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

 

 

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.

Picture Your Concept

What relies on words as much as symbols and colors, saves as a JPEG and can communicate complicated ideas quite simply to many learners at one time?

An infographic.

Is it a shortcut? Is it an over-generalization? Does it water down concepts? Perhaps. But as an addition to a lesson, it’s pretty fantastic.

As a Pinterest enthusiast I pin lots of infographics to my boards. Some are the steps for a lesson plan; some break down what foods enhance performance for various activities; some explain business strategies I normally would have a lot of trouble comprehending, and some even tell you how to get dressed in the morning. However, I didn’t realize I could make my own until a colleague relayed the these online design tools to me via a group email. Immediately, I google searched. Boom. I made an account. Boom. Next thing you know I was completely absorbed, trying to create all the potential I saw in it.

With an infographic you are both guiding the brain toward a concept while providing evidence like data based charts, illustrating ideas or examples, stimulating the mind with vivid or pretty colors and highlighting main points. Plus, they’re fun to make.

There are some incredible programs online that offer the tools to create infographics. My favorite is Piktochart, which has the option of a basic free program as well as an upgrade for purchase. Not only is the infographic a useful teaching/explaining/review tool but also when you have an account with a program like piktochart, you can save the image not only onto your flashdrive but also the infographic can be saved at the piktochart website and be opened at anytime, anywhere there is an internet connection (pretty convenient).

I can imagine controversy building around the idea of implementing a tool like this in the classroom (only because new things always have opponents, which also makes the new things that much more exciting, no?). I can see academics complaining that it oversimplifies, dilutes the benefits of reading about an idea to learn it. You may as well show them Sesame Street! I imagine someone blurting. I understand the concerns, but the truth is with an infographic, more learners can comprehend more complex ideas. The infographic can convey the concepts to students that struggle with learning in a linear, linguistic way. It plucks out the bones of the idea into a graphic design that could potentially reach out to students’ diverse comprehension tactics. It’s a tough task to read some article from 1954 on the negative effects of social segregation. An infographic can supplement as well as bring focus to the fuzzy dated language and references in the article. After the infographic, they can then go back to the reading for improved comprehension. The infographic can also function as a basic foundation to review when they need to apply or discuss the ideas in a paper.

Here’s one I made to do a review of Character Development. I had a lot of specific ideas I wanted to target but I had very little time. This allowed me to cover much more than if I had done a basic lecture. Plus, they can refer to it when they need to. What do you think of the infographic?

Perhaps an infographic is just what you and your students have been missing. Why you should try to use one in class.

Rhetoric vs. Reality

Below are excerpts of a letter to fellow members of the Columbia community, from Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University

I am writing today to announce a new University Gender-Based Misconduct Policy for Students and related procedures for responding to such misconduct. This can be accessed at http://www.sexualrespect.columbia.edu. Our goals underlying the new policy are principally these: to strengthen confidence in the University’s handling of reports of sexual assault and other gender-based misconduct, to ensure fairness for all parties involved, and to provide more assistance to students in need. The changes we’ve made also reflect recent guidance from the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, and federal legislation, as well as our own community’s recommendations…

So, today’s new policy is one among many reforms we have initiated to try to deal with what is most certainly a national issue and—of greater importance to us—a Columbia University issue.  I have always said, and will do so again, that our responses to this (or any other serious matter) should be guided by our own internal standards of character and basic norms of proper conduct, consistent of course with the law and public policy, but always seeking far more of ourselves than what may be commonly asked.

emma-sulkowicz-carries-mattress

When I read about Columbia University student, Emma Sulkowicz, dragging her mattress around not only to make a statement but also as her thesis, in the form of an art piece, I knew I found a strong “video aid” for the power of rhetorical devices in the context of mass communication.

For last week’s class blog posting assignment, I asked for a reflection on/discussion of Sulkiwicz’s use of rhetorical devices in the context of politics, justice and higher education.  We have been studying the relationship and/or conflict between the rhetoric used by universities and reality.  Does what a college proclaims or advertises correspond with the college’s reality.  The class and I together defined this “reality” as what they witness daily, what they experience, what they observe.  To branch from the Observation paper I assigned them, which included conducting and documenting an on-campus observation, they had to post a rhetorical analysis of Sulkowicz’ project once they viewed a video of her explaining the project’s amibitions.

As the professor, I was looking for strong rhetorical analysis, but I was also curious to see how they would handle such a heavy subject in the frame of rhetoric usage.  As I read through the posts, pleasantly, I found, overall, a balanced discussion which carried the elements of respect, symbolism, humility and objective analysis.  I even was introduced to new angles of vision regarding the Sulkowicz project by some of the posts.

The assignment, with its required objectivity and rhetorical analysis, was a challenge for me too.  My comments to the posts also had to remain in terms of rhetoric and literature, while I contained my own strong and personal opinions on the matter.

I found that Sulkowicz’ language choices and comprehension of symbolic rhetoric as a tool for mass communication fulfilled my academic preferences in the usage of media in class, while it locked down the interest of the students.  She looked like them, talked like them, dressed like them in neon green shorts and a tank top, yet she asserted bravery, precision, intellect and passion about her project.  They catch a glimpse of the power they are gaining in an English Composition class.  Would Sulkowicz have the ability to effectively illustrate her thesis in such a concrete way had it not been for intellectual skills she has gained throughout her higher education?