Sunday, November 10, 2013

Connections to Professional Life: Learning about Stereotypes. And Rice.

Today is my dad's 75th birthday and he's partying with the fam in San Diego.  I got this text from my sister and felt her pain . . .

For those who have the "rice culture", you know that if you fuck it up, you're toast.  I'm pretty sure my sister fixed it cause that's one thing about our family, if my dad's in town, you better cook it right cause it's the thing that'll get the aunties, uncles, and cousins talking if it's messed up.  We traded messages back and forth and by the time I talked to my dad, he said "The rice turned out good."  Big hug to my sis!

Speaking of rice - on a different note - we've been studying Asia, and this week, Ms. Jorgensen started lessons on stereotypes about Asians.  One of the lessons included a panel of our former students (now 8th graders) who came to share their stories about stereotypes and to answer questions posed by our 6th graders.  I don't have to go into detail but it was pretty awesome.

One of the 6th graders asked this question, "When you go to a restaurant do you think there's an assumption that you want to order rice?"  Student answered, "Well I do always want rice . . ." 

Another question was, "When you fill out forms I don't always know what to check . . . do you check African-American or Filipino?  I get so confused . . . " One student answered, "I check whatever I feel I am that day . . . "  While another student who is part Filipino and White said, "I check Asian."  One student said something I thought was really good advice, "Just because a person says something that seems offensive or rude to you doesn't mean they're being that way.  It just might be that they don't know . . . "  

Talking to kids about stereotypes and race and how to be non-racist, non-judgemental, and question stereotypes have their heads spinning.  So much that a few have initiated projects and research on their own.  Two students made a poster of a collection of messages that basically followed the theme that stereotypes are harmful and here's why.  Another student found a website about personal stories on life experiences  and shared it with the class while at the same time, she's created posters of the most powerful messages she's learned about stereotypes.  That same girl, who is on-task and nice about 50% of the school day told me that if it weren't for our class, she wouldn't openly share the thoughts she has about stereotypes and race.  Suffice it to say, she's in the skin that seems to solicit stereotyping of her so no wonder she identifies so strongly with these lessons.

How do kids get engaged?  Create and teach lessons on the deep stuff - even if "All Asians eat rice" seems like a mundane stereotype, it's that generalization that gets to the hard issues that then lead to reflective questioning and can prompt deeper inquiry.  And treat them the way you want them to become and believe they will become that person - that'll help with engagement, too.

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