On Mix It Up at Lunch Day’s 15th birthday, more than 4,000 schools around the country—and the globe!—celebrated by sitting with and getting to know someone new over lunch. We had a blast seeing all the stories, photos and videos from the day’s festivities, and you will too.
Even if you didn’t participate in the national Mix It Up at Lunch Day, it’s never too late to host a Mix event (or two or three!). Use these posts and last year’s Mix Model Schools as inspiration—and be sure to tell us how your event goes!
It recently came out that, in 2013, Donald Trump Jr. suggested that women who “can’t handle some of the basic stuff that’s become a problem in the workforce today” should remove themselves from the “workforce” and “go maybe teach kindergarten.” The ignorance embedded in these words should give all thoughtful educators pause.
In that moment of thoughtful pause, educators might question two assumptions in Trump Jr.’s statement. The first of these assumptions, that teaching kindergarten is somehow not work, has been roundly and deftly refuted by kindergarten teachers, as well as Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The second, perhaps more insidious assumption behind the younger Trump’s comments—one that I have yet to see refuted with such force—is the notion that schools are somehow safe havens from the “real world,” spaces where women (and others) are free from sexual harassment otherwise plaguing the “true” workforce. While idyllic, this assumption could not be more inaccurate and must also be refuted. Schools are not immune to societal forces, such as sexual harassment, sexism and gender discrimination; they are clear reflections of society’s views on such matters if one takes the time to notice.
As a former classroom teacher, I faced sexual harassment from co-workers and inappropriate sexualized attention from students. At first, I blamed myself for these incidents, mostly comprised of sexually inappropriate comments from students ranging in age from sixth-graders to ninth-graders. Teaching in varying schools, grade levels and even different states, the students I encountered were different, but I was the same. It must be my fault.
I carried the weight of this blame until one day when I received a particularly inappropriate comment from a student. Afterward, a male co-worker in the teacher’s lounge sneered, eyes looking me up and down, “Why do you think kids say these things to you?” In that moment, I stopped blaming myself. I realized then that, no matter the grade level, school or state, each of the students who had said sexually aggressive or discriminatory statements to me over the years had more in common than I thought. Indeed, like my male co-worker, they arrived to school not with a blank slate, but with a host of assumptions and beliefs about the type of respect a woman deserves.
In that moment, when a male co-worker eyed me up and down and suggested in so many words that I was asking for sexual advances from students, I thought back to an instructor in my teacher-preparation program who recommended that I lower my voice to garner more respect. I thought back to the dean at my first teaching job who said that I should wear heels to appear more “in charge.” I thought back to the son of a co-worker who told his mother I needed to wear ugly dresses to appear less attractive. Each of these individuals conveyed the assumption that women in the workplace deserve no respect, unless they alter the way they look, sound and act to reflect what society respects: stereotypical “masculinity.”
I realized then that, in the teaching profession, the woman is the one who is expected to change—not society, not the system that creates this sort of oppression—and many of the very people who work within this system accept this assumption. While we reject bullying and discrimination toward our students, we as teachers often ignore or blame ourselves for the very same discrimination we teach our students to shun.
Not only must educators reject Donald Trump Jr.’s ill-informed assumption that educational institutions are free of sexual harassment, but we must also point out the sexual harassment in our schools and eradicate it. We must deconstruct harmful media images, and we must call out subtle and overt sexism when we see it. We must hold each other accountable. When we ignore sexual harassment and pretend it does not exist, or when we suggest that women are only “asking for it,” or when we suggest that young, female teachers deserve respect only if they act more like men, we damage our own profession more than anyone else could.
Schroeder is a doctoral candidate in curriculum, teaching and teacher education at the University of Florida and is a former secondary English and social studies teacher.
“Any one of you could be president someday!” I made this declaration to my students eight years ago, my bright red marker punctuating the air with each word.
This year’s presidential campaign is resurfacing my memories from eight years ago.
That day in 2008, I glanced at the long presidential lineup tacked on my classroom wall, and then cast my eyes across my fourth-grade students. Leaning back against their chairs, a few kids followed my gaze over to the presidents and then looked back at me in silence. Only five of my 25 students saw a reflection of their gender and ethnicity in the stern faces staring back at them.
“How?” asked Evelyn,* her jutting chin pointed first at the presidents, then up again at me, her dark eyes squinting. “There aren’t any girl presidents!”
Located in the heart of Salem, Oregon, my classroom walls held the dreams of children of immigrants, children of inmates locked away at nearby state penitentiaries, and children living in the uncertainty of foster care. Crisis and instability were the norm for many of my students.
In the beginning of that school year, I surveyed the peeling paint on my classroom walls in dismay. I covered some of the worst spots by posting up a long banner with portraits of each of our 43 presidents, their names and years of service marked beneath their monochrome faces: all white, all men.
No wonder my students were underwhelmed by my announcement that any of them could be president. But that changed once the 2008 race between John McCain and Barrack Obama began to escalate!
“Can we have our own classroom vote?!” Javier* asked. His pleading eyes inspired me to channel my students’ energy into their own vote, hoping they could get a sense of the responsibility and power of voting.
“Why not?” I smiled.
