Sunday, October 30, 2011

... with Liberty and Justice for ALL! (Meyer)

In today’s society, there seems to be an ever-increasing amount of bullying amongst the pre-teen and young adult population. The situation is ever so exacerbated through social media websites such as Facebook, where students feel as though they have ultimate power in using hateful words. At schools, teachers are so quick to defuse a situation where students are using derogatory words or racial slurs. However, teachers and other personnel may be apprehensive about intervening in scenarios where hurtful language in the context of gender and sexuality is proclaimed. Elizabeth Meyer, author of Gendered Harassment in Secondary Schools: Understanding Teachers’ (Non) Interventions, delves into a school system to see how often and under what circumstances teachers intervene in situations that promote “name calling, jokes, gestures as well as physical and sexual assaults that are sexist, homophobic, or transphobic in nature.” (2)

Why Don’t Teachers Intervene?

Meyer makes an excellent point in her research; there are a multitude of reasons as to why teachers do not intervene in gender harassment situations. Meyers cites evidence from “not feeling supported by their administrators and believing that oftentimes the discipline meted out for instances of sexual or homophobic harassment was not sufficient” (7) to feeling “great pressure from their administration to cover the required amounts of curricular material and the stresses placed on them by large classes and demanding course loads caused them to ignore certain behaviors.”(8) So, it seems as though many teacher would like a stronger and more supportive administration to help them intervene in these scenarios.

Educators and staff persons also “felt that their teacher education programs did not sufficiently prepare them to address incidents of harassment or bullying.” (9) Not only did these teachers feel inadequate in their preparation, but they also felt they couldn’t pursue additional professional development because “since they were encouraged to do professional development primarily in their area of instruction.” (9) To me, this is a complete disservice to those teachers; this type of training could be another tool for the proverbial teacher toolbox. As Welsch pointed out in his last article, it is kind of useless for a teacher to lecture about everything they know seeing we can look up information so quickly on the internet. As much as I agree content professional development is important, so are social and behavioral techniques as well.

Again, thinking about Welsch, my four year college degree did not prepare me for what I would encounter in the classroom. He mentioned how students need to be asked questions, given hands on scenarios, and real-life problems to figure out. Besides perhaps three undergraduate education courses, sometimes I ask myself, “what skills did my $56,000 education truly get me that I couldn’t have learned in a hands-on training program?” Even student teaching didn’t really prepare me – I started halfway through January (when all the classroom norms and protocols were established). So, wouldn’t intervention strategies these teachers that Meyers was studying be more beneficial than more and more content?

… And Then They Came For Me

I took one special education course in college, but it was my two years at Sargent Rehabilitation Center where I learned skills to aid students with severe and profound special needs. I have spent the past three years working in home-based therapeutic services (HBTS) with a teenager that goes to Meeting Street School. I learned behavior modification skills and interaction techniques that I was not taught in the four walls of a classroom. The special education population is my favorite group of kids to work with; every year I request to teach an inclusion class. So when Meyers mentions that teachers’ “personal experiences with discrimination and marginalization that made them particularly sensitive to these issues in schools” (17), I can'thelp but whole-heartedly agree. In my classroom, students are not allowed to say the word retarded because of my past history working in special education. Every year I always explain to my students why that word is inappropriate, and the use of the word actually does dwindle in my classroom (and when I shoot the kids a dirty look for saying that word, they instantly apologize and change their original statement.)

 I also try as best as possible (although I admit not as often with the word retarded) to intervene with homosexual terms. Maybe I should tell the story of my best friend in high school who went to Hendricken and only came out to a few close friends by his senior year (because he was afraid of what would happen to him at an all-boys schools.) Maybe I should explain to my kids that when he got to college, no one cared whether people were gay, straight, had three kids already, slept through your classes, or were from a different country. Maybe college is a whole different ballgame, but I want my kids to know that those words can hurt. As Meyers explains, “Anti-gay epithets are commonly used as insults in schools.  These may be used with no actual connection to one’s sexual orientation.  As many scholars of masculinity have argued, these terms are often used because they are seen as the worst thing you can call a boy.” (4)

Common Sense? Thanks, Thomas Paine!

Ever hear the phrase “as cruel as school children?” Why are kids to mean to each other? I tell my students (and I truly mean it), I would never want to be a kid today. I was teased enough in middle and my early high school years without the invention of the internet. I can’t imagine what these kids go through on a daily basis. Technology is great in some ways, but in others, it’s not. What if we offered a course to our students on internet safety? Not a one hour in school assembly (where the kids are more focused on which class they are missing), but an actual course that maybe lasts a semester? When I went to the National Writing Project convention March of 2011 with three representatives from the Rhode Island Writing Project, I attended a workshop from called Digital Citizenship. It is a free online curriculum that could be perfect for anyone who teaches advisory (add this one to our Prezi, Maureen!!) or perhaps a similar course. I use the privacy issues when talking about the Fourth Amendment.

Four RIWP representatives in Washington, DC: March 2011

As Meyers focuses on the issues of gender and sexuality, maybe we all need to use our own common sense skills when dealing with these issues in our classrooms. Why isn’t a social justice course mandated for ALL undergraduates in college (really, this could extend to business courses, public relations, and any major that directly deals with people.) I would much rather have taken a course like this in the University of Rhode Island education program than “educational measurements” – a course I learned nothing relative to my career, but I remember it because it was my only B- in college…


  1. Thanks for the commonsense link! I think you're dead on about dedicating real time to these issues rather than the kind of haphazard, assembly approach we use now.

  2. Tina,
    Speaking of the Internet...
    Sometimes when I look at the comments people post on large-forum sites, it makes me get all uppity. And sad. (Sidebar: is scanning the article to get to the comments the trash-t.v. of the Internet?)

    @twistedschism716 You know sometimes I like to pry, I like to steedilist. Yea right, yea right this guy's a faggot. Got some sort of faggot Indian in the tepee.
    11cylynt11 2 months ago

    And this interchange:
    for all u fucktards this isnt dubstep or electro. THIS IS MOTHER FUCKING FRENCH HOUSE!
    youngnutsack17 18 hours ago

    @youngnutsack17 shutup keyboard warrior, fuck the french anyways
    espionage69979 18 hours ago

    @espionage69979 fuck you faggot! u dont know shit about good music!
    youngnutsack17 17 hours ago

    @youngnutsack17 there we go again keyboard warrior . i know everything about good music you dont know shit about good music!
    espionage69979 17 hours ago

    And seriously, how come a racist, homophobic polemic can contain one hundred spelling errors, but "faggot" is spelled right every time?