Just got home after a long day at work. As I peeled off the layers of clothing I put on as a firewall to the cold and airborne viruses zipping along, I discovered remnants of arts and crafts that I have scribbled on.
The first one is from a speech class I have with almost all boys. I had gotten so sick of having them write speeches about “their favourite foods” or “what they did for winter vacation” that I decided to have them write a speech about “what they would do if aliens invaded.” This seemed to touch something deep within them. All of a sudden the room was flooded with impassioned comments and requests for the spelling of “catapult” and other murderous things. One student decided that he would knock over an entire building on the aliens in order to kill them. When I asked how he would do this he said “Manchester United would help.” Ok?!
The second note is from a spelling test where my students had to use the word “comfortable” in a sentence. One wrote “When I sit a worm chair I’m comfortable” and the funny thing is that being the kind of boy he is, I wasn’t sure if it was misspelled or just an unusual personal preference. Whichever one is was, the image gave me the heebie-jeebies for a few minutes.
Today I started a new story with an elementary class made up of kids around ten years old. I always have them read the author’s name and this time the succinct title “Ants” was written by Stanley Green. This set of an excited conversation about whether or not this man was *actually* green and if he looked like Shrek. If you’ve never seen ten year old boys giggle uncontrollably, I feel a bit bad for you. It’s kind of amazing. The class continued its strict pedagogical focus with a discussion about baby ants, which led Seth to explain to the other boys that ants “love and kiss and then ants come.” This of course, led to an inquiry about my marital status. Per norm, my confession that I was unmarried was met with suspicion as if I were being funny or lying. “Not marry!!??” The more worldly of the three leaned back in his squeaky plastic chair and said “Noooo. Not until thirty!” countered by a newly shorn student who looked like a baby chick “I think teacher not married until 100 years old.”
I laugh at this but it brings my thoughts back to the unwed mothers’ organization that I work with and the prejudice they encounter due to rigid ideas about what family units consist of and what acts or life choices are considered unacceptable. Of course I do not get into this with my students or blame them for certain prejudiced comments. For example: one of my students once wrote a speech about how people from Busan (in the south) speak badly and are basically ignorant and not as good as people from Seoul. I knew he got that directly from his parents but I still asked him to rewrite his speech as it was supposed to be about a place he wanted to visit in Korea in the first place. I do feel conflicted with how I should approach topics such as racism, sexism, suicidal tendencies and looking down on people who aren’t rich (all my kids’ parents are swimming in the green, red, orange and blue stuff).
One of the mothers I know recently shared a horrific anecdote about another mother and her latest morning dose of hateful prejudice. The mother was taking her child to kindergarten and the mother of another child told her that she didn’t know if she wanted to send her child to a place that would allow single mothers and their “spawn” to go there. My friend said that this woman specifically used a word for the single mother and her kid that was like “thing” rather than “person.” My friend also explained that single mothers constantly worry about their kids going to school because sometimes the other kids’ mothers will tell them not to play with their kids.
This. Needs. To. Stop. and I feel this pressure every time I teach to be vigilant about prejudice so I can do my best to fight it in my own small way. These things need to be discussed in schools. Confronted. I love my kids and I see firsthand how they absorb what they hear and see around them. It makes me livid to think of them absorbing prejudice and judgement towards: homosexuals, single mothers, mixed race people, poor people, non-religious people (many of my kids are from Christian households), people with disabilities, unmarried people, people who don’t fit gender stereotypes etc.
Recently, one of my fellow teacher friends shared this post by an elementary teacher in the States. It really struck a chord with me and I keep thinking about it… Rethinking schools