Democracy and Diversity: Social Studies in Action

By Garcia, Jesus | Social Education, January-February 2005 | Go to article overview

Democracy and Diversity: Social Studies in Action


Garcia, Jesus, Social Education


WHEN I THINK OF MY MANY YEARS in K-12 schools and higher education and I reflect on my success, I am reminded of a phrase attributed to Bernard of Chartres, "We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size."

This morning, I would like to talk about "standing on the shoulders of giants" by describing how the theme for this conference--Democracy and Diversity: Social Studies in Action--unfolded in my lifetime and, in many respects, represents my goals for social studies and NCSS in the twenty-first century.

Two years ago, after being informed by Adrian Davis that I had been elected vice president, my life changed completely. My wildest dream had become a reality, and I began to think of this day and when I would be giving my presidential address, as soon as I stopped celebrating. What would I say to my colleagues? I identified a variety of ideas by reading the addresses of former NCSS presidents; and I wondered what they would have said to me if I had asked them, "What should I say?" I think they would have said, "Be yourself and let your address come from your heart and from what you had in mind when you said, 'I want to repay, social studies and NCSS."'

My vision for social studies and NCSS in the twenty-first century comes from growing up in a culturally diverse environment, attending public schools in the 1940s and 1950s, experiencing the influence of caring teachers and role models on my life, living in the 1960s as an adult, and interacting positively and constructively with social studies educators over the years. Intertwined in this select biographical sketch I am about to give you are my self-perceptions as I live in worlds that are both culturally diverse and white. These experiences shaped my outlook on social studies instruction and NCSS.

My life began in the 1940s. As many of you know, I am a first-generation Mexican American and I grew up in Northern California in a small town in the East Bay. What some of you may not know is that the town in which I grew up was segregated and, as a young boy, I learned that there was a difference between being a minority or a poor white and being a successful white American.

When I attended school I learned that minorities could not be teachers and that the historical stories of Mexicans and Mexican Americans were not sufficiently valued to be included in my school's K-12 curriculum. When I graduated from high school, I learned that people of color joined the armed forces, assumed blue collar jobs, or went off to the local community college. Many of the other students went to colleges and universities or assumed managerial or white-collar positions in our community.

Yes, it does appear that low expectations and tracking were standard practices in my high school, but when I was growing up, I wasn't quite willing to say that this was happening in my school. I enjoyed school and liked my teachers and could not consider the proposition that my academic performance could be attributed to what came to the minds of my teachers and principals when they saw my name, physical characteristics, and guessed my socioeconomic status. Frankly, when I left school, and to this day, I am not sure why I did not do well in high school. Perhaps as schools and teachers are apt to say, I didn't apply myself.

I went to a community college and upon graduation enrolled in a nearby state university. Two months into the fall semester, I flunked out because I could not write an essay or a term paper. What would I do? My dreams of going to college and having the ability to pick a profession were shattered.

Doesn't this sound like a typical story of a minority student growing up in the 1950s and 1960s? What I have described to you is true but there is another side to this story. …

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