STOP! Think about how many times in a day or a week you hear people in public spaces or in the media remark “that’s gay!” in a negative way or generalise a whole group with derogatory labels. I hear these things a lot at high school but I also sometimes hear it amongst friends or in social places outside of school.
When I hear this in my classes I will STOP the class and make a point of talking to the whole class about their language. It is important that we are aware of the language that we use. Students always argue that it’s ok because everyone agrees. I argue that when we allow such things to pass without comment or judgment then we are perpetuating stereotypes. I wrote about this last year as well in my Is it prejudice if “everyone” agrees? post. In that post I argued that we had to teach students how to think for themselves.
Some ideas to teach students how to think for themselves
- Get students to work in groups to create a Y-chart on the Australian identity and then create a whole-class combined Y-chart on the whiteboard. Ask students questions like: do you agree with this Y-chart? Would the Y-chart look different for an immigrant, an indigenous, a woman, a homosexual etc.? Are generalisations helpful?
- Try asking questions like: so what would you think if I said in a negative tone, “that’s so heterosexual?”. I love doing this because not many students know what “heterosexual” means! I explain what it means and then students usually laugh because they realise the point I’m making. I ask them how would they feel if they felt continually excluded in class (or society) because of the repeated, un-challenged labels (stereotypes) that they verbally throw about as commonly as saying “Hello”. I challenge them to think about what they are actually saying.
- Use Jane Elliot’s Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise. This is where you separate the class by eye colour and treat them differently.