help, I'm teaching prejudiced children.
February 22, 2017 2:12 AM   Subscribe

How do I deal with racist attitudes expressed by 12 year olds that I teach?

So, I'm in rural Victoria, Australia, teaching a mix of kids from across the socio-economic spectrum. A mix of farm kids, kids who live in town, kids who are well off and kids who receive benefits.

I'm an English teacher to 7th graders- the first year of highschool. I have two classes, let's call them 7green and 7purple. We are studying the multi-modal text 'Inanimate Alice' and we just watched episode 2.

In 7purple, we watched it no issue, talked about why Ayisha was wearing a niqab, they were respectful and we were able to move along with the lesson.

In 7green, "she's a terrorist!" "100% of Muslims are terrorists, it's a scientific fact." "Muslims who are killed in terrorist attacks are also terrorists, just killed by a separate terrorist group."
It was a total derail of the lesson as I talked about stereotypes and how they aren't accurate, how we all don't live near the beach even though this is the stereotype, and they just were disrespectful and gross. I have been teaching for 5 years now and this is the first time I've come across this.

As we left the lesson, I overheard some of the kids say "I can't believe everyone in this class is so racist" "not everyone- I'm not" which was a small encouragement.

I have informed my line manager/boss/mentor person, and we're working on it, but I wanted to reach out to Metafilter, as I have learned so much about what racism is and how to counter it by lurking here.

What do I do, here? How do I counter this terrible attitude? I don't want to just shut it down (racism hasn't gone away, just been not-polite to say) but educate my kids.
posted by freethefeet to Education (15 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Most such views as expressed by children reflect what they are hearing at home, or perhaps at that age from friends. But you don't have any control over what they hear at home. And the racist attitudes are often imprinted well before the age of high school.

Others, people working in schools, will have to offer practical ideas. But I think that the best counter is to offer an accurate view as you see it, and I see nothing wrong with the direct confrontation: "That's a pretty stupid comment to make."

As a parent, I have noticed that things that I say, consistently and usually quietly, seem like they don't sink in but then show up in things they say some months or years later. I bet the same happens to effective teachers.
posted by megatherium at 2:32 AM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have informed my line manager/boss/mentor person, and we're working on it

What's the school's established policy about dealing with racism? If there isn't one (!), this needs to escalate to the head teacher. This shouldn't be some novel new situation, racism wasn't just invented last year. The school should already know how to deal with this.

"That's a pretty stupid comment to make."

Please don't call your pupils "stupid".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:08 AM on February 22, 2017 [30 favorites]

Perhaps a mention of people like Malala Yousafzai that are pretty much the antithesis of terror, just plant a seed of doubt.
posted by sammyo at 3:40 AM on February 22, 2017 [10 favorites]

I teach 7th grade in Florida. Overt racist and sexist attitudes are not common for me, but it happens. These students are usually repeating what they hear at the dinner table. For me, it's a Flag It And Move On scenario.

For example, last year I had a kid that loved making fun of the Caitlyn Jenner news, insisting he would still call him Bruce, that he was still just a man. I'd respond with the civilized adult perspective. "Actually student, it's considered polite and appropriate to refer to transgender people by their preferred name and gender." And that's it. Provide a calm, firm response and move on with the lesson without letting it derail the class. You may not be able to change the racist/sexist kid's minds, but you can show them how intelligent, considerate adults think and act.
posted by gnutron at 3:43 AM on February 22, 2017 [14 favorites]

Yes, provide a calm and firm response.

I'd go with this one: 'No, not all Muslims are terrorists. In fact it has nothing to do with a person's religion. Terrorists are extremists and they can come from any religious or cultural background. Extremism is the problem.'

Repeat as necessary.
posted by h00py at 4:24 AM on February 22, 2017 [15 favorites]

And explain 'extremism' if necessary.
posted by h00py at 4:25 AM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yay, a teachable moment!! Teacher here and what I would do is run with this derail and have a talk about school being a safe space where nobody is allowed to make racist, sexist, homophobic or any variation of "those people" conversations.

Years ago, I learned in a wonderful professional development that of course we need to mark extremism or hateful remarks, but our words carry more weight when we start with explaining that those words personally affect us.

When anyone makes a comment like that, we say, "I care about _______ people. What you said is a _____ comment that I am offended by and it is not accurate and not okay to say that." Then move on.

