Thursday, September 12, 2013

Profiling in the Classroom

While the above video, another great Ted Talk, is not specifically about the classroom, it's worthy of discussion if only because we, as educators, can help sway the discussions from preconceived notions and looks to one of personality, action, and who-they-are.

To begin, I do not think I was ever the subject of profiling.  It's not that I'm a beautiful/handsome man and have been otherwise coddled because people like to look at me.  It's more because I, realistically, have what one would call "average" looks.  So, I don't stand out...well, not for my looks in any way and especially not when I was young (er).

What I don't remember is the beautiful people in my schools growing up getting the benefit that I hear happens today.  That is, the playing field seemed fairly level and was based on the skill of the student more than their looks.  Sure, some athletes and cheerleaders seemed to get away with the little things, but the advantage never seemed to move beyond the mundane and into the important.  Then again, I was fortunate enough to be average...maybe those who were then below average noticed it more.  Still, my hats off to my teachers for not doing things that I look back at that make me sigh :)

My point is that we teachers have a great chance to set the bar high on what is important in a student.  Not only should we practice using an level playing field as we instruct, but we might have more opportunity to be good examples.  Let me share a true experience from my 8th grade that has always stuck with me.  The name of the two classmates have been changed for obvious reasons, but the teacher (who is no longer with us) is the real name because she did a good thing.  Here's the story...

I had a friend who was a girl that I would have loved to have made into a girl her Jane.  At the time, I was unaware of what those feelings are, but soon after I figured out that I "digged her".  None-the-less, she started acting funny and flirty around a new boy in class (and town) who was an olive skinned, very attractive young him Bob.  For some reason, the conversation with Jane about her 'liking' Bob carried over with a mutual friend while we walked to English class.  While walking through the door, I said the following words (no, I am not proud of them)...

"I don't get why Jane thinks Bob is cool.  He's so gay."

Mrs. Smith, my English teacher was sitting there awaiting the class and said with curiousity, "How do you know he's gay?  Did he tell you?  Does he have a boyfriend?"

"Ummm, no.  He's just...I've never really talked to him...but..." came from me, followed by silence.

"Well, maybe you find out what he's like and not judge him on the way he looks.  He might just be a great person."

She broke away from focusing on me, and turned to her normal spot in the class.  Then class began, with me sitting there put-in-my-place and a bit embarrassed and her going on like nothing had happened out of the ordinary.

Turns out that Bob wasn't gay.  He was just a good looking guy who dressed very nicely and had all the girls interested.  I later did get to know him and found he was a pretty good guy.  Never became a friend, but that's because we didn't do the same things or talk about the same things.  We were different people.  But, I was at least judging him on who he was and not how he looked or, worse, how his looks affected me.

That's right, those good looks worked against him in my eyes...I had a negative profile view...while his looks were a bonus to the girls.

Kudos to Mrs. Smith for having the courage to call me out in a rather simple, non-threatening way.  I remember the incident quite often...usually when my mind starts being racist or judgmental or is profiling.  It helps bring me back to what is important.  My last sentiment is important.  We're all going to think these things and it's all right to talk about them rationally.  But, don't let the biases (pro or against) affect your interactions with your students.  Equality in opportunity is a good thing and our use of equality can only help reinforce the idea in those we teach.

One last important thought (just now remembered).  I have no recollection of using the term "gay" as a derogatory since.  Again, good job Mrs. Smith...not only did I learn some English from you, but I also learned to be a better person.

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