It’s crazy how teaching others can result in teaching yourself.
Throughout the semester I’ve reiterated how important it is for my students to self-reflect. Today we talked about diversity. I lead a fallout shelter activity in which groups of students had to come to a consensus on which 12 of 20 people to save from a hypothetical World War III. I showed a picture and gave a short sentence of information about each individual. After they chose, I added another sentence of information, and asked them to complete the activity again. (Big thanks to Shirley Brozzo from NMU for sending me her version of this.)
Some of the comments overheard throughout the room were simply frightening.
“Well there’s no point in keeping the guy in the wheelchair, he can’t contribute anything. Plus he won’t be able to reproduce, and who wants to be with a guy in a wheelchair anyways?”
While discussing a girl described to be six months pregnant and a lesbian I heard, “Let’s keep her until she has the baby, then shoot her.” The student then made a comment about how being homosexual is not “right,” and another student suggested that perhaps they could “turn her straight” by that point.
At first my reaction was of almost of disgust in the students’ narrow-mindedness. I couldn’t believe their thought process. I was careful not to portray any of this, mind you, but I instantly made some assumptions about those students. We had what I think was a constructive group discussion about making assumptions about others based on such a small bit of information about them, and how as you learn more about someone your opinion almost always changes.
I checked myself and had a bit of a revelation in the middle of class, followed by some of my own self-reflection.
I myself was making assumptions about these students. I was assuming they have had the opportunity to understand views/situations other than their own. Can we blame students for not agreeing with something they have never encountered? Perhaps we can. But instead of judging them, I think we should try to educate. These students aren’t bad people, and I can’t pretend to know why they think or feel how they do. I can, however, attempt to educate and influence them to be more open-minded.