It may be a good idea to accept this derail and do a few lessons about teaching tolerance. Here's a quick one from readwritethink where kids basically stand up and identify who has freckles, tennis shoes, etc. and see immediately they have a lot in common. Teaching Tolerance also has a lot of lessons.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:36 AM on February 22, 2017 [12 favorites]

It sounds like 7green has the feel of an overwhelmingly racist group of kids because some kids are much more vocal than others (especially as evidenced by the exchange you overheard). At the very least, I think it is important to provide opportunities for all students' voices to be heard without requiring them to assert themselves into an argument.

For example, instead of having a class discussion where anyone can raise their hand or shout out a comment, try having everyone write down a few sentence response, crumple it up, put the responses in a hat, and have everyone pull out a response and read it anonymously. It won't stop racist voices from coming out, but it will make sure your students who are distressed by such comments have their voices heard too.
posted by telegraph at 4:56 AM on February 22, 2017 [9 favorites]

I'm high school English teacher in the US; the majority of my students' parents watch Fox News exclusively. Nearly all of the parents voted for Trump, as did many of the students who were old enough to vote in their first election. I teach a World Lit curriculum which exposes students to many unfamiliar cultures and viewpoints, and sometimes there is alarming prejudice that is exposed via our discussions. First, I try to remember that they are still heavily under the influence of their parents, as I once was. It was only through the patience of professors and teachers (and MeFites!) that I eventually began to see that I had basically been brainwashed by my conservative parents. So, I try to patiently and neutrally expose my students to, for instance, Malala, as sammyo suggests above. There are some great YouTube clips about her. I use these, and I have students read her Nobel Prize acceptance speech. They are absolutely fascinated by her, and I think this helps open their minds at least a bit. I've also used the Humans of New York site (in particular, his interviews with refugees and Syrian Americans) in tandem with literature units in which characters emigrate (i.e. Kite Runner). Then, I have students create a Humans of New York-style interview for characters in the book. In general, I've had some success with sharing real life stories with the students, and especially stories about teenagers.

My students are a few years older than yours, so some of this may not be age appropriate, but perhaps you can adapt these ideas for your classroom. Overall, I think it's difficult and disheartening at times, but it's important to try to address prejudice. I also love telegraph's ideas about incorporating all viewpoints into the discussions as well. I find that sometimes the kids who disagree are intimidated into silence, which only further affirms the vocal students' sense that they are right. There are ways to make these discussions feel safer for the quiet students (i.e. through anonymous contributions, as telegraph suggests).
posted by katie at 6:13 AM on February 22, 2017 [15 favorites]

Are they horrible enough to harass Muslim people directly in front of you? If not, is there someone at your local mosque that would be willing to speak (on any topic, not necessarily "why Muslims are not all terrorists)? It's much harder to stereotype when you've met someone who proves the stereotype wrong.
posted by AFABulous at 8:05 AM on February 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

If nothing else, providing a positive tolerant role model is helpful to those who haven't worked it out yet--even if you don't change the way some of the virulent racists act.

Casey Stengel (manager in the US professional baseball leagues some decades ago) once described his job (paraphrasing from memory here) as managing 25 guys, 5 of whom loved him, 5 of whom hated his guts, and 15 of whom were on the fence--and his job was to keep the 15 guys from falling under the sway of the 5 who hated his guts.

If you can't reach them all, your job might be to keep the 15 persuadable ones from falling under the sway of the 5 deplorables.
posted by stevis23 at 8:19 AM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd go with this one: 'No, not all Muslims are terrorists."

I really dislike this. It suggests that most are, or at least a large number, are.

I would go with: People are basically the same all over. Like most people, Muslims want to get along, to raise their families. Terrorism hurts many Islamic countries many times more than it hurts ours.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:30 AM on February 22, 2017 [5 favorites]

I teach (11-18) in an inner London school with a high proportion of Muslim students. Memail me if you'd like to do something collaborative with your students and mine - pen pals? Sending questions? Skype? (time difference might be a hindrance). Let me know.
posted by Lotto at 11:11 AM on February 22, 2017 [10 favorites]

Serendipitously, Lifehacker just published an article about How to Talk to Your Children to Discourage Stereotypes.

The summary is that it works best to avoid generalizations, whether positive or negative. "Muslims are hardworking and love their families" is as bad as "Muslims are lazy and don't love their families" in terms of reinforcing the false idea that it's possible to make generalizations about all Muslims.
posted by Lexica at 12:08 PM on February 22, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have Teaching Tolerance as part of my Facebook feed, which connects with other resources that have lesson plans- not sure how deep you want to dive- on tolerance dot org.
posted by childofTethys at 5:04 PM on February 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

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