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Multicultural Ed in Brunswick, ME

akelly's picture

I grew up attending public school in Brunswick, Maine, a town that is 93% white in a state that is 95% white.  For many years, the naval base was located in our town, but in 2006 or so, the government started to close down the station, removing the majority of the people who were “out-of-towners.”  Of course there is still a variety of views and beliefs in the northeast, but people tend to be pretty similar. 

During my sophomore year of high school, Brandon moved to Brunswick and was placed in Mrs. Gallagher’s English class with me.  Brandon was a black kid from Alabama with an extremely heavy southern accent.  We started off the year reading Sidartha,and during one class Mrs. Gallagher led a meditation session and read to us from old Hindu texts.  She had just finished reading a section, when Brandon stood up, and said in his accent, “Mrs. Gallagher, you’re tryin’ to convert us all into Hinduism!”  With this, he stormed out of the classroom, went down to guidance, and only stayed with us in the class for the next month before he switched to a new teacher.

That story, of course, was told around school, and to my friends and I, it seemed like the most ridiculous reaction.  Of course Mrs. Gallagher was not trying to convert anyone.  In fact, the class was focused on literature from different cultures and backgrounds.  When we repeated what had happened with our affected southern accents, the words sounded even more ignorant. 

What I didn’t notice at the time was the position he was in, and the complete lack of attention to it, both by the teachers and by his fellow classmates.  He was coming from a completely different background than most of us had had, and no one tried too hard to accommodate those differences.  I did not think about the fact that we used his accent against him, or that maybe the way that Mrs. Gallagher was teaching made him feel really uncomfortable.  In fact, I had been thinking that we were having a multi-culturally focused class because of the curriculum, but I did not consider whether or not the atmosphere and pedagogy were multicultural. 


Sergio's picture

I think the understanding you had about the situation and the way you look back on it now is really important in terms of multicultural education. The development and change you underwent from before not fully understanding his point of view to now taking into account his position as a new student in a new setting as a complete culture shock. I also wonder how his race might have also contributed to his outsider status and what his feelings were about it/ was he trying to compensate and fit in with religious culture in a place where he was a minority.