10 WAYS TO KEEP PREJUDICE OUT OF YOUR CLASSROOM
Schoolchildren bring their own learned ideas into class. What does a teacher do when someone:
For that matter, how do you defuse more subtle prejudices in students and yourself?
1. Ask Yourself Honestly: Is There Any Type of Person I Dislike?
If so, you’ll need to make extra effort to understand students who represent that “type.” Besides more obvious differences, “types” can include any number of personality and physical traits: things that remind you of someone with whom you had a bad experience—or of something you dislike in yourself—frequently generate prejudices.
2. Maintain a Zero-Tolerance Policy Toward Bullying
Never allow anyone to deliberately inflict any form of pain on anyone else.
3. Understand The Difference Between Real Prejudice And Agreeing to Disagree
Give everyone a fair chance to be heard, and never let anyone be humiliated for a minority opinion; but remember you can’t please everyone every time. Sometimes “You’re just prejudiced” is psychological-warfare language for “I just want my own way.”
4. Respect Established Ethical and Spiritual Viewpoints
Majority (or traditional-majority) groups can be victims of prejudice too. Assuming they aren’t actively denigrating others, don’t force anyone to go against their own religion or family tradition.
5. Avoid Loaded Language
One generation’s innocuous term is often another generation’s bigoted slur. Stay abreast of terms currently preferred by the groups most affected.
6. Notice Body Language Indicating Hurt Feelings
If someone reacts to your, or a classmate’s, remark by:
… an emotional button has likely been pushed. Without making anyone overly conspicuous, try to find out what’s wrong. If you owe an apology, make it prompt and sincere.
7. Be Careful What You Compliment Students For
Compliments can reinforce prejudice by habitually favoring one type of skill or behavior. Beware especially of giving different types of compliments to different types of students. If, for example, girls are complimented on “looking great today” and boys on “being smart,” students get the message that beauty and brains (or at least any benefits derived from them) are dependent on gender.
8. Discourage Cliques
Help students get to know each other as individuals. If learning groups habitually sort themselves by established friends, consider drawing names for more random mixing.
9. Expose Students to a Variety of Literature and Images
At the very least, know what groups are represented in your current class(es), and bring in books/videos/slideshows prominently featuring those groups.
10. Be Patient and Understanding
Don’t be harsh with young children who are only repeating what they’ve always heard. Ask questions to bring out the illogic behind prejudices: “What evidence do you have that x group is like that? Can anyone think of exceptions?”
And no matter how much you disagree with an opinion, hear it out with an open mind. Sometimes, what you thought was a prejudice exposes a prejudice you weren’t aware you had!