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Multicultural Problem Solving: The Model

Return to Collaborative Problem-Solving: Case Studies.

Monday, Oct. 8

Dear Journal:

This is much too early in the semester for this to be happening. Tension is once again brewing between Cody and Philip. For the life of me, I'll never understand why Philip's parents, if they were going to move to the United States from South Africa, would choose to live in southwestern Virginia. Now he's getting it from all sides. The African American kids, who were initially happy to see another Black student in the class, tease him because of his accent, which isn't even particularly heavy. The white students treat him like an outsider, both because he's Black and because he's from South Africa. All of them seem threatened by him because he has nicer clothes and a nicer house than the other students. It seems as if José has taken to him a bit, but he's already picked on by everyone else.

For some reason, Cody seems especially bothered by Phil. I've had issues with Cody harassing Black students in the past, but not to the point where I was afraid they'd harm each other. Today, Cody tripped Phil as Phil walked toward the water fountain. Everyone laughed, which made it worse. Well, everyone laughed except Phil, who just picked himself up and kept walking. I'm almost as worried about Philip's lack of response as I am about Cody's attack on him.

I'm not looking forward to calling Cody's father again, but I am looking forward to talking with Principal Whitley; maybe she can offer some suggestions for working through this.



Wednesday, Oct. 10

Dear Journal:

I went to talk to Principal Whitley today about the troubles I've been having with Phil and Cody. We talked about the conversation I had with Cody's father...total nightmare. I told him that his son was picking on Philip, and that if he didn't stop, he could be suspended. I tried to recall the conversation for Principal Whitley. It went something like:

Me: Mr. Willard, your son is persistently picking on Philip. We still have the entire year ahead of us, and this is already becoming a very difficult distraction. I had to send him out of class for tripping Philip, and have already disciplined him twice for using racial slurs. Now, you know about the tension between Cody and some of the African American students. As soon as they become friends with Phil, these problems will just escalate.

Mr. Willard: I appreciate your call, Ms. Munson. But I have a hard time understanding why a young southern woman like yourself is sticking up for that colored boy. Cody told me that that boy walks around class and doesn't talk to anybody, acting like he's something special. That's the chance his parents took when they moved here. Nobody asked them to move here. Anyway, they're just fourth graders. They can't hurt each other.

Me: I'm sorry you feel that way, Mr. Willard. But I have a responsibility to teach those kids, and I will not put up with your son's distractions. I'm not going to tell you how to raise him, but I will tell you that Cody's racist influences are not welcome in my class. By the way, I'm from Boston, not southwestern Virginia.

I expected Ms. Whitely to offer some keen advice. She had experienced this school as a black child many years ago. But there had been some recent racial hostility in the school system, and Whitley was as much a politician as a principal. She told me she couldn't get involved at this stage--that I had to try to resolve it on my own. "The school year is young," she told me. Then she asked me to keep her posted.

Looks like I'm on my own with this one. Oh--I need to call Phil's parents tomorrow. They're in Washington, D.C. for an international politics conference. This is the second time in less than two weeks that Phil has had to stay with é's family while his parents were out of town.

Time for dinner.



Monday, Oct. 15

Dear Journal:

Sorry I've been neglecting you. Things have been a bit crazy at work.

I talked to Phil's mother on Thursday. She said Phil hadn't mentioned anyone picking on him. "He's a strong boy. Nothing makes him upset. He's just like his father."

I told her she might want to have a chat with him. Then I asked her if she had felt any tension in the community since they'd moved here. "Phil's father and I aren't here very much. We come and go between here and D.C. What tension?"

I decided not to push the topic.

Things have been under control in the classroom, but I have noticed that the other white kids are seeing some sort of charisma in Cody. They seem to sort of follow his mood. When he's rowdy, they're rowdy. When he's quiet, they're quiet. I'm beginning to be concerned about this, but I'm enjoying the time off from major incidents.

Even though the class is pretty well divided between Black students and White students, plus José and Phil, I don't see the same thing happening on the African American side. There seems to be two groups forming among the African American students, seemingly along socioenonomic lines. Then, there are José and Phil, who bond in their alienation from all the groups.

It seems like Phil is becoming more comfortable, though he still isn't opening up. He's received A's on his quizzes and completes all his homework, which is a good sign, but he clearly still feels like an outsider. Tomorrow I'm going to try an exercise to help the students get to know each other.



Tuesday, October 16

Dear Journal:

Cody and Phil have been suspended for three days. Remember the activity I planned--the "get to know you better" one? It turned out horribly.

I asked the students to stand up and say three things: their name, where they were born, and their favorite school subject. Of course, two-thirds of the students were born right here in Amelia County--most of them in the house where they now live, and in which their parents grew up, and probably their grandparents, too.

That's Cody. His family has been in that house for a long time. So, he was one of the first to go, and restless as he is, he took it upon himself to provide sound effects for everyone else's turn. I was tempted to send him back to Principal Whitley, but decided it was important for him to remain for the rest of the activity. He needed to hear that there were people in the room other than Phil who had been born outside southwestern Virginia.

But when it rolled around to Phil, Cody's sound effects became louder. He began making ape-like noises, bouncing in his seat. To make matters worse, some of the other White students got involved and started doing the same thing. John, one of the larger African American students, turned around and told Cody to shut up right as I was telling the class to settle down and ordering Cody out of the room.

For the first time, Phil spoke up in class: "Quiet! This is my turn to speak!"

I took Cody by the arm, and started leading him out the door when Phil stuck out his foot and tripped Cody, just as he'd been tripped last week. Cody tore away from me and dove onto Phil. It was just a few seconds before I could lift Cody off of Phil, and use the intercom system to ring the office for assistance.

Luckily, the rest of the kids seemed fairly stunned by Phil's action, after three weeks of inaction, and remained calm. Or maybe they were used to that sort of incident. In my three years in Amelia County, including two at this school, I've felt the tension, but have never seen such a blatant expression of it as I saw today from Cody.

I'm exhausted. How am I going to handle this tomorrow?

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