AND COLLABORATION IN DIVERSE CLASSROOMS
BY JOSE CALDERON
ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR IN SOCIOLOGY AND
1050 N. MILLS AVE.
CLAREMONT, CA 91711
The use of creative cultural mediums
such as art, poetry, music, video, and
acting can be important sources of pedagogy
for connecting sociological concepts
with lived experience and practical
application (Laz 1996; Martinez 1994;
Pescosolido 1990). A number of authors
have related how the use of different
genres and learning devices can go a
long way toward developing a more interactive
and stimulating classroom (Reianerstein
and DaCruz 1996; Smith 1996; McKinney
and Graham-Buxton 1993; Hilligoss 1992;
Shor, 1992; Butler and Walter, 1991)
In this article, I present some concrete
examples as to how I use creative cultural
mediums, not only as a means of connecting
the theoretical with the practical,
but in advancing a classroom pedagogy
that builds collaborative learning and
co-operative ethnic relations.
In all of my classes, there is a constant
interplay between what is theoretical
and what is concrete. I attempt to create
the atmosphere for this dialogue by
acknowledging that each individual in
the class brings a world of experiential
knowledge with them. To bring this point
home, I have the students read Paulo
Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed
to emphasize that we are all students
and teachers who have the capacity to
create culture. I then challenge the
students to learn from each other, to
share knowledge, and to critically analyze
where their experience fits in with
that of the literature.
To develop dialogue and to bring the
theoretical and concrete together, I
bring a copy of the daily newspaper
and share an article and/or articles
that focus on a controversial issue
having to do with the day's topic. This
never fails to bring out varying perspectives
on up-to-date critical issues. At the
same time, it is a good way of sparking
the discussion in the direction of the
readings for the day.
My classes are treated as one big society
and, as in the real world, there is
structure and segmentation. In my Race
and Ethnic Relations class, for example,
I purposely divide the students into
various types of "cultural" discussion
groups. One type is randomly selected
and usually multi-ethnic. Another is
divided according to various novels
that deal with the everyday lives of
individuals that face the obstacles
of racial, class, gender, or sexual
inequalities. This mixture results in
dynamic examples of both cooperation
Discussion groups focusing on the novels
are required to identify major themes
and relate them to course concepts and
life experience. Collectively, they
must take the results of their dialogue
and develop a class presentation which
utilizes a creative medium. In implementing
this exercise, students have come up
with all types of creative presentations
which integrate critical dialogue and
theory with life experiences. One group,
focusing on Toni Morrison's The Bluest
Eye, created a combination of original
poetry, rap, and video to express their
idea that "race is a pigment of our
imagination." The video included interviews
of shoppers at a nearby mall. After
being shown pictures of various women
representing different racial/ethnic
groups, shoppers were asked to point
out the one that they thought was the
most beautiful. The results of this
creative exercise sparked good discussion
on the role that society plays in the
formation of ideas regarding race, class,
gender, and sexual orientation. Another
group, utilizing Sandra Cisneros's description
of a barrio in The House on Manao
Street, presented a video comparing
a nearby "Latino barrio" to the more
affluent areas of Los Angeles. Students
in another group utilized John Okada's
No No Boy and the medium of theater
to present a play about the troubles
that Japanese Americans faced in the
aftermath of Pearl Harbor. After reading
Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine,
another group used poetry, film, and
music to describe the relocation of
Native Americans and the obstacles that
they confront when moving from the familiarity
of the reservation to the alienation
of urban cities. Other novels which
students have used in their presentations
include: Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club,
Alex Haley's Malcolm X, Silko's
Ceremony, Louise Erdrich's Love
Medicine, Connie Porter's All
Bright Court, Harold Braun Augen's
Growing Up Latino, and Luis Rodriguez's
The final research paper, in this class,
requires students to utilize the ideas
of Freire in examining whether a chosen
site (institution, group, movement,
or community) is advancing a process
of "liberation" or whether its actions
serve to merely advance the process
As a further catalyst for engaging
students in critical analysis and for
connecting race and ethnic relations
theories with concrete issues, I also
utilize numerous films. In my Urban
Ethnic Movements class, I use a number
of films including America Becoming,
Fighting For Our Lives, and Chicano
Park to compare the differences
between the concepts of use value and
exchange value. All these films chronicle
the struggles of organized communities
to protect their quality of life interests
against the profit motives of large
corporations, growers, and developers.
