The reading that stuck out most to me this week was “Lights, Camera, Social Action” posted by Katie McKay. This post shed some light on a very real problem that I am seeing in my classroom every day.
The election that’s currently happening has created a noticeable division in my classroom community. Elementary students today are being exposed to inflammatory and prejudiced language every day through the news and social media. The words that are being said in this election are infiltrating into the thoughts and then dialogue of our students. With media literacy in mind, students are exposed to a view of society in the media right now in a way that they are unequipped to handle.
Katie McKay wrote about the subtle discrimination that occurred in her very diverse classroom. I’m seeing this in my own classroom more and more. I have one example that sticks out in particular.
While teaching math I heard the words shouted out: “Go back to Mexico!” I was shocked. I turned to see that one of my students with autism was speaking to a student from Vietnam. I hoped that his lack of social awareness was impacting how he was speaking to this student, not an actual attempt at offense or discrimination. The Vietnamese student spoke with me about it and I assured him that I’d learn more about why these comments were being voiced in the classroom.
That same morning, the same student again shouted “Go back to Mexico!” at a different group of peers. I knew that this couldn’t wait until a natural class break. I pulled my student aside and asked him why he was saying this when it was offensive to other students. He was shocked. Completely unaware that this language was offensive. He didn’t consider that students in our class are Mexican-American and would interpret his words as him wanting them to leave.
The look of shock and confusion on his face is what has stuck with me. This student doesn’t wish ill-will on his classmates. He’s only repeating what he’s heard.
That was the moment I knew this year would be different than any other year. I was so happy to see how Katie McKay had approached a similar situation with her students. My takeaway is that I can’t just say the “teacher phrases” of telling students to be nice or use nice words. They don’t understand why the phrases they’re hearing are innately discriminatory or hurtful. This is an issue that needs to be addressed in a different way.
I love the idea of integrating technology to help raise student engagement and participation in these sensitive and necessary discussions. My next steps now are to focus on how to take her ideas and integrate them with the teaching of media literacy.