In college, all students are required to perform at the same standard level of proficiency without consideration of their background, educational development, socioeconomic status, training, or upbringing. In Adventist education, there is an ideal student, an ideal standard, and an unspoken expectation of what a student should look like, what they should know and how they should be. Historically, this has worked for all Adventist campuses across the country, but today things are different. The academic climate has changed. More and more Adventist students are not attending Adventist institutions. The student pool of candidates is dwindling, and if Adventist schools do not evolve with the changing times, they will cease to exist. Measures to broaden the pool and recruit more students results in greater diversity in students. But my question is, does a diverse student population equate to multiculturalism or diversity? No, it does not. It does reflect a multiracial campus, but understanding multiculturalism means reducing our privilege to understand the student’s culture, background, needs, and soul.
Consider two students in your class. One is a great student with superb writing skills, turns in work on time, and actually does the reading. The other is working hard but falls short— they are constantly making excuses and require special accommodations. However, further investigation reveals the first student attended private school and has parents with advanced degrees who are now paying for their education and also bought them a new car.
The second student came from a broken home, raised by their mother who works two jobs to support four children including the one in college. The student feels guilty for attending such an expensive school, so they try to help out by working off campus for better pay, despite not having reliable transportation. The student attended inner-city public school. The student is going to college to improve their life and the lives of their family members.
As an educator, we have a high standard and expect our students to rise to the occasion and complete the work on time and without excuses. Yet we find ourselves favoring one of the above students and sighing at the unread email from the other student. I have to ask myself, what is better, to teach a student more of what they already know? Or to take a disadvantaged student and cultivate them to a higher level of excellence?
Kofi Annan once wrote, “Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.” On this point, Nelson Mandela further proclaimed, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We the educators have the greatest responsibility in the world because we can change the world. We can right the wrongs of our ancestors. We can make the future brighter for everyone. When we encounter that student who is “a work in progress,” just remember that God is not through with them yet. You may be the very vessel needed to ignite a fire. You may be the answer to prayer.
To read part one in this series, visit here