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NWR: How to deal with racism

I recently moved from the Chicago area to rural downstate Indiana, and I work in a high school with a very high poverty rate.

This morning, a student turned in an assignment that included remarks about Barack Obama looking like a gorilla. I asked him what he meant by it (mostly to have more evidence to get him in trouble), and he made some more racist comments.

I was furious. Racism, homophobia, and prejudice are so accepted here and I can't stand it. I told another teacher about it, and she said I should just make him do the assignment over. Heck, no. So I wrote him up and sent him to the principal, thinking that by not disciplining him, I would be condoning what he said.

Now every other teacher here has acted like what he wrote was no big deal, and one even said, "well this is a small town" as if that's an excuse.
I am so upset not only by what the student said, but because everyone else just accepts it. I realize that they probably are racist themselves. I hate this place.

Please answer this poll honestly.

Re: NWR: How to deal with racism

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    You aren't over-reacting.  If a kid is writing stuff like that in school, they are obviously picking up that sort of language from home.  If this kid doesn't learn at school that this behavior is not ok, then, sad to say, where will they learn it?
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    Is there anyway that you can help turn this into a teachable moment and have the students read essays about how people felt when they were looked down upon for their race or felt prejuiced against.

    Also, February is coming up.  Maybe you could give your students a short biography (maybe 2-5 minutes) each day of an influential African American or world leaders like Nelson Mandela or Kofi Annan. 

    If even the teachers aren't fazed by what this kid wrote, simply writing the kid up won't help.  It could be beneficial to all of your students to hear about successful people in the black community, instead of the racist comments they probably hear at home.
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    I agree with Linger.   This is a really good opportunity to try to change this child's perceptions about people who are different from him.   

    But, it's not wasted YET.  You can (and should) still talk with this child and try to get him to explain why he said what he did, and then teach him why racism is wrong and hurtful.   Maybe you could also use this opportunity to set up diversity programs in your school (for students AND faculty) to embrace people of different cultures, faiths, and skin colors.   
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    I moved to Indiana about 2.5 years ago from Tennessee. I've noticed a lot of things are different here than they would have been in TN or FL my home state. But take the moment to teach him something instead of trying to "get evidence" against him to get him into more trouble. My main problem with the situation is that he thought, imo, that the paper was a joke or he would have never said what he did about the president. Make him rewrite the paper and stress to him this is a serious paper not a sideshow presentation for the circus.
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    I also think you should have the kiddo re-write.

    I might also have the student write a paper on respect--define it, provide examples of it, and what people should do when they encounter non-examples. This wouldn't be meant as a punishment necessarily, but as a critical examination of what respect actually means.

    That's a tough situation--what kind of relationship do you have with your admin these days?

    Good luck.
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    "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are." -John Wooden
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    In Response to <a href="http://forums.theknot.com/Sites/theknot/Pages/Main.aspx/wedding-boards_chit-chat_nwr-how-to-deal-with-racism?plckFindPostKey=Cat:Wedding BoardsForum:14Discussion:b8699078-6390-4afc-892a-3f7666b42f13Post:7302f874-8890-4ad2-ac61-ac06d792e1cc">Re: NWR: How to deal with racism</a>:
    [QUOTE]Turn it into a teachable moment. Talk about how racism spreads by dehumanizing people, such as in the Holocaust.  (The Holocaust museum will send you wonderful, free teaching materials, by the way). You aren't overreacting.  Thank you for caring so much.
    Posted by RetreadBride[/QUOTE]

    Cosigned, me.
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    edited November 2012
    Thanks for all your responses! I feel better about it...I did spend most of my lunch break an emotional mess:( I wish I could have been composed enough to make it a teachable moment at the time, but honestly I was holding back tears and couldn't really say anything. I'm having a really hard time adjusting to the culture down here and this event was just the last straw for me! I shouldn't have said "getting evidence", I needed to make sure that he knew what he was saying and that he meant it in a racial context, so that he wouldn't come up with some explanation about what he meant to get out of trouble when he got to the principal's office (they're experts at manipulation). Thanks again for supporting me in this, no one at the school is.
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    In Response to <a href="http://forums.theknot.com/Sites/theknot/Pages/Main.aspx/wedding-boards_chit-chat_nwr-how-to-deal-with-racism?plckFindPostKey=Cat:Wedding%20BoardsForum:14Discussion:b8699078-6390-4afc-892a-3f7666b42f13Post:2d6bd060-ed57-47c3-bc3f-e339409ef07a">NWR: How to deal with racism</a>:
    [QUOTE]I recently moved from the Chicago area to rural downstate Indiana, and I work in a high school with a very high poverty rate. This morning, a student turned in an assignment that included remarks about Barack Obama looking like a gorilla. I asked him what he meant by it (mostly to have more evidence to get him in trouble), and he made some more racist comments. I was furious. Racism, homophobia, and prejudice are so accepted here and I can't stand it. I told another teacher about it, and she said I should just make him do the assignment over. Heck, no. So I wrote him up and sent him to the principal, thinking that by not disciplining him, I would be condoning what he said. Now every other teacher here has acted like what he wrote was no big deal, <strong>and one even said, "well this is a small town" as if that's an excuse.</strong> I am so upset not only by what the student said, but because everyone else just accepts it. I realize that they probably are racist themselves. I hate this place. Please answer this poll honestly.
    Posted by FruitSnack84[/QUOTE]

