When early news reports spread this spring that Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett had banned Persepolis and asked that Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel be removed from libraries and classrooms, I decided that my sophomores needed to know what was happening.
In that moment, I felt fortunate not to teach in CPS. I teach in the Chicago suburbs and, since my students have spent all year reading and talking about banned books, I thought this was the perfect current event to discuss in the classroom. We would later learn the specifics of Byrd-Bennett’s concerns.
Satrapi's autobiographical novel, which tells the story of her childhood in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution, had been on the CPS seventh-grade reading list. As the story unfolded, Byrd-Bennett said the book’s “graphic language and images” were not suitable for seventh-graders and was reassessing the appropriate grade levels. But early reports had painted a broader picture of the ban.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, hearing about the initial ban excited my students. They wanted to read the book immediately. Our sophomore world literature class was at the end of one nine-week unit on tolerance and about to start a unit on gender. I thought it was the perfect time in our curriculum to introduce Persepolis to my students.
We read it in class, discussing issues that arose along the way. My honors students read the entire book. My college prep students only had time to read pieces of it. A common concern arose in all my classes: Why were women forced to wear the veil in Iran after the Islamic Revolution? We discussed culture and tradition.
Satrapi does a great job of explaining the impact of events. In one scene, when she and her parents are watching television, the newscaster says, “Women’s hair emanates rays that excite men. That’s why women should cover their hair!” This description led to rich discussions about whether women should wear the veil if they immigrate to countries not ruled by religious leaders. When I posed this question, my students brought up France’s “burqa ban.” All but a few students in every class thought the ban was unfair. Some felt a ban against the veil should be in place in every country to avert terrorism.
One student wisely argued, “Not all Muslims are terrorists. Muslim extremists are to Muslims what the Westboro Baptist Church is to Christians. Not all of us are like that, just like not all of them are like that.”
I thought this was a particularly mature statement from a sophomore in high school. I went with it, asking students whether they thought a ban on veils would prevent terrorism. Unanimously, the students said that it would not. In fact, they said that banning religious symbols like the veil could make some groups even angrier at Western countries and their intolerance of Muslims.
This discussion was a great way to start talking about the Muslim religion and various stereotypes my students believe. It was also an easy way to encourage them to remain tolerant citizens in the face of acts of terrorism like the Boston Marathon bombings. I was happy to see that my students were thinking in terms of choice and fairness, regardless of what they see in the media. Persepolis afforded me the opportunity to talk with my students about important issues. That experience makes a stronger case for these books being taught in schools, not banned from classrooms.
Samsa is a freelance writer and teaches high school English in the south suburbs of Chicago.
I recently read a blog in Edweek highlighting a report about how social and emotional learning can empower children and transform schools. The report, released by Civic Enterprises for the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), overwhelmingly confirms that academic outcomes and performance are directly linked to social and emotional learning. The report further indicates that although teachers understand, value and endorse social and emotional learning, they also say there isn't enough "priority in schools" to teach and promote these skills.
The blog writers included this quote from the report: “Now we must act to ensure our students and teachers are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in school, work and life." This message seems a direct reference to the Common Core State Standards and an indirect additional claim that "time" to teach social and emotional skills continues to be eaten by other topics.
As an educator and literacy coach for 17 years, I need to rant.
Teachers know that it doesn’t make sense to continue to approach these critical life skills in isolation. These skills are not separate from the objectives of daily lessons and content-area curriculum. Learning is not packaged in neat, individualized compartments. Perhaps this message isn’t clear to some, but as teachers work in the classroom we learn—over and over—that kids need to feel safe in order to learn.
This report clearly outlines benefits of social and emotional learning ranging from improving school climate and boosting academic performance to increasing student interest in learning and reducing instances of bullying. The report, however, also talks about programs and school-wide initiatives. No wonder teachers are concerned about time.
