Plurality Overload and the Compulsion to Regress: A Conversation through Questions

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Victor Brar


In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks (1994) writes: “When I first entered the multicultural, multiethnic, classroom setting I was unprepared. I did not know how to cope with so much ‘difference’. Despite progressive politics, and my deep engagement with the feminist movement, I had never before been compelled to work within a truly diverse setting and I lacked the necessary skills. It is difficult for many educators in the United States to conceptualize how the classroom will look when they are confronted with the demographics which indicate that ‘whiteness’ may cease to be the norm ethnicity in classroom settings on all levels. Hence, educators are poorly prepared when we actually confront diversity. This is why so many of us stubbornly cling to old patterns” (p. 41).

hooks’ thoughts accurately portray the struggle that I currently face with excessive plurality in my educational practice. Although she primarily refers to plurality in the cultural and ethnic sense, the plurality that I am concerned with is much broader in scope and in range. My class of twenty-five inner-city grade fours is not only diverse in terms of culture and ethnicity, but also in terms of learning preferences, languages, individualized academic programs, academic ability, physical ability, intellectual ability, emotional readiness, gender, individual motivation, socio-economic status, family situations, and parental involvement just to name a few. This picture becomes more complex when you consider that each individual student also possesses these traits in varying degrees. Much of the literature that I have read concerning diversity makes the general argument that students extract more meaning from an education that corresponds to their unique needs and validates their individuality. Although I agree with this argument, I am uncertain of how to make it happen in the practical sense given that there is so much diversity in my classroom. This situation causes me to feel that I am constantly thrust into a paralytic state of indecisiveness and unresponsiveness. The overload of plurality that I am faced with causes me to experience cognitive overload and therefore leaves me unable to process whose needs I should respond to now versus later, especially given that they are all urgent. Consequently, I feel as though I am unable to teach in a comprehensive, meaningful, and professional manner, but rather am forced out of a survivalist necessity to engage in a form of educational triage in which I manage to pay attention only to the immediate concerns of each student before quickly moving on to the next, without being able to address their larger educational picture.


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How to Cite
Brar, V. (2013). Plurality Overload and the Compulsion to Regress: A Conversation through Questions. SFU Educational Review, 6.