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    School Diversity Problems, Hegemony

    allymainTeacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts recently taught the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course, according to district officials. She will resume teaching that groundbreaking class next fall. This semester, she is teaching a new Ethnic Studies course. It is a popular elective among the school’s Social Science offerings. In this column, students from her class will be anonymously sharing with the San Francisco Bay Times their thoughts about related matters, and what they are learning.

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    Ruth Asawa School of the Arts’ Diversity Problem

    Student, 12th Grade

    Last year, Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (SOTA) came under scrutiny by the San Francisco Unified School District with regards to its admission and audition processes and the unintended consequence of limited diversity. SOTA’s student population is predominantly white and middle class. Many of the art teachers shared the similar mindset of  “established talent over potential,” and therein lies the problem: How is one supposed to turn potential in middle school into talent by high school?

    If a young and lower class Latina girl from a neighborhood middle school shows potential in dance—meaning she enjoys it, is dedicated, coordinated and willing to learn—but she cannot afford the classes that are necessary to hone her skill and her school does not offer them, she is effectively shut out from SOTA. Often the people who happen to be able to pay for these classes are middle class, and most often white, thus contributing to the lack of diversity at SOTA. One solution to this would be if the district offered more classes at schools where students are less able to afford private lessons; personally I support this approach. The outreach approach means that the arts teachers do not have to sacrifice their standards, but also that more people are able to reach the opportunities offered by SOTA.

    The other approach that has been floated is to create new departments, which can accept a more diverse range of students, students who in this case would most likely be from poorer socioeconomic or minority backgrounds. This sounds a whole lot like separate but equal, which is inherently unequal. These new departments might be viewed as easy and looked down upon by the student population who hold their completion of the audition process as a badge of honor, and they may feel that it cheapens their accomplishments. I believe that opportunities need to be made for these overlooked students, but they should most especially be made in the middle schools.

    Hegemony

    Student, 11th Grade

    When we are at school, work, home, or anywhere else in the world, our actions are dictated by a set of universal, unwritten rules. We know, without ever being told, that it is inappropriate to go out without pants on. We know to say please and thank you. We know how close we’re allowed to stand to strangers on public transportation, whom we can and can’t ask for directions, and what behaviors will draw unwanted attentions. Where do these rules come from? Who or what teaches us these rules? How do they function in our society?

    In Ethnic Studies recently, we have been learning about the idea of hegemony, specifically how dominant groups often dictate these kinds of unwritten rules for the rest of society and portray them as common sense. For instance, it is widely accepted in this country that to get a well paying job, a person should be college educated. However, because college education is expensive, it is out of reach for people from poor families, limiting their chances at employment. Since hiring is done mostly by people who could afford to go to college, and they set the rules for what is or is not required of a good worker, they are able to, consciously or unconsciously, prevent people who were unable to pay for a college education from getting hired.

    This is not to say that education is not important, or that people who have college educations are somehow scheming to push the poorer members of our society down. What it does mean is that our society is dictated by unwritten rules with very tangible consequences, and that we must work to be aware of where all these rules come from and what systems they support.

    For more information about the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, please visit http://www.sfsota.org/