Connecting with School Prejudice
The time required for this activity will depend on the size of the class or participant group. Allow 10 minutes per student or per number of students in each small group.
Connecting with School Prejudice and Discrimination is an activity designed to facilitate active listening and the development of a humanistic understanding of how different forms of oppression in schools affect individuals in deep, and often life-changing ways. Several important lessons can emerge from this activity. These include the following:
- Everybody can be both the recipient and the perpetrator of oppression.
- Individuals recognize prejudice and discrimination leveled at them, even at a very early age.
- Schools are often hotbeds of prejudice and discrimination - many people first faced oppression at school.
In addition, this activity forces (encourages) self-reflection by people who traditionally have not necessarily had to think about how they were affected by prejudice to practice self-reflection and introspective skills.
If your class size is greater than 10, and if you have one or more additional facilitators, divide the students/participants into groups of 5 or 6. Ask participants to share a story about a time they saw prejudice, or experienced discrimination in a school setting. A few hints and guidelines will be helpful:
- The prejudice or discriminatory practice did not have to be intentional.
- Their experience can involve other students, teachers, administrators, or just the general atmosphere of the school.
- Mention that they might think about curricula, teaching styles, educational materials, and other dimensions of education.
- Remind your participants that identity is multidimensional, as people often think immediately about race in these activities.
- Finally, suggest that their experience can be either of being oppressed or of being the oppressor. Few people will ever choose the latter, but when somebody does, it provides a powerful moment of modeling and reflection.
Allow each participant 5 minutes to share her or his story, and, if necessary, allow another 5 minutes for them to field questions about their experience. It is important to validate everybody's experience and try to draw out how the incident made the respective participant feel when it happened. You might also ask individuals how their experience has informed their own teaching practices or their own ideas of how the situation could have been avoided or used as a "teachable moment."
When everybody has had an opportunity to tell a story, several questions can prompt a dialogue about the experience and about prejudice and discrimination in schools:
- How did you feel about sharing your personal story about prejudice and discrimination?
- What is something you learned either from your own experience or from someone else's story that might lead you to do something differently in your own teaching?
- What were some of the connections you found among the stories? Were there any consistencies you found interesting?
- Did anybody have difficulty remembering an incident or pinpointing when she or he first recognized prejudice or discrimination in a school setting? If so, why?
- Did others' stories remind you of additional incidents in your own experience?
Some students will insist that they have never faced prejudice or discrimination in a school setting. Encourage them to try to think of an occasion when they witnessed prejudice or discrimination, even if they were not directly involved. If they then insist they have never witnessed prejudice or discrimination, ask for their assurance that they will nevertheless listen to the stories of their peers.
As with all sharing activities, it will be effective for you to share a story of your own. The power of your story will increase immensely if it involves you as perpetrator or contributor to discrimination, even if unintentional.
This activity can be modified for a later challenge in which the participants must recall a incident in which they contributed to discrimination against an individual or group.
Note: This activity was adapted from Awareness Activities, part of the Multicultural Pavilion Internet Project. Special thanks is extended to Bob Covert and the Multicultural Education team at the University of Virginia.