In Chicano Park, the residents
of Logan Heights (a barrio community
in San Diego) takeover a park and utilize
the medium of mural-painting to express
their collective survival and anger
against the developer and junk yard
dealers who seek to divide and destroy
their community. In Fighting for
our Lives, the United Farm Workers
Union seeks to protect the rights of
workers in the fields against a coalition
of growers that utilize the courts,
police, Teamster goons, and violence
to protect their corporate interests.
In America Becoming, a segment
on the City of Monterey Park depicts
that the foundations of some racial
conflicts have their roots in the unbridled
growth interests of large developers.
In both my Race and Ethnic Relations
and Social Stratification classes, I
use various films to discuss the functionalist
and conflict perspectives on deviance
and how power relations can deeply affect
the definition of who or what is the
"norm." I use the Ballad of Gregorio
Cortez to show not only how language
can be used as a powerful means of oppression,
but also how it can be used as a weapon
to maintain the status quo. I use the
Life and Times of Harvey Milk
to show how the norms of a society can
define the victim and the outcome of
a violent hate crime. Similarly, I use
the Killing of Vincent Chin to
show how economic conditions can drive
white workers to blame their loss of
jobs on "foreigners" and how a jury
can give less importance to the life
of a new immigrant.
I use Salt of the Earth in my
Chicanos in Contemporary Society class
to express the dynamic intersection
between race, class and gender. In this
same class, I use Los Mineros
as an example of the split labor market
theory and how the employers use race
and different wage scales as a means
of keeping the workers divided and fighting
Other requirements for my classes are
meant to tap the creative energies of
students in relating to their life experiences.
In my Social Stratification course,
students are asked to research the history
of their grandparents, parents, and
siblings in writing about their place
on the stratification ladder and how
they came to be situated there. In the
process, they are given the opportunity
to read and reflect on each other's
With critical dialogue as a foundation,
the atmosphere is developed for applying
classical and contemporary theories
to the reality of relations around us.
Ultimately, though, we also realize
that it is not enough to know our reality.
We must also be willing to go beyond
being spectators to (at least minimally)
feeling that we can be participants
in transforming that reality.
For example, a group of students from
varied backgrounds read the book Why
the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
and applied its content to various stratification
theories. In the process, they found
connections to their own lived experience
and shared their collective interpretation
through the creation of a wall-sized
mural. As they worked on the project,
I observed how students from varying
ethnic, class, and gender backgrounds
could come together to produce a masterpiece.
This is the same kind of collaborative
learning that students in my Urban Ethnic
Movements class experienced when they
went to live and work with the United
Farm Workers Union. In that class, we
spent the first half of the semester
studying social movement theories and
the historical foundations of farm worker's
unions in the United States (Del Castillo
and Garcia 1995; Barger and Reza, 1994;
Broyles-Gonzales, 1994; Edid, 1994;
Buss, 1993; Scharlin and Villanueva,
1992). During the Spring break, I took
the students to the central headquarters
of the United Farm Workers Union in
La Paz to observe and experience firsthand
how the union was organized internally
and externally. In return for the union's
hospitality and shared knowledge, the
students contributed their skills and
abilities with the various segments
of the farm worker community.1 On the
last day of the visit, the students
used the medium of theater to present
various skits depicting the lessons
that they had learned from their experience.
One skit compared a Spring Break in
Tijuana with the UFW Alternative Spring
Break. The Tijuana Spring Break depicted
students lying on the beach, drinking
beer, and partying. The UFW Alternative
Spring Break chronicled the student's
experience in cleaning up after a flood,
working in the UFW offices, and planting
roses at Cesar Chavez's grave site.
There wasn't a dry eye in the La Paz
community as students and farm worker
organizers shared each other's experiences.
In the past two years, the students
have returned from La Paz and organized
a campus memorial commemoration to Cesar
Chavez and all farm workers. This day,
conjoined to fall on the same day as
Cesar Chavez's birthday, has included
the students' skits presented at La
Paz, speeches by representatives from
the United Farm Workers union, mariachi
music, and ballet folklorico.
