom because they’re not in the standards and in a way what we’ve done is to solidify and institutionalize the traditional western eurocentric male cannon that has predominated in American public schools for that longest time. Obviously decisions about the standards and what standards there are and what those standards look like when they don’t deal with diversity has a powerful impact on the kinds of practices that many teachers are using who are interested in being responsive to the standards that are available. The second that’s connected to that of course is standardized assessments. And obviously again if it’s not on the test I’m not going to teach it and again by looking at standardized assessments and the kinds of standardized assessments that have been developed without clearly understanding how those decisions are made about the content of those items and about the format of those exams um those are powerfully impacting the kinds of things that you’re going to do in your classrooms. Obviously you’re not going to get in most instances multiple questions fo—that focus not on Columbus and when he came to this country and about his experiences but about the experiences of a variety of people, their thoughts about Columbus and so in a sense both standard--- um standardized exams and um the who standards movement uh powerfully impact what people do in their classrooms and in in a way it’s a way that policy’s being use to really dismiss my thinking uh multicultural education efforts. Teaching is profoundly a political activity and if teachers didn’t realize that twenty years ago um they better know it today because how uh what happens politically has powerful impact on what you do in your classrooms.

Well I do think there is actually some very good work that’s being done in the area of standards for multicultural education um I will actually kind of uh hard back to -----(?) work on uh the thirteen knowledge basis that he’s identified that are central to uh multicultural teacher educators. Um people who are preparing uh teachers uh for um teaching for the teaching profession and they deal with understanding the power of culture uh understanding what cultural respon---- Pedagogy looks like. Uh cultural-linguistically responsive assessment systems. Uh um understanding specific ethnic group experiences and how do you bring those into the classroom. uh understanding what it’s going to take for you to be effective with ethnic minority students. Uh understanding gender and sexual orientation as powerful impacts on people’s lives and how that gets played out in the classroom. So there are in fact some standards that are are available, they may not be in the format of standards but in terms of the knowledge base it’s pretty clearly defined. The national association has uh for multicultural education has kind of an interesting it is an interesting point because haven’t developed these as traditional standards like other organizations um have developed them um and one of the things of course would be to develop those standards and and be clear about them and then to begin to advocate for them. I would probably suggest that maybe a better route would be thinking about and really articulating some goals that we would hope that we would see in all classrooms in America that um would respond to the kinds of diversity issues that we hope to find. Those goals might might be how do we promote equity in the classroom. It might focus on how do we create a positive constructive and empowering relationships with kids and their parents. Uh I think it might focus on how do we deal with prejudice and racism and discrimination in very powerful and overt ways. I think it might deal with how do we really look at diversity as as not um something to be fearful of or of something that’s going to be div---(?) but rather something that’s very powerful and positive on on in our lives and in the ways that we um live. Um uh how do we respond to the kinds of language diversity issues that we face and so um rather than going the standards route which might be one particular route that we could take the other route might be just to be really clear about what we hope the goals are that people pursue if they want to teach in ways that are cultural and linguistically responsive.

This really focuses on kind of more the work that I’ve been doing um kind of my scholarly work. Um one of the things that I really think that we need to focus on is how do find ways to recruit and retain more minority teachers in the teaching profession. And this is important for a variety of reasons and it moves way beyond the roll that as often sided that ethnic minority teachers bring which is their role as a uh their their position is a role model. Which is indeed an important role. But ethnic minority teachers bring so much that they could add to the to the profession and to the specific school sight where they will work. Um this is a generalization of course and it’s not true for every ethnic minority person and it’s also not true that someone who’s not ethnic minority can’t also bring these um qualities and skills. But they have to do with understanding uh how do you cross cultural boarders and and the difficulties associated with that but also the possibilities in the path that person needs to take to be successful academically but still hold on to the their ethnic and cultural roots. It has to do with a genuine understanding of the difficulty of learning a second language um and understanding um the different stages you go through in learning a language and understanding and and how to how to help kids learn a second language and still hold on to their first language. It has to do with understanding different ways and different kind of a a different kind of focus you can have on the curriculum. A focus that’s more culturally congruent for the to the experiences that kids have which I think if our focus in schooling is that everybody uh horizons are broadened and you see multiply perspectives obviously they’re going to bring a different perspective on the curriculum then would a traditional um teacher. Um it has to do with really understanding the importance and ways in which you can make powerful connections to the community and to the parents and how to be an advocate for those kids. Um it has to do with uh simply just being uh a cultural resource person. I mean being someone to say um a teacher can go to and say you know I’m really struggling with this kid um can you tell me is there something cultural here that may be uh uh may help if if we can understand what’s going on here as a cultural phenomenon that I could then modify what I’m doing or you could help me advocate in some positive way to work on behalf of this kid. Um it has to do with really understanding and I think really ch----(?) ethnic minority kids and really the kind of their advocacy role that they tend to take. Um I think there are a whole variety of really positive advantages that I think minority teachers bring and yet there are a lot of barrier that they face in coming into the teaching profession. So um my hope is that that school teachers realize that they have tremendous um uh they have a tremendous need for and and need to work towards bring more ethnic minority teachers in to the teaching profession and that they’re going to be better served as a result of having a more diverse faculty and staff at their local school.