Tartakov always at work to foster multicultural society

Tim Paluch

Editor’s note: In recognition of Black History Month, this week the Daily is profiling five African Americans who are making a difference on campus, but work “behind the scenes” and out of the limelight. Today, we profile Carlie Tartakov, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction.The young black girl turned to her mother and pointed to the houses where the white people lived.”Why don’t we go over there?” she asked. “There are some nice places over there to live.”The girl’s mother, not yet prepared to open her daughter’s innocent eyes to the harsh reality of segregation, answered carefully.”This is just the way it is,” she said.Carlie Tartakov was too young to fully understand her mother’s awkward answer, but she knew something was wrong.From that point on, she vowed never to be part of the problem. She would be part of the solution.These are different times; the days of segregation may be behind us, but Carlie Tartakov has not stopped being a part of the solution.Tartakov, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction, said she is constantly at work to show people the value of a multicultural education, and she said people need to understand the times.”The fact is we are a multicultural society,” she said. “Our country is going to be dependent on people being able to get along and work together, and in order to do that they are going to have to know about each other and appreciate and understand each other.”Growing up, the options for a woman without a lot of money were few, Tartakov said. She decided to go into teaching.After earning her bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University, she taught elementary school for 23 years, during which time she earned her master’s degree.Tartakov then came to Iowa State in 1986 as a temporary instructor and received her doctorate in May 1995.She said she has always considered herself an activist and has the accolades to prove it.In 1990, Tartakov was named “Woman of the Year” by Story County’s Woman Political Caucus and was the recipient of the Martin Luther King “Excellence in Equity and Human Relation” award in 1991.Then in 1991, Tartakov and Karen B. Donaldson, a former colleague at Iowa State, received the Education Equity Award from the Iowa Department of Education for a project they developed in 1997, the Kuumba Multicultural School of the Arts.Kuumba, a Swahili word meaning creativity, was a study to see what effect a multicultural and anti-racist education would have on students, she said.Tartakov said that for three hours a week, elementary students met at the Black Cultural Center in Ames to learn how to appreciate other cultures.The school, one of the first of its kind, gained national recognition and has branched out, she said.”We had it for a year, then we took the program and used the curriculum we developed in Ames’ schools and have now partnered with schools in California and South Africa,” Tartakov said.Donaldson, currently the program coordinator for cross-cultural affairs at Alliant University in California, said the Kuumba project has proven the positive effects of a multicultural education.”Kuumba has shown that multicultural education makes an impact on student learning and development,” she said. “And for those of us in the multicultural field, that is a wonderful finding.”Donaldson was recruited to Iowa State by Tartakov and they collaborated on many projects during her time here. Donaldson said she is struck by Tartakov’s dedication.”Carlie is a dedicated woman,” Donaldson said. “She has dedicated all of her life to the education of others.”Melanie Smith-Williams, Tartakov’s student program assistant, shares Donaldson’s amazement.”She is her job,” said Smith-Williams, senior in elementary education. “She really doesn’t leave all of this behind when she goes home.”Smith-Williams said Tartakov’s teaching skills are beyond the norm.”She fosters a sense of community in her teaching,” she said. “The way she lives her life, everything she teaches, you can’t dispute her commitment.”Tartakov knows what it is like to overcome adversity to succeed.”I saw segregation,” she said. “It takes away some of your self-esteem, especially if you are in a school where you didn’t feel the teachers valued you.”Tartakov said she doesn’t take sole credit for her successes.”It’s not just me,” she said. “It didn’t come out of me, this little girl. It came out of all of the models I’ve had in my life that say we’ve got to do something about this.”Though retirement may be approaching, Tartakov said she has no plans of stopping her work. She is working on a number of books and sees herself furthering her causes for as long as she can.”Once I retire, I do plan on doing work of this nature,” Tartakov said. “I am not a person who can sit for very long.”Donaldson said Tartakov sets a great example for all.”I think she is a role model in every aspect of what a role model is,” she said. “You hear people say they want to be like Mike. Well, I want to be like Carlie.”