Responding to and Preventing Student Prejudice
As reports of student insensitivity toward historically marginalized groups begin to skyrocket, it's important to recognize that all behavior is based on need, and this student behavior is no exception. While intolerant speech and actions require serious consequences, shame and punishment do not get at the root of the problem. Instead, shame and punishment can reinforce power struggles as youth wrestle with establishing their autonomy. Consequences should enhance student learning whenever possible.
All students do not engage in these behaviors for the same reasons. Some are making attempts at humor or creativity. Others are seeking popularity or belonging. The Navigating Diversity learning program helps educators clarify the needs students are trying to meet, and helps them prevent insensitive acts by educating students about constructive ways to meet their needs.
Students who are the targets of insensitivity can be supported with this information to learn to deflect, rather than internalize negative views about their group.
As we strive to raise children who are respectful of differences, parents and educators are beginning to recognize that it is not enough to avoid speaking and acting in obviously discriminatory ways. The absence of intentionally discriminatory messaging is not the same as promoting equality and respect for all.
If we don’t intentionally teach inclusion and respect, the void is filled by other influences. When students receive clear messages and expand their familiarity with historically marginalized groups, they are more likely to understand the pain intolerant actions cause, and make healthier choices.