Let’s Face It, Your Students Need New Friends, Part 2

As educators, we have a responsibility of doing more than just expanding our friendship circles, we have to create environments where our students feel comfortable crossing invisible boundaries as well.

In a previous post, I wrote about the importance of adults – specifically teachers – expanding friendship circles and leaving behind assumptions about certain groups.

How are you doing with that? Please share in the comments below. I really want to know.

As educators though, we have a responsibility of doing more than just expanding our friendship circles, we have to create environments where are students feel comfortable crossing invisible boundaries as well.

My high school was populated predominately by African-American and Latino students. And by predominately, I mean, I think I had one white person in my graduating class. I wrote about my high school experience last year during the 60th Anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision.

Instructionally, it was both comfortable and – frankly – necessary for us to study literature and current events that connected to our experiences. In my English courses, I inhaled novels such as Their Eyes Were Watching God and Black Boy because the authors were speaking my language and experience.

However, I still cringe when I think about barely making it through the reading of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage. I didn’t feel like I belonged among those pages. At the time, I didn’t understand Crane and he didn’t understand me. To be honest, I didn’t have to try to understand or connect because I could always go back to the familiar. I chose not to get out of my comfort zone or try to see the world from a different point of view.

What does this mean for us as educators? Think about what “embracing diversity” means in your own classrooms now.

Are you stretching your students to understand or connect to someone or some experience other than the life they live daily?

If your students are mirroring their daily existence in your coursework, how are you preparing them for interacting with the many different people they will interact with once they leave the safety of your classroom?

Are your students allowed to hold assumptions about others because they aren’t asked to see the world from a different perspective or practice empathy?

Obviously there won’t be any quick fixes or magic bullets when it comes embracing diversity in the classroom or in our society, but there are things teachers can do that will gently nudge students away from stereotypical thinking – even if the classroom and the surrounding community are homogenous.

  • Expose students to counter-stereotypic images of different groups. Teachers can do this through literature, images, current events, music, etc.
  • Incorporate cooperative learning in lessons. Be deliberate about getting students engaged with each other on an equitable playing field – the classroom. If students aren’t even working together in classrooms, how can the work together to solve the problems of the future?
  • Teach the speaking and listening standards. Students need to talk to one another, but more importantly they need to listen to one another. Make room for it in your classroom.
  • Value all students and model it so that other students can see it and imitate.

Again, these answers are not a silver bullet to the complex problems before us, but they are things that must be tried. Don’t wait.

Let’s face it. We can both expand our friendship circles and help our students expand their friendship circles by crossing invisible boundaries through targeted practices in our classroom, or keep perpetuating a society that repeats the same mistakes.

We have to make a decision. Indecision is not an option. Our students are depending on us.

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