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STANFORD -- Two graduates from the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) called for reform in multicultural education in the United States as a "moral imperative" during commencement ceremonies at the School of Education on Sunday, June 12.
Other student speakers discussed the educator's primary obligation to students and praised the School of Education's faculty and graduates.
"Multicultural education is not a politically correct slogan; it is not an option; it is neither easy nor comfortable," said STEP student Dennis Frezzo. "Multicultural education is a moral and practical imperative, the core of our teaching practice. After all, there are rainbows in our classroom."
Octavio Rodriguez, the other STEP speaker, added: "Teachers of color are not effective just because we are teachers of color. We are effective because we understand how our students feel, think and react to an educational system that has rejected and denied their value.
"The systematic fitting into one mold has been done under the pretense of unifying us into the 'one people' that the founders of this nation cherished. I disagree with these tactics. It was never intended, I believe, for us to become 'one people' in the literal sense."
Both speakers, elected by the STEP class, criticized the Stanford teacher education program. Each called attention to orange ribbons worn by some graduates to commemorate fellow students who boycotted the ceremonies to protest what they view as the school's lack of commitment and sensitivity to multicultural education.
"Sadly, we, the STEP class, are not a community," Frezzo said. "Yes, many of us have formed wonderful friendships. But as a whole, our community - reflecting the societal and personal divisions we brought into this place - remains unhealed."
Both students called for more recognition of the background STEP students bring to the program: "Guidance is important, but guidance is best when it releases the power from within, rather than imposing an external power," said Rodriguez. "Stanford University educates leaders among leaders. Shouldn't we have been treated as such?"
Both also called for a greater emphasis on practice rather than theory of teaching.
"The division needn't exist; with vision, STEP and the rest of the School of Education could educate each other. We, as alumni, will measure Stanford's commitment to social justice by how the STEP program is reformed.
"We came to STEP with a sense of mission - following our own rainbows," Frezzo said. "To heal, to educate, to transform, to love: How hard it has been through this difficult year to remember the joys of teaching. Let us savor those joys now. . . . You, teachers - you are appreciated here. Let us believe in one another, and our students. And remember the rainbows."
In keeping with the school's tradition, all the commencement speakers were students. Gerald LeTendre, receiving his doctorate, recalled others who had been an inspiration to him in his educational career: "When I was growing up, my father told me how to get a job. 'Bring your work gloves and lunch box,' he said, 'and if the foreman asks "When can you start?" you look him straight in the eye and say, "Right now!" In our world of grant proposals, Fed-Ex deliveries and soft-money positions, the advice of a man who never graduated from the ninth grade seems to have no place.
"My father and I inhabit very different worlds, yet his experience in trying to find a job to sustain his family has had a profound influence in my attitude toward work. His struggle has taught me the value of being ready to face whatever task lay ahead. He showed me the power of endurance and the willingness to try."
LeTendre praised the faculty who "made valiant efforts to overcome the paper demons; who offered their wisdom and insight; who opened their homes and their hearts."
"The work before us, wherever our careers take us, will not be easy, because none of us have chosen easy paths. Through my five years here I have observed that this school attracts the kind of person who seeks a noble path.
"In you, I have witnessed a true nobility of spirit," he said.
Charles Dorn, receiving a master's degree, exhorted graduates to remember their primarily obligation, "which is now and will always be to our students."
As institutions grow larger, he said, "we simply begin to lose our focus on the purpose of the institution and why it was originally created.
"It is such a simple thought - yet it is so easily forgotten as, unfortunately at times, I have [forgotten], even while standing in front of a group of 30 of my own students."
During the ceremonies, 44 doctorates were awarded and 199 master's degrees acknowledged (graduates awarded degrees during the autumn and winter quarters attend June commencement).
At each year's ceremony, the school announces awards for outstanding faculty teaching and staff support that are voted on by the students. Profs. Ron Glass and Larry Cuban received teaching awards; Philippa Macfarlane-Thorne, degree program coordinator, received the school's staff award.
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