    It's a crappy excuse.

    Hopefully this all works out... or you get the heck out of dodge soon. It sucks so much that schools are condoning this behavior, but as pp said,  some teachers get in trouble for correcting students on their racist views. Hopefully in a few more generations, this will fade out. *fingers crossed*
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    What did the principal do when he got there?  Did he get punished or did they sweep it under the rug?  

    I will never forget the time when my teacher tried to explain racism to my (all white, Kentucky) second grade class.  She handed out candy to all the kids in the class with brown hair and told all the kids with blonde hair that we would have to stay and clean up the classroom during recess.  Of course, we all whined that it wasn't fair or based on anything that made sense, like grades or behavior.  It sparked a conversation that really made sense to a bunch of 8 year olds that hadn't experienced much diversity.  (She evened out the candy and didn't actually follow through with making anyone clean in the end.)  

    I don't know if something like that would fly in your school, but my point is that kids do things like this because they don't know any better.  Kids aren't born hateful.  If this is a problem with a lot of kids, take some time to think about how you can get them to understand why racism and racist comments are wrong.  Sadly, they probably do learn it from their parents, and you probably can't turn them all around, but you can be the first step to get them thinking.  If the principal did punish this kid, the incident could be a good place to start with getting the school authorities involved in your efforts.  
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    In Response to <a href="http://forums.theknot.com/Sites/theknot/Pages/Main.aspx/wedding-boards_chit-chat_nwr-how-to-deal-with-racism?plckFindPostKey=Cat:Wedding BoardsForum:14Discussion:b8699078-6390-4afc-892a-3f7666b42f13Post:fdc10305-3090-4e75-b5ac-da8fc2153c26">Re: NWR: How to deal with racism</a>:
    [QUOTE]What did the principal do when he got there?  Did he get punished or did they sweep it under the rug?   I will never forget the time when my teacher tried to explain racism to my (all white, Kentucky) second grade class.  She handed out candy to all the kids in the class with brown hair and told all the kids with blonde hair that we would have to stay and clean up the classroom during recess.  Of course, we all whined that it wasn't fair or based on anything that made sense, like grades or behavior.  It sparked a conversation that really made sense to a bunch of 8 year olds that hadn't experienced much diversity.  (She evened out the candy and didn't actually follow through with making anyone clean in the end.)   I don't know if something like that would fly in your school, but my point is that kids do things like this because they don't know any better.  Kids aren't born hateful.  If this is a problem with a lot of kids, take some time to think about how you can get them to understand why racism and racist comments are wrong.  Sadly, they probably do learn it from their parents, and you probably can't turn them all around, but you can be the first step to get them thinking.  If the principal did punish this kid, the incident could be a good place to start with getting the school authorities involved in your efforts.  
    Posted by MyNameIsNot[/QUOTE]



    WOW!! Thank you so much for this idea, I am definitely going to use it! Nothing keeps their attention like candy...
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    In Response to <a href="http://forums.theknot.com/Sites/theknot/Pages/Main.aspx/wedding-boards_chit-chat_nwr-how-to-deal-with-racism?plckFindPostKey=Cat:Wedding BoardsForum:14Discussion:b8699078-6390-4afc-892a-3f7666b42f13Post:c8b3fcb1-bfac-4ca1-84cb-bfb9ae327a9f">Re: NWR: How to deal with racism</a>:
    [QUOTE]Definitely turn it into teaching.  You will educate the entire class, and not just the one student, who may turn the incident into a "she's persecuting meeee," moment instead. Do it right, and it can carry over to the adults. Are there any citizens who participated in the Civil Rights movement? Any Holocaust survivors? Cambodian or Cuban "boat people"? Political refugees? Ask them to come and address your students. My ex-husband showed the film "Escape from Sobibor" and had an Auschwitz survivor and a woman who marched in Selma with Dr King talk to his history class. Those kids were pretty quiet for a couple of weeks.
    Posted by RetreadBride[/QUOTE]



    Haha EVERYONE is white here. I had a kid ask me "what I was" because my last name "isn't American"... I'm of German descent and it's not even that crazy of a name! Any speakers would probably have to come a couple hours from Indianapolis.

