Facing Discomfort in the Classroom

So many of my students don’t like to be uncomfortable. This inevitably develops into a large obstacle. As soon as a student feels uncomfortable, I see he/she shut down. Immediately, a smirk envelops their face or the classic eyebrow compression that seems to shout at me, “you’re nuts” gets tossed my way. Today I encountered these faces and this discomfort…it made me very uncomfortable.

Facing Discomfort in the Classroom

I showed them facts and stats on race and offense ratios in American prisons. Immediately, I saw the faces. A few classic rationalizations bravely came forward– that crime and drug use is entwined with poverty– and that most minorities are poor, so this is why minorities outnumber whites in jails. It was a sweet thought, however, the students’ faces changed to a now disoriented discomfort when I explained that white people do and deal drugs as much as minorities do, so how does the poverty theory then hold?

I tried to tell them that someone’s words are uncertain, but that facts are indisputable, that going out into the streets and talking to someone out there is how you can gain real knowledge. I fear so many sit back and absorb. I tried to tell them how simply because someone calls his/herself an “environmentalist” doesn’t mean he/she actually is. I emphasized how rhetoric and reality don’t always coexist. I explain that by investigating on their own time and gaining knowledge, they are empowering themselves. Still, I feel this reaction of discomfort.

No matter how many times I repeat it’s for their own good, they still appear annoyed, with a kind of “don’t ruffle my feathers!” look. Why don’t they want their feathers ruffled? I assume many are skeptical when I say that the prison system carries more than just a “good for society” agenda, however facts are facts. They can’t look away from a graph because it makes them uncomfortable or because they don’t want to see it or hear it. They seem to want to sit and learn, but what exactly do they expect to learn about if not things they don’t already know?

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