Last year's class also organized a
fast to boycott grapes in the College's
cafeteria. Eighty one year old Brother
Pete Velasco, one of the original Filipino
strikers in the grape fields, joined
the students in their negotiations with
the Marriott Corporation.2 With the
president of the college supporting
the fast, the Corporation signed a letter
that they would no longer serve grapes
in the college cafeteria.
After this experience, one student
wrote in his reflection paper: "My experience
at La Paz was something that I will
never forget. During the drive home
I felt empty, as if I was leaving something
behind, and I still have not figured
out what that something is.''
To this student, I responded: "I'll
tell you what it is -- the feeling of
collectivity, the feeling of creation,
of connecting abstract theories and
concepts with lived experience -- the
feeling that together we can create,
we can build new structures, that together
we can build a better world."
This is the same feeling that twenty
students shared in the class Video and
Diversity that Professor Alex Juhasz
and I team taught this last Spring as
part of the national "-Ism" project.3
In this class, students were expected
to develop an autobiographical video
the first half of the semester and a
group documentary video in the second
half. As a means of introducing students
to both the personal and political aspects
of diversity, the class read the books
Diversity on Campus and This
Bridge Called My Back4 Alongside
the readings, students learned the mechanics
of video by creating weekly autobiographical
segments on: 1. their particular "ism"
2. a space, object, or place that expressed
their diversity 3. an interview that
related to their diversity 4. a dialogue
between two people/things not in the
same space/time that accented their
diversity. All these segments were eventually
combined into individual autobiographical
videos that the students turned in as
part of their mid-term evaluation.
With students having to produce a group
video on diversity in the second half
of the semester, we focused the readings
on video documentary, particularly community
and political documentary. Utilizing
the books Reimaging America and
New Challenges for Documentary,
the class now took up issues relating
to objectivity, the use of interviews,
the use of observational passages and
oral histories, cinema verite, and varied
problems with traditional documentaries.
To make the readings concrete, the
class discussed how they would shape
their group video projects. By going
around the room and sharing their individual
interests for group projects, the students
were able to agree on five collective
group projects. After this, deadlines
were set for when they would begin shooting,
editing, having a rough draft, and completing
a final video for a public showing.
The students were both excited and
frustrated with the group projects.
They were excited that they had been
able to move to the level of common
agreement on the content of the group
videos. However, they were frustrated
about not fully knowing how to edit
and carry out some of the mechanics
to produce a video that they could all
be satisfied with.
It was in the process of implementing
the mechanics of making a documentary,
however, where the students began to
overcome their frustrations and develop
a real "sense of community." By spending
many long hours together in the video
labs struggling over how to organize
and edit their footage, the students
grew closer. Those who knew the mechanics
of editing gave of their free time to
help those students who were having
The real success of the class was not
so much in the quality of the videos
that were produced (although there were
some high quality productions), but
lay in the positive interrelations that
the students developed among themselves
in the process of "doing" video.
The final autobiographies, group projects,
and journals all expressed the same
common theme that the best way to advance
the positive character of diversity
is to have students from different backgrounds
working together on common projects
that are connected to their own lived
This same commonality of advancing
collective work through the use of a
creative medium was also the outstanding
characteristic of a class that I co-taught
with Sociology Professor Betty Farrell
at Garvey Intermediate School. This
school has been confronting rapid changes
in a student body that speaks 15 different
languages and is composed of 53% Asian
and 42% Latino students. Sensing that
tensions were heating up, the Principal
Ted Heuling collaborated with us to
develop a project that could train his
students in conflict mediation.
We moved rapidly to develop a class
that could train conflict mediators
at our campus, on the one hand, and
teach Garvey students how to resolve
conflicts on the other. In the class
"Roots of Social Conflict in Schools
and Communities," our college students
gained firsthand experience of the issues
that they were studying in the classroom.5
Not only did they learn directly about
the demographic transformations taking
place in the region, they also became
active participants in advancing multi-ethnic
cooperation and coalition-building in
Utilizing the medium of theater as
a means of training the students in
conflict mediation, the project culminated
with a skit in the Garvey School auditorium
performed by a cast comprised of both
Pitzer College and Garvey Intermediate
students. The skit dealt with a conflict
between Latino and Asian students over
the use of the Chinese language and
the mediation techniques that it took
to resolve it.
