The Truth About Stereotypes in Schools

A stereotype as defined by Merriam-Webster is “an often unfair and untrue belief that many people have about all people or things with a particular characteristic.” Colloquially, the term, stereotype, “is used to categorize a group of people. People don’t understand that type of person, so they put them into classifications, thinking that everyone who is that needs to be like that, or anyone who acts like their classifications is one” (Urban Dictionary).

Stereotypes do affect student performance. Students in a social, academic or professional environment are confronted with stereotypes about themselves and about others. Stereotyping is a double edged sword that harms both the stereotyped and the “stereotyper.” Robin Paige explains, “The threat of possibly satisfying or confirming a negative stereotype attached to one’s identity can interfere with a subject’s academic performance.” Stereotypes, negative or positive ones, influence identity development and degrade performance. One may be preoccupied with not fulfilling a common stereotype or with learning to fulfill the stereotype.

Interestingly, the pressure to stereotype or the pressure not to stereotype affects students too. Studies show that the fear of appearing racist can hurt a student’s performance due to over-preoccupation or anxiety.

It is not just the art or act of stereotyping that inhibits performance, but also the “stereotype threat.” The threat of stereotype hides in social expectations, showing itself in the anxiety and behaviors of students. There is the fear of enacting a stereotype. For example, an African American student might spend more time getting ready in the morning than her white peers; she may strive too hard to not appear “ghetto.” Or, a male student in a mostly female group might expend too much energy trying not to sound sexist rather than focusing on a successful collaboration. These two examples may not seem like a big deal, but this all adds up to reduced productivity and social insecurity.

The fear of being excluded from a stereotype is just as influential to a person’s development. There may be increased susceptibility to embody a stereotype because of various cultural and peer pressures. A student may be less likely to ask a question aloud in class if he/she is expected to behave a certain way. For instance, a student that skateboards may feel pressure to appear disinterested or like a “burn out” due to the slacker-skater stereotype. Or, a blonde female may act in-authentically “ditzy.” A football player may be more reluctant to sign up for a poetry class because of the classic stereotype that football players must be “tough.”

It’s easy to blame the media and history for these stereotypes; it’s not quite as easy to blame institutions, architecture, peers, teachers, friends and family. The truth is that the stereotypes are encouraged in some of the most subtle ways. Something as pragmatic and routine as a uniform policy that requires skirts for girls and pants for boys unwittingly discourages females from partaking in more physical activities. Watching a film in class that displays the token black comedian character can instigate a stereotype threat. The design of a gym can encourage stereotyping by playing Oprah reruns in the cardio zone and ACDC in the weightlifting zone. This socially conveys the stereotype that only women do cardiovascular exercise and that only men weightlift.

These types of social orders (like enforcing a uniform) seem to bring us comfort and structure, but the truth is they solidify some of the worst stereotypes. Educators can lower the level of stereotype threat by acknowledging the problem of stereotyping throughout his/her curriculum. For example, I am currently in the process of creating a writing prompt for my students that requires them to investigate a stereotype through observation and interview. With this assignment, I hope the students will learn about the impacts of stereotyping.

To further combat the stereotype threat, I make use of social anomalies that subvert typical expectations. Joe Biden is an unexpected example of a feminist, as he is a “white privileged male,” who also made the Violence Against Women Act a reality as well as the Women’s Treaty. Biden erases the stereotype that white privileged males don’t care about women’s rights. An interview with Cara Delevingne can subvert the stereotype that women aren’t funny. Recognizing the literary and poetic elements of rap eradicates the stereotype that black men are unintellectual.

Next to anti-stereotype assignments, an educator can create a classroom environment that calls for inclusivity, embracing diverse subject matters, encouraging collaboration and validating the injuries caused by stereotypes (including various prejudices or self-preserved limitations).  Most importantly, building the self-confidence of students helps to eliminate stereotypes. The more a student discovers his/her individualized self, the less preoccupied he/she will be with fitting into or not fitting into the tiny box called stereotype.

For life hacks, headlines and home design, please visit my other blog, pinkcurlers.com

 

 

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How Fowler Gives Me Power: Reflections on Susan J. Fowler’s Reflecting on One Very Strange Year at Uber

Susan J. Fowler, a former employee of Uber, published a post on her blog revealing numerous counts of sexual harassment and discrimination she experienced while working for the company. Her post is straightforward and pretty bias-free; her tone is calm, but frank. While some of her experiences at the company might appall readers, her author’s voice is very professional, leaving readers to interpret the anecdotes for themselves. Her tone is not accusatory; it is forthright.

She bluntly, but neutrally tells, On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR. Fowler does not stop and slander the harasser, instead she lets the anecdote speak for itself.

Throughout her post she conveys numerous work place encounters and professional obstacles that illustrate sexism and discrimination. Impressively, in the chaos of her work environment, Fowler managed to document most of the discriminatory behaviors.

