Thursday, February 11, 2016

Helping Students Feel Safe from Prejudice

According to The Framework: A Practical Guide for Montana Teachers and Administrators Implementing Indian Education for All, "All schools have an obligation to assure that all children, without regard for any individual difference, feel safe from prejudice. Schools play a central role in prejudice reduction, often acting as a catalyst to change attitudes in American society overall."

How do you make the students in your classroom feel safe from prejudice? (FYI: This isn’t a rhetorical question. I really want to know—so email me!)

There are lesson plans to try to reduce prejudice. For example, the Peace Corps has a series of lesson plans called “Building Bridges: A Peace Corps Classroom Guide Building To Cross-Cultural Understanding.”  OPI’s Indian Education Division also has several lesson plans relating to prejudice reduction/stereotypes:
I would argue, however, that the most important thing you can do in this regard is pay attention to teachable moments and the day-to-day environment of your school and classroom. Need ideas?

1. Understanding Prejudice offers these tips for elementary schools. 

2. Pay attention to IEFA Essential Understanding 2: "There is great diversity among individual American Indians.... A continuum of Indian identity, unique to each individual, ranges from assimilated to traditional. There is no generic American Indian." (This is equally relevant for all minority students. Not every African American student will be steeped in black culture, and not every Muslim or Jewish student will know the details of their religions--or practice them.) Do provide students and families opportunities to share aspects of their cultures, but don't single out students to be a representative of their people--especially since (sadly) many minority students try to blend in so as to avoid prejudice.

3. Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, offers a number of resources, including lesson plans, free classroom resources, and webinars.

4. The Southern Poverty Law Center also offers this advice for responding to every day bigotry in the classroom:
  • Determine the extent of the problem. As a social science or club activity, survey students about biased language at school: what they hear most often, who they hear it from, how it makes them feel and what they're willing to do about it.
  • Implement a 'words hurt' campaign. Get students, teachers, counselors and administrators to sponsor an assembly, or a week long or year long education campaign, about the damaging effect of hurtful words.
  • Support student mediators — and use peer pressure. Train students in conflict resolution techniques, and ask them to work with peers to marginalize the use of biased language.
  • Teach tolerance. When slurs are exchanged in the classroom, interrupt whatever lesson is being taught, and start a new one on language, respect and cultural sensitivity.
This last point is key, because even if it doesn’t change attitudes, it at least lets marginalized students know there’s someone in their corner. So, the next time you hear a student use the term "jew down" or "Indian giver,"consider using it as an opportunity for education instead of letting the moment pass.

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