Our Blog Counselor Cheryl Tyler guest blogs today on Providing a Safe Environment for All Students to Learn. This is part 1 of 3 and I know you won’t want to miss an episode. Be sure to leave comments for Cheryl. We need to know you are listening.
This past summer I was teaching a class of non-white students. It was a marvelous mix of cultures. As we got to know one another, the kids asked the girl from Vietnam if she did nails. Immediately, I realized she was being stereotyped. How many times do we put people into a box? All white people like country music, or all African Americans are good basketball players, or all Hispanics do lawns. The word “all” or “them” implies that someone isn’t part of our group.
One of the more controversial social issues in our American society is the conservative vs. gay community. On parent night we may feel uncomfortable greeting two moms or two dads. Our time-honored ideas are being challenged, and as adults we might immediately think: them. But realize children of these parents come under ridicule from other students; traditional families may not want their children associating with these kids. Yet, it goes beyond simply after-school friendship. Kids may believe this gives them liberty to do things that are harmful, either physically or emotionally.
One day during a guidance lesson on personal safety, a student remarked “it’s okay to hit a gay person.” You can understand from this statement that gay, lesbian and questioning students (or those who feel they are living in a body that isn’t their real gender) are at risk for harassment or bullying. As school professionals we have a commitment to maintain a safe environment for all our students, and be the catalyst for acceptance by their peers.
Sunday, October 12, 2008 marks the 10th anniversary of the crime committed against Matthew Shepard. For those who cannot remember him, he was beaten, tied to a wooden fence and left for dead in a freezing Wyoming pasture—a crime motivated, in part, because Shepard was gay. FBI stats show there are about 1200 hate crimes committed a year against people based on sexual orientation—that’s 16% of the total of all hate crimes. That figure is the actual crime and doesn’t account for countless incidents of bullying and harassment.
We have the opportunity to educate our students against prejudice in any form, and help end tragedies like the one that happened to Matthew Shepard and countless others like him. Be proactive to protect valuable children who cry when they are teased and bleed when they are hit—they are not a “them” but students with worth and value. They need your watchful eye, your voice and your concern. Select opportunities such as books, stories, and current news to be proactive.
Stay tuned for Cheryl’s next post this week and learn more about her book And You Invited Me In.