Friday, January 15, 2010

Free Monday!

I watched another teacher's class today during my prep period where the assignment was watching some of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches. Before we started, I got to teach a little about the Civil Rights movement. It was great. I also talked a little about aparthied and got to tie it in with the recent movie Invictus. You've got to tie in current media to connect to modern day experience or kids start to wander. Anyways, it reminded me that I wrote this a year ago and never posted. So, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day . . .

Today I had a review game to play with my students to help them prepare for their big unit test on scientific classification. As part of our games I always include a fun trivia category to mix in with all the facts and theories they have to know. The category today was holidays. There were some really easy ones in my opinion. The first trivia question I asked read something like this: "This holiday was named after a famous American Civil Rights activist who led the Montgomery Bus Boycott and is famous for the speech 'I have a dream'" Silence. I looked up and was met with a roomful of blank stares. I tried again, this time adding the story behind the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Still nothing. Then in slight desperation I said, "Hint, this person is black." "That's racist!" some kid yells. "Yeah that's racism!" The whole class was about to riot. I explained to my students that describing someone by their race is not racist if it's not derogatory (especially since they couldn't get my many other leads to describe Martin Luther King Jr.). Being a teacher, I've started to observe that many kids, or maybe it's kids living in my area, don't really grasp racism and diversity. That may be good, or it might not be.

At the recent Utah Middle Level Conference that I attended at the beginning of March, the keynote speaker declared that racism is increasing in our schools across the nation; both explicit and implicit racism. John jokes that it's because people try so hard not to be what they think is racist that they say, echoing Steven Colbert's joke, "they don't see color". The problem is that many people are proud of their racial and cultural heritage and some may even like it acknowledged. This does not mean that they liked to be grouped or mocked by stereotypes.

A recent article I read explained that a more modern term that has been adopted by some to replace the word racism is racialism. It's a mitigated term for racism because apparently people think racism is too harsh. Racialism kind of sounds like a positive word. Back to the keynote speaker's point. A kid walks into my class and starts yelling "ching chong chow." Another day, another kid runs around the class pulling hard at the corners of his eyes declaring that he is now Chinese. Earlier this year: "I from Mexico, I no espeko engleesh." I do understand that kids are kids, especially middle school kids. Many of them don't do these things maliciously, but when I point out that they need to stop saying certain phrases they look at me dumbfounded. They don't see anything wrong with what they are doing. It's just funny. Yet to them saying that Martin Luther King is black is evil.

I don't mean to get on a podium about racism. If you know me, you probably already know that it's something I try very hard to speak out against. But I've noticed a similar degree of ignorance dealing with other topics. Today kids were trying to scramble through the door and bumped into each other. Someone starts yelling that another kid is raping him. Soon a bunch of boys start shouting rape. The other kids laugh. Another instance, in a lecture on genetic disorders I show a picture of a rare condition of chromosomal deletion. A student declares with a giggle that the little boy looks like a retard. My saddest experience was as a freshman at BYU in my American Heritage class. The professor shows a news clip about gay rights and almost everyone in that 900 capacity lecture hall yells faggot, including the row of fist pumping boys behind me.

I can't correct, and some would argue it's not my job to correct the things parents teach or don't teach in the home, but I do try to correct what I can when I hear it. When I do I usually get those blank stares, but at least it's a start. One thing I do think is good is to interact with different people; people who may not think, look, or believe exactly as we do whether it's religiously, culturally, or politically. A lot of us don't like that because it can be uncomfortable. We also might not agree or even like those differences, but it can do a lot of good. It can help people not only see but experience differences and respect or at least understand them instead of throwing down everything that isn't exactly what they are and believe. So true is the often mentioned phrase that people fear and hate (and make jokes about) what they don't understand. Well, anyways, there is my bi-yearly serious/long post. Meanwhile, I might get a better response if I tell my students to stop being racialist.


julianne rose said...

that comment on american heritage made me so sad - i mean you expect these things from 14 year olds, but wouldn't it be nice to think people grow out of it all?

Branden said...

I think you should keep on informing your students as best you can. They will thank you for teaching them manners when they are young and can be forgiven for dumb mistakes.

I'm scared to think what my response would be if a class of kids called me a racist. It would probably be a combination of annoyance, defensiveness, and anger. I would instantly turn into the mean uncle in Home Alone and start calling them "little jerks". And that would end my hypothetical career as a teacher.

Go Melinda!

holtkamp said...

thanks for your post mel. was i there during that american heritage?! i hope not. anyways, teachers (especially ones like you) definitely deserve to get paid more.