She discloses, I don’t know what I expected after all of my earlier encounters with them [HR], but this one was more ridiculous than I could have ever imagined. The HR rep began the meeting by asking me if I had noticed that *I* was the common theme in all of the reports I had been making, and that if I had ever considered that I might be the problem. I pointed out that everything I had reported came with extensive documentation and I clearly wasn’t the instigator (or even a main character) in the majority of them – she countered by saying that there was absolutely no record in HR of any of the incidents I was claiming I had reported (which, of course, was a lie, and I reminded her I had email and chat records to prove it was a lie). She then asked me if women engineers at Uber were friends and talked a lot, and then asked me how often we communicated, what we talked about, what email addresses we used to communicate, which chat rooms we frequented, etc. – an absurd and insulting request that I refused to comply with. When I pointed out how few women were in SRE, she recounted with a story about how sometimes certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others, so I shouldn’t be surprised by the gender ratios in engineering. Our meeting ended with her berating me about keeping email records of things, and told me it was unprofessional to report things via email to HR.

Fowler’s logical and procedural tone boosts her credibility, highlighting the prejudice in Uber’s tactics. By the end of this paragraph, Uber’s HR is demonstrably in the wrong. The HR rep overgeneralizes here, “she recounted with a story about how sometimes certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others.” The HR also gives counterproductive feedback when she said, “it was unprofessional to report things via email to HR.” A person involved in Human Resources should appreciate any form of professional communication, especially a form that can be documented with potential to prove anything.

Fowler’s Uber post inspired me to flip back through the pages of my own career where I recalled numerous encounters with sexual harassment in the work place and at school. As a teenager and a young college student/waitress, I disregarded the systematic sexism of many institutions not because it didn’t affect me but because: a) I was too busy surviving (getting high…getting high grades I mean, paying rent, catching waves) and b) the sexist behavior was common and mostly accepted.

However, if my present self replaced my younger self, I could have protected my identity development from corrosive impacts of sexist behavior and discriminatory practices by pointing out the sexism or by removing myself from prejudiced systems. Unlike Fowler, I did not have the wherewithal to document harassment nor did I have the confidence to even point it out. Notably, I was also much younger and vulnerable, without a college degree, without the clout and professional knowledge of a cooperate engineer.

In line with Fowler though, I am writing from a place of reflection. I’d like to write an honest and open letter about my past experiences with certain companies and institutions. In other words, I’d also like to tell my story, and I’d like it to come from a place of truth not judgement. Fowler doesn’t “badmouth” Uber; she discloses and informs.

I would like to do the same. So, what’s stopping me? Am I worried that some bar & grill might fire me if I reveal a few anecdotes about discriminatory uniforms? Will my high school kick me out for talking “sh*t” about a pervy coach? Is my sexist graduate professor going to fail me if I write about this one time he wanted to come to my house? Technically, the answer to all these questions is no. I’m fully grown, with a career and a strong support structure, so I should be able to communicate a few memories without fear…right?

This is not the case. Divulging testimonies of sexist practices from my past does ignite a small fear in me. As I critically analyze this fear, I can see that it is emotional residue left over from the days when I was powerless and dependent on sexist structures.

What do you think? Please comment.

This article was first published on pinkcurlers.com

Hidden Messages: Using Infographics

“Make information beautiful” is my favorite infographic design tool’s slogan. Piktochart’s phrase really conveys the core purpose of the infographic.

In addition to summarizing information beautifully, the infographic is a place to insert subtle but important messages about the writing process. Small but highly supportive messages can be integrated throughout the informative image. Similar to a sticker, post it note or a stamp, infographic design offers a huge selection of icons and decorated text boxes that can be placed anywhere on the image.

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Though I don’t rely on the infographic for entire lessons, an infographic is a successful supplement for the purpose of review, reminders and conveying the “big picture.” Additionally, hopefully as you can see in the image above, an infographic is a space to sneak in tiny motivators and confidence boosters that students might not be as receptive to or open to verbally.

Feel free to use my infographic 🙂

For life hacks, headlines and home design, please visit my other blog, pinkcurlers.com.

The Book Is Simply Not Enough: Student Learning Rights

Horseback riding through the soggy coastal trails in Dominican Republic, I passed piles of garbage, piles that had no where to go, humps of trash that would never be removed or placed in a dumpster for pickup. The garbage trucks don’t come out to this area, where aqua colored shacks and cabins cluster like the skinny chickens clucking. Everyone’s laundry has no choice but to try and dry in this humid air.

When the little ones ran over, they surrounded my horse like a school of hungry fish. They brought me wrinkled flower petals and unrecognizable produce. Each begged for a dollar, I gave them all my ones. They tried to appear thankful, but a deep and hollow starvation consumed their little faces.

