The other day, I took my 13-year-old niece to the beach. An hour and a half drive gave us plenty of time for conversation. One part of our conversation went like this:
Me: Well, when you learn how to drive --
Niece: I'm not driving. It's too dangerous.
Me: (cringing because I can feel her world getting smaller) Really? Well, you can see the world if you travel by plane.
Niece: I took a plane once. Planes are dangerous.
These were the words of a 13-year-old? No one should place limits on his or her life at 13. The world should be open to them at this age!
This led me to think about teachers and our students (of course), and the limits we place on them, consciously or subconsciously.
What do you see when you first look at someone? Physical appearance. That's all you have to go on until you actually interact with this person. Many times we form perceptions based on race. It may not be a conscious perception, but unfortunately, opinions are formed based on those perceptions -- the Asian and Caucasian students will be smart, the African-American student will struggle, the Latino student will have language barriers.
We all do it. An educator tweeted that he was "color-blind," but I don't believe that's true of any of us. Race is more than the "color" of our skin. We can't ignore it, because it is an integral part of who we are. But we shouldn't limit our students because of it. I do believe that educators exist who can see past race and see the students themselves, but there are also educators who can't, or choose not to.
Does your classroom have role models of people of color and/or other cultures on the walls? Does your curriculum talk about the history of people of color and other cultures? If it doesn't, do you supplement it? Do you challenge all your students? Do you make sure that your students are aware that they are capable of so much more?
"This population can't . . ." I can't tell you how many times I have heard this sentence come out of an educator's mouth. Unless they change their way of thinking, the students in their classrooms will never be given the opportunity to strive for more. They will be forever limited by what teachers feel they are capable of due to their socioeconomic status. I will never forget a presenter/teacher making the statement, "These kids will probably be filling boxes for a living anyway." A new teacher cut her off: "I don't know what kids you're talking about, but my kids will be future presidents or CEOs!" I couldn't have said it better myself!
Think about these two classrooms. One will be taught as students who can barely make it to high school. The other will be taught that the sky is the limit. Why should one's socioeconomic status determine how we teach them? Why must we let poverty determine what our students are capable of? And yes, some of them can't meet the challenge, but there are middle and upper class students who can't meet it, either. The difference is that no one puts a cap on what they are capable of achieving.
Our girls tend to get the short end of the stick. We want them to be "girls," sugar and spice and everything nice. They are seen as the weaker sex, and it is implied in conversations every day. "You let a girl beat you?" "Don't run like a girl." (I had to correct myself after saying this to my students during a kickball game.) Girls "can't" do math, and it's OK. Girls can't code. Girls aren't interested in science. Males dominate the curriculum in social studies textbooks. I make sure that I supplement that subject area with contributions by females. We explore women in history before and after Women's History Month. I make a conscious effort to call on my girls as much as my boys. I allow my girls to participate in things that may be considered "boys only." I lived during a decade where girls could not be something as simple as bus drivers or expected to carry the mail, much less travel into space. These limits are gone from our society. They should be erased in our classrooms as well.
We all have our biases -- it's an innate part of being human. The difficult part is knowing that you have them, and working on not making them a part of our classroom. We need to make sure that we grant all of our students the same opportunities as everyone else, no matter their race, class, or gender.