Increasingly, however, I am coming to understand that "brainwashing" (as the mysogenistic and homophobic brother of my girlfriend calls it) students to buy into an "inclusive", "socially just" world requires a specifically ANTI-discriminatory approach. In order to create such a world, its members first need an understanding that oppression is systemic, that we are all prone to internal biases and stereotypes (and that we act in discriminatory ways as a result of these), and that very specific steps must be taken by ALL people if we want to eradicate injustice.
This sort of brainwashing (I prefer the term "education" myself) requires a holistic approach, however, and what seems "acceptable" in the mainstream is not helpful!!!
Take this clothing ad, for example:
How can we teach that the gratuitous taking of sexual power by men over women is wrong and that gang rape is a crime, when the students we teach and their families are regularly exposed to billboards and magazine ads that promote and indeed seem to glorify misogyny?!
How can I teach critical literacy when I myself am not critically literate? Or when our politicians and social leaders regularly endorse or even practise unchecked prejudice and stereotyping?
A male student in my class recently told another male student in my class to "stop whining like a little girl wearing high heels". This, after an already hostile exchange between him and a group of other students during an exploration of opinion about whether or not the recent outrage aimed at Target's allegedly sexist baby sleepers was warranted.
When I called the student to task over his comment (privately, in the hall, not in front of his peers), a mixture of disgust and irritation over over him, as he brushed aside my accusation, saying that "acting like a girl" had always been used as an insult, as early as Grade 3, and no teacher had ever said anything about it, so he didn't see how it was now suddenly "sexist".
He later told another staff member that his sports coach frequently used comments like this.
Perhaps most of all, I am sick of swimming upstream alone or in thin company, and I have had it "up to here" with being viewed as "alternative" or "activist" or just a little bit different because I dare to speak out against what is so clearly WRONG!!!
The Ministry of Education's Equity and Inclusive Education in Ontario Schools resource document describes sexism as "prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination directed against people on the basis of their sex or gender."
They go on to note that "Sexism may be evident in organizational and institutional structures, policies, procedures, and programs, as well as in the attitudes and behaviours of individuals."
Those of us at the frontlines of the fight for universal social justice need to recognize our own biases, and admit that there is more and better work to be done with our more "mainstream" colleagues and friends. We must find creative and insidious ways to constantly and effectively challenge those who think we in North America live in an "equal" society, to challenge their assumptions. Collectively, we need to take off the rose-coloured glasses through which we view the Claire Huxtable model of "look how far women's rights have come and how equitable we are now", and critically examine our current reality and the formerly avant-garde mainstream media with eyes wide open and vision unobscured.
Of course we should remember to do so with hope and optimism, and -- especially with kids -- a bit of fun.
Recognizing the shortcomings of "modern" sitcoms and social media doesn't negate their value; it helps us to more deeply explore what oppression and privilege really mean.
The sexist comment (and the student's apparent unwillingness to admit that his thinking might need some expansion or reorientation) troubled me all weekend. As an LGBTQ woman I was doubly (triply?) troubled. Like blacks fighting for a real end to racism, women promoting sex- and gender-equity are often looked on with suspicion or disdain. "Feminism" is a swear word, and the fact that I'm gay presents a whole new problem for those who appear to somehow have been sheltered from 10% of the world's population for most of their lives. (Apparently a parent from one of my classes has already asked the admin at my new school, "is Ms. Teschow gay?" The relevancy of sexual identity to my program being.... ??!! The negative connection they want to see between who I love and how I teach math perplexes me.)
But after having a good long cry about unfair things were and how few people were fighting the good fight, I pulled up my big girl underwear, dug deep into my resource stash, called a few friends, talked at length with my (far more pessimistic but refreshingly honest and sometimes painfully raw) girlfriend, and developed two short, fun, engaging lessons to share with my students the following week.
The first is a modified version of a little game we played at a Board Climate Training session recently, intended to make us aware of our own biases and the stereotypes most of us cherish. The second is a "guessing game" (concept attainment) that deals specifically with sexism.
As I chatted with other teachers in the school about what our class was doing, many encouraged me and shared further resources.
And, thankfully, sometimes even the big companies get it right... A recent grad and new supply teacher who is coming in for me later this week got excited about the work, and offered this resource from Always:
We decided that she would follow up the work I started by sharing this video with students, and then asking them what they thought. As a follow up, she designed a survey they could conduct with three people at home over the weekend, just to see how far-reaching this sort of sexism really is.
But I'll do my best not to let those worries deter me from teaching the whole child, and teaching responsively. Heck, the Ministry of Education even claims I have to teach this stuff! And teaching it imperfectly is less of an offence to our students who need and want tools than staying silent would be.
After a decade and a half of not always getting it right, I am determined to do better for the girls in my class this year, and for the boys who will share their world with them.