“Let’s vote! Cover your eyes for privacy, and raise your hand for McCain.” A few hands shot up, fingers pointing up at our discolored ceiling tiles.
“Now, raise your hand for Obama.” I looked around at the sea of hands waving and triumphant eyes staring down the McCain supporters through parting fingers.
The need to formally declare Obama our class’s majority choice quite unnecessary, the class erupted into cheers, building into a unified chant of “O-bam-A! O-bam-A! O-bam-A!” Fists banging in rhythm on their desktops, they then jumped out of their chairs; a few pencils and papers sailed through the air.
The November morning after Obama’s confirmed presidential win felt charged at my school. Climbing up the last of three flights of stairs, my students still weren’t too out of breath to continue energized discussion from recess. I caught only snatches of remarks behind me as we mounted the worn steps of our school, but one voice rose above the rest:
“He’s brown, like us!” I heard Evelyn exclaim, stomping one foot, then the other emphatically as she pushed each step beneath her.
We all filtered through our classroom door, the kids settling into their seats facing the presidential roster bordering the front wall.
“It’s time to put up a new president, Teacher!” Javier pointed beyond the edges of our presidential banner.
It’s hard to dream of what you can’t see, I’ve learned over the eight years since teaching and loving that group of fourth-graders. As President Obama prepares to pass his duties on and another historic presidential election looms, I’ve been thinking of Javier, Evelyn and all my students from that year.
Now, I am holding my class roster’s promise of a brand-new group of fourth-graders. A new president will gaze over my classroom soon. Donald Trump? Hillary Clinton? As of yet, I don’t know. But that leader’s dream is profoundly important to me in my work with students. For each president, in some way, shapes our children and the kind of America we give them.
*All names changed to protect student privacy.
Mary Arana teaches fourth grade in Salem, Oregon
The Atlantic: “‘Waiting too long to pay attention to student mental health can easily lead to school dropouts or other problems later in life.’”
The Atlantic: “Life may have gotten better for many in the LGBT community in the last decade, but for LGBT youth in middle and high school, there is much room for improvement.”
Chalkbeat: “‘There’s been a big growth in the number of school districts that are pursuing socioeconomic diversity. … New York has made an important and good start in this effort.’”
Education Writers Association: “Of course, ‘Have more students graduated?’ is a very different question than ‘Are more young adults prepared for success after high school?’”
Edutopia: “Cultural competence means first understanding, as educational leaders, that we come to school with our sense of who we are, and that unless we are reflective about our own identity and how it creates a lens through which we view the world, we will not be able to honor the identities of the students and faculty we serve.”
The José Vilson: “For students who experience injustice because of their race, class, gender, and/or sexuality the role of social justice teaching plays an even more urgent role because of their proximity to injustice and recurring trauma.”
The New York Times: “The problem schools face is that they can’t prevent sex discrimination unless they can say with certainty what sex is. And in an age of gender fluidity, the word is hard to define.”
The Seattle Times: “About 2,000 Seattle educators wore Black Lives Matter shirts at their schools Wednesday to call for racial equity in education.”
ThinkProgress: “The whole reason the federal government took a stance is because schools were repeatedly treating trans students like lepers who deserved to be ostracized. Allowing that to continue only maintains the status quo of stigma against transgender people.”
The Washington Post: “October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month. I’m not a big fan of disability awareness campaigns, generally, unless they lead us toward accepting people for who they are, for tearing down our own internal ableist narratives about normality or function. That’s my goal here, to take an anecdote about the surprising role played by streaming music technology that has allowed my son to reveal new depths of understanding.”
If you come across a current article or blog you think other educators should read, please send it to email@example.com, and put “What We’re Reading This Week” in the subject line.
All your planning is about to pay off! On Tuesday, you will join thousands of schools across the country—and abroad!—in celebrating Mix It Up at Lunch Day. Thank you for being part of this important community.
It may seem counterintuitive, but take some time now to think about the days after your Mix It Up at Lunch Day. Over the 15 years we’ve been mixing it up, our research has shown that scheduling a couple of follow-up events allows Mix to have a deeper impact on your school. You and your core group of organizers put a lot of effort into this. Make sure you get the most value out of your event all year long.
No need to do much detailed planning right now: You have plenty on your plate for the next several days! Just remember to talk with your key organizers (maybe during a quick post-Mix meeting), and bring up some of these ideas later in the year:
- A second lunch event in the winter or spring
- A community-improvement project in the neighborhood with “mixed up” work teams
- A formal study of the social boundaries and divisions at your school
- A mural capturing the spirit of Mix It Up at Lunch Day
- A community showing of the Teaching Tolerance film Bullied
We can’t wait to hear about how your day goes. Share with us via email, Facebook or Twitter (using #MixLunch). If you have permission from your students and their families, we’d love to see and share pictures and videos!
If things go really well at your school, now is a good time to consider applying to be a Mix It Up Model School so others can learn from your success. The application will open in January 2017. Check out how last year’s Model Schools made their events so successful.
The community of educators here at Teaching Tolerance would like to give you our sincerest thanks for all of your hard work. Without people like you, there would be no Mix It Up at Lunch event. We’ll be thinking about you on Tuesday!