Arlene is on the SCENE

Posts Tagged ‘teaching tolerance

Wow this article on “language prejudice” was really interesting. It comes from that great organization, Teaching Tolerance, which offers amazing educational resources for creating classrooms that fully appreciate and embrace diversity.

Dialect-MapIn both Arlene On the Scene and Arlene, the Rebel Queenwe poke fun at the accent that can often be heard in my home state of Rhode Island. Even in my author bio I say that Marybeth “fixed” my speech!

But according to this article, there really is no one way to speak, or accent, the English language. In fact, by acknowledging the rich dialects that exist in our country, we begin to connect language to culture. When we do that, we again demonstrate to students how to embrace differences, rather than “fix” them.

Teaching Tolerance offers some suggestions to incorporate language diversity into the classroom. First, we can expose students to language differences. We do try to recreate the Rhode Island dialect in the dialogue of our books, although it’s tough to do phonetically. Maybe it’ll help when the audio version comes out…:)

Second, we can address language assumptions as they happen. I have a distinct memory from my childhood being told by my New Yorker cousins that I “talk weird.” I also remember shrugging and saying, “No. YOU talk weird. What’s with all those RRRR’s??” But in our classrooms, when these kinds of comments are made, we can educate students about dialects, what they are, where they come from, and we can make the connection to cultural and geographic differences.

Finally, we can include language when we teach generally about cultural differences, particularly within our own country. When we learn about our own history or study different regions of the U.S., we can investigate the language as well, along with other customs and traditions.

Teaching about language differences is another way to model and guide students toward a perspective which allows for celebration of difference rather than one which focuses on defining the norm.

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We Don’t See Racism? | Teaching Tolerance.  This is a great post from a great project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. If you don’t already receive their newsletter, you might want to sign up, especially teachers and others who work with children. They offer incredible resources for teaching children about appreciation of the beautiful mosaic that is our world today.

This post gets at one of the fundamental challenges to opening our minds. Sometimes we don’t even see the problem, don’t even recognize racism. I grew up in a small, pretty homogeneous town. Once I moved away to the Big Apple, I had a shocking revelation: yes, I had a whole bunch of biases within me, attitudes that would be called out as pure racism in most circles. I really had no idea.

Oh, give me a break, some might say. How could you have no idea?

I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t experienced it myself. The first step to opening my mind was to admit it was closed to begin with. This is often the first hurdle to changing attitudes about race, religion, culture, disability. So many think they’ve arrived, they’re advanced in their thinking, it’s only those “other people” who are racist.

But we need to learn to recognize it and teach our children to do the same. How else will we eliminate it?

Maybe the word racism is just too strong, too loaded for people to bear. My son relayed this story to me yesterday, and asked, “Was this racist?”

Teacher was changing kids’ seats, getting ready for some activity in which he needed students arranged in the classroom differently.

Teacher: “Oh, look. I’ve got all my Indian kids in one row!”

Student: “Um, I’m not Indian. I’m from Pakistan.”

Teacher: “Ah, well, close enough.”

I looked at my son. Racist? Well…certainly doesn’t seem like an appropriate thing to say. Imagine: Oh, look, all my Italians in a row! Um, I’m from Greece. Ah, well, close enough.

As tough as it is to go there, I think we need to. Isn’t it racism for a teacher to label a group of children by their race? Within an activity that had nothing to do with race or even close to it? And even when you get it wrong, you stick to your erroneous, race-based label? We can’t possibly think that attitudes will change without our recognition of the problem.

Teaching Tolerance also reminds us that there is probably no finish line. Learning about others and learning to appreciate what they bring to the table is a life-long process.


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