    Fun fact: this isn't the south, but they still have a strong ku klux klan group in the county. Awesome, huh?

    I help out with the FCA group at the school, so you better bet I will be shoving a whole bunch of Rev. Martin Luther King in their faces come January. I think I will also attempt a discussion on what Jesus meant when He said to love your neighbors as yourselves. Any other ideas are certainly welcome!
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    edited November 2012
    Please don't have the Jesus talk with the class, unless you are teaching in a Christian school. That could backfire on you. We need to respect those with other religious beliefs.

    I'd like to expand on Retread's idea. You don't have to search far and wide for immigrants and minorities to speak to your class. Ask the kids to write about their own ancestors. Where did they come from? When did they arrive in the U.S.? What kind of jobs/skills/customs did they have? It will interesting to the kids to discover that most of them have immigrant ancestors, who may have been treated unfairly because of their ethnicity.

    It's too bad that the adults in that child's life are allowing his ignorance. Does your school have a student handbook or written policies on behavior and discipline? That's the tool that you need to enforce appropriate behavior.

    Thank you for teaching our children.


                       
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    In Response to <a href="http://forums.theknot.com/Sites/theknot/Pages/Main.aspx/wedding-boards_chit-chat_nwr-how-to-deal-with-racism?plckFindPostKey=Cat:Wedding BoardsForum:14Discussion:b8699078-6390-4afc-892a-3f7666b42f13Post:6a1cd5b1-095e-4fb7-9bd8-b84b257dcf71">Re: NWR: How to deal with racism</a>:
    [QUOTE]Please don't have the Jesus talk with the class, unless you are teaching in a Christian school. That could backfire on you. We need to respect those with other religious beliefs. I'd like to expand on Retread's idea. You don't have to search far and wide for immigrants and minorities to speak to your class. Ask the kids to write about their own ancestors. Where did they come from? When did they arrive in the U.S.? What kind of jobs/skills/customs did they have? It will interesting to the kids to discover that most of them have immigrant ancestors, who may have been treated unfairly because of their ethnicity. It's too bad that the adults in that child's life are allowing his ignorance. Does your school have a student handbook or written policies on behavior and discipline? That's the tool that you need to enforce appropriate behavior. Thank you for teaching our children.
    Posted by MairePoppy[/QUOTE]



    Oh my goodness, I'm not that stupid nor do I believe in pushing my religious views on others! I should have explained that FCA is the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, it's a club for students to have Bible studies and discussions. I would never in a million years subject a general class to my religious or political views.

    I like the whole family history project thing, except that so few of these kids have families. I know it's hard to believe, but many of them actually live on their own or at a random person's house who was willing to take them in. Many parents are in jail or are known meth dealers. It's a completely different culture, this isn't middle class suburbia, this is a place where kids are excited to receive donated shampoo and deodorant as christmas presents. It's so depressing because I can't get the kids to realize that their only way out of poverty is education. The severity of so many of the students' living situations is why they get away with totally unacceptable behavior, there is only so much the school can do to punish them without having parental involvement to make it any sort of consequence for them.

    Sometimes I think being impoverished in a big city would be better than this, because at least there are resources in large communities and the kids would see that there are people who live differently than they do.
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    OP- My dad is a retired High School teacher who now does diversity training in schools and businesses.  He deals with these types of issues all the time and includes anti-bullying.  As a second generation Italian who moved from New York, NY to Wisconsin to teach, he was often asked by people what he "was".  He has darker skin and a funny sounding first name, so people thought he might be, *GASP*, Hispanic.  They were always relieved when he said he was Italian, but it didn't sit right with him.  (This was in the 70's)  So he started a human relations club in his school and as a history teacher, proposed a Black History course.  Somehow it was approved and he taught Black History to all white students for about 10 years, before they didn't allow it anymore.  

    His current work in schools is with teachers and students and deals with all forms of diversity.  Whether it is race, gender, sexuality, religion, economic status, etc.  He does a lot of his work in small districts too.  I would say you are his favorite type of teacher, because you GET it.  It is sad that he has not run out of work, because what he does is so needed!
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    Fruitsnack - I didn't see a reference to the fact that you're teaching in a Christian program. I didn't mean to insult you. There are some people in my community who blame all the ills of the world on the fact that the school day is no longer started with  prayer.







                       
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