Message from the Dean

Penelope PetersonDear Friends,

Last weekend I went to see The Class, an award-winning film that follows the lives of a diverse group of 13- to 15-year-old students as they experience learning within the walls of one classroom in Paris, France, over the course of a school year. Although the story takes place in France and the youth are learning French and not English, the discourse of the classroom and the dilemmas faced by the teacher mirror those occurring every day in urban classrooms across our country.

The students — many of whom are immigrants — struggle to understand the meanings of certain words in French, while the teacher no less struggles to understand the meanings of the words and actions of his diverse students. Indeed, the major crisis of the film revolves around differences in understandings of the meaning of the word skank. Despite the unfortunate events that ensue, the redeeming message of the film is one of hope — hope that through respectful questioning and listening, not only will the teacher come to understand the language, experiences and perspectives of his diverse students but also that the students will come to understand the language, experiences and perspectives of their fellow students. In this way, education takes central stage in our increasingly diverse, democratic society.

In this issue of Inquiry, we explore diversity and education from several perspectives. First, we examine diversity from the standpoints of our prospective and practicing teachers. Second, we turn to the experiences of our students as they engage with diversity at Northwestern. Then one of our faculty members, Edd Taylor, reveals the ways that diverse elementary students come to understand mathematics in school and in their daily lives. Finally, we profile diversity past and present from the viewpoints of a doctoral student, Ananda Marin, and an outstanding undergraduate alumna, Ce Cole Dillon. Reflecting on her experiences as an African American student at Northwestern, Cole Dillon says it all: “Northwestern’s commitment to diversity opened the door to someone like me. … Almost all change is rooted in education.”

Sincerely yours,

Penelope Peterson
Penelope L. Peterson, Dean


By Penelope Peterson