Teachers would go to the lunch room and say negative things about other teachers or about their students. So, if we are seeking to teach children to embrace differences, we have to start with our teachers. -Aura, Elementary School Teacher (25 yr veteran)
The above statement couldn’t have been more poignant in the midst of the recent national #DayWithoutImmigrants protests and walk-outs. If you’ve been paying attention, a lot of students who once looked up to their teachers as their allies, now see those very same mentors as hypocrites, back stabbers, and enemies. They’ve been betrayed by the once trusted people in their lives.
Many Rubidoux High School (in Riverside, CA), students were shocked to learn that their teachers had taken to social media to mock students who participated in the #DayWithoutImmigrants protests by calling them lazy and expressing that the classrooms were better without them. The same thing happened to students from César Chávez Middle School (in Hayward, CA).
Allegations that students received the harsh judgement was said to have been prompted due to riots and improper behavior at the protests. However, regardless of what might have happened, students were outraged and deeply hurt as well as the parents and community members around these two schools.
Students weren’t angry just because their teachers failed to respect their choice of activism, they were furious and devastated to find out that the people they are taught to respect and to trust with their intellectual growth through the worst of them.These people they’ve been spending 8 hrs a day each school week are the very same people who oppress them with their prejudices, biases, and they have been enforcers of negative stereotypes.
Comments by teachers on social media included statements that immigrant students were lazy, unpatriotic, stupid, and that the classrooms without them were more productive and better to teach in.
So, how are children supposed to go to class and feel at ease being taught by a teacher who believes they don’t belong there? How is a child supposed to feel confident to raise their hand and ask a question without fearing that their question is going to be considered as their inability to comprehend the subject matter?
How is the child supposed to know if the teacher won’t stereotype them and their race or ethnicity as being stupid for asking questions? How is a child to learn from someone who hates their presence and believes they are a waste of time and not worth teaching?
Form a parent’s perspective, I would be furious too and though I have nothing to do with those schools, I worry about the quality of education each child is receiving there and at many other schools were this is happening, but we haven’t heard of it yet.
If a teacher has a prejudice about an immigrant child, why would anyone think that immigrant children will be challenged and encouraged just as much as anyone else? But let’s talk beyond academics here. What these teachers have done is more than damage the trust they might have had with their students.
These teachers have given students a taste of the worst type of betrayal. They have shattered their self-confidence, their self worth, they have mentally messed with their heads and they have been made to feel unwelcomed. These effects will last a lifetime for some students. Others will be able to take the negativity and turn it into something positive and I hope all or at least that the majority will.
Children don’t choose where to live. They don’t choose to be lower, middle, upper class or part of the 1%. They don’t choose to be Black, Latino or Asian, White or Native American or a mix of various races or ethnicities. They are just human beings trying to get an education so they can become valuable to society in their adulthood.
The kids who participated in #ADayWithoutImmigrants CHOSE to do something they’ve been taught at schools, which is TO TAKE ACTION by standing up for what they believe in and for staying true to their convictions!
But going back to the original statement…we have to start teaching educators to embrace differences. And not just so they can teach children to do the same through example, but to build better relationships with other educators and colleagues so that their teaching skills can provide children the best education possible regardless whether they attend public or private schools.
Because if educators can’t accept others and if they can’t negate subconscious stereotypes and biases, then how will teachers explain to a child that discriminating someone or bullying them for being different, is not ok?
I can go on with a list of reasons why educators should learn to embrace differences (i.e., lawsuits, morale, socio-economic outcomes).
But, a fish can’t teach a bird to fly. Right?
So, the more I see events happening in current times, the more I feel that I HAVE to do SOMETHING to help fix this problem. Do you know what an epidemic is?
An epidemic is a widespread occurrence of an infectious (disease) in a community at a particular time and our current infectious disease right now is bullying, discrimination, violence against others.
Did you hear that? We are dealing with AN EPIDEMIC! So why aren’t we doing much about it?
While the recent national atmosphere has brought the issues of stereotypes and discriminations of all sorts to mainstream conversations, I feel that not enough is being done to do away with this epidemic because all we are doing is talking about it happening and about how angry people are, but WHERE ARE THE SOLUTIONS?
This is why I’ve been working on my program, my solution- Embracing Differences: Debunking Subconscious Stereotypes and Biases. This program is designed to help students, educators and parents to
- create a generation of students who will consciously contribute to equality
- eliminate bullying and discrimination in schools
- raise better academic results (by increasing literacy, math, science, graduation rates and acceptance to college rates) because children should worry more about their next exam instead of how negatively they are being perceived.
So many people have told me that my program is wonderful, that they recognize how much it’s needed. They see that it could help eliminate so much discrimination and bullying at schools, at jobs, and in society overall.
And after all the acknowledgement follows a hesitant – BUT. They say, “but I don’t think people are gonna buy it. It’s just a hard sell because people don’t really care about fixing that problem.”
Well, I don’t know a parent out there who is OK with their kid losing out on opportunities for simply being who they are. I don’t know of any one accepting that someone’s misperceptions of a group of people is reason to refuse equal treatment to someone.
I also have never met a student who hasn’t been stereotyped or discriminated upon because someone didn’t bother to get to know them before making a preconceived notion about them. And I certainly know that teachers are not exempt from being the offenders or receivers of such offenses.
The underlying factors here are that in order to accept differences, we must learn beyond other people’s skin color, religious beliefs or what economic class they come from. We must get to know them at a basic level; know their passions, their interests, their character and their talents that makes everyone one of us unique and valuable members of society.
But how do we know if we are subconsciously stereotyping? While there is no standardized scientific test, researchers created Project Implicit, a test to measure how many implicit biases we have. You can take the Implicit Association Test (IAT) for free here.
After taking the IAT, the most important thing you can do is to recognize that generalizations of groups of people or of individuals give misconceptions about people and their way life. People are different even within their own culture.
Just take a look at the regions in the United States. Where in one area of the country you might call a carbonated drink a soda, in other parts of the country it might be called pop. Not all people who look the same to you, might be from the same area or the same race or ethnicity and you won’t know it unless you get to know more people who are different than you.
Embracing differences humanizes us all. If we can learn to embrace others, we can learn to work better as a team and to make decisions that affect us all. If we embrace differences we will realize that one person’s oppression is your own oppression and that differences makes our human race that much more special.
Call to action: before judging someone different than you, start a conversation with someone and get to know them. And don’t forget to take into account people with physical or learning differences as well as people of different ages. You’ll be pleasantly surprised what you’ll find out about others. Let us know how it goes in the comments section.