EXPLORING THE PROMISE OF BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION IN CONTEMPORARY TIMES
Teachers’ Notes: Talking About Diversity With Students
It is important for teachers to spend time thinking about how they can most effectively raise complex issues such as hate, bias, scapegoating, and exclusion with their students. Commemorative activities for the anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision provide an important opportunity to explore these issues in the classroom. However, educators should keep in mind that these conversations should not be limited to a commemorative event, or other special programs, holidays or activities but instead, messages about understanding and respect should be a part of everyday business in the classroom. Creating inclusive, respectful classrooms is an ongoing effort, and working for social justice and is a life-long endeavor.
Talking About Diversity With Students
To prepare for successfully raising issues of diversity and bias in the classroom, teachers should attempt to make the following practices an integral part of their daily practice.
Examine your own cultural biases and assumptions. Explore your perceptions and understanding of situations by developing an awareness of your cultural "filters."
2. Comprehensive Integration
Integrate culturally diverse information/perspectives into all aspects of your teaching. Consider moving beyond the constraints of a cultural history month by incorporating multiple perspectives into all aspects of the curriculum.
3. Time and Maturation
Allow time for a process to develop. Introduce less complex topics at first, and create time to establish trust. Begin discussions by developing ground rules that allow for honest discussion within a respectful context. Recognize that the long history of mistrust between people in different groups will influence classroom discussions.
4. Accepting Environment
Establish an environment that allows for mistakes. Since most of us have been unconsciously acculturated into prejudicial and stereotypical thinking, we may not be aware that certain attitudes are hurtful to others. Acknowledge that intolerant thinking will surface from time to time in others and ourselves. Model non-defensive responses when told that something you said or did was offensive to someone. Assume good will and make that assumption a common practice in the classroom.
Be prepared to respond to purposely-directed acts of bias. Students will carefully observe how you intervene when someone is the target of discriminatory or hate-based behavior. Silence in the face of injustice conveys the impression that prejudicial behavior is condoned or not worthy of attention. Make it clear to students and their families that you will not allow name-calling in the classroom. Your appropriate and timely intervention is critical in establishing a safe classroom environment where all students can succeed.
6. Life-long Learning
Keep abreast of current anti-bias education issues and discuss them with students. Clip articles from newspapers and magazines and post them in the classroom. Let students know that you consider yourself a learner, and that you see yourself as part of the learning process.
7. Discovery Learning
Avoid "preaching" to students about how they should behave. Research indicates that exhortation is the least effective methodology for changing prejudiced attitudes; in fact, it often produces a result opposite from the desired effect. Provide opportunities for students to resolve conflicts, solve problems, work in diverse teams and think critically about information.
8. Life Experiences
Provide opportunities for students to share life experiences; choose literature that will help students develop empathy. Make your classroom a place where students’ experiences are not marginalized, trivialized or invalidated. Prejudice and discrimination have a unique impact on each individual. Students and their families develop a variety of coping strategies based upon the type and frequency of discrimination they have experienced. It is never fruitful to engage in a debate over who has suffered the most. Oppression is harmful to all people in all of its forms.
9. Resources Review
Review materials so that classroom displays and bulletin boards are inclusive of all people. Insure that supplemental books and videos do not reinforce existing societal stereotypes. When you see such examples in textbooks, point them out to students and encourage students to think about them critically and to challenge them.
10. Home-School-Community Connection
Involve parents, other family members and other community members in the learning process. Understand that families and others in the community provide the context in which students are motivated to learn. We cannot view the school and the home or school and the community as isolated from one another; we must examine how they interconnect with each other and with the world.
11. Examine Your Classroom Environment
What is present and absent in the school classroom, provides children with important information about who and what is important. Every effort should be made to create a setting that is rich in possibilities for exploring cultural diversity. Such an environment assists children in developing their ideas about themselves and others, creates the conditions under which children initiate conversations about differences and provides you with a setting for introducing activities about diversity. It also fosters children’s positive self-concept and attitudes.