The use of creative cultural mediums,
as demonstrated by these examples, is
an effective means of producing meaningful
action out of a classroom pedagogy that
connects abstract theories to lived
experience. In this context, the language
of "diversity" and "multiculturalism"
is transformed into a positive vehicle
of expression and a catalyst for building
bridges between students and faculty
from varied racial, ethnic, gender,
and sexual backgrounds.
1. Last year's group of twenty-eight
students helped clean up after a flood
hit the La Paz community. This year's
thirty three students worked in various
offices of the union doing data entry,
archive filing, planting flowers, and
2. Brother Pete developed a close relationship
with Pitzer students during the Alternative
Spring Break when they, together, planted
over eighty rose cuttings at Chavez's
grave site. Upon learning that Brother
Pete had terminal cancer, the students
invited him to speak on the campus and
to help in the negotiations with the
Marriott Corporation. Brother Pete passed
away in the Fall of l99S. Various Pitzer
students attended the funeral, helped
carry his casket, and took turns holding
UFW flags at an all-night vigil.
3. The national "-ism: College Students
- Diversity and Community" project,
funded by the Ford Foundation and the
Lotus Development Corporation, is a
national video documentary and education
project that has involved students and
faculty from twelve diverse colleges.
The final results will include the development
of a national documentary.
4. The readings were meant to be complementary.
Diversity on Campus helped us
to focus on the issues of Location and
Class, Gender, Race and Ethnicity, and
Sexual Orientation. The book This
Bridge Called My Back allowed us
to discuss the relationship of these
issues to the making of an autobiography.
5. Some of the books that we used for
this class included:
- The New Suburban Chinatown: The
Remaking of Monterey Park, California
- Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang
Days in L. A.
- Lives on the Boundary: A Moving
Account of the Struggles and Achievements
of America's Educationally Under Prepared
- Keeping Track: How Schools Structure
- Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical
Context of Multicultural Education.
Anzaldua, Gloria. 1983. This Bridge
Called My Back: Writings By Radical
Women of Color. Kitchen Table: Women
of Color Press.
Augenbraum, Harold and Ilan Stavans.
1993. Growing Up Latino Boston, MA:
Barger, W. K. and Ernesto M. Reza.
1994. The Farm Labor Movement in the
Midwest: Social Change and Adaptation
Among Migrant Farm Workers 1994. Austin,
TX: University of Texas Press.
Broyles-Gonzales, Yolanda. 1994. E1
Teatro Campesino: Theater in the Chicano
Movement. Austin, TX: University of
Buss, Fran Leeper. 1993. Forged Under
the Sun/ Forjado Baio del Sol: The Life
of Maria Elena Lucas. Ann Arbor, MI:
University of Michigan Press.
Butler, Johnella E. and John C. Walter.
1991. Transforming the Curriculum: Ethnic
Studies and Women's Studies. Albany,
NY: State University of New York Press.
Cisneros, Sandra. 1991. House on Mango
Street. New York: Vintage Books.
Del Castillo, Richard Griswold and
Richard A. Garcia. 1995. Cesar Chavez:
A Triumph of Spirit. Norman: University
of Oklahoma Press.
Erdrich, Louise. 1989. Love Medicine.
New York: Bantam Books. 1993. Growing
Edid, Maralyn. 1994. Farm Labor Organizing:
Trends & Prospects. Ithaca, NY: ILR
Freire, Paulo. 1993. Pedagogy of the
Oppressed: New Revised 20th Century
Edition. New York: The Continuum Publishing
Fong, Tim. 1994. The New Suburban Chinatown:
The Remaking of Monterey Park, California.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Haley, Alex. 1965. Malcolm X. New York:
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Hilligoss, Tonya. 1992. "Demystifying
'Classroom Chemistry' The Role of the
Interactive Model." Teaching Sociology
Laz, Cheryl. 1996. "Science Fiction
and Introductory Sociology: The Handmaid
in the Classroom." Teaching Sociology
Martinex, Theresa A.. 1994. "Teaching
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Morrison, Toni. 1972. The Bluest Eye.
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Nieto, Sonia. 1996. Affirming Diversity:
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O'Brien, Mark and Craig Little. 1990.
Reimaging America: The Arts of Social
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Okada, John. 1976. No No Boy. Rutland,
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Pescosolido, Bernice A.. 1990. "Teaching
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Scharlin, Craig and Lilia V. Villanueva.
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