When we teachers plan a lesson, social and emotional learning should be at the top, mapped alongside the essential content-area skills. As we work toward getting our students college and career ready, we should want their learning to include skills that transfer to new classrooms, social settings and work environments.
When I was a classroom teacher, my students often read and created together, drafting, editing and revising with peers. When I plan lessons that include cooperative learning or collaboration, I identify the necessary social and emotional skills for collaboration. I ask myself some essential questions in planning:
- Can the student say, “Thank you!” when someone gives her a compliment?
- Does the student know how to take turns?
- What listening skills are necessary for this activity to succeed?
These are not content-specific questions, but they are critical to the success of the lesson. These questions drive the planning for addressing the social and emotional aspects or “hidden” curriculum.
Social and emotional learning should be embedded in everything we do as teachers, and teachers want best practices for teaching these skills. Teachers need support.
Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making should be present within every lesson, not treated as a “special” school-wide initiative or program added to what teachers are already using. Seamless integration is how we help children make meaningful connections and develop understanding together with other learners in their classroom community.
I love that the resources we create here at Teaching Tolerance provide teachers the tools to address the hidden curriculum without adding separate programs or cutting content. Teachers need support in doing what they know will help students.
Ok, rant over.
Wicht is a teaching and learning specialist for Teaching Tolerance.
The news is sad but, unfortunately, not shocking.
Social scientists at the University of Michigan have determined that students in larger schools tend to self-segregate along racial lines.
According to the report, published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it’s not a conscious choice. The report’s authors, Siwei Cheng and Yu Xie, wrote that students are seeking a sense of community. They crave a bond with others. In small schools, finding friends who share interests happens more organically across racial lines. But Cheng and Xie found that, in larger schools, students fall more easily into racially homogenous friendships.
For years Teaching Tolerance has been concerned about students self-segregating—not only by race but by religion, socioeconomic status, ability and culture. And it doesn’t just happen at large schools.
The cafeteria is often the place where these separations are most evident. Students separate themselves into cliques. Misperceptions, stereotypes and unfounded fears about other groups persist and often make friendships outside the group impossible. Impossible, that is, unless deliberate efforts are made to tear down those artificial barriers and reveal that our similarities are greater than our differences.
As educators, we have an opportunity to redirect self-segregating students. Mix It Up at Lunch Day can help.
The concept is simple. During a lunch period, students sit with someone new and have a conversation. The conversation helps students understand what they have in common with others, even if they appear different.
We hope that Oct. 29 will be just the start of your school’s Mix It Up activities, and that the conversations continue throughout the year.
As budget cuts, aging buildings and plummeting enrollment continue to lead to school consolidations, more students may find themselves attending larger schools. But even in these environments, we can foster a sense of community, increase understanding and engage students.
Williamson is associate editor for Teaching Tolerance.
I recently worked with a group of teachers to build culturally responsive toolkits. One was having trouble deciding how to manage all the different cultures embodied in her classroom. “My students represent at least 13 different cultures and languages. I can’t manage all those different needs,” she said. Others nodded in agreement.
As we talked as a group, it became clear that the concern wasn’t really about recognizing the nuances of 13 different cultures, but about managing the dynamics of a multicultural, multiracial class.
The distinct dynamics of each group is determined by the individuals who comprise it. How many of us have taught the same class to two different groups and had two entirely different experiences? There are some commonalities: All groups experience an initial period in which people try to figure out how this group will work and what their positions in it will be. All groups are composed of diverse personalities that influence members’ interactions.
The socio-political aspects of race, class, gender and language often reflect power, trust and respect. These unaddressed issues change the quality of any interaction and increase the potential for conflicts, confusion and miscommunication.
Most of the teachers in our group were concerned about those occasional “hot moments” when the emotional temperature rises dramatically as a result of some negative interaction in the classroom. It’s important to remember that conflict is an intrinsic element of community. Group-formation lingo calls it the “storming” stage of group development.
