Friday, February 06, 2015

Battling Inherent Prejudices at the Middle School Level

Sometimes I get so frustrated in my job. I have been trying to teach my students not just how to be better readers, but how to be better humans. Yes, I know, that's not really in my job description - but it should be. I try to instill life lessons in my reading lessons; read with more fluency, comprehend the deeper meaning, eradicate hatred and ignorance, celebrate our shared experiences, read on grade level, recognize that our differences are what make us beautiful, make connections across texts.

But I am working against more than a decade of distrust, hatred, and intolerance that their little bodies have soaked up from their families, their peers, and society itself. Sometimes I want to scream because I feel I am fighting a losing battle.

Today, I showed my students a powerful video of spoken word poetry. The author is a slightly built, short haired woman who speaks about heritage, who speaks out against prejudice, who talks about the very things I want my students to understand. Did my students pick up any of her nuggets of wisdom? Oh, no. All they could ask me, all frackin' day long, "Miss, is that a guy or a girl?" My response, "Does it matter?" Inevitably, a student would point out that the video title had a woman's name in it, so the poet must be a woman.

The ignorance and hatred I heard coming out of my students' mouths today is sickening. The fact that they didn't even know what they were really saying, they were just repeating what they had heard others say, makes it even more sad. A huge part of me wants to walk away from teaching middle school for this very reason. I don't know if I can teach in an environment where there is so much hatred and the kids don't even know WHAT they are hating. But if I walk away, don't I become part of the problem, because I didn't stick around to open their eyes? Or can their eyes even be opened at this age? I just know by the end of the day I was ready to cry, and felt physically sick, from some of the things I heard my students say. Can I teach in an environment where there is so little respect for all the differences that make the human race beautiful and amazing? Can I teach where I am expected to denounce some forms of discrimination, but keep my mouth shut about others? I already know the answer to that.