In the Upper School, DEI work in the classroom becomes more complex, requiring students to think critically and engage in discussions that ask them to consider multiple perspectives, challenge commonly held notions of truth, and examine difficult questions around contemporary and historical aspects of identity, including race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, and other defining aspects. Read about some of the exciting DEI work happening in our Upper School classrooms.
In Matt Frankel’s Statistics class, students analyzed the “truth” of statistics and discussed whether it’s a moral choice to frame data in multiple ways. Later in the year, students will be conducting their own inquiry-based research on issues that are relevant to them. In the past, this has led to sample survey projects examining issues such as the implementation of dress codes and representation among diverse populations on campus.
In John Hornung’s African American Literature course, seniors read James McBride’s The Color of Water, Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, August Wilson’s Fences, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. All of these units involve discussions of identity, culture, perceptions of beauty, and the history and current state of race relations in the U.S.
Sophomores read the play “Master Harold” ...and the Boys, a snapshot of Apartheid in the 1950s, by South African playwright Athul Fugard. They followed up the play with Trevor Noah’s more recent memoir, Born a Crime, which examines his life as the son of a Black mother and White father, growing up in South Africa as Apartheid is ending.
In Kristin Shipler’s Spanish classes, students celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month by using a variety of resources to understand the overarching questions: Why is Hispanic Heritage Month noteworthy for us living in the U.S.? What are the Hispanic-Latinx influences we experience in our lives on a daily or weekly basis? What do Latinx communities look like in Philadelphia? In the U.S.?
In Julia Workman’s Shakespeare class, students have examined how Shakespeare challenges and reinforces commonly held beliefs about women and minorities. In particular, they note how the Bard challenges ideas about those of different faiths, races, nationalities, genders, and sexual orientations. Students have the opportunity to perform their own modern interpretations of his plays.
In English 10 Honors, sophomores focus on perspectives from around the world as they seek to answer the questions: “What does it mean to be human?” and “How can we better understand those who are different?” In a unit on colonialism, students pair Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to look at how an author’s perspective vastly changes the telling of a story.
In English 11 Standard, students read the work of Z.Z. Packer as she describes the challenges that young Black women faced in the 1990s. Early on in the year, they studied the poetry of Phillis Wheatley and narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs, comparing the experiences of these various writers and why they had different experiences. One of the major papers in this course centers around Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, where students examine gender and race in the novel.
In Adam Goren’s Physics Honors class, students analyzed how bias persists for women in science and discussed the necessity of being mindful of our own biases, even within an “objective” field. Here are some students’ sample responses:
It’s crazy that just changing the name from a “male” name to a “female” name on an identical application can have such an impact on the way it is judged. In reality, for so many years women have been excluded from science fields, which has caused men to dominate in the advances of both. Because of this, it makes it seem like men are inherently better at science-related subjects when it is clearly a result of historical sexism.
I was partly surprised by the conclusion of an article I read because although I know that gender bias still exists in many parts of our society, I didn’t think women would be biased against other women. This really worries me as a woman who wants to pursue a career in a STEM field.
To be honest, the result of this study is in accordance with my expectations; however, it nevertheless bothers me as it once again reveals how social conditions can restrict a person from performing their best abilities⸺abilities that can benefit society as a whole. My disappointment is deepened by the fact that even scientists, people who try to replace our “opinions” with objective “facts,” can still sometimes be influenced by inherent bias.