Inclusion in the classroom

As a white male with tons of privilege, this topic has always been an interesting and necessary topic for discussion for me. I grew up in a very affluent area and went to a very well off public school with very little diversity. I was raised to respect everyone as an individual and to remember that everyone has their own stuff to deal with. As a result, I’ve always wanted to be inclusive and politically correct and what not. But it can be very difficult to educate yourself. The internet can take you down many dark alleys while speaking to others in person tends to just get uncomfortable.

I think the Heineman podcast does a good job of breaking down the need for discussion. It can be especially important in school because we need to learn to have tough discussions at some point. I think we need to learn how to avoid offending people while talking about sexism, racism, bigotry, and all our other problems. I think we need to learn how to tell superiors their behavior is inappropriate. I think we need to learn to ask for enlightenment.

But I also feel that much of our society emphasizes not talking about issues. School is a tremendous place to do this because we generally try to emphasize the idea that there is no such thing as a dumb question. The problem is that we need some techniques, some ice-breakers, to get into the topic and to keep people from shutting out the discussion. Does anyone know how to do this? I honestly don’t know how to break through someone’s conscious, and unconscious biases.  Plenty of people tune out anything that doesn’t match their biases, so we can’t really have a discussion with others until we break that barrier. What are your thoughts?

6 Replies to “Inclusion in the classroom”

  1. As a white male as well, I also try my best to be respectful and not overstep when discussing these issues. I think in order to prevent people from shutting down when the conversation does not match their biases, it might take a couple steps.
    The first seems to already be happening, which is getting people to recognize that they do have implicit biases. I fell like a lot of people want to say they aren’t racist/sexist/xenophobic etc., but they are ignoring the influence society has on how we view social identities. Getting people to recognize that they probably have some implicit biases (such as through the implicit bias tests) might open up the conversation as to what those may be and how they came about.
    The second may have to be implemented early on in education, but it is the learning of active or critical listening. We have somehow been trained during conversations to not actually listen. We have discussions, but are always thinking about what we will say next rather than what the person is actually saying. Practicing active listening could help with having these conversations, even if they may be difficult.
    It may be tricky depending on the class you’re teaching, but one thing that has helped with demonstrating biases or privilege in classes I’ve taken was a privilege walk, where people step forward or back based on questions asked related to privilege and social identity. It helps give a visual representation to the differences among students.
    Sorry for the long comment! Thank you for the post!

    1. Privilege walks are amazing! I have only done one and weren’t told it was a demonstration (I don’t remember what we thought it was though), and people were super upset when they kept falling back or other moved forward based on the questions. It was definitely sobering for me at the time.

  2. Brad, I think you make a great point here. It can certainly be hard to identify how my own privileges and biases impact my worldview. Ultimately, we all need to start these conversations with a willingness to be wrong and a desire to learn. I tend to think having these discussions is impossible if both sides don’t approach the discussion with humility and respect. I can’t stress how important the words “both sides” are.

    I’ve had to end conversations with people because they refused to discuss the issues in good faith and really weren’t interested in listening to me as much as they were interested in parroting their own biases. In those interactions, though, I also had to remember that my goal was not to condemn someone because I believed their views were wrong but to bring them to an understanding based on mutual respect and grace. It’s important to create spaces where people feel comfortable enough to admit that they were wrong without the fear of being condemned. We have to allow those people to then move forward instead of shaming them for their past beliefs. A vitriolic and hostile environment only fuels the fires of division, whereas an environment based on humility and respect creates a place where understanding can truly flourish.

    1. Too true! I think there has been a lot of shame for past actions, from Bill Nye (he was anti-GMO without fully understanding them) to Kevin Hart (used to be anti-LGBTQ, now pro-LGBTQ if I understand correctly). There is no motivation to grow as a person if you will forever be berated for past actions.

      Facebook doesn’t help either, because the algorithms are built around provoking fights and arguments because it gets people to spend more time on Facebook.

  3. Brad – you pose an important question and have some good answers here in Connor’s and Meredith’s comments. We’ll also be talking about this in class tomorrow. Stay tuned!

  4. I think the most effective discussion are the ones that thread a fine line between staying rational, keeping an open mind to ideas that question our convictions, while at the same time maintaining a close connection to emotions, so that we don’t fall in the crevasses of abstract thought. It is such a delicate balance that I don’t think there is a recipe for it. But it’s do-able and I’ve been fortunate enough to be present in many and learned a lot from them.

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