It was only after my wallet was emptied when I saw him in the corner of my eye, a man observing the dance, peering through the palms. He was the choreographer, and I wondered how many cents he would let the kids keep.

~

I hope that my few depictions illustrate the level of poverty plaguing these rural villages so you can properly imagine how surprised I was to see a young man playing with a smart phone. Throughout all these famished faces and bundles of debris resides a multitude of cell phones. It would appear that the phones are more important than food or sanitation.

And they are. Having access to a smart phone daily is vital. The phone provides access to the news, the bus schedules, entertainment, contact with family and work opportunities. Even the most impoverished are completely leashed to technology. In order to keep up, connection to the world wide web strangely but truly becomes more essential than a meal.

Our reliance on technology compares to our need for water. Its profound meddling with our species won’t stop anytime soon. It has extended its reach all the way into Dominican valleys. Into outer space, into jungles and war zones. It’s in every student’s hands.

To teach with only a book is not enough. In order to make contact with pupils, educators must recognize that technology is no longer a supplement, but a main ingredient, a vital organ.

It’s not that students don’t want to learn the material presented in a book or throughout a lecture; it’s essentially that they can’t. Literally, since birth their information absorbing processes are digital, dynamic, quick.

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They grew up on this stuff!

A contemporary higher education student does not struggle with multiple screens, he or she sees them all, processing all of the imagery together. For example, reading a text on a phone while watching TV and flipping through a magazine are routinely performed at once with ease. It’s not juggling; it’s simultaneous entry.

Though generational gaps between students and educators have grown into chasms, with the rampant social implementation of smart devices, it is the professor’s responsibility to recognize and assimilate to the mass influence technology has on his/her students’ developments. Assuming and expecting a class can sit quietly for a fifty minute lecture without any varying activity is, at this point in time, unreasonable.

Pure lecturing or reading from a text is not good enough, sticking to this dated teaching strategy is a burden students should no longer carry. It is their right to learn in their language.

For Life Hacks, Headlines and Home Design, visit www.pinkcurlers.com.

Trump’s Effect on Teachers

You may have heard the phrase, “The Trump Effect” recently. It refers to an “emboldened” attitude permeating the student bodies of many schools. Teaching Tolerance and The Southern Poverty Law Center completed a report based on a survey of over 2,00o teachers, posing questions about student behavior and culture since this the start of this year’s (2016) Presidential Election campaigning. The report unveils startling insight about how this election is impacting academic institutions.

The report directly quotes some of the participants’ comments anonymously. One teacher explained, “[Students] are increasingly political (which is good),” she wrote, “but the extreme rhetoric being modeled is not helping their ability to utilize reason and evidence, rather than replying in kind.”

Teachers and educators have noted increased incidents of bullying and verbal hostility. One of the challenges American teachers face is teaching tolerance during classroom discussions; the examples displayed throughout this campaign (regardless of political party affiliations) do not align with the lessons many educators try to teach. The report explains, If marginalized students are fearful and hurting, it’s partly because other “students seem emboldened to make bigoted and inflammatory statements about minorities, immigrants, the poor, etc.,” wrote a Michigan teacher.

How does one explain to a young person that the rhetoric these presidential candidates openly use is not allowed during in-class discussions.  They are presidential candidates, yet this political ethos is not reflected in their expressions, nor does it guarantee credibility (apparently). This is confusing, especially because ethos is one of the rhetorical tools they learned to look for.

The behavioral and social complications brought upon by this election does not stop at the foot of the learner; this election also affects the educators (from pre-school to higher education). Throughout the SPLC and Teaching Tolerance report, teachers expressed their own versions of the Trump Effect.

Many said that for the first time they are struggling to remain bipartisan and stoic. Some have completely abandoned any attempts at remaining unbiased for the sake of their own personal value systems or for the sake of offering support to minority students. Many teachers have taken the silent route by choosing not to discuss the election in class; this contrasts with teacher attitudes during previous elections, when elections and debates were embraced as a learning opportunity.

From an educator’s perspective, I can attest to feeling what I want to call, “The Teacher’s Trump Effect.” I have never before felt the level of anxiety I feel today when we discuss anything related to this particular election in class. As a Composition teacher, I prioritize the ability to remain unbiased, open-minded and professional. However, these past few months I’ve become overly analytical of my own words in the classroom; this leads me to an insecure mindset.

I feel out of my element as we try to discuss the crass debates. Instead of pointing out instances of admirable communication, students and I criticize the candidates’ behaviors and word choices. I would much rather discuss debates that consist of effective and graceful communicators. As a result of all this drama, we also make a lot of jokes.

Making jokes about the candidates and news headlines is one area both students and teachers can all appreciate. But even in a lighthearted funny moment, I stop to ensure that I’m making fun of them equally. Then I wonder, is my joking just another symptom of the Trump Effect?

You can read the full SPLC report here.