The trick is not to be caught off guard when the inevitable occurs. Here are a few tips for creating an action plan:
1. Devise a set of strategies for managing yourself in the moment when conflicts arise. Know your own hot buttons/biases and what will make your mind freeze. As the classroom facilitator, anticipate what topics might cause confusion or misunderstanding. Being alert to potential problems will enable you to prevent sticky situations from arising. Know how to keep yourself calm, centered and present. Practicing your strategies when minor problems occur will prepare you to implement them when major conflicts arise.
2. Before conflicts arise, regularly help students “code switch.” You accomplish this by building their explicit understanding of the different ways group members show respect, build trust or communicate. Discuss how words or gestures are used differently by people who speak different languages or members of different cultural groups. Have students express how respect and disrespect look to them. Create an anchor chart for the classroom.
3. Practice cross-cultural communication with active listening and paraphrasing. Active listening can verify or correct an interpretation of what’s been said or done. Repeating what we think we heard can confirm accurate understanding of the communication.
4. Establish structures and protocols to help manage emotions and process conflicts. Many conflicts occur because we are hurt or angry about how someone has treated us. These emotions are real. Don’t sweep them under the rug. Julian Weissglass, a math educator and school reform activist, developed constructivist listening structures like dyads to help students manage the emotions that conflict generates.
Use structures like the kiva, a type of fishbowl activity, to help group members share their feelings and listen to each other without judgment. Adapted from American Indian tradition, the kiva is based on the belief that a community has all that’s needed to solve its own problems and answer its own questions.
Conflict-management tools are essential components in the culturally responsive educator’s toolkit. The first step is designing an action plan.
So, what does your action plan look like?
Hammond, who lives in the San Francisco Bay area, is an educator and writer passionate about teaching and learning. She’s worked as a research analyst, a high school and college writing instructor, a literacy consultant and, for the past 13 years, a professional developer.
Just two days before the 2013 National Day of Silence, college basketball star Brittney Griner casually and publicly came out as lesbian. At 6 feet, 8 inches tall, Griner is one of the few female basketball players who can reliably dunk a basketball. She draws a crowd of fans, including those who believe watching women’s sports is worthwhile only when the competition rivals its male counterpart. Not surprisingly, she was the first draft pick of the Women’s National Basketball Association WNBA.
Nor was it surprising to most people that Griner is gay. When it comes to athletics, elite physical status is still associated with masculinity. Women’s sports cannot escape the aura of machismo. Athletes, no matter their gender, are supposed to be tough. The sport demands that they show strength in spite of physical or emotional injuries.
Within the context and culture of the athletic world, the pressure to remain silent about sexual orientation is immense. I am certain that’s why several of my high school basketball teammates never admitted their homosexuality. It also explains why we whispered conjectures about the sexuality of our assistant coach. We dared not ask or speak about it publicly for fear she would be banished from the locker room or deemed unsuitable as a coach for young women.
Less than two weeks after Griner’s announcement, National Basketball Association NBA center Jason Collins announced that he is gay. Just as men’s sports get far more attention than women’s, Collins’ admission received more attention than Griner’s. The fact that he is the first active male athlete in one of the country’s most-watched professional sports leagues to come out is telling. If the ruffling of the National Football League NFL at the threat of a coming-out party is any indication, the climate of homophobia and machismo in sports must be overwhelming.
Collins’ courage to speak up for who he is has given him the chance to challenge the notion that being gay is a choice. More importantly, his admission has the potential to teach both boys and girls that people who are gay can be physically strong and competitive.
Sadly, though, a female athlete who comes out confirms the stereotype. The double standard is alive and well.
While Collins’ bold move should not eclipse Griner’s, it is my hope that these truths will begin to shift the culture of athletics in this country. From my point of view, this is a boon not only to homosexual athletes but to women athletes who have had to “play like men” in order to be recognized.
Thomas is an English teacher in California.