Stereotypes are disrupting our kids’ learning

He kept calling me a dumb Mexican because I have an accent, but so does Jimmy. He’s from France. I just don’t get it. I know English just as much as he does. I’m also not from Mexico.
-8 year old, Ana in Maryland

When adults hear about conflicts among kids such as Ana’s, they’re often dismissed as child bickery, a rough phase of childhood or just part of being a kid. But if this scenario where between two adults, it would be considered harassment or discrimination.

So, why aren’t educators taking the time to teach kids to not use stereotypes in the classrooms? Sadly, schools also don’t strongly consider the effects of stereotyping (such as misogyny or sexual harassment) more seriously-and they should! They know they exist, but they don’t actively focus on this issue.

Subconscious stereotyping is important because

  1. it negatively affects academic progress
  2. some students are punished harsher than others
  3. these actions carry on into adulthood and it is a cause of job loss, lawsuits and ends relationships
  4. it contributes to low-self esteem, bullying and even violence

I know what you’re thinking, I’m over-reacting. But they are realistic occurrences that we’ve all seen happen over and over. The fact is that subconscious stereotypes and biases creep into our heads from an early age. Do you see how this “stereotypes problem” starts becoming a much bigger problem?  

Consider these facts:  

According to an Arkansas Law Review article by Janel A. George, “African American girls experience suspension six times the rate of white girls and more than any other group of girls and several groups of boys” for minor infractions such as wearing their hair in a natural style or for showing strong leadership behaviors that are perceived as pushy, bossy or unwilling to bow down from their stand on a certain issue.  

When a child is stereotyped by another child or an adult, the child knows that he/she has been offended. The child gets a bad feeling and might not know how to articulate what he/she is experiencing or feeling, but this doesn’t mean we should call it a “kid problem” and forget about it.

Children look to their teachers and school administrators to protect and defend them. So, if a child seeks out help because someone has used derogatory language towards him/her and school educators dismiss their problem, how are children going to trust their teachers? How is a student supposed to concentrate on learning rather than their harasser?

How are teachers supposed to know how to teach their students to use appropriate language so that they do not become part of the problem? Being aware of certain words or statements that should not be used like, “boys will be boys” because what you’re teaching kids is that certain behaviors are acceptable for boys and others for girls.

There are so many other examples I could go over to make my point, but I’m sure you can come up with many of your own.

This issue affects students’ learning. By not debunking stereotypes we reinforce them and this leads to institutionalized discrimination such as racism, xenophobia, disability discrimination, and misogyny among other types of discrimination.

The good news is that this problem has a solution. However, we have to implement it as early in age as possible and we can do that by working with our schools and community to change the way society sees people. We must identify the language that reinforce subconscious stereotypes and behaviors.

We must start becoming conscious of the words we say, how we act around people who are different and we must not TOLERATE the stereotyping and discrimination of others or to ourselves when it happens.

I’ve been working on a solution to this lack of training that educators and kids should be receiving.

So, I’m taking the opportunity to ask you how do you teach your kids to refuse stereotypes or how have you dealt with it when it has happened to your child at school?

5 thoughts on “Stereotypes are disrupting our kids’ learning”

  1. I don’t have kids but I had a cousin with a similar experience as your friend, Allan. She was meeting with her counselor at her local community college and the counselor advised her to take a lighter class load and basically told her she couldn’t hack it with a full schedule. I don’t know if the counselor had this “not good enough” impression of her because she’s Hispanic or because she had her ears stretched, or because she had her hair purple, but it definitely wasn’t an impression based on anything her records stated. I advised her to report the incident with the counselor to the dean and to request a new counselor.

    1. Wow! Thanks for sharing that story. I’ve heard stories like this so much. I too had a counselor like that. He assumed I wouldn’t be able to handle an AP English class. My whole youth I believed that this had happened only to me, but I later realized it happens much too often and kids really miss out on opportunity when these counselors give advice based off their biases or even disinterest to want to help and motivate students. You know, the saddest part of these stories is that most of the times, the counselors are of the same race or have had the same experiences as the kids they are ill-advising. This has to change.

  2. My daughter was bullied in school on election day by students and a teacher because she supported Hilary Clinton. She came home crying. We went immediately back to the school and talked to the Principal. She didn’t want to complain because she was afraid of further retaliation. We talked about it, and I told her that this was a pivotal juncture in her life. Was she willing to stand up for herself? Even if we only told the Principal, and it went no further than him and forgetting about the other kids, and what they did, the real question was what was SHE going to do? We did walk into his office, he was very sympathetic, the teacher was reprimanded, and the kids knew exactly why she wasn’t in school for the rest of the day. I was proud of her.

    1. Wow! Thanks for sharing that story. Your daughter was very courageous for standing up for herself. Sadly, not all bullies are only children. A lot of them are adults, but they don’t see themselves as such. And kudos to you for encouraging her and standing by her during such a challenging time. I’m also so happy to hear that the teacher was reprimanded. That speaks volumes to a child.

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